Why I’m Ditching “Real Life” to Thru-Hike the AT

Hi. I’m Brian. For the past six years, I’ve been working as an animator director during the day and blogging about food at night. I’ve managed to design a pretty sweet life for myself, and I am truly grateful for all that I have.

A lot is going to change, however, when I head to Amicalola State Park in a few weeks to pick up my thru-hiker tag. I’ll be trading in a cushy job and an extremely comfortable lifestyle for trudging up mountains and sleeping on the ground as I journey northbound on the Appalachian Trail to Mount Katahdin.

Most people believe that I’ve lost my mind. Some think that I am trying to find myself.

Everyone insists that I should bring a gun.

Finding My Why

I don’t have some incredible, life-altering reason for why I am thru-hiking the AT, and certainly not one that my mother is willing to accept.

All I know is that the trail is calling me, and it is something I must do.

As I’ve matured, I have come to realize the importance of doing the things that you love, the things that give you energy. Sitting behind a computer all day does not give me energy. In fact, it does quite the opposite—it drains me.

I might not be saying this 1,000 miles into my trek, but hiking gives me energy. It clears my head and brings me into the present moment.

It makes me feel alive.

Sunset in the Smoky Mountains

Living with No Regrets

In the extremely moving article Regrets of the Dying, palliative care nurse Bonnie Ware recorded the top regrets that she heard from people as they lay on their deathbeds.  The most common one was that people wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not one that others expected of them.

People don’t expect a thirtysomething at the peak of his career to drop everything and live in the woods for six months. But if I’m going to be true to myself, that’s exactly what I should be doing.

I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming out office windows about all the things that I want to do “someday.” For my dream of thru-hiking the AT, I am finally having the courage to make “someday” today.

Me at Charlie's Bunion

My Lists

I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…

  • Tomorrow is not guaranteed.
  • Magic happens when you step outside your comfort zone.
  • I want to meet some awesome people.
  • It scares me.
  • I hope to bring some awareness to the beauty of the natural world and why it needs protection.
  • I’m tired of playing it safe.
  • I love a good adventure.

When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…

  • Have more confidence in myself.  
  • Know that I can handle any situation that I may encounter.
  • Be more comfortable with who I am.
  • Realize that I can survive with only what’s on my back.
  • Understand what’s truly important in this life.
  • Have a sick beard.
  • Throw an epic party.

If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…

  • Be forced to hear a countless number of people say “I told you so.”
  • Be pretty upset about the amount of time and money that I’ve squandered.
  • Have to admit to my mom that she was right.
  • Listen to nothing but Kevin Federline’s Playing with Fire for a month straight.
  • Make a $500 donation to the NRA.
  • Crawl into a cave to spend the rest of my days eating grub worms.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and getting to know me a little better. I’m excited for you to join me on my adventure!

Brian

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Comments 29

  • Jonathan : Feb 16th

    Good luck! Sounds like very good reasons to me. As I will be out there as well!!!

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 17th

      Awesome! Good luck to you too! Maybe I’ll see you on the trail 🙂

      Reply
  • Bill Yeadon : Feb 16th

    outstanding article.

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 17th

      Thanks, Bill!

      Reply
  • Wolfpack : Feb 16th

    Hey Brian! Best of luck on your thru hike. I did 1700+ miles last year. I intended to do a thru. I was slow and it got cold and unpleasant. Dynamics had changed within my tramily and with my family at home. I made the decision to come off trail. I don’t feel like a quitter AT ALL. And no one gave me any shit about it. I found what I was looking for in less than the entire trail. Of course, I miss it everyday. I may even go get the last 400+ miles next month. But it’ll be my choice, not that I feel guilted into it or necessarily need to have a thru hike under my belt. I just miss it. But home is exactly where I needed to be when I decided to come off trail. No regrets. If you decide to not finish for whatever reason, feel totally proud for what you have accomplished. You’ll see. Hopefully I’ll see you out there!

    Reply
    • Robert Patterson : Feb 17th

      Best of a your way.make it hapan.

      Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 17th

      Thanks! I really appreciate the support!

      Reply
  • Army Ant (AT 2013) : Feb 16th

    Never quit on an uphill or in a rain storm.

    You can only quit on a sunny day and in town.

    Everything that sucks will eventually end.

    That being said. Let me know when you get to Massachusetts we will do some sweet trail magic for you!

    May the Great Vague Blaze be with you.

    Army Ant.

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 17th

      Thank you! Looking forward to that trail magic 🙂

      Reply
  • Mike Cal : Feb 16th

    Hi Brian
    You are realizing my dream when I was a younger lad. Best luck to you and may you have happy feet, little rain, blue gorgeous skies on your journey. As a diabetic arthritic heart patient, I will revel in your adventures and come along for the hike in my own imagination as well. Best wishes,
    Mike

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 17th

      Thank you so much, Mike! Glad to have you along for the ride!

      Reply
  • J Davis : Feb 17th

    Missed one, “if I give up” : smile and take a picture with a politician you despise.

    Wish you the best!!

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 17th

      Haha I’ll be sure to add that to my list! (I’ll have a large selection to choose from)

      Reply
  • Alex : Feb 17th

    Good luck. Just remember that 15 miles is a nearo. And slack packing doesn’t count.

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 17th

      Thanks and noted!

      Reply
    • Wolfpack : Feb 17th

      Don’t believe the lies. Hike your own hike;)

      Reply
  • Sonya Richmond : Feb 18th

    You’ll do great out there, rock the trail and keep posting the great stories! Remember in the tough moments that we are all pulling for you and want you to succeed!

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 19th

      Thanks, Sonya! It’s awesome to know that I have some support 🙂

      Reply
  • Pieter Sanders : Feb 19th

    Brilliant decision, Brian!
    I think you will have an experience that will enhance your life in so many ways. Savour every footstep and take your time and know that there’s a guy here in England that envies you and will be with you in spirit.
    Just in case you haven’t read it, Bill Bryson’s ” A walk in the Woods” gives an interesting insight in to the AT.
    Wishing you dry socks and downhill paths all the way.

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 19th

      Thank you!! I’m sure those dry socks will come in handy!

      Reply
  • Kate : Feb 20th

    All the best to you Brian — what an epic, magnificent voyage this will be, I look forward to following the journey!!

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 20th

      Thank you, Kate!

      Reply
  • Chris : Feb 20th

    Good luck to you Brian! After a 23 year career in the military, it’s finally coming to an end and I’m planning on doing a thru hike of the AT myself. Whatever your goals are, make sure they’re yours and never worry about anyone’s expectations for you. If you make it, that’s awesome. If you don’t, it’s still awesome you tried. Again, best of luck to you duder

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 20th

      Thanks so much, man! I definitely will try to keep in mind that it’s all about the journey and not necessarily the destination.

      Reply
  • John Stifler : Feb 23rd

    Brian – I did the thru-hike in 2017, at the age of 70. The most important slogan I heard or thought, all along the way, is Hike Your Own Hike. Probably every other thru-hiker would say the same.
    Were people really telling you to take along a gun? I hope you have ignored them.
    — Whistler

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Feb 24th

      Thanks, Whistler! Believe it or not, people are very serious about the gun (I have no intentions of bringing one).

      Reply
  • Jami Reddish : Mar 7th

    Sounds like great reasons to me.
    Being in my late 30’s, I regret not doing a lot of things.

    Thankfully, you realized all that BEFORE it got too late.
    Moving past the comfort zone is one of the hardest things to do….in my opinion.
    Just let your gut (instinct/intuition) guide you & you’re bound to have a great time in life!

    Perhaps I’ll see you on the trail (Section hiking the GA/NC end of March!!)

    Good Luck on your hike!!!

    Reply
    • Brian Kavanagh : Mar 7th

      Thanks so much, Jami! I hope to see you out there 🙂

      Reply

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