Why I’m Hiking: Taking the Rest of the Year “Off”

Everything I read about tackling a thru-hike says that you have to be really clear on your ‘why’. And let me tell you, I have a lot of why’s:

– Why am I spending 6 months of my twenties in the woods?
– Why am I choosing to hang out with black flies and mosquitoes instead of going to the beach?
– Why did I buy the bright orange trowel when I knew it wouldn’t match the rest of my gear (rookie mistake)?

My family and friends and random people I tell about the trail also have a lot of why’s:

– Why do you want to do that?
– Why are you crazy enough to do that?
– …Just why?

No seriously, Jana, what’s your ‘why’?

A thru-hike is hard to explain to people. When I told my dental hygienist I was going to be hiking for 6 months, she waited a few beats and then asked if I would be camping at all on my trip. Realizing I’d obviously missed the mark in my explanation, I said “yeah, probably” and changed the subject.

And once people do understand what you mean, it can definitely be hard to explain your ‘why’, especially when you’re still working on solidifying it for yourself. There’s a seriously big difference between “What got you interested in this?” and “Why are you doing this?”.

My ‘What’ and My ‘Why’

My “What got you interested in this?” is easy. I love weekend backpacking trips. I love the outdoors. A friend told me about the Appalachian Trail. I watched a few videos. It sounded like a cool challenge, something unique and fun and exciting to do with a few months after university. My ‘what’, people understand, especially people who know me and know I love being outside.

My ‘why’, I guess that’s a different story. Leaving an engineering degree and running away for 6 months instead of seeking out the perfect job and settling down is hard to explain. But let me try.

My Official ‘Why I’m Hiking’ List (First Edition)

I’m coming to the Appalachian Trail after finishing my engineering degree less than a couple weeks ago. I could write for days about the complex emotions I have surrounding this engineering degree, but that might belong on a different blog altogether. Instead I’ll just say this: school’s great. I’m so glad I went to school. School is also very, very hard on physical, mental, and emotional health and furthermore, academia, in my experience, has vast and serious systemic issues.

Soo…I’m glad to be finished. And I’m excited to be an engineer in the future. Like, really excited. But first, I am excited to take a quick (ahem, 4-6 month) break from the expectations of the “status quo” and “keeping up with the Jones'” to do something different with my life path. And beyond that, here’s a list of my other reasons for hiking.

Peace and Quiet

Being from the East Coast, I can summon to mind the sound that waves make on a pebble beach, when the water flows through the cracks between the pebbles and the gentle popping and whooshing of air bubbles is left behind in the wake. Mmm.

The sounds of nature are sweet. Sometimes terrifying (I’m looking at you creaky branches at 2am). But usually lovely. I am hiking to appreciate the small bliss that comes from feeling connected to nature, and listening to the many active sounds around me, all signs of non-human life.

I’m also hiking to appreciate the utter peace that comes from a lack of cell phone notifications — no emails, texts, alerts, nothing. No television or Netflix. Just my own imagination, thoughts, and sounds of life around me. In a world that is so full of distractions, I’m hiking to enjoy some delightful time away.

Be Present

I’m oh-so-very guilty of spending too much time thinking about the future. I’m always wondering what’s next, be it a trip, assignment, or weekend activity. I read somewhere on the Internet that it can be great for your happiness to plan for the future, but I’m also skeptical. While a Pinterest dream vacation board can be a source of inspiration, for me, now is the time to be in the moment.

And since I don’t have a Pinterest page for the Appalachian Trail (missed opportunity?), that should be easy, eh? I’m not sure that I’ll be able to “turn off” my wandering thoughts. But, I’m hoping a couple mountaintop views will shock my system into the moment and from there maybe I’ll have a running start at working on being more in the moment. I have 6 months, anyway.

Challenge Myself

As if chemical engineering wasn’t enough. But seriously, I’m a quintessential academic over-achiever, and I’m interested in challenging myself in a different way now. No school stress, no work deadlines, only physical and mental strength required. “Only”. I’ll get back to you on that.

Meet People

I’m what is called an extrovert, maybe you’re familiar with one. I LOVE being around people. I’m a people person. And super chatty. If there is conversation, I’m thriving.

For this reason, I’m excited to have the shared topic of “thru-hiking” to start a conversation with any and every person on trail. Better than starting every conversation with an anecdote about the weather (is this an everyone thing or just an East-Coaster thing?).

And speaking of having things in common, I am ECSTATIC to meet other individuals who are pursuing the adventure in life. These people always have the best stories and serve as an inspiration to me as I think about what I want to do with my life post-trail (oops we can’t “Be Present” all the time, I guess).

See the World

As a kid, my family went on a lot of weekend trips around Atlantic Canada and New England. Heck, even if we weren’t travelling, we were either driving a couple hours to visit my grandparents or going on a “Sunday drive” (playground-searching, river-chasing, ice-cream-seeking, petting-zoo-questing, beach-inspecting, whatever Dad came up with that week).

I remember finding the absolute greatest joy in packing my belongings into a backpack and piling into the backseat of the car with my little sister, portable CD players in hand.

As an adult, I still like moving, and seeking adventures. I get restless if I spend too much time at the house and feel the greatest joy imaginable when seeing and trying new things.

For this reason, I’m attempting the Appalachian Trail to see and experience parts of the world that I’ve never seen before. For the simple joy of travelling and seeing the world.

In Summary

In short, my reason for hiking is simply that I want to. And our lifetimes are too short to spend my entire adulthood waiting to do something I want to do.

My start date is getting close, so stay tuned for my next on-trail update to see how I’m staying present exploring the world, soaking up the quiet, dealing with the challenge, and meeting my dream tramily! In the meantime, check out my brand spanking new Instagram @jana.v.world for more frequent trail updates.


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Comments 3

  • GruntGal : Jun 13th

    There are many dimensions that you don’t have on your thru hike radar yet.
    FEAR..the guy with a huge knife demanding food and water inside the shelter I planned to stay in that night
    FEAR..the large man with a black powder rifle/gun who.silently appeared in front of me on the trail
    CONSTANT AWARENESS…that the FBI was out here on the trail looking for Eric Rudolph

    Will send you more reality if you need it??

    • Joe : Jun 14th

      A lone woman in the woods. What could go wrong?

  • david : Jun 21st

    Sounds like you got all the reasons covered. Hopefully it doesn’t get too difficult for you. You didn’t mention it far as I saw but are you doing this alone? I think something like this is best done with someone else. Either way I hope it turns out great.


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