Why I’m Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail: Jake Gale of 2,000 Miles From Home

<editor’s note> In my book (the literal use of the phrase), I postulate that hiking with purpose is the greatest predictor for someone to complete his/her thru-hike.  After being put in touch with Jake Gale of 2,000 Miles From Home, it readily became apparent that he was going to be in the minority of hikers to accomplish this monumental feat. 

I asked Jake to share his “why” – as his was clearly well thought out – to serve as inspiration to future hikers to uncover their own reasons for hiking.  Additionally, I encourage you to check out the nonprofit in which Jake is hiking for, and his blog, where you can follow his journey and the status of his goals.  We here at the Appalachian Trials Community fully support your mission and will eagerly be following each of your 5 million steps along the way.  Best of luck, Jake! </editor’s note>

Jake Gae

What is it about the Appalachian Trail that captures our imagination? Is it the scope of the endeavor, the promise of adventure, or simply the prospect of disengaging for a time from our frenetic modern world? I’ve met dozens of people over the years who have dreamt of attempting an Appalachian Trail thru-hike. When I decided to leave my home and successful career to thru-hike the trail as a fundraiser for People Serving People, a Minneapolis-based charity serving Minnesota’s homeless families, not a single person questioned my sanity. The trail calls us all, and we each respond for our own reasons. My name is Jake Gale; I’ll begin my solo NOBO thru-hike on March 17, and this is why I’m hiking.

I consider myself roundly blessed. I was raised by amazing parents and never wanted for anything I actually needed. I was given no reason to question whether my sisters or I were loved or the lengths to which my parents would go to provide for us. My family and friends armed me with everything I needed to be successful, and any accomplishments I’ve had academically or professionally bear their authorship. Would that I had also taken the time to learn from their wisdom.

During my twenties and early thirties I focused singularly on securing what I assumed were the most important achievements in life: earning undergraduate and graduate degrees, beginning and advancing a career, saving for retirement, and building a life that would lead to 2.5 kids, a dog, and a white picket fence. Yet in striving for these worthy goals I failed to appreciate my successes and learn from my failures. I neglected the present in favor of an aspired-for future, and as fate had it that version of my future would never arrive.

Several years ago I lost something I valued dearly. The specifics aren’t relevant; what’s important is that the armature on which I fashioned my life collapsed. I lost my identity and the organizing principle for every decision I made, and I felt I no longer belonged. Anywhere. I recall one morning early on when I struggled to force myself out of bed. I remember swinging my feet onto the floor and willing myself to stand up. To take a step, and then another. Those were the first steps toward a new life. A more fulfilling, meaningful, and consequential life than I have ever lived. I had to lose what I wrongly perceived to be everything to realize I was so much richer than I ever knew, and would in time become far richer still.

Those early, tentative steps led me to the Appalachian Trail. As the months and years passed an idea crystallized in my mind; why not pursue my dream on behalf of those in need? Why not put away my past selfishness and become an instrument for good? The decision made itself. I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail on behalf of People Serving People and Minnesota’s homeless families. PSP works tirelessly to ensure families’ first visits to its shelter are also their last. It equips them with the knowledge and skills needed to end the cycle of housing insecurity and find their way home. Reaching my fundraising goal in support of these families has become as important to me as reaching Mount Katahdin.

Am I anxious? I’m terrified. Fortunately I’m able to draw upon love, support, inspiration, and encouragement from my family, friends, and donors, as well as the wisdom of those who have gone before me. I first read Appalachian Trials while deployed to Afghanistan, and I’ve reread it several times since. Thanks to Zach I’m confident in my preparedness for the trail’s psychological challenges. When I reach Mount Katahdin and achieve my fundraising goal, it will be due in no small part to lessons learned from Zach’s amazing book.

The Appalachian Trail calls us for different reasons, and these are mine. To my fellow thru-hikers in the Class of 2014, I look forward to meeting you and learning what brought you to the footpath. To all others, I invite you to learn more about I’m doing by checking out 2,000 Miles From Home and following me on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and Trail Journals. See you on the trail.

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