Why Oh Why Would You Hike the Appalachian Trail?

It’s well known by anyone even remotely familiar with long trail hiking that they are going to be repeatedly asked why they are thru-hiking. This question comes from friends and family, total strangers, and fellow hikers on the trail. While I understand the curiosity (and actually love to hear others’ answers), it always seems odd that we aren’t asked this question about other big decisions in our lives. Can you imagine these scenarios?

Me: I’m going to college!
Them: Why?

Me: Hey everyone, I’m getting married!
Them: Why?

Me: Guess what, I’m going to have a baby!
Them: Why?

And this is the thing, I feel like my decision to thru-hike the AT is just as huge as any of the above scenarios, maybe even bigger. But here’s another thing… for many of us planning long hikes, it’s not even a real ‘decision’, it feels more like a calling or some other form of predestination we haven’t really chosen. It’s one we’ve somehow come to understand through revelation. Now imagine these scenarios:

Me: I’m going to join a volunteer organization because I love to help people!
Them: Why?

Me: My favorite color is purple!
Them: Why?

Me: My blood type is O+!
Them: Why?

Alright, that last one may be a little ridiculous (or at least the punctuation is) but I’m trying to make a point here!

What’s your ‘why’?

It is interesting to me that when I worked in social work, women’s health research, or birth work, no one asked me what my ‘why’ was even one time. And that was really important work! However, when I worked in sales for a few years, I was peppered with demands to state my why, develop my why, have a why that makes you cry, and so on. This deep connection with what I was doing and the outcome I wanted was supposed to be distilled down into an ‘elevator pitch’, meaning a ‘why’ I could state in about 10-15 seconds to let people know I had legitimate purpose. Even though I tried to clarify my ‘why’ in my business, I never felt like I really did it well. This is because everything I did in that job was the same as what I did in my previous jobs and in my everyday life: I like to help others, my family is everything to me, and I try to make the world a little bit better any chance I get. It just feels like helping is what I was made to do, so how do I put that into clear and concise words?

Well, if you’ve read any of my posts, you already know that clear and concise ain’t my conversational style. So, I was always envious of others in my field who would state that ‘why’ so eloquently and so succinctly. I’m currently envious of other hikers who can state their thru-hiking ‘why’ in such a perfect way so others can immediately connect with them. Often, these reasons are emotional (there’s a lot of thru-hikers that are recently widowed, divorced, or have lost someone close to them), they can be inspirational (they’re hiking for a charity, or to show that disability isn’t an impediment), or they’re just downright heartwarming (they’re sharing quality time with a friend or family member). I just never feel like my hike is as important.

So then you don’t have a why?

Well, not so fast. I love the saying ‘marry the process, divorce the results’. I try my best to be teachable. This means when prepping for my thru hike and reading ‘Appalachian Trials‘ by The Trek’s own Zach Davis, I didn’t skip over the section about mentally preparing by making lists, including a list of why I’m hiking the AT. It’s part of the process, right? Zach says that “when it comes to backpacking 2,200 miles, the greatest determining factor of success is purpose.” This wasn’t about selling myself or trying to convince someone else that I was valid. This is about Traci being there for Purple Lotus when things get tough on the trail. If I don’t know ‘why’ I’m out there, it’s going to be that much easier to make the choice to leave there. I don’t want that. I spent some time alone, reflecting, over several sessions. I’m at peace with what I’ve written down. I hope that it, along with all of the other ‘fail-safes’ I’m putting into place, will maximize my odds of success.

And that list is?

That list is just for Purple Lotus. Don’t get me wrong, I plan on sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of a thru hike uncensored here in my blog. I will not be shy about telling you when I hurt myself, make questionable choices, and have weird things going on with my body (every thru-hiker has some horror stories, I’m sure I’ll have mine!). I’ll share beautiful mountain pictures, fun stories about fellow hikers, and probable explicit descriptions of the unbridled joy I feel when eating town food. But those are all things that happen to me and how I react to them. This list is meit’s a map to the deepest parts of my heart. And, since one of the items on it refers to me learning how to set better boundaries when interacting with others and all my previous ‘whys’ were always about other people, I’m extremely proud of myself for setting this first boundary here, and keeping those deepest of needs and reasons just for myself.

“When you walk in purpose, you collide with destiny.” – Ralph Buchanan


Purple Lotus is a NOBO hiker in the AT class of 2024. Read her first post, an introduction of herself, here.

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