Why the Appalachian Trail? Why Now?

Why this? Why now? These two questions are always asked any time someone wants to talk about my upcoming thru hike on the Appalachian Trail. I feel the more appropriate question is WHY NOT?!?! Even though this question may aggravate thru hikers the more times it is asked, the answer to this question is important to thru hikers. The answer will be our compass for our thru hike, it will be our purpose, and it will be our motivation to keep us going when the trail gets tough.

Around Swatara Gap in Pennsylvania along the Appalachian Trail

Reflection and Connecting with Nature

John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” In today’s fast-paced world with digital overload and distractions abound, it is challenging to quiet the mind, focus, and give time for self-reflection much less slow down to learn about and appreciate the ways in which nature can benefit us.

Completing the Appalachian Trail as a solo hike allows a person to focus inward. For me, hiking clears my mind, soothes my soul, and helps put life into perspective. When in nature, I realize I am part of a larger whole. I have always loved spending time in nature for these reasons, and hiking, in particular, is one of my favorite ways of doing so. This hike will greatly test my ability to survive in nature. I will be encountering challenging situations completely outside of my control. Situations that will build my knowledge base, increase my sense of self-reliance, and inspire a healthy sense of confidence.

Solo hiking provides an outlet for the pressures and stress of everyday life, away from all the distractions of modern-day society. Time spent in nature promotes mindfulness, contributes to our happiness, and ultimately increases our overall well-being. Benefits of solo hiking include: 

  • Learning to embrace challenges by thinking creatively;
  • Connecting with nature, learning from our past, and focusing on a more environmentally sustainable future;
  • Developing yourself individually and interpersonally;
  • Encountering diverse people from all over the world with a united interest;
  • Promoting wellness – mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual; and
  • Unplugging and experiencing a simpler way of living.

Personal Challenge

With every challenge and within every adversity is the opportunity to grow and become your better self. Challenge differs from person to person, but what that challenge requires you to do means the same for everyone. To grow, that challenge requires a person to stretch themself beyond their comfort zone. The one thing that prevents people from challenging themselves is fear. Fear is a great way to keep yourself in check. It is a primal emotion that is there to keep us safe, but if fear is able to take complete control we will never be able to challenge ourselves and grow. Fear can keep you from experiencing so much of the world, can prevent you from meeting new people, establishing new relationships, and keep you from living life to the absolute fullest.

Completing a thru hike, regardless of length or location, is going to be a physically and mentally demanding task. There will be many factors contributing to that fear, which can keep someone from experiencing a hike like this. You are constantly on your feet and on the move for long distances, the terrain can be challenging, the weather may seem like it never wants to work with you, and during this entire time you maybe missing people back home while having thoughts of self doubt slowly creep into your head.

There are two different types of threats that will prevent hikers from completing their thru hike, perceived threats and actual threats. Some of the perceived threats will be black bears, snakes, and other people when hiking alone. The actual threats keeping a hiker from completing a thru hike are; being underprepared, hypothermia, dehydration, injury, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Fear can make threats, whether perceived or actual, seem insurmountable, but being prepared can greatly decrease the  chance of these threats ending a thru hike. It will be very easy to give up and quit, but pushing yourself beyond that moment of wanting to quit is where you will learn the most about yourself.

Embrace the challenge and your future self will thank you for doing so.


The Appalachian Trail travels along the ridge line of the oldest mountain chain in the entire world, so the mountains here have so much history. The Crawford Trail, the oldest hiking trail in the United States made in 1819, converges with the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains and goes up Mount Washington in New Hampshire. The AT is also the oldest trail in the US thru-hiking triple crown of trails. This triple crown of thru hikes includes the Appalachian Trail, The Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. The first complete version of the Appalachian Trail was 2,050 miles, connecting Georgia and Maine in 1937. The original version is nothing like the 2023 version, the original included 100s and 100s of miles of road walking. There are many firsts when it comes to the AT as well. The first recorded thru hike took place in 1948 (Earl Shaffer) and the first recorded female thru hike took place in 1952 (Mildred Norman Ryder). As a hiker on the Appalachian Trail, a hiker becomes part of this history.

An early vision of the AT proposed by Benton MacKaye to the Appalachian Trail Conference in Washington March 1925. Courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.


Now Get Out There!

So, why this trail? On February 19th I will begin my 6 month, 2,200 mile walk through the Appalachian Mountains, starting in Springer Mountain, Georgia in the south and ending on top of Mt. Katahdin, Maine in the north. The hike takes you through 14 states, 8 national forests, and 6 national parks. It is a grueling and demanding endeavor. The terrain is mountainous for its entire length, with an elevation gain and loss over the entirety of the trail equivalent to hiking up and down Mt. Everest from sea level and back 16 times. The AT will be a test physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is the longest hiking only footpath in the entire world which makes it very unique. As thru hikers, we need to turn the question of “Why are you doing this?” back onto the person asking and ask them in return “Why are you not?”

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Comments 3

  • KT : Jan 9th

    You had me at why not! That’s my nickname I can’t wait to follow your trip if you keep up to date maybe there will be trail magic near hbg! Happy trails

    • Michael Chamberlain : Jan 9th

      I am looking forward to some trail magic!!! Thanks for following along!

  • Conor Maguire : Jan 10th

    Yo! Carpentero! Listo! Man i really enjoyed this read this morning, thank you dude, you sold it fair and square. Ill be tuning in. Best, Conor


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