Why The Appalachian Trail? Why Now?

Why The Appalachian Trail? Why Now?

I’ve been asked this question a few times as word has trickled around to friends and family that I’m planning to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2018.

Here is my official, meandering answer:

Ever have an idea that’s been in the back of your mind for so many years that it just sort of lives there peacefully, not causing any trouble, just existing and subsisting on little bits of your thoughts without posing any threats or challenges to what’s happening in your day to day life?

Because I sure do. Or, did.

Sometimes those little ideas run their course inside your skull and fade into the sunset when things like relationships, jobs, or plain old age catch up with them and shine a light on how unrealistic they are. You may remember the ghosts of ideas like that over conversations with friends once they’ve already died, offering them up as artifacts of your youthful idealism.

Maybe you always wanted to play professional baseball, or write a book, or go skydiving. Now that you have a family, or a career, or maybe some arthritis, it’s safe to pull them out of memory and let your friends laugh at them along with you. You only bring them up because there’s no longer a reasonable opportunity to try (and possibly fail) at them. “Well, that ship has sailed,” you think, “so I may as well admit that I always wanted to ________.”

These little ideas are the seeds of regret.

And if the ideas were good enough, the seeds will grow into a big gnarly tree that blocks out the sun and leaves a shady spot on your consciousness.

As much as I like trees, I’m not trying to grow any of this type in my psyche. In fact, just recently I had to break out a metaphorical tractor, and rip one clear out of my mind’s soil. I guess at this point it had become a sapling.

Ever since the first time I stood atop a mountain, I’ve known what the Appalachian Trail is.

I was lucky to have friends and family members bring me out hiking and backpacking and I fell in love with it as a young boy. From about age 8 onward, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to hike the whole thing. Georgia to Maine. How do people survive and keep from going crazy out there? The thought fascinated me.

I carried this little spark of a thought with me through High School, where my buddy Matt and I would talk about doing the trail one day. He’d be out of the Marine Corps and I’d be finished with college and we’d go for it together.

Well, he’s STILL in the Corps, an officer, married with two beautiful young boys. And I postponed my student life indefinitely (sans diploma – lured astray by too much Kerouac and a job in a guitar shop) about 5 years ago.

Plenty of other factors kept the idea small, and at times, impossibly unrealistic for years: being an irresponsible 20-something with little inclination to save money, a girlfriend who’s enjoyment of the wild outdoors extended to car camping and picnics, my flirtation with various bachelor’s degrees, pursuing my grand scheme to build guitars for a living (still ongoing and becoming ever grander!) and most recently, a terminally ill Dad who thought thru-hiking the AT was a pretty cool idea.

I woke up on the first day of 2017 and something startling occurred to me:

There no longer remained any good reasons that I couldn’t let my quiet little AT dream out into the light, to get a clearer view of just what it looked like. I figured maybe it would be another brush with a life goal that I could discard again when a little research showed how infeasible it would be. So I started doing some reading about how one actually goes about doing it.

That was eight months ago.

I thought by now this would be out of my system. Apparently it’s not, and won’t be… So I gave (a ton of) notice to my day job, and started maneuvering to finish up with guitar projects and shut down my shop for about 6 months.

In April of 2018, I’m leaving to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. So wish me luck, call me crazy, join me for some training hikes, ‘cause it’s ON!

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Comments 13

  • connie Bartlett : Aug 14th

    Alex, I’m so proud that you are following your dream! Your writing is wonderful & informative. I feel very fortunate to have two writers in our family…..congratulations! I have seen you grow into such a nice young man….a dreamer…..an accomplished guitar builder….a loving grandson who I love to the moon and back! Your dad is smiling down on you & is cheering you on your hiking journey! Love Grram 🙂

  • Krystal : Aug 14th

    I LOVE IT! Are you going to do some a cheesy gear list? Everybody likes gear lists.

  • Nari : Aug 15th

    Good on you Alex! You are making real for yourself what so many of us only dream of doing! Please do share your adventures on the AT as you go along! Good luck and have fun!

  • Hoot AL : Aug 15th

    Love your story! Hope to meet on the trail next year. Happy trails!

  • Sue foley : Aug 15th

    Bud, Im so impressed! Good for you!! Everything you do has so much thought put into it, I love hiking as well but since moving to Florida and having no mountains…also having hip surgery, my wings are clipped! Have a great trip and keep doing what you love! Bri would be so proud of you, as am I ?❤???? love aunt sue

  • Kelly Domino : Aug 15th

    Hi Alex,
    Looking forward to reading more about your journey! And see you out on the trail in April, I will be starting then as well!

  • Bill Yeadon : Aug 15th

    Go for it Alex. I for one will be following you vicariously.

  • James wood : Aug 15th

    Alex I tryed in 2017 I highly recommend doing the AT starting in may. I’m not trying to discourage you but get in shape make sure you know how to pack your 50L backpack.
    It’s gets very cold in the mountains in march.

  • Clydette N Broyles : Aug 15th

    I am proud of you for following your dream .I too dream of thru hiking the AT .I hope to set out in 2019 .I will followyo ur trek and hope to learn from it .Good luck and God bless

  • craig : Aug 15th

    Great story, Alex! I look forward to following your AT journey! You have a new follower on Instagram!

  • Christina : Aug 15th

    So excited and so proud of you Alex!! Can’t wait to read more about your trip! And better believe we will miss you while you are gone! Better start preparing Raven now! Keep up the good work!! Love hearing about all of your hiking adventures!!

  • Leslie Hurst (Kitty 2013 and 2015) : Aug 27th

    We plan to start on April 4. Hope we get to meet you!

  • Mark Cummings : Sep 8th

    Great articles. Hope to see more.


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