Engineering My Life: From Nerd to Nomad

Hi! My name is Drew and I am an engineer, hiker, climber, adventurer, and outdoorsman. I grew up and currently live outside of Hershey, PA. I went to college at the Rochester Institute of Technology for electrical engineering. Towards the end of college is when my love for hiking and backpacking began to flourish. I started pushing miles and getting out of my comfort zone with progressively more difficult hikes. After college, I began working for a tech company. Over the past 2 years my passion for hiking became an obsession. I quickly realized that a major goal of mine was obtainable sooner than I had imagined.

The foundation of my dream.

For the last 10 years, I have dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Something about the simplicity and freedom of trail life seems to lure me in. I was about 15 when I started backpacking on sections of the AT in PA. Some friends and I would go on our summers off during high school. We carried way too much gear, made many mistakes, and always came home blistered; yet we continued to plan more trips. Of all the trips in my teenage years, one, in particular, stands out.

The trip that changed my life!

After a long day of hiking through the Palmerton section of the AT, we stopped near a road crossing and set up camp at a pre-established site. We hitchhiked down to a local restaurant and got burgers and milkshakes. When we returned to camp we met a German man who decided to share the area with us. He was tall, skinny, and had a long beard (yes I know that sounds like the stereotypical thru-hiker). We struck up a conversation with him and he told us that he was hiking the entire trail.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.. “You mean to tell me you quit your job to hike this trail?” My brain told me he was a mad man, my heart wanted to follow in his footsteps. We cooked him up some extra food that we had so that he would continue to talk to us. After conversing for what seemed like hours we parted ways for the night. He of course was long gone by the time we woke up the next morning. I’ve pondered that conversation for a long time. For years I couldn’t understand why anyone would leave a safe comfortable life to be a homeless hiker. After college and a few years of working as an engineer, I finally figured out why.

So… What’s my plan?

I am going to attempt a solo South-Bound (SOBO) thru-hike of the AT starting in June. I hope to complete the trail in roughly 5 months but I have planned for enough time and money if it were to go a couple of months longer than expected. This trip will require leaving my engineering job for a while, with the hopes of returning to my current job once I finish. My fiancé and a few friends will be joining me at the start of the trail and the epic hike up Katadhin. From there I will walk, walk, walk, and probably walk some more.

Won’t you get bored of all that walking?

Absolutely. I fully intend on becoming bored of the same monotonous task of walking. Fortunately, this is one of the things that I am looking forward to. I think that this time will be valuable for self-reflection. This time will also allow for binging podcasts, audiobooks, taking pictures, observing nature, and of course, meeting new people.

You are going solo? Are you crazy?!

Yes, I am going solo. No, I’m not crazy.  Most thru-hikers decide to go solo. The trail is probably safer than your local Walmart, plus there will be plenty of other people around me as I hike.

Aren’t you supposed to hike NOBO?

The AT can be hiked in either direction, but my decision to hike SOBO was mostly based on timing. Leaving in June worked better for me. I always envisioned myself finishing the trail on Katadhin. It is no doubt a more epic ending. Fortunately, there are a lot of benefits to going SOBO… such as more moderate weather, smaller crowds, getting the more difficult sections out of the way sooner, and quite a few more. In the end, I am just happy to be able to hike the trail.

How long will you be gone?

The trail takes most people roughly 4-7 months to complete. I am aiming for 5 months, but I won’t be disappointed if it takes a bit longer.    My goal is to push myself physically and mentally while still having fun. The trail is about 2,200 miles long, so completing it in any time frame is a great accomplishment.

Final remarks.

I hope that this post has given you a better understanding of the task that I will be undertaking in the months to come. I plan to give further updates before I begin my hike and then consistent updates while I am on trail. If you are interested in my journey please follow me through the trek and my Instagram. In the meantime.. remember to wander in your own direction.

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Comments 6

  • Mikeycat : May 25th

    From one engineer to another, happy travels and safe journeys. I’ve been dreaming of the thru-hike going on my 7th year now. I’ve hiked a lil bit of the AT, but not enough for bragging rights. I yearn to thru-hike it once my kids are sufficient enough that my income isn’t such an important factor in sustaining other people’s lives.

    When I read your surname, I thought about another Flickinger, Jered Flickinger who was an engineer turned audio synth designer for Future Retro synths.

    Take care.

    • Drew Flickinger : May 26th

      Thank you for the comment. I hope that you are able to fulfill your dream one day soon. I was fortunate in that my financial dependencies were low (no children and no house). All I can say is that once you can afford it then find the time and don’t try and wait for the “perfect” time to find you.

  • Debbie : May 28th

    You are too cool, Drew! I always admired your drive. Here’s hoping for happy journeying and dry socks 🙂

    • Drew Flickinger : May 28th

      Thank you Debbie!! Lol, I’m pretty sure you have a better work ethic than me!

  • Prashant Mudgal : May 31st

    Hey Drew! All the very best with your hike, it will be an amazing experience.
    5 months in the nature will be so cool! Maybe one day you will do the entire PCT too. 🙂
    I am writing from my trek in the Annapurna region in Nepal, weather is quite fickle, so have to take a break as I already tempted fate yesterday and got stuck in heavy hail.
    But this is a very small hike, 10 days only to the base of Annapurna. Maybe I will get time too.

    And I liked the statement of yours, ‘My brain told me he was a mad man, my heart wanted to follow in his footsteps’. So true!

    I am sure you are well prepared with luggage and logistics etc, not that I have a lot of experience with long hikes but there would be times when you would want to give up and question your decision; just take a couple of hours in those moments – maybe even a day, sit for a while on the stone preferably that overlooks a valley and start again.

    All the best.

    • Drew Flickinger : Jun 3rd

      Thank you Prashant! I appreciate your enthusiasm and I hope that you are successful on your current hike! I will be sure to heed your words regarding tough times on trail. Hiking near Annapurna sounds amazing, that area is absolutely gorgeous!

      Best of luck,


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