Faces of the Appalachian Trail, 2014: Ethan Zukas
Trail Name: Blood Cookie
Home State: Connecticut
Occupation: Former pharmacy technician
Hike Timeline: March 29 – September 18, 2014
Why did you decide to hike?
My two sisters hiked the AT in 2013, which sparked the idea. I climbed Mt. Katahdin with them last August and seeing them and their fellow hiker friends, I was inspired to try the AT myself in the future … eventually. Little did I know, the future didn’t mean years from that day, but the next hiking season. I decided to hike the AT because I was at a point in my life where I knew I wasn’t happy. I was bored with my life (friends, hobbies, job) and I was unsatisfied with how I spent my time. After a lot of pondering (what you do during seasonal depression), I knew I had to do something. The AT seemed like the perfect way to escape. I had recently upgraded to being a pharmacy technician, which actually wasn’t that bad, but wasn’t good enough to stop the urge to get away. I didn’t really want to quit, but I told myself if I waited until it was convenient, I’d never do it. I made the right decision.
What was the most challenging part of the journey?
Aside from getting up and leaving everything you know, the hardest part of the journey for me was getting out of my sleeping bag in the morning. It’s difficult to force yourself into uncomfortable situations, and that includes leaving your warm sleeping bag for the cold air just so you can walk 15 miles with 30 pounds on your back. Rainy days sucked too, but it is what it is. I am extremely grateful for the amazing weather we had.
What was the most memorable part of the journey?
The most memorable part was probably when my brother and I split up for a few days. We pretty much hiked together the whole time, but there were a few times he would hike ahead. Not that I don’t enjoy my brother’s company, but there’s something awesome about not having someone you know so well close by. It was easier to meet and talk to other hikers for some reason. I have so many sporadic memories of the trail and most of them are about the times I spent in town – and the best ones are with a bunch of other hikers. Going to bars, sleeping in churches, roaming the streets.
How did you feel after the hike was over?
That moment on Katahdin, I didn’t feel any different; probably because I still had to hike down the mountain. When I reached the bottom, I obviously felt accomplished, but there was a mild feeling of emptiness. I was ready to be done, but maybe for just a few weeks. I was not ready to go back home. Luckily, the transition was delayed by a four-day fair in Unity, Maine.
: I feel like I’m not doing anything ever. I’m too lazy to look for a job, and everything is stagnant. The last few days, however, I’ve made an effort to do more and see more people. Going for walks helps too. It’s been a slow process, but I’m starting to get used to being back home. Now I have to make some money so I can look forward to another big journey, whatever it may be.
What did you gain from the experience?
I gained the ability to think more positively. I know that material things do not make you happy I mean, everyone knows this, but the trail kind of shoves it in your face. Talking to strangers is often enlightening. Trail magic has inspired me to pay it forward. I also gained a lot of new friends all over the U.S., and in Germany.
What are your goals for the future?
At this point, I do not know what my goals are. I just know I would like to do something like the AT every couple of years because the experience is too great not to. Life is about the experiences, right? Writing a book with my siblings was an idea of mine when I was on the trail. During my hike, I was motivated to do so many cool things when I got back (learn guitar, learn another language, write a book, write another book), but I have no energy to do anything now that I’m actually back.
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