Faces of the Appalachian Trail, 2014: Jordan D. Bearss
Trail Name: Gizmo
Home State: North Carolina
Occupation: Cabinet maker
Hike Timeline: February 18 – July 16, 2014
Why did you decide to hike?
It was an accumulation of factors building over years. I first heard of the AT by watching a documentary on the Discovery channel while I was still in high school, but didn’t think much about it until I got older.
Looking back, I remember feeling very stagnate, living day to day with nothing worth remembering happening. I felt too old to not have had some great thing I’ve done in my life to talk about.
What was the most challenging part of the journey?
Finding the courage to pick up and leave the quiet little life I had made for myself for the unknown, and strangely coming back from such an adventure. I’m not trying to make light of the challenges in the wilderness like finding clean water, rationing supplies, monitoring daily mileage goals based on supplies and distance between towns, keeping my body in good enough condition to keep going, and of course the White Mountain range of New Hampshire. That being said, coming home was by far the hardest thing for me.
What was the most memorable part of the journey?
While I often reflect upon the solitude and fulfillment walking alone on the trail gave me, passing incredible vistas and beautiful springs daily, the best part was the people I met along the way. When AT thru-hikers meet up for the first time, we instantly start talking like old friends. While I knew each of these people only a month or so, I miss them all more than anything else. People like Dozer, U-Haul, Chinard, Farmer, Moxie, Ibex, Emerald, Goat Gurrl, Lazy Boy, Time Out, Crunchy, and of course all of the wonderful folks helping us along the way. It’s because of them that the AT will be something I will remember until my last day.
How did you feel after the hike was over?
I have found no series of words that can fully express the torrent of emotions I felt while on top of Katahdin. The intense mix of joy, accomplishment, relief, empowerment, rejuvenation blended with intense sorrow and disbelief at it all being over is an emotion I have decided to call “Katahdin.” Those who have been there I believe will understand. I wanted there to be more so badly and yet was very ready to go home. It’s impossible to fully describe, but in the end I felt far happier than I had ever been before. Coming back has been hard, surprisingly. I would laugh at the simple things like turning on a faucet or the blast of cool air coming out of a refrigerator, but I would always find myself sitting by windows looking outward in the rare moments that I wasn’t outside. I still go for long walks every day, choosing not to drive the three miles to and from work.
I feel different from other people – not that I’m better or less in any way, just unable to relate anymore. Many of the conveniences of modern life like smartphones, TV and social media I now feel burdened by, and I don’t think I’ll ever quite get used to them again. After trying to settle back into a normal routine, I soon realized that wasn’t going to work. So now I’m planning a few other long-distance hikes to do before I’m 30, and then apply the things I’ve learned along the way into some sort of simpler, off-the-grid living. While I don’t want to completely shut off from the world and be a hermit or anything, I still feel the need to have some solitude and am making steps to find it long term.
What did you gain from the experience?
I feel greatly self advanced from walking the AT. I’m very self motivated and reliant, and I have excellent time and resource management. I’m very confident in my ability to overcome any obstacle and have had my faith in humanity completely restored. I have a lifetime of stories to on and friends from all over the world. I have a deep respect for nature along with the natural world around me, and a renewed sense of wonder for the little things I’ve passed over since I was a child. I know who I am, what I want, and what brings me fulfillment, which I believe will make for a far better and fuller life.
What are your goals for the future?
This winter I have several overnight snowshoeing trips planned in Michigan, and a week-long trip along the east coast of Florida to photograph piers with an old friend of mine. In spring, I’m spending a month in the southwest and California to explore the desert and the Redwood Forests. I have the framework for a 50-state moped trip going for the summer, depending on if I can convince a few others to tag along. The biggest goal I have is the Te Araroa Trail across New Zealand next September.
I’ve set a short-term goal to work hard, save money and still find time to travel over the weekends or whenever time allows, and a long-term goal to live close to self sufficiently, off the grid, simply, and most importantly, happy.
The AT changed my life. I was satisfied with my life before but far from happy. The AT is challenging, physically and mentally, but the rewards are immeasurable.
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