From the Cornfields of Illinois to Thru-hiking the New England Trail
My Hiker Origin Story
Growing up, yearly trips to Montana filled my midwestern dreams with nightly images of peaks, trails, and raging rivers. However, I was never what you would call outdoorsy – being surrounded in every direction by never-ending cornfields and sprawling suburbs certainly didn’t help. I never went backpacking, on a real hike, or had any outdoor adventures. Anytime I would get the motivation to do more, I would go to a gear store and promptly be reminded that the outdoors industry was not catered for people like me. If they had pants that fit me they would often be the largest size and I would feel too embarrassed to buy them – promptly squashing my motivation to get outdoors. This left me with the occasional car camping trip as my only outlet to fulfill my outdoor desires.
After college, I took matters into my own hands. My fiance and I began camping, hiking, and visiting as many state/national parks as possible. After joining the millions who found themselves unemployed during the COVID-19 induced 2020 recession, the mountains started calling once again. I knew immediately that I wanted a change of pace and found myself applying for every job I could find in Montana – and I got one! While the job was temporary, provided no stability/continuity, and involved arguing with potential landlords over the phone from my stuffed sedan during my 2200 mile move – I wasted no time getting outdoors, spending my very first night dispersed camping in the Black Hills of South Dakota on my way.
*Looking at this pack set up still makes me cringe – but everyone’s gotta start somewhere
A Beautiful Disaster
Once in Montana, I found myself challenging my own expectations of myself every day. Living just 2 miles from the CDT, I quickly became immersed in the world of long-distance hiking. As a large man, I have never been presumed to be athletic – yet here I found myself hiking 40+ miles a week while working a full-time job. With every day my confidence grew (so did my calves) and I found myself itching to get outdoors again. I even went on my first solo backpacking trip – in which I got lost, ran out of water, realized I never tested my stove and couldn’t get it to start, almost pressed the SOS button on my spot about 5 times, and had to smash my own car window because I locked myself out. Needless to say, it was a beautiful disaster. I was determined to learn from those mistakes. I continued to acquire more gear and get more miles under my feet – building upon the lessons I learned from every new experience.
*Not bad for a first solo backpacking trip campsite view.
For the Love of Hiking
Despite the successes, I still felt like I didn’t quite belong. Whether it was people giving me backhanded compliments like “you must be losing so much weight,” “I can’t believe you are doing that.” and “wow good on ya big guy – your body must thank you,” or recognizing that gear was not designed for me (sleep pads/bags are never quite wide enough), I am always reminded that I am not the target hiking body-type demographic. At times this would tank my confidence and keep me off the trail.
Luckily, the hiking community itself is so incredibly welcoming and supportive. I have learned from many of those who have come before me to just hike your own hike. Hiking brings me a pure joy like almost nothing else in my life has and its impact on my mood can not be understated. As someone who deals with depression and anxiety, hiking gives a physical outlet, a connection to nature that leaves me feeling rooted, and an opportunity to set and achieve goals outside of work/school/relationships.
Home in a new Mountain Range
When my time in Montana was winding down, I was determined to find another job that would put me somewhere with convenient access to trails. Luckily, I found a job in Vermont with a local non-profit that has me nestled in the Green Mountains and just a few miles from the LT/AT. I have already explored virtually every trail in the Southern Eastern part of the state that I can find a map for – and have even ventured into snowshoeing and winter hiking/camping.
*This overlook is 5 miles from my house. I don’t think I will ever get tired of this view – even if I do hike this trail almost every week.
In 2021 I have my sight set further than just the local trails – no matter how nice – and plan to complete my first two thru-hikes. In early April I will be hiking my own hike on the 215-mile New England Trail and in September I am planning to hike the 77-mile Foothills Trail in the Carolinas.
A year ago I would have never thought this was something that I was capable of. If you are currently in that same mental place then let me be that voice telling you to do it – just get on the trail and never look back.
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