Growing up Along the Appalachian Trail

As children, we have no control of where we grow up.  Our parents make those decisions and we merely follow along.  Although I was born in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., my family moved to Front Royal, Va., before I started kindergarten.  Unless you have hiked the Appalachian Trail, you probably haven’t heard of this town until now.

A young Nick (left) and Brian (right) on a hike somewhere in the Shennies.

Never heard of it.

Fair enough.  Front Royal is at the northern end of  Shenandoah National Park and the AT passes by on the outskirts of town.  Skyline Drive goes through the park and is an extremely popular tourist attraction, especially in the fall when the leaves on the trees change colors.  I always knew about the AT and our family would frequently go for hikes in Shenandoah National Park.

Sounds like a lovely place.

It is!  However, our town never really seemed like a trail town.  Outfitters couldn’t stay in business for more than a couple of years, most locals didn’t know much about the AT, and Front Royal wasn’t designated an official trail town by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy till 2012.  Thanks to this designation and the trail becoming more popular every year, the town is slowly becoming more aware and accepting of hikers.  Luckily, our parents knew about the beauty that surrounded us and were willing to take advantage of it.  I spent a lot of my younger years outside and am very grateful for that.

In 2014, we walked all the way home from Georgia. Then we kept walking to Maine.

The idea of doing a thru-hike never really seemed like a real possibility growing up.  I enjoyed hiking and being outside, but I didn’t think that I’d actually do it one day.  Nevertheless, the seed had already been planted and it just kept growing.

It runs walks in the family.

In 2011, our mother started to section hike the AT and by the next year she had done the whole thing. My brother and I joined her and her tramily (trail family) during summer break from college for a section starting in New York and ending in Connecticut.  I had done overnight hikes before but being out there with a whole gaggle of thru-hikers changed my perspective.  The experience opened me up to a whole other world and after this trip is when I realized that I would need to do a thru-hike at some point in my life.

Joining Momma Cornell (trail name: Corky) for a short section on the AT in 2011.

There’s a time for everything.

In 2014, after graduating with a degree in environmental studies, I decided I would use it and go for a 2,185.3 mile walk in the woods.  During your first thru-hike, you lose track of how many people tell you, “You have no idea now, but this is going to change your life.”   You nod and say things like, “Totally man!” or “Yeah sure, guy,” and you keep walking.

Were they right?

Absolutely!  The college path came to a close and my life was set on a new path the minute I set foot on the AT.  Sure, I was just following white blazes for four months, but even after the blazes ended I was still able to follow the path that was laid out in front of me.  All I had to do was walk it.  The Appalachian Trail has held a special place in my heart since walking it for the first time as a kid and holds an even greater place after thru-hiking it.

Have you walked through Front Royal?

Let me know if you did and how you liked it.  Will I be walking by anyone’s hometown on the CDT?  Thanks for reading.

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Comments 11

  • Kiersten : Mar 11th

    My dad is from Culpeper and I’m from Hampton Roads but I’ve heard of Front Royal! I live on the coast but I grew up with the AT too. My parents would pull us out of school to go hike on the AT! Trail life is the best life!
    Kiersten @ Kiersten Figures Out Life

    • Brian Cornell : Mar 12th

      Great reason to get pulled out of school!

  • MoFo : Mar 12th

    Beautiful story! I admire you and your family for your love of nature and especially the AT. Hike on!

    • Brian Cornell : Mar 12th

      Thanks MoFo!

  • Jonathan Drippy Jolly : Mar 12th

    Solid read brian, even though the AT isnt really on my radar I still love hearing about its magic.

    Enjoyed meeting you the other night @ Shelter. lets hike soon.

    • Brian Cornell : Mar 12th

      Thanks! The magic is everywhere. Highly recommend the AT and think it should be on everyone’s radar.

  • Ninjaface : Mar 16th

    Nice, I kind of grew up in Linden right off the AT near Dick’s Dome.. Blue mountain.

    • Brian Cornell : Mar 16th

      Oh yeah, I know where that is! A well known shelter in that area for sure

  • Pilgrim : Mar 17th

    Hey, Brian great article. I have hiked through Front Royal – even stayed a night in your home! (I’m Pilgrim of Team MoFo.) Have a GREAT and SAFE CDT hike!

    • Pam : Mar 20th

      Oh Pilgrim you crack me up!

    • Brian Cornell : Mar 20th

      Haha thanks Pilgrim!


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