Life and Hiking: the Perfect Match for Me

Allow me to introduce myself

Welcome to my blog! A little about me, I’m 36 and I am a high school teacher in a south suburb of Chicago. I teach language arts and reading to ESL (English as a Second Language) students. I also love to play guitar and teach beginner guitar classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. I am new to thru-hiking and somewhat new to backpacking, but I have done tons of camping in my life. I am very excited about being a blogger for The Trek and am going to try to be as helpful and positive as possible. My posts will not just be about my hiking experiences, but also how I am mentally and physically preparing myself for the thru-hike. I am not fresh out of college, and I am definitely not an athlete, but those are not two requirements needed to complete a thru-hike. For my first post, I figured I would share how and why I decided to become a backpacker and thru-hike The Long Trail in Vermont.

Parson's Chicken and Fish

Picture of a man waiting.

When life gave me the business

Ultimate hiker Andrew Skurka stated that the first question you should ask yourself before starting a thru-hike is: “What are your objectives?” Sometimes it’s the simplest of questions that require the most colossal answers. It’s not so much that I woke up one day and decided that I wanted to do a thru-hike, or even that completing a thru-hike was on my bucket list. It’s just an idea that kind of evolved for me.

I often have this dream where I am running a race and I am almost at the finish line. On the other side of the finish line, everything is perfect and there resides everything I want out of life. Then, out of nowhere, the finish line vanishes, and I am left in a barren wasteland, still running, still looking for the finish line. That is where I found myself in November 2017. It had been a rough year. I was in a very fulfilling relationship and it slowly deteriorated. We were living together and I moved out. Without a lot of money, I did something all 35-year-olds want to do, I moved back in with my parents. I moved back home in October and, before I know it, it was Thanksgiving. My parents were in Florida visiting one of my sisters, and I was alone in my childhood home. It had been a long time since I had been alone and it was not an easy adjustment. All I could think about was never being able to achieve any of the things I want in life. At this point I should mention that I struggle with anxiety and depression, but for the past few years I have been actively working to control my emotions. I also have an issue with using food and alcohol to help cope with my problems, so my physical shape is far from ideal. Instead of heading to the fridge, I asked myself a serious question, “What do you want to do and what is honestly preventing you from doing it?” More often than not, the barriers we need to get over are in our mind, but climbing over a mental barrier can be more difficult than climbing a mountain.

Waterfalls

2015, the last time I did outdoorsy stuff.

Soul Searching actually worked for me, no joke

Life doesn’t always work out the way you planned. I often say, “you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt.” I don’t mean this to be an excuse to accept mediocrity, but rather, motivation to make the most with what you have. I did some light soul searching, and tried to think of a time or a place when I was genuinely happy. I started thinking about nature, the great outdoors, and the national parks. I am an Eagle Scout and spent the majority of my teens in the wilderness. My years in the scouts were spent camping, hiking, doing conservation projects, doing charity projects, and learning about and loving nature. I went to summer camp and even worked at one for a few summers. Maybe I was just longing for my younger years, but the thought of being in the wilderness brought me a sense of peace. I love the National Parks, and am concerned for their future. I have been to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, but wanted to see so much more. At that point I decided I was going to go camping in the Great Smoky Mountains for my spring break. For this trip, though, I wanted to hike the mountains and do some back country camping.

The issue here was, I have done tons of hiking in my life, but never any overnight backpacking or thru-hiking. I hopped online and started searching for backpacking gear and getting price ideas. The trouble was, I didn’t really know what I was looking for; I was just looking at items. There is a lot backpacking stuff out there, but if you know nothing about it you have nowhere to start. Then the real research began. I read articles, blogs, gear lists, gear reviews, backpacking forums, and even joined backpacking Facebook groups. I was watching tons of thru-hiker YouTube videos and looking up all the gear and places they mentioned. After a few weeks of spending all my free time studying thru-hikers, I realized I needed to do a thru-hike. This need came from the fact that I had allowed my depression to take over my life. I don’t mean I was just walking around depressed all the time, but I wasn’t really focused on anything. I had no goals, and felt like it was almost pointless to even make goals because I would never achieve them. I needed a new start; I felt like I found a missing piece of myself and dove headfirst into backpacking mode. Accepting this life style caused a chain reaction in my life: being more meticulous about my finances, focusing more on my health, learning new things, and feeling excited about something again.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley in 2004. Young Matt, where have you been?

The long and short of why I chose the Long Trail

The only thru-hikes I knew of were the big three (AT, PCT, CDT) and the issue with those trails is that they take months to complete. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not really in the financial situation to quit my job and go hiking. Also, I find my job fulfilling and don’t want to leave it. Being a teacher does come with an advantaged that I had never really optimized: summer break. I have always spent my summers working other jobs, but now I am going to save more and put that on hold. Though there are tons of awesome section hikes out there, I felt the need to do a full thru-hike. I started researching shorter-thru hikes and read all about the Superior Trail, the John Muir Trail, and several others. Then my other sister, who lives in Massachusetts, called me and asked if I wanted to visit in July and go with her and her family on vacation for a week. I couldn’t pass up the chance to vacation with my niece and nephew so, of course, I said yes. Since I was already going to be in New England, I decided that the Long Trail would be my first thru-hike. I have the next few months to prepare myself to deal with the black flies, ticks, rain, mud, mountains, and mosquitoes.

As I said to begin with, I am excited about sharing my stories and experiences. I hope my insight can be as useful to you, as it is to me.

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Comments 9

  • Stacia Bennett : Feb 9th

    Thanks for sharing, Matt! Excited to follow your progress. I, too, found long-distance backpacking while doing some soul searching after a breakup (from a committed partner of 7 years) and pretty ugly bout of depression. Hiking has totally turned my life around. Can’t wait to read the update after you finish the Long Trail!

    Reply
    • Matt : Feb 10th

      Thanks for your support. It always seems like when you feel alone you find a ton of people just like you.

      Reply
  • Jen : Feb 9th

    Matt – This sounds like just the thing you need right now and I look forward to following your journey!

    Reply
    • Matt : Feb 10th

      Thanks!

      Reply
  • Hannah : Feb 10th

    Good for you Matt! This is going to bring nothing but incredible things. Excited for you and excited to follow along!

    Reply
    • Matt : Feb 10th

      Thanks Hannah!

      Reply
  • Shelly Galletch : Feb 12th

    So happy for you Matt!! What an incredible journey! I’m looking forward to following you!!

    Reply
  • Tara : Feb 15th

    Excited to see your progress! I completely understand where you are coming from, I also recently came to the end of a relationship, suffer from anxiety, had to move back in with my mother, and it led me to evaluate everything. I had grown up in state parks and began hiking a local one to try and find some peace of mind and before I knew it was researching and planning a thru hike. Something about nature and hiking just makes everything feel right 🙂 best of luck!

    Reply
    • Matt : Feb 16th

      Thanks for the kind words, what thru-hike are you or did you plan?

      Reply

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