My Long-Term Relationship with the Appalachian Trail

When I say I lucked out, I mean I really lucked out.

As you probably know, the Appalachian Trail travels about 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. I spent the whole night before I was to ascend  Katahdin giggling with three bearded men named Five, Fire Starter, and Scribbles. There was so much genuine happiness keeping us awake that we didn’t go to bed until at least 11 p.m. (which was two hours well past what they call  “hiker midnight”). When I finally convinced myself to go to sleep, I drifted off completely content with my life to this point.

I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 5 a.m. to the birds chirping and Scribbles coming out of  his hammock. We made eye contact, and he said with the most genuine smile, “Happy Katahdin Day!” It immediately brought a smile to my face, and I affirmed, “Yes! Happy Katahdin Day!”

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a day like this.   I woke up feeling a mélange of accomplishment, excitement, honesty, and transparency. It was this light feeling in my chest that seemed to lift me up out of my sleeping bag and propel  me into my day and toward my big goals.

I couldn’t wait for the guys to finish their breakfast. I started hiking alone at 6:30 a.m. Well…not so much hiking as scrambling. I couldn’t help myself. I felt unstoppable. Katahdin is a beast of a mountain, and I felt like an animal throwing my body full force at everything in my path. I passed a couple of day hikers on my way up the mountain and stopped to talk to them briefly (with probably a little too much enthusiasm).I just couldn’t help myself, because that’s who I am: an over-excitable bubbly person—especially when on the Trail.


The last mile to the summit exemplifies surreal. I was alone in the Tablelands (a plateau right before the final summit of Baxter Peak), completely immersed in the clouds. I was on cloud nine, and nothing could change that—even the lack of visibility. Then, like magic, as soon as I started the final ascent, the clouds began to disperse and I saw it.

Okay, so I’ve seen the Katahdin sign a million times before in photographs, but for the first time ever my eyes beheld a tiny wooden structure in the distance that represented the end of this journey. I stopped abruptly as I stood before the sign. Three trail  friends (Caboose, Obsolete and Myster Lynard) were already at the top sitting next to the massive rock cairn. They didn’t see me, and for a rare moment I remained silent.

I was speechless.

All the feelings were caught in my chest and throat, and I couldn’t make sense of any of them. I reached out tentatively to touch the weathered sign. And just like that, all my emotions were released.

This emotional catharsis was represented by my tears, snot, laughter, and all around awe. I screamed to my friends with a high-pitched cracked voice, “OH MY GOD!” They looked up, cheered, and then came up to celebrate our accomplishments.

In life, these types of moments are exhilarating, yet fleeting.

I lucked out.

Eventually I left Baxter Peak, made my way across Knife’s Edge, and down the Helon Taylor Trail with my new and true friends.  We found our families, got into our cars and drove our separate ways from Baxter State Park and the lives we had grown accustomed to for the past five months.

As soon as I got back to Asheville, North Carolina, I didn’t want to waste any energy. If the Trail taught me anything, it was how much you could accomplish in one day.

The Trail also taught me that that every relationship  in life ought to be reciprocated. Anything that is too one-sided can’t last. This goes for relationships with nature as well. If we’re all just using the Trail to benefit our personal goals, how can you have a sustainable  relationship? Healthy relationships take constant and continuous effort from both sides.

That’s why I say I’ve lucked out—I have continued my healthy, longterm relationship with the Appalachian Trail.

The Trail, the experiences I’ve earned, or lessons I’ve learned, are living within me every single day. I got back from my thru-hike and started volunteering with the ATC almost  immediately. I was able to assist with building a curriculum to help potential long-distance hikers on the A.T. I am a part of the process of protecting this sacred space that just gave me a life-changing experience.

Shortly after, the opportunity to apply for full-time work with the ATC presented itself through a newly created position. I knew I wanted this job. I’ve never revised my resume so many times trying to ensure that my passion for the Appalachian Trail came across clear. I even went as far to do a mock interview with some friends. I live and breathe the A.T. This job would allow me the chance to transform my “obsession” into a productive form of stewardship for my beloved Trail.

I knew I was fortunate to be hired as a full-time employee with the ATC. It’s truly the opportunity of a lifetime.  I am able to do my part by ensuring the protection of the Trail through stewardship and education. With the help of my phenomenal co-workers, we’ve created “How Will You Hike the A.T.?” workshops. These are dedicated to promoting alternative forms of long-distance hiking on the Trail, while embracing the personal responsibility needed to protect this natural resource.

I’m delivering the first of these workshops, not to tell people how to hike the Appalachian Trail, or to follow my advice to the T. Rather, I’m delivering these workshops to help potential long-distance hikers achieve the best relationship with the A.T. Hiking the A.T. is extremely  challenging , but the rewards of embracing and protecting it will change a person forever.

Everyone deserves to experience the reaffirmation of humanity and goodwill that can be found on the Trail. I honestly believe the Trail brings out the truest versions of ourselves (the good, bad, ugly, goofy, and, of course, the smelly), and the ability to be comfortable with whatever we discover.

The Trail tends to be the source of all the gifts, so why don’t we start to give back? Why not learn how to walk with it, rather than on it? Learn to embrace it, rather than degrade it. Restore it, rather than leave it.

Come out to learn, or spread the word to those who may be interested. Classes last from 1.5 to 4 hours.The courses will cover all aspects of planning a long-distance hike on the A.T., from essential gear, what to expect from the Trail, and what the Trail expects of you. Participants will come away with their own personal approach to hiking the Trail, along with knowledge and some preparation for the journey ahead.

Happy Trails!

Chloë aka Vulture

Summit Photo (1)


How Will You Hike the A.T. Workshops:

Tues. 1/26: Diamond Brand Outfitters (South Asheville, NC) 6-8p.m. (free)

Mon. 2/1: REI* Charlotte, NC 6:30-8:30 p.m. (free)

Sat. 2/6: REI* Atlanta, GA  1-5 p.m. ($30 REI members/$50 non-REI members)

Sun. 2/7: Black Dome Mountain Sports (Asheville, NC) 4-7 p.m. (free)

*REI asks that you please pre-register online

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Comments 10

  • Brenda : Jan 27th

    From reading your story, I can feel your passion for the trail. Three years ago my then boyfriend (if you can call someone that when you are both in your 50’s) and I went to Baxter State Park to climb Katahdin. We were there in June, the first week that the Katahdin Stream campground was open. My husband made it to the top, but I decided not to go all the way to the summit because a storm was coming in so I told him I would wait for him (I was above the tree line). As it turns out, the storm was pretty severe, with lightning, rain, freezing rain, sleet, and strong winds. It hit when my boyfriend and some high school students, and some other hikers were at the summit. They all quickly descended, and some of the high school students were scared and panicking. My boyfriend stayed with them on the descent to help alleviate their fears, all the while being concerned about my well being. I actually climbed to below tree line at the first roll of thunder to wait on him. Below tree line we met up and continued descending down a flooded trail-the water was above our boots. When we got back to our tent (soaking wet and cold), my boyfriend dropped down on one knee and proposed to me. His plan all along had been to propose to me at the summit! So, the very next year we went back, and we both made it to the summit to that infamous sign! (it is my profile picture on facebook to this day). We have since then gone to Colorado and climbed Long’s Peak and are going back this year to climb more 14ers. Our true dream is to hike the AT straight through. Since we are not getting any younger, we are hoping to do that as soon as we can; however, missing work for numerous months is a stipulation. I look forward to your future posts about the AT!! Thank you!

    • Chloë de Camara : Jan 27th

      Hey Brenda! Wow! What a phenomenal Katahdin story. That mountain is a provider of epic moments. I’m glad you all made it down safely, and are continuing to pursue high elevations to this day! I hope you are able to achieve your dream of hiking the A.T. one day—it’s quite the journey! Keep an eye out for more classes like the ones I’m teaching. We’re looking to accredit 5 instructors this year–that way we can spread the knowledge all along the Appalachian Trail. Thank you for your comment! Happy Trails 😀

  • Bill : Jan 28th

    I’m planning to start my NOBO around March 5th. My son and several friends have completed thru hikes and one of them now works for the AT Conservancy. Maybe I’ll run into you.

  • Jeff : Jan 28th

    I attended your workshop at REI in Cary a couple weeks ago. It was great! I highly recommend everyone to attend if they are even considering hiking any of the AT. Thanks for the workshop!!!

  • Ellisa Hayes : Jan 28th

    Hello Chloe,

    So happy for you!! I spoke with you a few months before you left and witnessed the fire in your eyes.
    As your former teacher of faith, St. E’s, oh so long ago. I could not be more proud, know that you were in my prayers for a safe and fruitful journey.
    As a “rookie” myself, I’ve been hiking for a year and a half now, I realize there is so much I need to learn. But I do understand the spiritual side of being on the trail, “soul walks” I call them.
    If you ever are back in the high country and would consider having your workshop here, I could possibly arrange a meeting place. If not, how can I get more info or other dates?

    Ms Ellisa

  • Greg (Just Greg) : Jan 28th

    Hey Vulture, just wanted to congratulate you on completing this journey. I had the great pleasure of walking with you off and on during the trip. Hope you remember me, I was the tall, skinny guy with the beard – one of many out there come to think of it! I also summited Katahdin on August 13 with my daughter and son-in-law and I’m sorry to have missed you as I have often wondered how things went for you. You are one hell of a hiker and i always enjoyed your company. You helped me get through some times when I was wondering why I was out there. Thanks and I’ll never forget it!

    I know first hand that you are totally suited for your new job – would love to hear your presentation someday! Good luck and take care!

    • Chloë : Feb 10th

      Just Greg!!!!!

      Oh my goodness! So nice to hear from you 😀 I thought of you often on the second half of this journey. Mouse mentioned that she saw you in Walmart in Hamburg, PA—we were literally in the same store at the same time but just barely missed each other! Most likely you got ahead when we stopped to have a zero in NYC, and then I could never catch up. I saw that you were hiking with Breakless for some time, and I loved seeing your names together in the logs. That’s crazy we were on Katahdin on the same day!!! The story of the Trail 😀

      Mouse and I parted ways after Killington, VT and I hiked from there to Monson with some people here and there–but the majority by myself. You were a big part of my AT experience, and I am forever grateful of our time spent together. You and Mouse were the reason I survived being so sick in the Shenandoahs!!! Thanks for being so concerned with my well-being. You brought me a sense of family on the Trail when I needed it most. I hope all is well off-Trail. You’re an incredible person, Just Greg. Thank you for sharing your infectious smile and part of your AT experience with me.

      Always, Vulture

  • Buzz aka "Caboose" : Jan 29th

    The Trail Community and ATC is fortunate enough to have such a passionate and “bubbly” Angel. Go get’m Vulture!

  • Dan Bennett : Jan 29th

    Hi Vulture! Congratulations on finishing your thru! We were the crazy section hikers you met at the top of North Crocker in Maine. I was with Calves, Sandbagger and AJ. You bolted into Stratton for resupply and camped with us that night at Cranberry Stream Campsite. So happy to hear you completed your hike. Crazy story about Firestarter…. I met him on a section hike in Shenandoah in mid May at the Hightop Hut. I ran into him again just as we were coming up to the Kennebec on a different section hike. Two chance meetings 3 months apart! We talked game design in Shenandoah around a soggy campfire. That’s how he remembered me! I’ll be finishing my section hike this August. It’s taken me 14 years! I hope to have the same experience on “K” that you did. Glad you are working with ATC. The Trail needs dedicated individuals such as yourself. Let’s hear one of those bird calls! Be good! El Gato

  • Carl Miller : Mar 19th

    It was a pleasure to meet you on the South side of Clingman’s Dome yesterday! My two boys and I were very impressed and honored! You’ve made a lasting impression on them in just a few brief minutes. Thank you!
    The Vagabonds
    10°, Powder, and Badger
    Powder had mentioned the “spine” of his pack had broken earlier. When unpacking for a “zero” in Gatlinburg, he realized we had inadvertently left the two small aluminum pieces at Double Springs shelter. He was mortified at the idea of you thinking we were bad hikers. I told him you would understand, and that we could make up for it by carrying some trash out of the next one 🙂


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