New Year, New Trail; From the AT to the MST

I fell off the blog-writing wagon at the end of my AT thru last fall, so let me catch you up. Life of a long-distance backpacker can be, well, tiresome, and quite frankly my legs broke out into a near sprint as I closed in on the end. But the strangest thing happened as I crossed the 2,100-mile mark. Suddenly I wanted time to stop, suddenly all the excitement of completing my first thru-hike disappeared, suddenly the finish line felt scary, but it turns out it wasn’t so scary. It was actually quite anticlimactic and left me thinking, “Great. I did it. Now what?”

It turns out post-trail depression is a real thing. I thought I escaped the fog when my first six weeks back at home turned out to be a whirlwind of family, friends, and other big life changes, like deciding to move to a new city and starting a backpacking company. I was totally charged during that spell. Synchronicity surrounding me was the norm, but then I got sick and I couldn’t seem to unstick myself from the couch. It was just a nasty, lingering cold, but that’s when the deflation really set in and I started wondering if I’d ever find the gumption to pull myself out of it.

Depression might be a strong word to describe what I felt. It was more like deflation. Even though I had big plans brewing for my future that didn’t mean I could just walk away from my thru-hike unscathed emotionally. Although the actual trek took 153 days, I spent six months preparing, which adds up to dedicating nearly a year to the task. So I gave myself some grace and allowed myself to wallow a bit, got a puppy, and decided to revamp.

Increasingly over the months folks kept mentioning the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) to me. The MST is 1,175 miles spanning North Carolina from Clingmans Dome to Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head. I fluffed off people’s inquiries asking if I would hike my new home state’s long trail, thinking I didn’t have it in me to take on such an unknown trail. Plus, another long hike wasn’t part of “the plan.” I had things to do, I needed to stay on track and push through my funk, but it turns out I had it all wrong. “The plan” was close, but not quite right, and what I really needed was to let go and let “the plan” morph into what it was supposed to be all along, which, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, is to thru-hike the MST.

I’m set to leave April 17 heading westbound from Jockey’s Ridge, but this time the journey is going to be totally different. I’ll be spending the first third on the coast, then heading into the flatlands of the piedmont region, and finally finishing in the mountains. There will be “copperhead alley” to contend with and nearly 500 miles of road walking. The MST doesn’t have designated shelters or campsites like the AT. It also doesn’t have the support of large trail communities and guidebooks like Guthooks and AWOL, which will make daily logistics of water sources, resupply, and finding a place to camp more challenging. Oh, and I’ll have my pup, Baxter (yes, I named him after Baxter State Park), tagging along, adding another little twist to trail life.

Everything about the MST is going to be different and I’m glad, because if I expected it to be even remotely similar to the AT I’d come up short, feel sad, and probably quit. I learned a lot last year, more than I can really explain, but in short, here’s the list of things I plan to do differently: dehydrate as much food pre-tail as I can, utilize bounce boxes, take more pictures of the people I meet (and stay in touch with them), take a picture of where I sleep every night, blog more consistently, take a daily selfie (my appearance changed dramatically on the AT), bullet journal every night, and immerse myself in the culture and history of the places I visit.

In short, I’m not just out of my funk, I’m stoked for the adventure to come. I’m beyond grateful for all I’ve learned and the unexpected kindness and faith that continues to show up, and I’m stoked to embrace the mishaps and mystery that are sure to come during this next adventure!  

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Comments 4

  • Avatar
    Jim W : Jan 30th

    Rachel,

    I know what you mean about willingly accepting norms. I’m 55 and have been living outside thise norms for two years and having the time of my life. I still have to resist those norms regularly, but knowingly. I’m glad you are aware of this at an earlier age. The what’s next is a freeing question and should be embraced vs being anxious about. That question indicates that we are on our journey and not someone elses. Good luck on this hike. I will be hiking a northern section of the CDT this summer. You follow me on Postholer at WFO50+

    Reply
  • Avatar
    John Buffaloe : Jan 30th

    R,

    Just read your post and best of luck on the MTS. I just followed you on instagram but really reaching out to let you now if you need anything while getting close to Raleigh, let me know. Live very close to Falls Lake area so can help as needed. You have my email and we will be following you on Insta, so we will be on the look out as you get close.

    Best of luck,

    J & E

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Rachel : Jan 30th

      Hi John! Thanks for reaching out! I really appreciate it and can’t wait to meet you this summer when I come through!!!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Scott : Jan 30th

    Rachel – I look forward to your take on the trail – I reside in Matthews (CLT ‘burb) and have seen only bits and pieces of it (the MST), so I’m quite excited to get some in depth knowledge from someone making the trek. Best of luck…

    Reply

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