Eating My Words and Thru-Hiking Again

Back in 2016, my dad officially retired from his job and gleefully told his coworkers that he was going to finally thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. I was insanely jealous of him. I’d just graduated college the year before and was over a year into a job that was slowly killing me.

He asked me if I wanted to join him, and I almost said yes.

Throughout my teens and early adulthood, my dad and I hiked together a lot. We climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Whitney, and Mt. Hood. When I studied abroad in Australia, we hiked Mt. Kosciuszko and did the Overland Track. But we’d never gone more than a week together on any of these journeys.

For a whole host of reasons, I said no to the AT hike. It wasn’t the right time, I had friends and a good apartment, I didn’t have enough money saved for grad school and a thru-hike. Most importantly, I didn’t think I would be able to live in a tent with him for five months straight. I say that in the most loving way, of course.

I ended up following in his (literal) footsteps a year later. Thru-hiking the AT was a transformative experience, and I came to so many profound decisions and moments whilst surrounded by some of the most majestic sights I could imagine. I also had my fair share of hard, seemingly impossible, days. As I descended Katahdin, I remember thinking to myself, “Well, that was fun, but I’m never doing a thru-hike again.”

All too soon, the rose-tinted glasses arrived.

My dad started talking about the PCT, and it seemed logical that I would just join in on his adventure. I’d have none of the stress of planning, as he is Type-A to a fault and loves planning and micromanaging things. It would be an amazing opportunity to bond with my dad in the same way we did when I was younger. And it would be a perfect way to bookend my grad school career: one thru-hike the summer before starting, and one thru-hike the summer after graduating.

And then 2020 happened. The PCTA told all hikers to get off the trail, so instead of setting out on a thru-hike after my May (virtual) graduation, I scrambled and got a job near Shenandoah National Park so that I could keep hiking safely. We decided we’d try again when the pandemic ended.

Over the last year, we spent plenty of time on Zoom calls planning out our hike. I’d never wanted to hike in a desert, and told him flat-out that I would not join him for that section. No problem – based on the original 2020 timeline, I wouldn’t have been able to do the desert section as I still would have been in school, so we decided to stick with the original plan where I’d just join him for everything north of the desert. Eventually, the plan evolved into what it is today: a very strange flip-flop. I’ll be starting in Ashland and heading south to Walker Pass, then flying back to Ashland and heading north. My dad started at Walker Pass back in April and headed south.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to complete his first section, and then, on top of everything else, got COVID on his flight back to recover from his first flip of the trail. Sadly, he won’t be joining me from Ashland south. Which means that somehow, 2020 has managed to strike yet again, two whole years later. Gray Mountaineer will hopefully join me for the northern flip so we can still enjoy the bonding experience and share with you all what it’s like to hike as a father-daughter duo.

With that being the origin story of my hike, I honestly can’t imagine anything happening while I’m out there that would phase me even the slightest. Let the hiking begin!

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