Hey, Ya’ll : What I’ve Been up to, Why I’m Hiking the PCT

Why I hiked the Appalachian Trail:           

Every thru-hiker gets the question “Why are you hiking the (insert trail name here)?” Perhaps this inquiry is easier for some and more difficult for others to answer. For me, I dreaded this question. I still do. I could never quite find the right explanation, or the one that I thought people wanted to hear.

The first time I heard the question was while reading “Appalachian Trials” by Zach Davis in 2016, just weeks before I started my first thru-hike. I knew exactly how to respond to all of the other topics that Badger had inquired about during his “Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail.” I decided to skip over the aforementioned query while reading Davis’s book.

The next time I came across the dreaded question, I was sipping beer at a local brewery in Boone, N.C., with a 2015 AT thru-hiker and friend, Towanda. I downed about half my pint as I searched for the words. “Because it’s there,” I said in the most enthusiastic way possible. I searched her face for the look of dissatisfaction. “Heck yeah! To do the damn thing!” she exclaimed. “Dodged it again,” I thought.

I’d run into this question over and over again throughout my 2016 thru-hike. I’d search for the answer while I was hiking; I was constantly thinking about it. Fellow thru-hikers, day hikers, locals, would ask me every day, on trail, in town, at shelters. Others had the perfect answer; I could tell they had crafted a flawless response. When it was my turn to comment, I would say something sufficient, but never the profound statement I felt they craved.

The truth is, I hiked the Appalachian Trail because I had wanted to for so long and I knew I was going to at some point. I never stopped to wonder why, I just knew that it was in the cards for me. My mother had section hiked the Appalachian Trail since 2005, so the trail was definitely not new to me. I had been on a few trips with her and I realized that I was much more a thru-hiker than a section hiker. There was never a question of why; I just wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. I did not know when or how, but I did know that eventually I would.

I had received my master’s in Appalachian studies just months before I started the AT. I often said that I wanted to hike through the region I had studied for the past three years and that was absolutely true. Appalachia consumed my life for three years, but mainly on the inside of a classroom, with various exceptions, but it was a breath of fresh air, quite literally, to experience the region via the trail.

Eventually, I stopped poring over how I would reply to the inevitable question and moved on with my hike. My summit of Katahdin was on Sept. 27, 2016, and I hiked the Appalachian Trail because I could.

Peanut summits Katahdin.

What Peanut has been up to:

After my thru-hike, I sat down a half dozen times trying to write my last blog post for The Trek. Every time I wanted to write my final report, I just couldn’t seem to put the experience onto paper. I finally concluded that it was best to leave it open-ended, because I knew I’d be back.

About halfway through my hike, I discovered I had a stress fracture in my left hip. After taking a week off with my Uncle Tommy in Pennsylvania, I decided I would complete the last 1,000 or so miles on a stress fracture. I’m not sure if it was the smartest decision, but the AT was the best decision I’ve ever made. When I returned home, I focused on my recovery so another thru-hike could be in my future.

From left to right: Ellen, Melanie (Peanut), and Tommy Harsha. Peanut takes a break from trail to heal her injury and drink some beer at the Yuengling Brewery.

I knew that the PCT was in my near future so I decided to procure a job that would fund another thru-hike but also wouldn’t tie me down too much. So I snagged a job at an outfitter in Franklin, Tenn., an occupation that would have been rather useful before my AT thru-hike for gear needs. Nevertheless, it has been a good experience, but it’s time to quit and go hike.

Why I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail:

I’m hiking the PCT for the same reasons, more or less, that I hiked the AT; because I can, because it’s there, because it’s my dream.

In January this year, my Uncle Tommy lost a long, difficult battle with cancer. I could write a lengthy post about what an incredible person Tommy was and how much he impacted so many lives. He was one of my biggest cheerleaders during my hike and in all of my endeavors throughout my life. During my hike, he helped me get through the Pennsylvania blues when I was injured and when my dog had to go back home. Tommy was incredibly selfless and he didn’t deserve the cards he was dealt. He was so proud of me and overwhelmingly supportive during my six months on the AT.

Just days after Tommy’s service, my dad was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer that had just taken his brother. This type of cancer is not genetic; it is just a cruel coincidence. I’m writing this post from Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. I’m sitting next to my father, who is currently receiving his last chemotherapy treatment. We are very confident in the team of doctors and are hopeful for the results of the coming months.

Dad’s last chemo treatment ever (hopefully).

I have so many people supporting and encouraging me. My dad is so proud of my Appalachian Trail accomplishment and is beyond excited for my next thru-hike. Both of my parents have always pushed me to work my hardest to complete my goals. Most cannot leave their life for half a year to hike for a multitude of reasons. Some people are never able to accomplish their aspirations. I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail because I can.

Peanut’s shakedown hike on the Art Loeb Trail, March 2018.

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Comments 2

  • Gary : Apr 10th

    First, I’m so sorry about your uncle and I’m praying for your dad. I had the same dilemma answering those, “why are you thru hiking the AT?” I never really came up with that “perfect answer”. Maybe because my thru hike was interrupted by a fall on Arden Mtn. in NY, just before the Lemon Squeezer, that broke my shoulder, tore ligaments and muscles and did all sorts of damage up in there. It’s almost the one year anniversary from when I started my flip/flop from Harpers Ferry. I started April 15th. More often than not, everyday I think about hiking. Either going back to finish the AT or going on to the PCT or the CDT. Just don’t know yet. Anyway, I pray you have a great trip on the PCT and I look forward to following your Trek!

    • Peanut : Apr 13th

      Thanks Oneway! Appreciate your prayers and comment. Sounds like a painful injury, I hope you recover and get to hike another trail!


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