The Most Beautiful Journey

For those of you who have followed my journey since the beginning, or know me personally, you know that this time a year ago, I lost my Father, my best friend, unexpectedly to Pancreatic Cancer. I knew I needed to help myself, from a devastating depression, something my Dad would definitely not have wanted to see happen. I then decided that in Spring 2016, I would leave to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, after all, Dad had always told me to follow my dreams.

The trail gave me hope, a ray of light in a dark cloud. On March 16, 2016, I embarked from Amicolola Falls State Park. I knew from the beginning, that I was not just traveling to reach a mountain called Katahdin. I embarked on a quest to find peace again. To find joy again. To love again. To breakdown in the rain and cry if I wanted to. To maybe even feel physical pain that would maybe over-ride my grief. And of course, reaching Mount Katahdin would be cool too. There was no way of knowing if I was capable of completing the thru-hike, I had obviously never attempted a walk of over 2,000 miles before. I believed in myself, and that was all the courage I needed to set out.

It did not take a long time on trail for me to experience all of these emotions and more. In fact, almost every single day my mind would race through every extreme emotion possible. Walking through the woods of the Appalachian Mountains, I was more than just content with life, I went to bed feeling fulfilled with my life like I had never felt before. I was conquering challenges everyday, pushing my “limits” and stepping way outside of my “comfort zone”. I found my “zen”, my inner peace, walking longer and longer distances everyday. No matter what it is, I hope everyone in their life can find that “zen” that “happy place”, for themselves as well.

Along with feeling connected to the woods and my trail family, I felt an enhanced connection with strangers whom I had never met before. I was humbled on a regular basis from the kindness of locals in towns we would pass through. Strangers who didn’t hesitate to open their car doors when we hitch-hiked, strangers who would sometimes even open their homes to us for the night. People who worked hard to make end’s meet at the end of the month, were generous in sharing what little they had to offer. Strangers would take time out of their busy day, to slow their world down and drive us back to the closest trail head. This was a real reminder that we are all one family here on this earth. On the trail we helped each other, loved each other, and it didn’t matter if we knew each other or not. Where you were from, how much money you make, what you look like- all irrelevant.

On Septemeber 24th, after six months and eight days of living on the trail, I ascended the summit of the Great Mount Katahdin. This meant that my dream of living on the trail was ending, at least for the time being. However, my joy over rode my sadness, because I knew I had been forever changed and enlightened from my journey. Now I feel it is my responsibility to share my experience with whoever will read, whoever will listen to me.

We have heard it all before, and I am not a prophet or a preacher. I am a 23 year old, Caucasian, female, from Frederick, Maryland and I believe I have a message to share.

I have always heard of post trail depression, and yeah of course it has been a hard transition coming back home. It has been hard because of how often I was greatly humbled from the kindness shown in the hiking community. This led to a heightened awareness of the negativity, the discrimination, the hate and terror of the world I am growing up in. The issues in the world we hear about are not just in the paper, and on our TV’s, they are in our backyards, they are in our schools, and our workplaces.

I am an empowered, young adult, with (thanks to the Appalachian Trail), a huge love for life, and a burning desire to make a positive impact on the world around me. The trail meant different things to different people from many different places and backgrounds. We all came together and focused not on our differences, but what we had in common. A dream, a goal, a vision. We did whatever we could to help each other achieve.

Don’t be passive,  don’t loose faith, be passionate about what you do, be kind, follow your dreams, love your neighbors- all of them. Be the change you want to see.

My name is Eliane Coates. I am a 2016 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker and I want to do everything I can to make this world a better place, that my friends, is what’s next for me.

Congrats to my fellow class of 2016, and a special shoutout to Shotgun, Wahoo & the Troop!




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Comments 7

  • Arlene Gregoire : Oct 8th

    EverReady here of class of 2015. Congratulations on completing the AT and finding your zen and happiness.

  • Katherine Gibson : Oct 8th

    Congratulations, Ellle. You wrote a beautiful and inspiring story about your magnificent adventure. I wish you all the best in the future. I believe you will make a huge difference in this wonderful world of ours. Thank you.

  • BunnyHikes : Oct 8th

    love this!
    congrats and good job!

  • scott : Oct 8th

    I love your words…

  • Laurie Potteiger : Oct 10th

    So beautiful, Eliane. You give us some much needed inspiration and hope for our future. And you affirm the healing and inspirational power of the Appalachian Trail.

  • Rol Murrow : Oct 10th

    Hi Elaine,

    I have greatly enjoyed your trail posts and now this commentary is the frosting on the cake! Hiking in wild places is truly a transformational experience. I am so glad you found your journey to be so rewarding. Believe me, this will stay with you all your life and help you overcome the moments when our society can seem so bleak, or difficult roadblocks and reversals cloud our vision. As always, keep your spirit in the clouds and your feet on your trail!

    Hugs from the Continental Divide in Northern New Mexico!

  • Samantha coates : Oct 12th

    Hi Eliane,
    My name is Samantha Coates , my dad is Sam Thank you for following your dreams and finding the peace and happiness we are all searching for You have the courage I am trying to find within . A few years back I to wanted to do the thru hike , I still do .With your inspiring words you’ve set the fire that’s burned out . You are so wise! Thank you.


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