21 Thru-Hikers Share How the Appalachian Trail Has Changed Their Lives

How does thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail change a person?

It’s a good question.

Undoubtedly, someone who enters into the woods for a half year will be different from the person who emerges out the other side.  Over the course of five million steps, thru-hikers are forfeiting common “luxuries”-  hot meals, cold drinks, clean running water, soft, warm beds, toilets, and televisions – in exchange for a simpler life, one that presents euphoric highs and soul crushing lows.  It’s an education unlike any other, one whose course appears identical on a map, yet offering a unique curriculum for all who enroll.

Because you’re already familiar (roughly 170 pages worth) with how the Trail has profoundly affected my life, I sought the input of the wider thru-hiker community (thank you, thank you, and thank you) and asked them to share how the AT has changed them.  Their answers are below.  Enjoy.

21 Thru-Hikers Share How the Appalachian Trail Has Changed Their Lives

  1. “I’m more able to appreciate the very moment I’m in, for whatever it’s worth without expectation or impatience. Also I before afterappreciate silence so much more, and actively enjoy it at times.” – Kassandra Rice 
  2. “I can accept the generosity of others with joy rather than guilt.” – Anne Brown
  3. “Beautiful Mail Man legs! Aka big ole quads and calves.” – Derek Forbes
  4. “I shower weekly instead of daily.” Jaleesa Houle
  5. “I aint scurred a nothin’!” – Dennis Procopio
  6. “Before my thru-hike, I cared way too much about reputation, about appearances, about what other people thought of me….I now care less about appearing good, and more about actually doing good–even when it is embarrassing.” – La Mariposa
  7. “I’m broke.” – Brett Evans
  8. “I am at home in the woods. Any time I need to become myself again, I walk out of the gray world and into the real one.” – Alexis Elliot
  9. “When I got a train to Boston prior to my flip, I had no idea where I was going to spend the night before catching the bus to Maine in the morning. Before the AT, I would have freaked. But I knew the trail would provide. (And it did! ) The AT has taught me that everything is always ok!” – Anna Birdy Ball
  10. “Thru-hiking changed my perception of how quickly life happens. Before I was always impatient and striving. Now I can wait on things, take my time, and accomplish them step by step – I feel reawakened in me a sense of peace that comes with slowness.” – Evans Jukebox Prater
  11. “I am more laid back and less concerned about the big things in my life.” – Jerry Travers
  12. ” happier with less.” – Kyle Rohrig
  13. “I have much greater clarity regarding what my priorities are in life.” – Kelly A. Purdy Germann
  14. “My big toe nail on my left foot will never be the same. It’s permanently warped. A scar I will carry with me forever, and a constant reminder of my walk on the Appalachian.” – Pete Rowland
  15. “I no longer care if I get rained on. I forever long for delicious water straight from a mountain spring.” – Brenton Mattingly
  16. “After my thru-hike I have realized how much I can do without. I don’t need a lot of things to make my life happy.” – BooBoo, 2000
  17. “A few things changed. First of all, a lot more self confidence (not arrogance). Second, I’ve become more of a minimalist. I also don’t worry about how things are going to work out. Collectively, I’m much more at peace.” – Robert Sparky Palermo
  18. “My priorities have changed. I buy less and I try to help others more. I acknowledge and appreciate beauty when I see it now whether it’s a sunrise or a beautiful person. I am a lot more creative now and I hope I inspire others to go after whatever makes them happy even if it doesn’t seem practical.” – Tracy Ellis
  19. “It confirmed how much we are interdependent on each other and all need each other. The basic human need of the heart to give to others is greatly hindered by humanities pride and unwillingness to receive from others and how receiving is harder then giving. The trail allows a great format to receive and that allows others a format to give, all benefit, all are raised up.” – David Starchild Koehler
  20.  “Thru-hiking changed my perception of how quickly life happens. Before I was always impatient and striving. Now I can wait on things, take my time, and accomplish them step by step – I feel reawakened in me a sense of peace that comes with slowness.” 
  21. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail changed me by breaking down my emotional barriers. My emotions are no longer hidden deep behind a tall wall, but right on the surface, constantly moving and emerging. I learned to let them flow better and move through me, rather than to clamp down on them and ignore them. 

    I have regained weight I lost while thru-hiking, but I know what my body and mind can do and so I believe I can do this again, and other formerly impossible things. I also greatly appreciate my body and won’t be ashamed of it. Look what it did! I have developed a passion to encourage others who are overweight (a majority of America) to get outside for the mental, emotional, and physical benefits, with weight loss being a possible side effect, not the goal. I know I was judged for my body size by those who were more traditionally athletic looking, yet I succeeded where many of them did not complete the Trail.

    I appreciate running, clean, temperature controlled water like I never did before. It’s the best thing civilization has created in my opinion, yet I am fine when it’s not available. I see it as the best luxury in my life.

    I don’t see the point anymore of maintaining property. I don’t care if weeds grow. I want the smallest space to maintain, so I bought and moved into an RV one month ago, with three cats and a dog. It feels like an extension of my backpack. Mobile, compact, organized, full of possibilities. I have seen the world of moneymaking as a tool of mutual benefit. I use my jobs now to position myself towards greater freedom and the things I care about. I understand that much of success is about just moving towards my goals, and being able to adapt when things change, as they always do.

    My priorities shifted and now are my animals, family, and friends. Photography, writing, and hiking are my creative goals.

    I am often profoundly grateful for the simplest of moments. All the drama of the world seems less important, like a movie around me that I can walk away from if I choose.

    I’m planning my next long hike. It will be the Colorado Trail. – Carey Belcher

Thank you to all who participated in this survey.  I leave those of you considering a thru-hike with a question: are you ready for your transformation?

Related Reading:Transformed by the Trail: 6 Ways Thru-Hiking Changed Me

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Comments 9

  • Bill Smith : Oct 13th

    Kyle Rohrig is the piece of crap who summited with his dog which was NOT a legal dog for handicapped reasons.

    • nunya : Nov 14th

      Can you cite this? Why do you feel the need to call people names?

      • Bill Smith : Dec 20th

        Sure, his dog “Katana” is NOT a service dog, and he posted on his own blog ( before he deleted it ) that he snuck the dog up and hid the dog in his backpack when leaving Baxter State Park. He even greatly insulted a park staff member on the way down from Katahdin, saying quote “Fuck the system”.

        He has a book out now, go ask him directly about the dog and how he snuck it up. If he has any honor left he will tell you the true story.

  • kiki : Jan 6th

    Bill, what is your personal problem? Why is what he or anyone else does YOUR personal policing “duty?”

    I certainly would not ask the man those ridiculous questions. I personally do not agree that law is even legal, nevertheless that it is certainly not a just law, if it does exist, and since it is illegal on a federal level to exist, I doubt very much that this could even be a true story. The Appalachian Trail is not a food service provider. The ONLY regulations that even exist on a tiny level about dogs being ANYWHERE are in regards to the food service industry, for liability protection only.

    I imagine that you must be the park staff member he said something to, whether it was F the system or not, since no one but the people there at the time could possibly know what happened….

    Anyway, I’ve said far worse in my days on this earth, for lesser reasons than not allowing my dog child anywhere I go, which is yet another example of America, “the Land of the Free” not being a place of freedom at all, but a place of repression and control suffocating people until they are broken shadows. This has become a place of made up ever newly invented man-made “rules” so that people like you can throw crazy fits on people’s web pages, to attempt to control society to the point of breaking, to the point of how you are right here in this blog, ready to go postal on the man over something that happened IN THE PAST, that is none of your business, and that is not at all relevant to this blog, except that you are trying to create problems for him because you are so full of venom, which is just awful.

    Also, FYI, since you are clearly completely ignorant of the laws and policies of the United States regarding animals. There is NO LICENSING AT ALL for “service animals” or any other dogs. NONE. The lawsays that “Under federal law, businesses looking to ASSESS if a dog is a service animal MAY ONLY ASK if the animal is required due to a disability and what work or task the dog is trained to perform.” (because there is NO licensing) “It is illegal to ask for any special identification from Service Dog partners.” and “You may NOT ask for “proof” or certification of the dog’s training as a condition of entry into your business.”

    It has been this way FOR MANY YEARS yet people who hate dogs and do not have ANY comprehension of the law, the health and emotional benefits of pets, and who believe nonsense like “diseases could get into foods” get all hysterical and create drama that never needs to exist. Dogs are not eating everything in the home, trashing the place, running around all willy nilly, so they are certainly not going to be doing that in public with a ton of people around.

    Dogs are more conscientious of being polite to people than the people are. https://www.dogs4cures.org/laws.html

    You clearly haven’t learned anything from the Trail since your behaviors and your horrendously bad attitude are the opposite of the point completely. Hating a man because he doesn’t do what you want him to and stalking the man to put insults up on his blog that markets his book is actually illegal….. What you are doing is Libel. It is also Defamation of Character, Harassment, [Cyber-]Stalking, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, and Slander.

    “Defamation of character occurs when someone makes a false statement about you that causes you some type of harm. The statement must be published (meaning some third party must have heard it), false, and it must result in harm, usually to the reputation.”

    In this case, you are also affecting his revenue, so you would be liable unless, in a court of law, to PROVE that he did these things in order to defend your case as the Defendant in this case. Unless there is some proof (like a ticket) for him doing the things you are saying in a State Park, and clearly there is none or you wouldn’t be so upset feeling like he “got away with it” and you feel this intense NEED to make him pay, it is he said he said.

    If there was no legal action taken, the man has basically already been “pardoned” by not being cited at the time of accused crimes (Disobeying Park Sign [technically, this is a violation of the Parks Rules and Regulations and a “violation” is not considered a “crime” (which has a fine of $88-$200 in the US and would have to be thrown out of court anyway because there is no federal law to back it up) and Public Profanity which has a fine of $20-$250 in the US) [This is an often disputed antiquated law that judges rule against because it is an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech, so again, it would most likely be dismissed]. This is I’m sure why there is no ticket for you to speak of…..

    All you are doing is putting yourself at risk of a lawsuit and perhaps some time in jail while all he would have gotten is a fine, at most. You published your stalking, defamation, and harassment online and multiple viewers have read this page and at least 2 people have commented on your statements publicly. YOU are the one who is actually committing crimes Bill Smith. So, go somewhere else and spread your propaganda.

    If the worst thing you know of this man is that he takes his dog with him places he goes and that he swears (illegal IF he got a ticket from an Officer of the Law – which in this case would be a Park Ranger, and again, same as above, it is too late now to try to cite the man), then, in my opinion, it is FANTASTIC that he takes his dog with him and that he speaks his mind when he is confronted.

    You should try loving a dog and hiking, and you might learn to calm down. Wouldn’t want you to end up in jail or paying this man because you are already wound so tight that you might do something horrible with all that rage.

    • Willow : Jan 10th

      Bill Smith was out of line, but it was a trollish, offhand comment. You know an awful lot about laws and display a strange instinct to jump to liable as a solution for someone claiming to carry so little respect for them. Maybe you are the one who should get out on the trail with a dog and calm down a bit. Sheesh.

    • No trail name yet : Dec 6th

      Um, there is an essential flaw in your argument. Katahdin is in Baxter STATE Park. It is owned by the state of Maine. I live a few miles from there and can’t hike with my beloved dog there. In a case like this the federal government is not going to push to supercede state law.

  • Slevin : Jan 9th

    Kiki is Kyle Rohrig!!!!

  • Willow : Jan 10th

    Also, excellent article! I look forward to also having gleaned some positive impact on my life from my upcoming thru hike 🙂

  • Jbell : Apr 3rd

    Just finished your book. When r u going on the other 2 trails?


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