Why I Waited Until After College to Thru-Hike
A lot of people that I met in college took gap years or put off college for a fantastic adventure. I’m not one of those people. I set a goal, and achieved it, getting into small, environmental colleges with good financial aid packages. In the moment, I didn’t feel like I needed any time off. I worked my summer camp job, and then moved to Vermont.
“I struggled with depression, anxiety, and a desire to run into the woods and never come back.”
I may not have thru-hiked anything (yet), but I have gone to three different countries, one of them, Canada, four times in four years. I crossed the Mississippi River for the first time, and I went to three national parks.
Four years later, I can say that although I’m glad I stuck it out, I did struggle. I struggled with depression, anxiety, and a desire to run into the woods and never come back.
“Each tract of wilderness only whetted my appetite for something more.”
This past year was one of the hardest, and also the year I decided that it was finally time to do a thru-hike. Inspired by one of my friends who is currently hiking the Appalachian Trail, I decided that the thru-hike for me was the Long Trail, 272 miles of beautiful Vermont wilderness.
Though I’ve lived in Vermont for four years, most of my outdoor adventure Education classes were in the Adirondacks in New York, and I spent a month in Moab, Utah. Each tract of wilderness I visited only whetted my appetite for something more than a seven-day trip, unencumbered by lessons and classmates.
So here I am, two weeks away from a monthlong trip through a state that nurtured me through four challenging years. Instead of embarking on this journey for a grade, or as an assignment, I’m hiking for me.
I’m anxious, both for the trip to start and everything to fall into place. I’m two weeks out, but I also am missing a lot of gear and food. One major thing I’m missing is my hammock. I bought this hammock for college and through the shuffle of moving back home, it disappeared. Luckily, two of my friends are willing to give me their hammock setups. I’m very lucky.
Lucky or privileged?
Honestly, I’m very privileged to be able to do it now. After I decided to hike this summer, I started saving part of my biweekly paycheck to go toward new gear. I also was able to get a part-time babysitting job and save most of my earnings each week to go toward food.
I can choose not to work my regular summer job because I don’t have to start paying my loans until December, and I have a job that starts in August. I don’t have anyone besides myself to support; on the contrary, I have family who after balking at my decision accepted what I was doing with shrugs and questions about safety.
Keeping all this in mind, I hope one day everyone can, if they want to, hike one of the 30 National Scenic Trails we have in this country, or any of the number of scenic trails there are in the world. Acknowledging my privilege, education, and experience is step zero of getting other people outside.
Ready or not.
I’m not sure that I’m ready yet. Because of that, I’m challenging myself to get outside and walk, run, or bike every day before I leave. This trip is me fulfilling a promise I made to myself on all the hard days in school. On many occasions I felt that I wasn’t measuring up to my classmates, and after nights when I spent hours in the library wishing I was outside, I looked at two maps, trying to find inspiration in contour lines.
Keeping my promise.
The first was a map of Moab, Utah. I traced the contour lines of canyons I hiked and I remembered how much I enjoyed waking up every morning, anticipating the day’s challenges. The second map is of each of the National Scenic Trails in the United States. I used my fingers to trace the path that I plan to take, promising, “I’ll be there soon.”
Waiting is hard, but being able to walk in the wilderness without the pressure of a school to return to is an indescribable feeling. All I have to do is meet my friends along the way, and find a hammock before I leave.
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