Why I’m Leaving My Job & Hiking Vermont’s Long Trail

I’ve spent a large part of the past year or so injured, sick, and burned out. The pandemic hit, I tore my ACL, I was stressed at work, the valley I live in was on fire last summer, and I experienced a bout of COVID that gave me fatigue and vertigo that just wouldn’t quit. Though the past year and change hasn’t been all bad by any means, it’s not a period I’ll look back on with any particular fondness. Through a series of slow, progressive realizations, I came to understand that a big change was in order. I knew in my gut that this was not a rut that I could pull myself out of with one weekend away or some minor tweaks here and there. It was out of this inertia, confusion, and gut instinct that I hatched the idea to head back to my home state of Vermont to thru hike the Long Trail.

I’ve never attempted a thru hike before; it’s something I’ve always seen as “beyond me,” until I realized that notion was entirely made up in my head. I’m sure many of you reading this have “that thing” (or multiple things), too. Is it truly unattainable, or have you just gotten into the habit of telling yourself that? Anyways, I digress. Why am I leaving my job and hiking the Long Trail? Here’s why:

1. To reconnect with my home state of Vermont

I’ve spent the past six years – with the exception of a few summers – 3,000 miles away from where I grew up. When I moved to Washington’s North Cascades, I traded one cold, northern climate for another on the opposite side of the country. The North Cascades are mind-blowingly beautiful – they don’t call them the “American Alps” for nothing. So why not hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail? After all, I can get to it in about 40 minutes from my front door. Here’s why: Washington may be beautiful, but I’ve been missing Vermont like hell lately. There’s nothing like living sandwiched between two raging wildfires (as I did last summer) to make someone miss lush greenery. I think the Long Trail will provide a great way to reconnect with Vermont in a meaningful, immersive way. And of course, I’ll get to see my family (an A+ added bonus that I wouldn’t get on the PCT)!

2. To get myself out of a physical rut

I was deeply fortunate to make it to my mid-twenties with no serious injuries. That changed last March when I fell awkwardly while skiing and literally heard something inside my knee tear. I received an inconclusive initial diagnosis, convinced myself the sound had been from my gear, and went on my merry way – only to fully tear the remainder of my ACL playing a lighthearted game of Pickleball with my boyfriend, of all things. After a lot of researching and consulting with my physical therapist and a surgeon, I opted not to get surgery. Instead, I went through physical therapy and have been compensating for my lack of an ACL with muscle ever since. The problem with relying on muscle is that if you don’t maintain your strength, you’re relying more on hope and luck than anything else. When your ACL is already shot, you’re more likely to royally wreck other things in your knee, like your MCL or meniscus. And that’s the problem: I haven’t been very physically active in the past year. Sure, I’ve played some ice hockey here and there, but by and large, being sedentary has been the norm. So I’m hiking the Long Trail to give myself a serious kick in the pants.

3. To get myself out of a mental rut

Some of my inertia was real, in the sense that I had to really tone down my physical activities as I built back strength in my knee. But the vast majority of it, much as I hate to admit it, was mental. Once my ACL took me down for the count, I never really pulled myself back up, even when I had the “all clear” from my PT. The additional forces of COVID, wildfires, and job burnout compounded my suppressed mental state and led to months and months of mindlessly scrolling through social media and the like, rather than doing anything of much meaning outside of work. Luckily, that’s all begun to change. A few months ago, I started a project on YouTube in which I film myself doing things that are outside my normal routine, in an effort to get unstuck. I’ve only made a handful of videos, but it’s still helped quite a bit. My YouTube endeavor is part of what led to the ideas that I should a) hike the Long Trail, and b) move on from the job that I initially loved and derived a lot of meaning from, but that is now causing pronounced burnout. And that leads me to my next “why.”

4. To ponder what I want to do next in life

I want to do something new with my life, and I seriously doubt I’ll figure out what the new thing is by sitting on the couch. I won’t have access to LinkedIn or Indeed while I’m out on the trail, but I will have access to solitude, constant motion, and the world beyond my comfort zone – and I think that might just do the trick.

5. Speaking of solitude…

I started dating my partner, Jon, roughly two weeks before the first lockdown started. I had never been in a serious relationship before, and I had also never lived through a global pandemic before (no surprise on the latter). COVID has been referred to as a “relationship accelerator,” and though I lack a frame of reference from any prior relationships, I’d say that’s pretty in line with our experience. Before we knew it, we were in love, living together, and spending all our time with one another. I love Jon to the moon and back, but I’ve also forgotten what it’s like to be on my own – something that I used to be quite comfortable with. I want to rediscover what I’m capable of solo and to spend some quality time exploring the contents of my own skull a little more. I’m going to miss Jon, our dog Opie, and our four chickens a colossal amount, but I’m also looking forward to rediscovering solitude.

6. To prove to myself that I can do it

Not much point rambling on about this one. Sometimes things just speak for themselves!

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If you made it this far, thank you for tuning in! Maybe some of these “whys” resonate with you as you reflect on, plan for, or dream of your own thru hike. Happy hiking and cheers to the unknowns!

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Comments 4

  • GroundHog : May 14th

    You need to keep your knee warm at all times! Touch your kneecap with your hand if it doesn’t feel warm, really warm, then wear a knee warmer sleeve.
    In twenty years of mountain guiding I saw lots of knees blow up almost all of them hiked in shorts, in the cold, and didn’t warm up first.
    Warm leggings that breath are a godsend; pair them with wind pants and knee warmers
    Always do a warm up! Puffy or fleece & warm hat wait for it! Wait till you’re hot, really hot, inside & out- then strip down to your hiking clothes.
    Best of luck!
    GroudHog

    Reply
    • Anna Sand : May 14th

      Totally! Going zero to 100 is no bueno. I’m training leading up to it and I’ve also given myself a ton of buffer time for the trail so I won’t be in a rush. I can just head to my folks’ house whenever I’m done, so I don’t need to push myself to be done by any particular date. I also have a HEFTY brace that will probably drive me nuts, but will be important to bring nonetheless.

      Reply
  • Jhon (jhony) Yermo : May 14th

    Pure serendipity coming across your excellent writing
    Being from the Deep South US and now SoCal, I had not given much thought about Vermont until recently.
    What brought me around?
    1. JupiterHikes on YouTube: “The Vermont Long Trail – Nothing Goes As Planned.” In 2 Parts, Jupiter and Lotus on the VLT. Great video.
    2. The book, _A Short Walk on a Long Trail: A couple’s Sauntering on the Vermont Long trail_ by Dennis and Jane Blanchard. Loved the book and now I feel I know a bit more about the wonderful state of Vermont and its people. As Jane said, “I love Vermont. I like the state, its politics and the people.
    I have read three of there books. One by Dennis, and two by Jane. All four are beyond excellent.
    • Regardless, adding your post to all these testimonies about VT, I believe there is a new VT Fan in SoCal.
    I am subscribed and am looking forward to following your Grand Adventure on the VLT.
    Perhaps you are going to go on Instagram also?

    Reply
    • Anna Sand : May 14th

      Thank you so much for the kind words and for subscribing! Vermont is definitely a very special place! Just remember…. they don’t call it “Vermud” for nothing haha.

      Reply

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