When I was a kid, my Mom bought my brother and me a travel vest. Every summer when my Mom and Dad were off from school my mom would plan vacations within a 4 hour driving radius of Denton, North Carolina. My Mom would pick up patches from each place we visited and sew it on our vest. One summer we went to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian trail. We walked up to the observation tower to take in the view.
We also decided to walk a little ways up the Appalachian Trail which passed close by the observation tower. We probably walked less than half a mile up the trail before we saw the hind end baby bear cub running away from us. We stopped dead in our tracks, scared that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We ended up standing there and making noise until we thought it was safe to walk back to our car. I hopped in the back seat of our 1987 Oldsmobile and thought a walking trail from Georgia to Maine was outrageous, terrifying, and totally unnecessary. Nevertheless, my Mom bought us an Appalachian Trail patch to sew on our vests. I was a bit sheepish about that patch since we had hardly done any of it. I had been there but I hadn’t done it. That was my introduction to the Appalachian. Trail.
Up until 3 years ago, thru hiking never crossed my mind. I was scared of most everything outdoors. In August of 2016, I took the opportunity of hiking with a thru-hiking friend named Peanut while she was passing through New Hampshire. I had recently moved to New England to start a job as an apprentice editor at Florentine Films. Peanut had just reached the 1800 mile mark by the time I caught up with her in Lincoln, NH. We were going to do 16 miles over 2 days. It turned out to be one of the hardest sections of the AT and I struggled up South Kinsman Mountain finally stopping at 9 miles with 6 to do the next day. I had never hiked more than 3 in a day before and I hobbled around on sore muscles and joints for about a week. It was the hardest thing I had ever done and it was the most extraordinary. I suppose the seed was planted then.
In May of 2017, I met another thru hiking friend named Checklist in Massachusetts. We hiked over the highest point in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock. I think I put in 23 miles that weekend, the longest trip to date. Thanks to Peanut and Checklist for teaching me how to thru hike in just 2 short hikes. And thanks to my Mom and Dad for taking those trips to the Blue Ridge Mountains when I was growing up.
The hike is also inspired by other folks that I’ve known to do it. Warren Doyle, Beth Lewis, Patrick Sawyer, Cecil Gurangus, and especially William Lindley. Which brings me to my personal statements prompted by the book most likely read by every AT thru hiker: Appalachian Trials by Zack Davis.
I am thru hiking the Appalachian Trail because:
- I see it as an investment in my personal growth and mental health
- I really like hiking
- I need time to integrate the last 3 years of my life
- I want to try this before I get too old
- I need wide open spaces
- I think the lessons of the trail are critical to my wellbeing
When I successfully thru hike the Appalachian Trail I will:
- Feel proud, happy, strong, and tired and probably a little sad
- Start planning my next adventure
- Have more tools to navigate a happy life
If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will:
- Try again as soon as I can
- Accept the circumstances that are out of my control that resulted in the end of the hike
It’s time. Tomorrow my parents drive me to southern Virginia and I will walk north.