Anyone who has embarked on a thru hike remembers that moment. Perhaps it was a series of moments that eventually blended into this one idea. The moment that they realized, “this is something I’m going to do.” For many of us, a thru hike stops being something we “want” to do, and becomes something we “have” to do. Whether you’ve pondered over it for a lifetime, or you just learned about hiking recently, aspiring thru hikers embark on a journey long before they hit the trail.
Maybe it was learning about the trail as a small child and thinking at a young age it sounded fun. Perhaps you came across a random Youtube video talking about a thru hike, and suddenly you were all consumed with the idea of long distance backpacking.
For me, it was a perfect storm of several moments that culminated in my decision to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 2023. In middle school and high school, I ran cross country and track; my first introduction to “Type II Fun.” It was in running that I gained confidence and found beauty in the sufferfest of training for an endurance sport. Fast forward a decade, and I fell in love with day hiking after a chance trip to hike Half Dome in Yosemite. I found new joy and confidence in hiking, realizing that if I wanted to see that beautiful summit or overlook, I had to put in the work. There were no shortcuts, and no one was going to carry me.
Before I left for Half Dome, I took my brand new daypack and water bladder out for the first time. I didn’t know it at the time, but those “white rectangles” I saw painted on the path were actually the White Blazes of the Appalachian Trail. Drenched in sweat and swatting gnats off me, I was stunned when my roommate and hiking partner casually mentioned we had crossed the Virginia/West Virginia state line. I was astonished by the idea that I had walked into another state.
Around the same time, I wandered into the Mountain Trails outfitter in Front Royal, Virginia on a rainy day off of work. As I was chatting with the store clerk, a rain soaked thru hiker came in and said, “I heard there are showers here,” and that she was on her “SOBO Flip Flop”. I had just started binge watching AT Youtube videos, so I had a vague idea of what all that meant (emphasis on vague). Then, a close friend from high school who thru hiked the AT shared a one year anniversary post of summiting Katahdin on Facebook. Seeing her pictures and reading through her summary of the journey helped reconnect us and inspired me to think, “maybe this is something I can do too.”
Taking chances while you have them
In 2021 when thru hiking the Appalachian Trail changed from being something I experienced via Youtube videos, to being something I was going to do, it was both nerve wracking and exhilarating. “Is this crazy?” I asked myself hundreds of times when the AT was still an idea in my head that I hadn’t gotten the courage to share with anyone yet. I knew taking this leap meant walking away from a job, friends, and family I loved, for several months. I then heard a quote by Confucius that I am reminded of often; “We all have two lives. The second begins when we realize that we only have one.” After two young people I’m connected with passed away within a week of each other last year, it solidified for me that when life serves us with opportunities, it’s our job to make the most of them. We are not promised tomorrow. If I don’t take this leap now, when?
Setting out on a thru hike takes a lot of major life changes. For me, it means taking a leave of absence from work, ending the lease on an apartment I love with a fantastic roommate and friend, storing all my belongings, and saving up every penny for trail expenses, to name a few. I am privileged to be in position where I can make this happen. To me, these sacrifices far outweigh the cost. I see doing the trail in 2023 as window of opportunity, that I’m in a season of life where hiking for half a year is logistically feasible.
My ultimate inspiration for beginning this wild journey is my grandmother. My granny always said she was a “child of The Depression,” learning to grow up without luxuries during the Great Depression. She often had copies of National Geographic Magazine, and said she always wanted to travel west to visit the National Parks out that way. But, growing up on the east coast during that time period, getting married, and having my mom, she didn’t have the opportunity to make the journey, at no fault of her own. While I think my granny would think I’m absolutely nuts for voluntarily sleeping outside in the cold and rain, pooping in the woods, and hiking for hours a day, I do think she would be proud of me for going after a dream and seeing sights she would’ve loved to see.
“You Have to Like Your Reasons”
After cleaning up from a work event, I stood around the kitchen island discussing my upcoming trek with my friend (who happens to be studying to become a life coach). The reality of the big change in my life that is getting closer and closer hit me differently after work that week. We had been talking through plans and goals for the next year for our business, and I realized I wouldn’t be there for most of it. I am blessed to have great relationships at work, and it’s where I’ve found some of my best friends. It’s strange to know that before I know it, my belongings will be in storage, I’ll be at the arch at Amicalola….and life will go on as usual with my family and friends. It’s sheer excitement while also saying goodbye to this current season of life, knowing that I am never going to be completely the same.
Everything in me tells me that I am called to hike this trail. My faith, and many hours of prayer help me to trust that this is what the Lord has in store for me. Thru hiking isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most people. There’s a reason we get the bewildered look from others when we tell them what we plan to do. We fear that those closest to us won’t understand our “why”, especially when it’s something that we may not fully understand ourselves. That’s when my friend told me something that has stuck with me. “You have to like your reasons.” At the end of the day, you have to know why you’re hiking. You have to know what has drawn you to the trail. On those inevitable cold and rainy, or sweltering hot, sore, and exhausting days, your “reasons” have to be enough to continue to take one more step and camp one more night. And if you like your reasons, that’s enough. Enough to make that “moment” your moment.
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