Who Am I And How Did I Get Here?
I find myself asking myself the above questions more often than I would like to admit, but I’ll try to sum it up the best I can. I’m Laura, I’m 27, and I am an aspiring thru-hiker. I am planning to Flip Flop the Appalachian Trail starting in Harpers Ferry at the end of April 2023. In real life I’m a scientist. I work in a lab and nerd out on all things virus. If you see me on trail, feel free to ask me about Covid-but I will give a fair warning, I’ve talked so much about Coronavirus since 2020 that I might just start hiking faster.
For the past few years (since finishing up graduate school and getting a real job), I have spent all of my weekends and PTO chasing deer, trout, and mountains. I live 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia, so unless I’m catching a flight out west this means marathon 4-10 hour drives on Friday nights to get to wilder grounds. I have ranged from the Adirondacks and the White Mountains to North Carolina and Tennessee accompanied by a couple of Monsters in the cupholders (I know, I know- I’m trying to quit), Zach Bryan blasting on the stereo, and my trusty backpack in the back of my car. As I have started chasing bigger and crazier adventures, my travel time and my appetite for adventure have grown exponentially. Last February (after filling up another tank of gas) I had a thought, “What would help cut down fuel costs and quench my thirst for adventure better than a thru-hike?”
While my propensity for the outdoors makes thru-hiking a natural next step, that only answers part of why I would want to venture onto the trail alone and hike 2,198 miles in the rain and mud. After I finished graduate school in 2020, I was well on my way to living the American Dream. I was engaged, I had a good job, an amazing dog, and a nice little house. Until I didn’t. I came out of the other side of Covid quarantine sans house and fiancé. I kept the job and the dog (Buck- my best friend and ultimate travel companion). For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a plan. All I knew was that I needed a change. I leaned into my passion for the outdoors, and grew comfortable and confident doing things alone. From catching rainbow trout in Montana to camping in the California desert, I came back to myself in the solitude.
Every thru-hiker and prospective thru-hiker I’ve talked to is looking for something on trail. Personally, I’m looking for more of the happiness I’ve found in wild places and to continue reclaiming my life as something I can be proud of. As John Muir famously said, “Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”
Documenting the Adventure: Why I’m Choosing to Blog
Writing and thru-hiking go together like peanut butter and jelly, summits and beers, ramen and…more ramen. I haven’t found myself writing a blog post since I was a teenager storming up some angst on Livejournal. I typically document my travels through photos, perhaps a little bit excessively. The 11,000 photos currently taking up space in my iPhone library indicate that the ‘little bit’ may be a ‘little bit’ of an understatement. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t usually talk about soggy socks and broken gear. My Instagram is filled with pictures of summits and trails but devoid of the blisters, sweat, and tears that are all a part of the journey. I don’t just want to remember the good days on trail. I want to be able to look back on my entries and recall the full brutal and beautiful thing- and I plan to record it all here.
So Many Trails, So Little Time: Picking the Appalachian Trail
The first time I set foot on the Appalachian Trail I was sixteen. I had only been camping a handful of times and had yet to shoulder a pack and head into the backcountry. Everything I knew about thru-hiking I had gleaned from reading Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.” It didn’t matter- standing on the trail somewhere near Palmerton, Pennsylvania, and looking north towards Maine, I was gripped by the call of the trail. When I returned home, I started researching thru-hiking, the vague notion of taking a gap year before college to hike floating in my head. Unfortunately, I soon realized that the couple hundred dollars in my bank account wouldn’t be enough to buy gear, not to mention the cost of living on trail. So I regretfully shelved my Appalachian Trail dreams.
Last March, when I realized I could reasonably pursue a thru-hike, I spent hours debating with myself whether I should attempt the PCT or the AT. The AT (of course) won out in the end. While the AT may not have the grandeur of Washington or the sweeping views of California, it feels like home. Mount Washington was my first big summit, my first multi-day backpacking trip was from Penmar to Harpers Ferry. These woods and mountains are old friends that I look forward to getting to know even better. The PCT will wait.
So here I am, in the final few months of preparation. I have my gear dialed in and my travel plans made. As I watch the Class of 2023 NOBOers start to get on trail, I find myself counting down the days until it’s finally my turn.
Hope to see you out there!
Laura (No Trail Name Yet)
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