Discovering the AT
Eight years ago, I was an 18-year-old enduring her first New York winter. I had moved to New York City, freshly a “legal adult,” arriving with the throngs of college students and other wannabe city-slickers in the thick heat of August. I was completely enthralled. The sights, the wispy summer promises, the smells— all of them, even the awful ones.
And then winter came.
My Alabamian bones shivered with delight at the first glossy snow that coated the tips of sidewalk trees and frosted over the edge of buildings. But then it kept snowing. And then, it kept snowing. Finally, after all of that, it snowed some more. Somewhere between the first shimmering specks of snow and the thick barrenness of February, I began to worry. I felt like the city’s shining blast of glory, and my own zest for it, had disintegrated into the blackened, trash-filled sludge that lined the streets.
To pass the time and ease the madness, I began plotting my escape. I perused Greyhound schedules regularly and dreamed of an oasis full of trees and open expanses. One day, I stumbled upon the Harlem Metro North map. My eyes lingered upon one specific stop’s name: The Appalachian Trail.
My First AT Trip
As a Southerner who grew up frequenting the North Carolina mountains, I knew of the Appalachian Trail. However, my experience hiking it was limited to short day trips to a waterfall or summit. But after surviving a New York winter, I felt somehow poised to graduate from day hiker status to full-blown backpacker.
Or so I thought.
After a year of planting seeds within the minds of my friends, bragging about the beauty of the trail (that I hadn’t actually hiked yet) and the deep thrill of backpacking (that I hadn’t actually experienced yet), I finally convinced a friend to join me on a weekend trip through Harriman State Park. Despite the suggestions from the SoHo REI workers, my bank account could not handle the weight of a new set of backpacking gear. So, with my inflated sense of confidence, a fuel-less camp stove (moment of silence for the travesty of that), and my Amazon sleeping bag strapped via carabiner to my Herschel backpack (another moment of silence), we set out to hike.
The hike went surprisingly well despite our absolute unpreparedness. There was the instance of the fire-starting pellets getting soaked and having a dinner consisting of peanut butter and Fireball, as well as the complete looks of awe and pity from other hikers as they saw our set up, but overall, we survived. And I left the trail knowing I had to come back as soon as I could.
Delusions of Becoming a Thru-Hiker
After graduating early and spending a short stint in startup life, I couldn’t shake my yearning. I was in the extremely overwhelming post-college lull where everything and nothing feel possible all at once. I could finally thru hike! I could be a park ranger in Acadia! I could work on sailboats on the coast! I could move to Colorado and…
(Why does everyone think they should move to Colorado after college?)
Ultimately, I got a job offer in Brooklyn and decided to stay. I watched as my gargantuan dreams settled back into the crevices of my mind and I began to create a life for myself as an employed “grown up” in the city.
I still dreamed of thru-hiking, but it began more and more to feel like just that: a dream. Beautiful, striking, exciting— but ultimately, not real. I did manage to drag my friend, Julia, to hike Harriman again with me. This time our trials included getting wetted out in my trusty Walmart tent and lurking over to the shelter and pleading with the troop of 11-year-old Boy Scouts and their dads to let us sleep at their feet… but that story will be told in more detail in another post.
So, How Did We Get Here?
Okay, so I have dragged you through my long and windy AT story, and you’re probably ready for me to just say it: How did all of this lead to you finally deciding to hike the whole thing?
Though my discovery and yearning for the trail spanned over many years and phases of life, my decision to hike the whole thing came about somewhat abruptly. Over New Year’s Eve weekend, my best friend (and former hiking buddy, see above) Julia came to visit my husband and me in Chattanooga. We had both endured an insane past few years and were in odd transition phases of life. Jokingly, Julia suggested over dinner one night, “What if we just finally hiked the AT?”
And that was that.
We are hiking it differently than most. Due work schedules, finances, and just general needs, we decided to chip away at the first few hundred miles over weeklong and weekend trips starting in February and then picking up where we left off in May to hike on to Maine. Purists might cringe at our liberal application of “thru-hiking,” but we are doing it our way. And after many years of nurturing this dream, feeling like I need to scratch the itch with weekend trips and summertime trail days, it feels right to finally be taking the steps towards what I have yearned for since that first frozen winter in New York.
So, here we go, one mile at a time.
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