Friday, December 19, 2014
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28 Damn Good Reasons to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail

28 Damn Good Reasons to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail

There is a one-word test you can offer someone to gauge their likelihood of following through.  Whether it’s the Appalachian Trail, their education, their job, the last piece of pizza…this simple question uncovers a profound truth.


Why are you doing what you’re doing? There is no right or wrong answer, but when taking on a challenge with a high degree of difficulty, the answer need be a conviction.

The Appalachian Trail is a challenge with a high degree of difficulty.  Just ask the 70% of hikers who don’t finish. 

When someone asks for my top piece regarding a thru-hiking the AT, I don’t talk about gear, I don’t talk about the physical preparation, I don’t talk about logistics- I talk about purpose.  Answering this all important question of why you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail, is a window into a hiker’s purpose.  Knowing your purpose will keep your mind strong when confronted with a lightning storm, your feet are covered in blisters, or you’re missing family and friends.

Appalachian Trials takes this process into more depth, utilizing the full extent of your emotions, ambitions, and fears to build the most convincing answer to this all-important question.  I also encourage (see: threaten) readers to write these reasons down and keep them close to the chest during their hike.  I outline what my reasons were in the book; Ladybug gives us an excellent example of what this looks like.

Curious, I asked the good people of the Appalachian Trials Facebook Page to share the reasons why they were hiking (or, had hiked) the AT.  Below are many of their responses.  Some are heart-wrenchingly sad.  Some are uplifting.  Some are funny.  Some are obvious.  But- as long as they’re convictions, these reasons will serve as a hiker’s most dependable fuel source.

28 Damn Good Reasons to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail

  1. There’s no better adventure or test of personal will and strength… – Terry Serial-Klott
  2. It’s a calling. – Tom Kennedy
  3. To experience an unadulterated sense of freedom. – Kenny Howell
  4. To prove to myself I can do it! – Martha Moy
  5. My reason is because it’s been a dream of mine for over 20 years. I’m doing it in memory of my grandfather and my father. My Fathers ashes were scattered over Shenendoah National Park. – Paul Jones
  6. Personally, I have to prove something to myself–that I have what it takes. So far I’ve lost 15 pounds. I plan to lose another 20 before setting out. I likely won’t start until age 64, when i retire, and plan to walk it with my son who will also be retiring from the Air Force at the same time. I refuse to give up the battle against aging. I expect to lose ultimately, but I won’t go down without a fight! – Dennis Phillips
  7. Complete and utter freedom, simplicity and beauty. – Kaitlin Jetpack Allen
  8. I did it simply because I wanted to and I could. So many people spend their lives talking about the things they would like to do one day and never actually get around to doing them. – Alan Ercolani
  9. To experience the wonder and the rugged beauty of the Appalachian mountains – Joel Johnstone
  10. Because the paycheck you earn at each vista, lasts longer than the one you earn at the office.- Joe Mejia
  11. To learn what truly matters and what is really necessary to live fulfilled. Also, to learn to let go of ones expectations. – Kori Rocket Feener
  12. Because to truly know ones self, you must first get lost. What better way then the AT! – Louie Anchor Ferdinand
  13. I have worked since 5th grade (almost 40 yrs) usually 2 or more jobs. I recently sold a business and am taking a mid life break. My wife suggested we hike the AT and try to figure out what we want to be when we grow up! I said whoo hoo!Charles Collins
  14. The best reason to hike the Appalachian trail is to reconnect with nature and to learn what you are capable of. – Joshua Zen Applewood
  15. My husband, Woody, and I started talking about hiking the AT when we first met 37 years ago. This year we realized our dream as The Troverts, X & N, walking from Springer to Katahdin in 168 days. It was epic and did not disappoint! – Cynthia Harrell
  16. When you’re disgusted with “civilization” theres nothing like a good rolling of the feet to ease your mind. – Al White
  17. Student Loans! The Machine can’t find you in the green tunnel. – Richard Tijerina (not linked to for obvious reasons, keep fighting the good fight)
  18. Because life is short. Enjoy as much of it as you can. – Robert Carver
  19. The new people and relationships. Made some lifelong friends and met the live o my life and talked her into moving to Iowa with me this summer. – Houdini and Legs aka Sawyer Avery
  20. Because you have to. – Katie Robinson Brown
  21. I got to spend 3 months on the trail with my son! That time was a real gift! Then, I had 6 weeks more to go on my own – a real challenge!! Any time on the trail is time well spent. – Scott Garland Jenkins
  22. To get lost and then find yourself over and over again. To know what its like to exist the way we were meant to. Sort of. – Jocelyn Diles
  23. Because its there… And it’s the only way I know to live off junk food and beer while loosing weight and getting in shape. – James Bhathena
  24. Because its a challenge and sounds like a blast. And anyone who can do it is def a baller! – Katie Woodard
  25. So I can get away from my wife! – Be Tween (if that is your real name…)
  26. The mental challenge. – Alex Dent
  27. I have wanted to thru-hike since I was in 7th grade and hiked the Horseshoe Trail (PA) in 1968. I just retired and this is my one chance! I want to show myself and everyone else that I can do it, and I want for them and me to be impressed! – Ed Riggs
  28. To clear my head due to the recent loss of my son who passed away a month ago during the birthing process. (stillborn) I’m walking not only for my son but also to search for my soul and to think about my life so far. This journey that I will be taking will be a dream come true.  HULKSMASH aka David C. Quinones

Thanks to everyone who shared their reasons.  For those considering a thru-hike, I hope the above help you to discover yours.

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About Zach

My name is Zach. I am an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. I wrote a book called Appalachian Trials. It helps hikers mentally prepare for a half year backpacking trip. Find me on Facebook or The Google. I also giveaway cool stuff on the Appalachian Trials Newsletter. If you're planning on thru-hiking the Trail in the future, I encourage you to check out my Personal AT Coaching Page.
  • Sweet spot

    Ok Zack, I got your book this year at Trail Days. I have read it 2x and need to read it again. I cant answer the question. Why am I hiking the Appalachian Trail? I don’t even know what questions to ask myself. I just have this pull in my heart to go.

    Can you help me?

    Thank You,
    Sweet Spot

    • Zach

      Hey Sweet spot – I just sent you an e-mail. Let me know if you didn’t get it.

  • Brittany

    I’m turn 18 April 5th and I’m leaving April 17th to attempt a thru-hike northbound! I’m as mentally prepared as I can be! I’m going because I’m tired of civilization and want to get In touch with nature and see all the beautiful sites!!

  • Emily

    Hey Zack,

    My partner, Lacinda is hiking the Appalachian Trail as we speak. She is very close to Pearisburg, VA. (She is loving Virginia, btw…it was so funny because we were expecting the Virginia Blues, but VA was a turning point for her and she has fallen in love with the trail here.)
    In an effort to show support, I read your book while she was preparing for her hike. I think it is an incredible wealth of information and good advice for A.T. hikers and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I’ve highlighted some of my favorite, most inspirational _and_ most practical pieces of advice found within its pages. More than once, Lacinda has called me close to ready to throw in the towel, and I pulled out your book and re-read some of your advice (and I always tell her to sit down and read her list of why she decided to hike the trail in the first place!), and more than once that tactic has gotten her back in the right frame of mind and back on the trail. So, thank you for that. Your book has been worth it’s weight in gold…more so, even.
    My question is, do you have any advice for those of us who’ve stayed behind while our better half is out on the trail? I’m about 70% / 30% between good days and bad days, respectively. This is the first time _in my life_ that I have lived alone. We’ve always discussed our finances, but up until now Lacinda made sure all the bills were paid. We are surviving on my paycheck alone. I’m also preparing meals and supply drops for Lacinda all the way on the trail, so she is counting on me 110%. There are a lot of firsts and responsibilities on my shoulders. I would never ask Lacinda to come home due to my anxiety or loneliness. However, I hate feeling the way I do some days. I know if Lacinda caught me on a bad day, when she was particularly frustrated or tired and I gave in to my feelings, I could derail her whole journey with one statement…”Please come back home.”
    You are so right that hiking the trail is much more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I know that I play almost as much of a role in her success as she does. How do I get myself in a better frame of mind? Any advice?

    Emily “My Side of the Mountain” Limbaugh

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  • Midway

    I am class of 2013. I started with desire to reaffirm my life at 50. It became something else: I learned true north, true grit, and understanding of my existence with nature. I approached Katahdin on the 6mo, 3rd day part of the journey awake and knowing that the moment I summitted, my world would never be the same…my life would not be the same. I was right. Everything is perfect now.