Planning an Appalachian Trail thru-hike has been one of the most stressful and exciting things I’ve done in a long time. Sure, there are life’s day-to-day anxieties that sometimes bog me down as well as the grander “What’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” thoughts (spoiler: it’s 42). But on August 30, 2012, I decided – out loud, to the whole blogging universe (or my one follower at the time, at least) – that I was going to hike along the Appalachian mountain chain from Georgia to Maine.
Little did I know what I’d gotten myself into. I thought, “I’ll just figure out how it works, buy a bunch of gear, and start walking.” It seemed simple enough. I’d gone hiking in the woods many times. And I have plenty of experience car camping. It couldn’t be that different, right? What I didn’t realize at the time is that I had just started my journey.
By academic measures, I have always been a fine student, at least by current standards. If a teacher tells me a hard fact or a rule that governs, I can memorize it and spit it back. That’s pretty much what the SAT (standardized test accepted by most American colleges) measures, right? Calculations, multiple choice, even essays – they all generally test a student’s ability to convey – either information, a process, or a way of thinking. Got it. No problem.
So reflecting on the past six months, I’d probably have to admit that I was ready to walk into an outdoor store or search online and have someone give me step-by-step instructions on how to hike the A.T. Obviously I’m being farcical, but every step of the way, with every decision, I’ve thought, “Do I need this piece of gear or not? Why won’t someone tell me?!” “Should I do mail drops? Ah! So many conflicting opinions!” “What’s the right answer? I just want to know the right answer!”
And I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve flip flopped on decisions big and small. I’m cutting off all my hair. No, I’m not! I’m not bringing a stove. OK, actually yes, I am. I’m selling all my furniture. Or maybe I’ll store it at my mom’s house. Oh no, these hiking boots aren’t waterproof. Wait, waterproof boots don’t dry as quickly once they get wet? I need to lighten my pack weight. Oh my, this super heavy Gregory Deva feels like the Cadillac of packs. And the list goes on.
I feel like with many aspects of life, one can get on the train. You may not know the destination, but at least you know the train’s riding on a fairly steady track. When I went to college, deep down I knew that I would graduate. Yeah, OK, I took a year off to serve in AmeriCorps, but I knew the general path. When I started working (after serving a second year in AmeriCorps), it didn’t take long to get the general gist either. Go to an office for eight hours a day, five days a week; get a paycheck every couple of weeks; repeat. More or less predictable.
Preparing for my A.T. thru-hike has been anything but predictable. I’ve been awash in a sea of research (the internet is a wonderful and terrible thing), underwater and at times not knowing which way is up. Sustaining the focus and enthusiasm for so many months has been exhausting. And, ya know what? I haven’t been so excited to do anything in my entire adult life. I have no idea where I’ll be on Day 92 of my trek, nonetheless on Day 7, and I couldn’t be happier to find out.
I’ve already faced the fear of leaving my job, signing away the lease to my apartment, getting off the train. What’s there left to fear? Hours upon hours of solitude (or conversely really getting to know fellow hikers)? Aggressive bears? Thunderstorms? Yeah, those things may eventually become frightening, but they’re also part of what makes hiking the A.T. so alluring, so appealing, so exhilarating!
With a little bit of luck I’ll make it to Mount Katahdin in Maine, but I truly believe that my journey can’t begin the day I step foot on Springer Mountain. Instead, it already started on August 30, 2012 when I announced that I’m going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. In reality, I’m already halfway to my goal.
So, without further ado…
(Don’t read into the lyrics too much. Just focus on the “jet plane” part.)
I’m headed to Atlanta. See y’all on the flip side.
*cross-posted at mymeanderingtrail.com