I’ve been asked a lot of questions lately about why I’m wanting to attempt a thru-hike, like “why now?” or “aren’t you scared?” and I’ve decided to answer them here on this post. Hopefully, it will help my friends and family understand why I’m hiking and, more importantly, why I’m NOT doing this hike.
I truly believe that thru-hiking the AT isn’t something you can just set out to do “one day” because, in my mind, unless you make it happen and decide “Hey, I’m going to do this, no more excuses” you really aren’t going to do it. For some people, maybe they can plan their hike in 2025 and stick to it, but for most of us I think life happens and things get pushed aside and our plans and dreams kind of take the back burner for a while. Sure, I have a nice home and husband, sweet pets (that I’m seriously going to miss) and a pretty good job… but is that really what life is all about? I don’t think so. I think without finding myself first, I’m not truly ever going to be able to accept all the things in my life. This is the first of many reasons I’m hiking the trail: to find myself.
To the question “Why now?” that I’m getting, the answer I have is simple: “Why not?” Once again, I really think that life isn’t going to slow down. I don’t want to be 58 years old wondering when I can seriously start my thru-hike. Oh, maybe after retirement or maybe after so-and-so is feeling better ain’t gonna cut it in my book. If you don’t make your opportunities you may never get that opportunity.
To the question “Aren’t you scared? Why isn’t your husband going with you?!” I have a more complicated answer. First off, hell yes I’m scared! I mean, walking 2,181 miles (official 2011 mileage anyway) without the comforts of home and your loved ones is hard enough. Add to that being afraid of bumps in the night or the fear of being alone and it’s going to be tough. Also, I know as a hiker that there’s an entire community of people waiting out there. Thru and section hikers, trail angels, park rangers, ridge runners, you name it, they’re all out there. Since 1974, there have been 9 murders in the vicinity of the AT. Not all of those people were thru hikers, some of them weren’t hikers at all. How many murders were in your town last year? I’m seriously not worried about getting raped/mugged/killed/eaten by animals. Chances are, those things could happen anywhere in the world I go. Common sense is something I have a lot of, and I’m not going to worry that all these things are going to happen to me in the woods. Seriously folks, they happen everywhere.
So yeah, my husband isn’t going. I know, I know, I’m but a fair maiden! Here’s the deal kids, people are allowed to do things without their spouses. The fact that we have 7 pets, car payments, and a mortgage means we can’t both take sabbatical from work at the same time and go for 6 months each with no income. That would mean people to take care of the pets, house, and repossession of our cars and foreclosure of said house. It’s not practical for us. Plus, I kind of like that guy, so I’m not going to jeopardize our relationship by spending every waking moment of 6 months of my life with him. I mean, we love each other, but that kind of alone time might not exactly bring two people close together. I’ve heard stories both ways. Couples honeymoon on the AT and hop off the trail and get divorced. Some couples don’t, but some couples do. I think we’d be the couple that does divorce. I can imagine the fighting, and it ain’t pretty. Instead, he’ll be supporting me from home, whether with encouraging words, sending packages, or new T-shirts that don’t smell like hiker. He’s going to come visit me often and that’s never a bad thing. He’ll probably even bring our dog to visit a few times too.
As for why I feel like now is the right time, I have plenty of answers for that question too. My mom always asked me when I was younger “Why do you hate the world?” which is a really crappy thing to ask a kid/teenager. She asked me all the time (hi, mom!). Seriously, I kind of do. Working retail in Pigeon Forge, TN for a few years, you’ll hate it too. I have no faith in humanity. I scoff at stories of compassion and kindness, as to me it’s just bull. I want all that to change. I’d like to become more compassionate. I think in the world we live in today, one of status updates and instant gratification and DVRs and reality television, it’s very easy to become jaded and to just accept that things in this world are shitty. I’m ready for a change. Sure, the trail isn’t going to change all that, but it sure will make me think twice. When you’re at a low point on the trail and the only person you have to talk to is yourself, maybe that will be the moment something good happens, whether in the form of an epiphany or passing a trail angel with a nice cold bottle of Coke. I just want to see for myself that people can be good for no other reason than they want to.
In terms of the community, I’m really looking forward to a place where I can belong. I’ve never had a best friend who was always there for me when I needed them. I’ve never had a feeling that I belonged anywhere. When I’m out on a trail, whether in a group or by myself, I don’t feel that way. It’s almost as if nothing else matters other than being in that moment. It’s going to be interesting to be in an entire community of people who are there for one goal - to make it to Katahdin, preferably in one piece. I’ve been told the trail community is a lot like the AA community. We all have this addiction (hiking in our case) and we’re all there to support each other in our goal (replace sobriety with summiting). You might not like this analogy, but it’s all I’ve got in terms of the community right now :)
So yeah, maybe the trail won’t bring me peace, or get me a friend with whom I belong, or tell me who I want to be if I ever grow up, or make me see humanity in a whole new way… but I’m trying. The trail is the best way I know how. I do know that when I’m on the trail, I’m at peace. I don’t worry about debt ceilings or carbon foot prints or children starving in third-world countries. I worry about making it to camp before it rains, missing my family, and whether or not my socks will be dry in the morning. I’m hoping that the simple approach I’ll be taking to life on the trail will help me find clarity. I think that’s all anyone wants anyway.
I’m not doing this hike to prove anything to anyone else. This journey is mine and mine alone. If something happens (like an injury or family emergency) I’m going to get off the trail, but I will have by no means failed. I’m out there to hike my own hike and I don’t have to prove to anyone just how tough I am. I’m not going to break land speed records or run away and cheat on my husband (seriously, been asked about both of those). I’m not out there to make connections to find my next place in life, but that very may well happen.
Feel free to ask me anything you’d like about my journey. I’ve had lots of great questions and I hope I’ve been able to answer some of yours!