When I was 15 I met my first thru-hiker.
I was working at a summer camp, and we had run into them on a day hike on the Appalachian Trail. They were an exotic breed to me, a strong person covered in dirt that had walked to central Pennsylvania from Georgia. I remember they had a Barbie doll with them they called their mascot, and they were planning to carry her to Maine. I had never heard of thru hiking, despite having grown up along the Appalachian Trail and spending my weekends hiking with my dad, and I was curious about it but it wasn’t until years later I decided to do it myself.
My second exposure to thru-hiking was when I was 18.
I spent a week backpacking the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park with a friend. In preparing for this trip, I was exposed to the term ‘thru-hiking’ in the guidebooks we used to research the trail and campsites. That was easily one of the best weeks in my life, and life on the trail was everything to me. I came back from that trip determined to one day thru hike the Appalachian Trail. It was a matter of fact to me, that one day I was going to do this.
In my 20’s I started to get sick.
At first, I thought it was stress and continued with my weekend hikes, but by my mid-20’s I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and an autoimmune disorder. This pushed me off the trail for a little bit, but I still held on to the belief that one day I would still thru-hike the trail. It was more than a belief, I still knew in my core that this was something I would do.
2021 was my year, the year I was finally going to thru hike the AT.
Or so I thought. At the end of 2019, I broke my ankle in 2 places. I had to re-learn to walk, but worst of all, due to improper healing it left me with nerve damage resulting in chronic pain in my right ankle. I became depressed. Something that had been such a strong part of my identity now seemed to be out of reach. I could barely walk long distances without a mobility aid and I wore an orthopedic brace for over a year after I started walking again. Despite the appearance that I wouldn’t be able to ever hike again I continued to follow other hikers online and research the trail and gear.
April 2023 I was finally brave enough to attempt getting back on the trail.
My dad and I strapped on our day packs and headed off onto the AT for a 4 mile loop to Pulpit Rock. It was my first hike in almost 4 years, and while I was nervous I have always been an overachiever. If I was going to do this, I was going to give myself a proper challenge. And it was hard. There were a few times I wanted to quit, but I kept pushing through. Finally, after what seemed like ages, we arrived at the pulpit rock overlook. I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I looked out over the view. My love of the trail was re-kindled, and I knew not only was I going to thru hike the trail, but I was also going to do it soon.
2024 is really my year.
I’m mostly free of my mobility aids and braces and, while still suffering from my chronic illnesses and chronic pain, I’m in a better situation mentally and physically than I was. I lost my job at the beginning of January and instead of allowing myself to become upset over it I have realized that this is my year. This is the year I thru hike the Appalachian Trail, and I hope you’ll follow along with me.
Why I hike.
I hike because I have been through so much physically already and I know my body is stronger than I believe. I hike because I feel a spiritual connection to the trail. I hike for my mental health, I always feel best in the woods. I hike to reconnect with nature and my roots. Simply put, I hike for me.
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