Many people wonder why someone would want to spend 4-6 months living in the woods, dirty, stinky, and uncomfortable. I am here to share my opinion, and some of others I have been hiking with, on The Why.
The Why: challenge, beauty, people, living simply, adventure and freedom, self growth, mental health, can be yourself, having to adapt and become better, time to think, to see what you are made of.
The challenge: I have found that I need a balance between challenge and rest in life. When something is not challenging enough, I feel as though my time could be better spent elsewhere. However, if something is overly challenging, I may feel that it is impossible to overcome. Hiking gives a good balance of challenge with uphill climbs and rest with flat or down hill sections.
The People: The hiking community is amazing. One of my goals while hiking the AT is to build confidence in introducing myself and starting a conversation. After a few days on trail I realize that I have no problem talking to people. I have made friends with many people and have had a conversation with almost every person I have passed. The trail is different than normal society however. Most people hiking are very friendly and will at least exchange pleasantries. Many people in the “real world” try to avoid others and react unkindly to a stranger saying hello. My trip so far would have been much less entertaining and fun without some of the friends I have made along the way.
Adventure and Freedom: Adventure has always interested me. It is something that builds character and makes for great stories. The freedom to be who you want and to do as you please. There is no one telling you how to live other than yourself and you get to make the choice to be a good person. You can spread love and positivity, radiating energy with others.
Living Simply: Modern society is very fast paced. Everyone has somewhere to be and there is always something else to do when you are done with the current task. It becomes stressful and can lead to thinking you need to achieve the next thing to be happy. On trail you have no time limits and no deadlines to meet. If you don’t feel like hiking, don’t. If you feel like you want to push a long day, do it. You only have one thing to do every day and that’s walk. Having such a simple plan decreases the stress of forgetting to do something or figuring out what’s next.
Seeing What You’re Made Of: Day 17 was a rough day for hiking and my stomach hurt from the town food. Day 19 was an easier hiking day, but was down pouring all afternoon. Days like these allow you to see what you are truly capable of and push yourself past your previous limits. The best day of my life started out as the worst. Alone in the dark at 2:30 in the morning, I started the climb up Mt Madison. The climb was hard physically and mentally. I wanted to turn around and go back to the car many times. However, I stuck with it and once I broke tree line just before sunrise, I new it was going to be a great day. I continued to complete the presidential traverse, including Mt Jackson, which was by far the longest and hardest day of hiking I had done. I was nervous going into it, doubting my ability to complete the traverse. After I realized that I was capable of much more. That day taught me the lesson that we are stronger than we believe and to push through hard times because it will get better.
Beauty: The mountains are humbling and beautiful. It can be depressing to think what humans have done to the world, so it is nice to see expanses of land like these that are untouched. Seeing them just ignites a fire in me, it gives me hope and energy. I want to protect them and give them a big hug and say thanks for being here. Maybe it’s not something that can be put into words but rather a inherent feeling of love for the mountains, and the rivers, and the valleys. I just feel connected to them.
Self Growth: similar to seeing what you are made of, getting out of your comfort zone induces growth. You have to adapt and overcome or you fail. Not only has this trail allowed me to push new challenges physically, it has allowed time for self reflection and emotional growth. I feel more myself while on trail. Better in touch with my emotions and more enjoyable to be around. It has allowed me to build confidence and think about who I want to be.
Mental Health: Not only is there research supporting that time in green spaces relieves stress and anxiety, the people on trail help as well. As mentioned, talking with people and having the support of the trail community behind you helps push you through hard times. Being able to talk with like minded individuals and non-like-minded individuals about important topics that everyone realizes need fixing is amazing. People from all different backgrounds with different beliefs coming together to help each other. And talking with many different people about things of little significance to have a break from the seriousness of the world.
Be Yourself: I find that people on the trail are more accepting. In addition, you spend time alone, allowing you to do and be as you please. The group I am with, being girls, is much more open about their emotions. It has allowed me to become more open and enjoy the vulnerability. It is less now than in society before, but many men feel that they cannot express their emotions because it is not manly. It is nice being able to express them and not feel judged.
Recap of my experiences since the last post:
Day 13: 0 day with the girls, Cholula, Sriracha, and Littlefoot in Franklin NC.
Day 14: Left Franklin, hiked to siler bald and wayah bald.
Day 15: Hiked 15ish to Rufus Morgan, long step downhill, heavy rain at night, puddle in my tent in the morning.
Day 16: Hiked 1ish miles to NOC, predicted 2 in of rain, sat it out and got a bunk room. Had a nice lunch with the girls and Ariel.
Day 17: 22 miles with 6600+ elevation gain. Hardest day yet but friends kept morale high. Met Sally from sassafras, the diamond back snake chilling on a log on the trail.
Day 18: Short day to Fontana. Had a nice lunch and packed out a veggie burger for dinner at the Fontana Hilton, a shelter near a bathroom with hot water and showers. It also has a solar charging station and a great view of the Fontana lake.
Day 19: Entered the Smoky’s, got smashed with rain. Rolled into a packed shelter with mild hypothermia and got on dry cloths. Had my first warm dinner thanks to Lily (Littlefoot).
Day 20: Wet socks and shoes make for unhappy feet. Ate a leisurely lunch in a shelter halfway thru the day to avoid the rain. Had a cuddle train with Maddi and Lily to fight off the cold. I was the little spoon of course. Had a good nights sleep in Dereks knob shelter, where I saw a big buck just before the shelter.
Day 21: Up and over clingmans dome, the highest point on the AT. Crossed 200 miles! Got picked up by mom and dad, who brought snacks and fruit for the group. Got an Air B&B and resupplied in Bryson City.
5/29 Day 22: Slack packed a short and easy 6 miles. Michael (Dad) joined and we saw our first Bruin. The little guy, not actually little, maybe 250 lbs, was a curious little fellow climbing on construction equipment in a parking lot. Stupid tourists made the situation worse, getting bluff charged by Kenai the Bear, and running back to their cars. Kenai then got interested in our group who was backing away to the other side of the small lot. He got a little too close and I followed what I know to be the way to deal with black bears. Raising my arms over my head to be as big as possible and making loud noise, letting him know he was too close. He turned and ran for the woods. I felt pretty bad ass after the encounter, being the one in the group to handle the situation while everyone else was a bit nervous and unsure of what to do. First encounter with a bear, other than a few cubs in NH, and it went well. Also got to see Ariel before she finishes her section hike and catch up on the last few days. She taught us how to do a PCT Bear hang.
Peace and Love,