People who do not know me well will likely assume that I am impulsive when I unveil my plans to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail in one go. In reality, I tend to be extremely prudent when it comes to decision making, sometimes to a fault. No, this was not something I decided to attempt after reading a popular book or seeing a movie adaptation in theaters. I cannot honestly say there was a specific, single moment when I made the decision; rather, it was a gradual process of learning, discovering, and dreaming that ultimately led me to Georgia to begin my 2,190 mile journey to Maine.
Unlike other aspiring hikers who can pinpoint the exact time and place when they first heard of the Appalachian Trail and in that very instant decided to hike it, I cannot remember when I initially learned of its existence. As a child, we often traveled by car from Michigan to Maryland to visit family, and I have some vague memories of seeing a small bridge traversing the interstate with a sign denoting it was some kind of walking path. Stuck in the middle of the back seat between my two older brothers, I thought I’d much rather be walking that trail than enduring the “slug bug” blows that were a regular part of our family road trips.
I have always had an adventurous spirit with an insatiable need to explore. Part of this could be due to a genetic predisposition as my ancestors include the Clark family, responsible for one half of the famous duo who would lead the Corps of Discovery in their arduous trek up the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean in the early 1800s. Or perhaps I simply read too many books about the early explorers, pilgrims, and frontiersmen as a child, igniting my own desire for discovery. This characteristic has gotten me into trouble at times during my life. As a child, I wandered away numerous times, causing my parents much angst in the process. Even in college I got myself so utterly lost one day on a run that I ended up having to hitchhike 15 miles back into town, accepting a ride from a nice couple who took pity on me.
It was during college that I became aware that a long distance trail extended, uninterrupted, from Maine to Georgia. The thought of being able to hike its entire length captivated me; however, the obligations of school rendered this idea impractical. I would go on to complete my undergraduate studies, enter a challenging graduate program, and finally leave school with a professional degree and a mountain of student loan debt. Inadvertently, I had encumbered myself with the common burdens that shackle a dreamer’s lofty aspirations, and can lead to a vicious cycle of consumerism and debt. Realizing that I could not truly be free with my student debt looming over me, I resolved to tackle the problem head on. By committing to a frugal, disciplined, budget-controlled lifestyle, I managed to pay off over $100,000 in a little over two years. With that immense burden lifted, the dreamer in me began again to imagine all the possibilities. I soon resolved to attempt a “thru-hike” of the AT.
Most people cannot imagine taking six months out of their life to go meander on a wilderness trail with only the most basic of necessities, which must be carried the entire length on one’s own back. I consider it a sabbatical. The word sabbatical originates from the Hebrew word for Sabbath. The ancient Israelites not only would rest on the seventh day, but also were commanded to hold a Sabbath year, in which every seven years they ceased working the land. Even the beasts of burden were to partake in this rest. In farming, particularly prior to the advent of fertilizer, this allowed the fields to lay fallow, ensuring restoration of the soil’s nutrients. In this same spirit, I am pursuing my own sabbatical. While I won’t be resting in the strictest sense of the word, I hope to gain spiritual and mental rejuvenation, which years of rigorous schooling and challenging work have strained.
This is the path that has led me to the start of my journey here at Springer Mountain in Georgia. Barring debilitating injury or illness, family emergency, or psychological meltdown, every obstinate fiber of my being will propel me forward to the northbound thru-hiker’s mecca, Mount Katahdin.
Until our paths cross again,