As a teenager, my father took our family into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As his father had done before him, my dad took us on hikes into the mountains and instilled a love for hiking and being outside. It was in these mountains that I first heard of the AT.
During the start of 2014 I was a student at Grand Rapids Community College finishing my associates degree and working at Staples. I had thought of the AT many times since first hearing of it, I had put its completion on my to do list and went as far as talking about hiking this summer, or maybe the next. After years of talking about it I had had enough. I was unhappy with the pace and lack of direction in my life and seeing that I was nearly finished at community college and had a job that I did not intend to keep the timing seemed perfect. I told my parents of my thoughts, and with much encouragement, I decided that this year was the year.
I spent my winter saving money, buying gear, and mostly thinking of the romantic adventure that lay before me. April came finally and reality slowly came with it as I quit my job, took exams, and got in my parents car to go to Georgia.
My parents and I went to my sisters house in Georgia to spend the night before I would get dropped off. The ride south and the final few hours in my families company was very uneasy for me. My father and brother in law hiked the first 8 miles of my hike with me before meeting my mom and sister for one final goodbye. I wont lie, I cried in preschool when I got dropped off by my mom. I cried like a preschooler when I stood in that parking lot in Georgia, and this time felt oddly similar. I was entering a new world, alone, and very unsure. I quickly hugged my family and turned my back to walk north. I did not look back once during the first few miles of my hike. The feelings I felt during my first solitary steps are still very hard to explain. I was scared and alone, but I knew at once after I left that I had just done something that required bravery and strength. I realized this and felt flutters of joy in my chest. It had begun, I was on my own. These feelings came back from time to time during my first few miles, but mostly, they were replaced with a panicked and uncomfortably alone feeling. I was starting to realize that the romantic journey I had begun would involve much more trial than I had thought.
My first night on the trail was an emotional point for my hike. I spent the night in my tent, with only a distant conversation with two section hikers. My thoughts ranged the times and places my parents could pick me up as they drove home to the bear that was undoubtedly watching me sleep in my burrito of a sleeping bag. I was more unsure than ever that I could or even wanted to walk all the way to Maine, I wanted other thru hikers to talk to, I wanted to quit, I was afraid. I paced around the shelter I was camped by for an hour or two before anyone else arrived, on the walls were written things like “Just keep hiking” or “Give it a week”. As I thought very seriously about my decision to be on the trail I I thought again about the reasons I had chosen to hike, I wanted to get away, to challenge myself, and experience what I could experience. I did not feel very excited about any of these things. I skipped dinner, feeling all too soon like I was a failure, and went to bed.
The next morning I felt better, and I can say that every morning for the next week got easier. The task ahead of me became more of a reality as the week went on. Feelings of loneliness and fear would come back many times during the next 5 months, but they were often replaced with much more preferred things like peace, friendship, and adventure. A surprising number of people quit their thru hike within the first week, I can see why, but I do not think the reasons for quitting that early are often valid. The first week is challenging, but it is not a reflection of what the entire experience will be. I thought of quitting often, especially during the first month of my hike. My determination grew as the miles passed, and I soon realized that I had too few reasons to quit, and too many reasons to keep walking.