One year ago today, I made a decision that would forever change my life: I decided to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. 42 days later, I stood atop Springer Mountain in Georgia, the AT’s southern terminus. 176 days, 2200 miles, and three pairs of boots later, I reached Katahdin, Baxter Peak, Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail was easily the most challenging, difficult, and strenuous task I have ever attempted. And, perhaps, one I was insufficiently prepared for. While I’ll be the first to admit I was probably underprepared, honestly, nothing really prepares you for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail than actually thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. And yet, the task is done, and I’m ready for more.
People often ask me if I’ve changed, or come to any sort of “profound realization” as a result of my thru-hike. A few month ago, I’d have said no. Now, I think it’s possible I have, and that it’s still too soon for me to see the full picture. In any case, I’m fairly certain my thru-hike is a life-changing accomplishment. I just need more time and distance to see it.
I also get asked if the trail was what I expected. It’s not. But I didn’t really know what to expect. I couldn’t. I could never have expected any of the things that happened, or any of the people I met. I certainly didn’t expect the fantastic community that surrounds the Trail. The Trail was so much grander, humbling, larger, and smaller than I could have expected, or can readily put into words.
But, what I do know is that whenever I’m out hiking (and even often, when I’m not), I’ll have random flashbacks to something on the trail. Some event, some random part of trail, some amazing scenery, just reminding me what’s out there and what I spent six months doing. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Hiking the Trail was my best decision ever.
Along the way, I met a lot of people who helped or inspired me, from the staff at REI, to the innumerable trail angels who provided food and drink along the way, and my fellow hikers, some whom were thru-hiking for the first time like me, and others who were retreading old ground. All of you helped out, in some small or large way, even if you didn’t intend to, and it just wouldn’t have been the same without all of you.
So, a big thank you to everyone who was part of my journey. I don’t remember all of your names, but I appreciated your presence nonetheless. Without further ado, and in vaguely chronological order, a big thanks to:
Mo, Andrew, Monica, Matt, Michael, Chicken Feet, Kismet and Polly, Mountain Crossings, Mamma Cheddar, Ghost, Nado, Pops, Foxtrot, Kemosabe, Legs, Verge, Foot, Jelly and Peanutbutter, Sassy, Beast, Fat Hen, Talon, Paul, Limey, Mountain Eater, Hobbled, Baltimore Jack (RIP), First Baptist Church of Franklin NC, Peach, Burningtown Baptist Church, Sweet Tea, James, Carolyn, Sailor Pete, Scooter, Michael, Jack and Blaze, Rob Byrd, Uncle Johnny, Packrat, Nerry and Laura, “Trail Mom” Ruth, Brew, Duracell, Nelson Chapel Baptist Church, Gweem and Pop, Woodchuck, Mountain Goat, Bean, Blue, Tom Hoffman, VT Corps of Cadets grads, Cabana Boy and Dutch Tape, Alpaca, Cynthia and Phillip, Carmen and Leslie, Great P, Big Bad Wolf, Bonnie and Bill, Cricket, Steve and John, Sarah, David, Training Wheels, Uno, Tree, Odysseus, Lea, Claire, Romeo, Big Stick, Mike, Hammer, Gamel, Zig Zag, Bloodroot, Mom, Jack, and Kathy, Ken and Nancy, Doctor See and Rhythm, Heeler, Slider, Carl, Dick, SLAM, One Feather, Admiral, Pocahontas, Tink Tank, Sir, Sprinkletoes, Crisco, Beefcake, Yardsale, Torch, Fob, Baboon, Mike and Phil, Stryder, Jesse, Holly, Seth, and Jesse’s parents, Shoe Leather, Chuckles, Donnovan and Kim, Penny, Edwin, Pam, Clo Bear, Bill and Tim, Bad Hat, Acorn the Elder, Doctor John, Smiley, CT Trailmixers, Steve and Erik, Lou and Julie, Moxie and Sunshine, the Cookie Lady, Papa Monkey and Rainbow, the Yellow Deli, Two-Pack, Gastank, Charlotte, SOTAJerks, the Hart Family, Peter Thomson of Mt. Cube Sugar Farm, Hong Kong Steve, Pantry, Chet, Pine Ellis, Pigeon Toe, Tenacious, Shepherd, Orange Crush, Mothly Stud, Good Boy, Slip 'n' Slide, Monarch, Sea Dog, Pepper, Salt, Shiv, T3, Little Debbie, all the other hikers and trail angels I met, and all the park rangers, ridge runners, trail maintainers, shuttle drivers, hostel owners, and everyone else who helped to make my hike even just a little bit better.