This article originally appeared on The Trek on April 11, 2021. Read it Here.
I have 766 miles behind me since 2019, which means I have 1,426 miles of the trail to go. I’m heading out next week in an attempt to hike from Boiling Springs, PA to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, which is about 1,068 miles. Here are some thoughts.
Do you remember your first time? :). It’s one of a kind, soak it in! In 2019 when I headed out for my first big section hike (wound up doing close to 670 miles that year, 570 of those in one chunk) all I could think about was the AT. Trail prep was all-consuming and was a culmination of years of thinking and pondering, tons of research, shakedown hikes, and massive to-do lists. That feeling of heading out on some big unknown adventure was irreplaceable.
Now throw the spotlight on 2021: I leave in a week and I haven’t started packing (someone please nervously laugh at this with me). In addition to getting some things done around the apartment, my biggest concern right now is feverishly trying to finish the book I’m reading so I don’t leave myself hanging close to the end right before I go to the trail. Has anyone read “The Help”? I must say it’s a good one! I’m so excited to head to the trail, but it feels a little more mellow – a lot more like coming home vs. embarking into the unknown.
Heading out for a hike on the AT for me now means that I open up my plastic storage bin where I keep all of my hiking things nice and organized, make sure everything still works, and make adjustments to anything that doesn’t. I rummage through this stuff frequently enough for various uses that I would hopefully already have a general idea if anything major needed to be replaced, although I’m sure my casualness in saying that will come back to bite me at some point. I do still have some decisions to make, such as trying to gauge which of two outer layers I’m going to bring to best fit the weather, or if I can go out of my comfort zone of bringing 3 pairs of socks to just bring two. Trust me, trail prep gets a little easier once you’re familiar with the trail you’re headed for.
This is my one major gear upgrade. I have no idea how it’s going to go, but I am very hopeful that this $100 food bag will be worth every penny. I’ll report back on that. I’d seen a few people use ursack bags on the trail, and had read about them here and there, including this review I came across on The Trek. When I decided to really look into it, I found myself sheepishly fantasizing at the thought of never having to spend time at camp finding a suitable branch (nonexistent sometimes), then spending however long it takes me to get that line thrown over it. Sold!
Settling for a bad bear hang or sleeping with your food are both not good, and I feel like these things happen a lot out there – both to myself, and from what I observed in my trail time thus far. Plus, I once injured my tooth in a bear bag hang incident. It was two years ago, the week before I left for the AT, while visiting my brother in Moscow, Idaho. It wound up costing me 4-5 days of trail time because the tooth injury flared up after I started hiking, and sometimes it still hurts today. I wrote about that first week on trail here if you’re interested. You’d think that should have been enough to spark my curiosity for other food storage options, but I’m finally getting around to it!
I can’t help but feel selfish for this one, and I definitely haven’t finished working through it. This is new for me, because in 2019 I didn’t have a boyfriend and was just out there doing my own thing. I am so lucky, because my boyfriend and I met on the trail. He understands where I’m going, what it’s like, and why my need to keep chipping away at the trail is so strong. He has been so supportive of me doing this.
Yet, I know that this isn’t easy for him. How can it be easy for any significant other that has to stay home and work, has to feel that adjustment to their routine and deal with those heavy feelings of missing you while you’re gone? I actually think it’s harder to be the one staying home, and I have no idea how I could possibly convey my gratitude and thankfulness for his sacrifice as he so graciously supports the idea of his girlfriend going on this hike. I get fears in my head sometimes that I’m not doing the right thing, but I know that at the end of the day this is a calling I can’t ignore. It’s something I started by myself that I need to complete for myself. We’ve been together for two years and both believe that we have a strong enough foundation at home.
This is by far my biggest apprehension for the trail, and it’s going to be a challenge, but a challenge that I really believe we can handle together.
When I left for the trail in 2019, I was in pretty decent shape. I had been working with a personal trainer for quite a while at that point, was lifting three times a week and running here and there, along with a slew of other healthy habits. I’m in a much different situation this time. I feel like I’ve tipped to the other end of the spectrum compared to what my personal baseline of health usually is. I’ve been keeping up with some yoga and meditation fairly regularly, but other than that I’ve managed to get completely out of lifting and running shape despite trying to restart, again and again, this entire past year. I think it goes without saying that this was a weird year, and with a lot of constant changes to my job and living situation, I struggled to maintain a healthy routine.
Even worse, I’ve adopted this mentality in the last few weeks that I’ll start to feel better on the trail, so I feel nearly no guilt about some of the junk food habits I’ve gotten myself into because I’ve been justifying that my body could really use any extra pudge I can manage so that I have something to lose on the trail. To make this make sense, I think I should note that for my body type, I generally have difficulty gaining much weight and this is a slight concern for me on the trail because I don’t have much to lose. Still though, it’s not good to find myself in a position where I’m not maintaining healthy habits, and my overall point is that this time I’ll have to use the trail to get in shape, vs. setting out gung-ho. I’m not too worried about this as long as I keep an awareness to what my body can handle each day, and I don’t plan to push my mileage much past 8-10 miles a day for the first couple weeks unless I’m really feeling great.
This is the weirdest of them all. Here I am getting ready to head out on this hike for three months and I’m not even sure if most of my friends even know I’m going. My next order of business is to let people know so that at minimum there’s a reason when I don’t respond to text messages for days at a time.
I’m kind of in this “I’ll believe it once I’m actually on the trail” phase, because I was going to head out to do this in 2020 before everything changed and most of us had to cancel hiking plans to respect the stay at home orders. My job situation also felt like chaos this entire past year. I’ve worked as a flight attendant for seven years, and the airline industry was ravaged from the effects of the pandemic. It was stressful, as I was in the constant “I’m going to have a job, now I wont” juggle. Up until a month ago, I thought I was going to get furloughed this April. That might look like time off, but in reality, I was prepared to not be able to finish this hike in 2021 because I would have had to put my efforts into finding a new job for an unknown period of time.
Luckily some things turned around last minute, and I’m still employed by my airline. Even though things are starting to bounce back, the airline is still way overstaffed right now and wound up offering voluntary leaves. This is lucky for me because I still had the savings to do this hike, and can keep my health insurance while I do it. A month ago I knew I had a leave of absence for April, and just a week ago I found out I was able to get the offered leave May – July. Coming back to flying the past few months has been a really good thing but also a little stressful, and I’m beyond thankful I get a break to hike without living in the fear that I’ll lose my job completely, as I did for so much of 2020. I can’t really predict my job scheduling situation past a month at a time right now, so this leave is a godsend that I at least have a set in stone idea of what my life looks like through July – a feeling of certainty I haven’t had in a while. Another advantage of coming right off of working flights is that I’m already vaccinated, which helps me feel a little better about going into town on trail.
My boyfriend, his mom and I are heading to North Carolina to spend a day or two doing trail magic this week. We’ve never done this before and are very excited! I’ll hopefully report back on how this goes.