This day a year ago, March 20 & the first day of Spring I started the biggest adventure of my life. I woke up in my cozy room at my parent's house in Chattanooga. It was a Tuesday and I had just celebrated St. Patrick's Day that Saturday in Savannah with about 20+ friends. Earlier in the month, I said goodbye to New York City - a place that had been my dream since the age of 10. New York no longer harbored those dreams and had become more of a burden than an adventure. I'd worked at 4 different magazines, 1 design studio, had a brief stint in part-time retail, and countless freelance design jobs. I was ready to pursue another life-long dream: hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.
After reading Becoming Odyssa, A Walk in the Woods, attending Warren Doyle's Appalachian Trail Institute, and many hours on the internet researching gear, I finally reached the conclusion that I was as ready as I would ever be, that the time had come to just go. On the morning of the 20th, with the help of my parents and their basset hound, we loaded up the Outback and drove east to Springer Mountain. My good friend Monica was going to hike with me for a few weeks in the beginning and we met her and her father at a sandwich shops in Dawsonville (where the race car driver "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" is from). The day was full of joy, we were so excited for the adventure ahead. On one hand, we had done the research and felt we were as ready as ever. On the other hand, we had no idea of what was ahead.
After navigating our way to the Springer parking lot, the whole crew walked the 0.9 miles to official southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I touched the plaque, signed the register, and took pictures. We walked back to the parking lot, and began loading up a mix-match of food. I'd decided to go stove-less to save time and weight, and so Monica had gone to Sam's club and bought us a vast medley of ClifBars, Larabars, granola bars, snickers, and dried fruit. We also packed some fresh fruit, but with food - there really was no real plan. We even had the at-the-time-genius idea to unwrap all the bars and put them all a big gallon ziplock. (By the next morning, we realized our ClifBars had become one big Clif Clump..). I don't remember feeling particularly confident about our food plan, but I also had no better ideas and figured we would learn as we went. We weighed ourselves & our packs, as a reference point. Finally, we shouldered our packs, said goodbyes, took a few last pictures and around 3pm, finally started walking north on the Appalachian Trail.
|Spring Mountain: Southern Terminus|
|Signing the register|
|"Organizing" our food|
|Weighing my pack|
I learned to appreciate kindness, no matter the source. While some found the southern churches too preachy, I was so grateful for the Little Debbies & Cokes they left by trailheads. I gave up my snobbery toward junk food & fast food, and became grateful for any source of calories when I was hungry. I appreciated shelter in the rain - something that has really stayed with me. After hiking full days in the cold rain, I now look out from my window and remind myself how wonderful it is to be dry and warm.
I became friends with all kinds of people - from 18 year old boys to 50 year old women. We all were called by the trail for our own reasons, and each person brought their own perspectives, wisdom, and humor. With the vast array of experiences, everyone had the opportunity to learn and also to teach. Together we laughed, hurt, expressed frustration or fear, and learned, all while continually hiking north.
I also learned how strong my body is. My mind was constantly shocked with my body's ability to get up again every morning and hike all day, no matter the hurt and fatigue from the day before, or the rough terrain and weather that I knew was ahead. It was amazing to observe the transformation in my endurance and also my leg muscles. For the first time, I felt pretty ripped. The downside though, was I learned to watch out for my knees and my joints. Some parts of the body get stronger, others get weaker - nothing is constant.
Possibly my favorite aspect of my hike though was truly living outside. Last July was recorded to be the hottest July in North America - OF ALL TIME! I woke up in this heat, hiked all day in the heat, stayed soaking with sweat, slept in the heat, and woke up again in the morning to put my still soaking hiking shirt back on. I hiked in the sunshine, and slowly got wet when it began to rain, and slowly dried back out when the sun came back. I started my hike on the first day of spring, when the Georgia mountains were still brown and barren from the winter. I noticed the first peeks of green, and observed as they slowly bloomed into flowers and eventually luscious green plants. One of my favorite weeks was in Virginia when all the rhododendrons were in bloom. Later in Vermont in August, I noticed out the very slightest hint of gold on the mountains - autumn was coming. Never before have I been so aware and grateful of the changing of the seasons.
|Spring beginning to bloom in TN|
|Rhododendrons in Virginia|
|Hot & sweaty in New Jersey in July|
|A hint of Autumn in August in Vermont|
Hands down, hiking the Appalachian Trail was the best thing I have ever done. I hope to hike it again one day. For now, I am in Asheville, NC pursuing my next adventure - running my own design/letterpress business. I have become a member of the local letterpress co-op, Bookworks, and am printing there for the first time today.
Today on March 20 - the first day of Spring, the season for new beginnings, to quote Jack Kerouac, I "lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."