I was in ninth grade when my father announced that he would be hiking the Appalachian Trail. At that time I had no real understanding of what that meant, let alone, no clue about the riggers of hiking the AT. For months I watched him walk around the various dirt-roads in Loxahatchee with an external-framed hiking pack, weighted down with twenty pound salt blocks. He always attracted a lot of attention from curious bystanders. “Why are carrying that large pack?” they would say. I have to admit that he looked pretty odd walking around flat South Florida with a giant hiking pack.When the time finally came for him to leave, my mother and I drove him to Dahlonega, GA. It was a cold, rainy day in the mountains and his pack weighed roughly forty-five to fifty pounds–pretty rough going.
I am not quite sure when I got the idea to hike the trail myself. Somewhere between becoming a whitewater river guide and living in Hot Springs, NC is when the decision was made. As most of you know, I have worked as a river guide for five years now. Several of those years were spent living in Hot Springs, NC. When I first moved into staff housing, I was shocked to find that NOC owned the property surrounding the AT; in fact, the trail goes right through our staff housing. I also spent some time living in Erwin, TN on the Nolichucky; there the trail crosses right near our housing too. Between hang-outs at Uncle Johnny’s AT Hostel and living on the trail in Hot Springs, I have met, learned from, and drank a beer or two with many seasoned thru-hikers.
I have to give some credit to my best-friend Lilly, as she expressed the same desire to thru-hike the entire AT. It has been our main goal ever since we met. After four agonizing years of college and other necessary events, Lilly and I are finally free to hike the trail. The hardest part was waiting around until we both had the time to dedicate six months to being nomadic and homeless. I like to say that we are a sort of glorified vagabond.This last year has been the most challenging. Since the summer of 2010, I have finished school and graduated from University of Florida, moved out of my apartment in Gainesville, and then put myself through Wilderness EMT school. Let me just tell you, accomplishing all this within about a two month span was liking hiking up Mt. Everest.
Nonetheless, February has been spent planning trail logistics, figuring out trail food, and buying the remainder of my essential gear. Thank goodness for my sweet tax return! Light weight gear is super expensive! My tent alone ran a stiff $250 and my hiking boots followed closely behind (although these were Uncle Sam’s gifts to me). On average, a hiker spends $3 per mile whilst hiking the AT; if you do the math, it costs roughly $6,000 to hike the entire AT. Lilly and I have managed to work our way around these costs by avoiding excessive spending at restaurants and overnight stays at hotels.
In just a few more days, we will commence our journey. It is fun to look back and see that influences and events that brought us to this point. I must also recognize the Lord’s faithfulness in making this journey happen. For the first time in my life I will be able to call myself a vagabond. No, not the dirty thief kind (okay, yes we will be pretty grungy), but the nomadic, transient, carefree, and roaming kind. I am excited to learn what it means to carry all of my possessions on my back and to live and survive off minimal material things. I know that I will see and learn some amazing things out there. Five years of interest, dreaming, and planning have finally Got Me Here.