It is no secret that hiking the entirety of the Appalachian Trail is hard. You are much more likely to fail than succeed. It is a huge time commitment and personal investment to set aside up to six months of your life, leave the security of having a job and a home, and say goodbye to your friends and loved ones in order to live in the woods and walk every day. The decision to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail was an easy one for me. I had just graduated from college, and I was clueless as to where I might want to move or what type of work I might want to pursue. I had done several section hikes of the Appalachian Trail during my college spring and summer breaks. I enjoyed the challenges of long-distance hiking, the different types of people I met along the way, and living in the simplistic manner of having my home on my back. Furthermore, wanting to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail consumed my thoughts daily. During the directionless time of nearing college graduation and entering adulthood, my desire to do a thru-hike was the only thing I was certain about.
Why Hike the Appalachian Trail?
1.You learn to embrace being challenged in unpredictable ways.
The Appalachian Trail brings about so many physical and mental challenges that force you to grow as a person. In Virginia, I stubbed my toe, which seemed like a small thing at the time. I was pessimistic and self-pitying for my next few miles of hiking, which led to a major epiphany of realizing that I have the power to push negative thoughts out of my head. This is a lesson that I still use regularly. Lots of challenges come up along the way, such as getting rained on for days at a time, getting blisters and chafing that hurt with every step, and having to hike up huge mountains when you’re already exhausted. These are not fun things, but they do teach you about what you are capable of overcoming.
2.You get an opportunity to create a better version of yourself.
While there were plenty of pains along the way, being on a long hike brought me happiness. Feeling happy with myself every day led me to smile and laugh more, be kinder and more giving towards strangers, and be a more considerate and attentive friend to those close to me. While I used to believe that achieving goals would bring satisfaction to my life, I figured out that finding things to appreciate each day was more important to me. There were so many strangers along the way who did nice things for no reason, such as feeding hikers at road crossings and giving us rides into town. It showed me that there are good, selfless people in the world, and I can be one too.
3.Because of the encounters with wonderful, eccentric people.
Your fellow hikers are some of the best aspects of the Appalachian Trail. Every day you will meet new, fascinating, eccentric people. At home, we typically fall into a bubble of having friends who are like us. On the trail, you will find that you don’t actually need to have much in common with someone to enjoy their company. For a few hundred miles in Virginia, my hiking partners consisted of two 40-something blue-collar Southerners, a sarcastic frat boy, and a Northwest native who hated hiking. I would probably not have befriended any of them in my regular life, but on the trail we were like family.
4.You’ll be a part of a great traveling community.
Beyond making close connections and forming hiking partnerships is the greater community of the Appalachian Trail. You become part of a camaraderie where everyone has the same unifying goal. Most people who pass by say hello or stop for a conversation. It is not unusual to have a bad day and spill your frustrations to someone you just met, and have it received with support and encouragement to keep on hiking. There is an inherent understanding between hikers. We all have good days and bad days, and there will always be someone with whom to share both.
5.You get to experience living the simple life.
Leaving home and “getting away from it all” has always been a romanticized concept, and for good reason. Sometimes you really do need a break from the everyday grind. The life of a long-distance hiker is about as simple as it gets. Each day is spent walking as far as possible and is dictated by basic tasks such as eating regularly and finding somewhere to sleep. Happiness comes from small things like having a good conversation by the fire, reading a book with your headlamp before going to sleep, and stretching out your muscles after hiking over a mountain. Not having constant access to cell phone service makes it all the better when you turn on your phone and get a message from someone at home.
6.Hiking the Appalachian Trail will help your resume stand out post-adventure.
While this is not a reason in itself to take on a 2,000-mile journey, it is a bonus that helps make an easier transition to the post-hike real world. Initially, saying that you like to take six-month vacations does not necessarily make you a more desirable potential employee. However, it does show that you are capable of taking on monumental tasks, following through with long-term commitments, and persisting through unfavorable circumstances. As someone who has been working as an outdoor professional for years, having “thru-hiker” on my resume has landed me lots of interviews.
7.It adds another checkmark to your bucket list.
We all have that mental list of things we would like to do in our lifetime. That list will always be there, and sometimes you need to tackle it head-on. If the Appalachian Trail is calling to you and you don’t want to regret not doing it, then you have to put on a backpack and go. For me, doing a long-distance hike brings both great happiness and the occasional great misery. If you are willing to commit to a 2,000-mile walk and embrace the challenges, you will get back from it a close community of people who understand you, as well as countless life lessons.