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Have I lost my mind?

Why would I ever want to put myself through the challenge of the Appalachian Trail? Give up my nice cozy bed and warm meals for months on a trail?

 20171009_174108I have always dreamed of doing something like hiking the Appalachian Trail and I finally realized that there is no “perfect” time to take the plunge. The summer after graduation provides a time for me to do it, so I plan to take advantage of that flexibility. I am under no illusion that I’ll love every mile or that I won’t question why I decided to do it. Despite those moments, overall, it will give me a chance to disconnect from society. I won’t be tied to my phone or hectic schedules, no sitting in traffic, listening to what this or that celebrity is doing. 

Hiking the AT is a unique opportunity to challenge my mental and physical strength and endurance. Never before have I needed to rely only on my own two feet to travel 2,190 miles with only the supplies I can carry in my pack. I also cannot imagine the peace of mind that comes from immersing yourself in nature. 

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Huangshan (Yellow Mountains)

I may go days without seeing another person, or maybe I will hike for a week with new friends. The relationships built with other hikers will be formed on a shared experience that no one who has not hiked for weeks on end could imagine. It’s a challenge, but one I am looking forward to facing head on.

 

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Sleeping Like a Baby

I went on a practice overnight hike to test my gear. Of course, I was nervous. Not to mention that I have problems sleeping even when on a comfortable mattress with all my pillows and blankets. Now I was supposed to sleep in a hammock?

Best. Sleep. Ever!

HH hammock
Image via Google

I was so comfortable and the hammock cradled my body and kept the heat in. With the overhead mesh, I was able to look up at the stars through the trees as I drifted to sleep. Waking with the sun shining through the trees? Magical.

My back wasn’t sore and there were no cricks in my neck. I opted to forgo a pillow as added weight that is not necessary. With the slope of the hammock, my head an neck were cradled nicely.

Hopefully, the one night comfort lasts for the months I’ll be on the trail!

The Privilege of Thru-Hiking

The inherent privilege in being able to even attempt a thru-hike is not something I had thought about before my dad mentioned it. I am extremely fortunate to be able to attempt one.

Money.

While I did receive significant sponsorships and discounts, I still needed to put my own money into this and will continue doing so as I purchase food and gear along the trail. Plus, I was able to take the time off after graduation the complete the trail!

Physical capability and health.

I am healthy enough to undertake 5-7 months of intense physical activity. I’ve had plenty of health problems and I’m sure physical and health problems will arise as I hike, but there is nothing serious enough to prohibit me from being able to hike.

Family.

Most importantly, I am privileged to have the support of my family. My parents have helped me prepare, get the gear I need, and will be offering transportation to the starting point. I couldn’t complete this without that support. My sisters offer me support and so does my extended family.

I just want to remember to be thankful for what I’m capable of and not take it for granted.

Keeping up with my Motivation

I am honestly surprised that I have been able to work on the AT planning for almost a year.

Let me explain.

My mental state usually lets me maintain motivation for maybe 2 days – maybe 3 if I’m lucky. Depression has a tendency to make it difficult (for me at least) to plan for things in the long-run unless I have an external deadline like for school or work. But to keep myself intrinsically motivated? Almost impossible.

So yes. I am really proud of myself for planning this adventure a year in advance and continuing to keep up with the planning! There have been a few dips in the motivation, sometimes lasting a few days or a week or two, but I was always over to pull myself out of it. Overall I have kept myself going.

This is an adventure I’ll never forget!

 

The Adventure Draws Nearer…

Realistically, I know that I will be hiking the AT in about 3 months, but it still feels like something that will happen in an abstract future.

I guess because I’m focusing on my classes and graduation I haven’t had a lot of time to think about the adventure that is waiting for me this summer. I’m still doing planning, but it doesn’t seem real in a way. Then again, it probably won’t seem real until I’m actually on the trail!

I wonder how other people felt in the time leading up to their first thru-hike. But it probably varies from person to person. I’ll have to reach out to some people and ask!

But when I do really think about it, I feel excitement with a few nerves. I can’t wait to get out there!

Am I worried about my own mental health on the trail?

I actually didn’t think about that until I decided to write this blog post… 

I’m not too worried about it. The state of my mental health fluctuates fairly dramatically at times normally, and I expect that it will continue to do that while I am hiking the AT.

However, I think a big difference will be what I am doing. Even if I wake up with no motivation and all I want to do is stay in bed, I can’t. I have to wake up and walk. It’s not optional; I have to plan out my food, water, and my rest days in advance. By knowing that I need to get up and that it isn’t a “choice”, it will be easier because I won’t be able to lay in bed thinking ‘do I actually want to get up?’ I’ve always done better when I have a busy schedule.

I think it will also be nice to be removed from technology and the general stresses of everyday life. I’ll be able to refocus myself and figure out what my life goals are. I’m sure in all the time I’ll have in my own head, I’ll have at least a little bit of introspection.

All By Myse-eelf

Should I be worried about hiking on my own?

Maybe, but honestly, I’m not too worried about it. I’ve had a chance to think it through- a lot. Especially because my mom continuously brings it up; she is worried enough for the both of us, not that I can blame her. Like many things in life, going off on the AT could be dangerous.

I’ll probably be talking to myself a lot…

But I’m more worried about the potential of getting miserably lonely. Although I enjoy being on my own, having a few moments to yourself is nothing like being on your own for days on end. Maybe even weeks, for the most part, I have no idea how often I’ll be with other people.

Maybe I’ll find my zen

I hope I can use the opportunity to reflect on my life. To just be in my thoughts for days, weeks, months. Focusing on putting one foot in front of another. My life only consisting of what I can carry and what my body is capable of doing.

When else can you get that simplicity? When else can you remove yourself from all of the distractions around you?

What do I hope to accomplish with a cause?

I know that one person alone can’t remove the stigma from mental health, but I can help increase conversions. By sharing my own struggle, maybe I can help give someone else the courage to speak up about their own experiences.

I would like to give hope to others that struggle with mental illness.

Depression and anxiety have a large impact on my life and everyday decisions in ways that I can’t even explain and that you won’t understand unless you’ve experienced it. It can be hard to see past your mental illness and difficult to plan something huge for the future. But I’ve always wanted to do an adventure like hiking the AT and I won’t let my mental health stop me.

By sharing my story, maybe I’ll convince someone else that they too can go after their goals or adventure because you don’t have to do it alone.

Where am I?

I know where I am; I’m not stranded in the desert or anything. But I don’t know where I am in life. I’m sitting here at my desk in my dorm room wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m in the second semester of my senior year. I just got back from studying abroad, and I planned on taking extra classes I’m interested in but sitting in those courses just doesn’t feel right. I feel like I’m no longer in that place of my life. I find myself questioning my place.

Should I be preparing for life after graduation? I’m hiking the AT after graduation.

Should I be spending most of my time preparing for the hike? I plan on doing practice hikes, testing my gear, and acquiring what I still need. But what then?

Should I be doing an internship just for the sake of doing an internship? I know that I need to be preparing for the world of job hunting post graduation and post AT hike, but what does that look like now? Should I be reaching out to companies already?

I am in a place of transition and I think that is scarier than preparing for a 4-7 month hike and scarier than the potential of a jobless future.

Back from my (unplanned) hiatus

As the wifi in my dorm got increasingly worse, the pressure of finals loomed nearer, and my motivation began to wain, my blog went on an unplanned hiatus. I sometimes have difficulty maintaining my motivation to write on my blog but now that I am stateside again, it is a little bit easier to start writing again!

Although my blogging was on hiatus, I made sure to walk several (10 on average) miles a day while I was in China and to take the steps instead of the escalator (mostly) when I had the chance.

Now I am back and ready to begin archiving my adventure and the process I go through!

Preparation? What preparation?

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Hiking the Great Wall totally counts as preparation

A lot, actually.  Unless you’re an experienced thru-hiker (which I’m not), you probably can’t just decide to hike the AT tomorrow and be ready. If you can, congrats! There is a lot more that goes into it than I thought. I’m really glad I gave myself about a year to prepare.

Even just getting the gear I need is a long process. I’ve had to do so much research into different brands and which products have the most success on the trail and will last. 

Food, well food is a huge issue, especially due to my allergies. I’ll probably give food its own post – it deserves it.

Then, I need to know the trail so I don’t die. I need maps, information on poisonous plants and which mushrooms I can safely eat in case I get hungry, etc. The AT is very different depending on what section you are on and which state you are in.

 

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Ok, I didn’t hike the whole thing

This is all just the research aspect of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. Some of the most important preparation though will happen as I do practice hikes whether for a day or a few nights. I’ll let you know how that goes when I get there…