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.

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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…

 

 

Why the cause?

Mental health is near and dear to my heart because I have dealt with it for the majority of my life.

While I don’t necessarily enjoy bringing up my depression and anxiety in conversation (who would?), I do think it is important to talk about it, which is why I’m hiking to raise awareness for mental illness regardless of age. 

According to Mental Health America, 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health conditionThe National Institute of Mental Health just states that tens of millions of people are affected by mental health disorders in the United States every year. Of course, all of these numbers are just estimations because so many cases go untreated.

struggle_of_mental_health_763688475Regardless of the exact number, it is too high to be keeping quiet about it. The sooner we can remove the stigma of mental health problems and can treat mental illnesses as seriously as physical illnesses, the sooner more people will be willing to get treatment.

Organizations like iFred, No Stigmas, and ADAA work to help those with mental illnesses get help and reduce the negativity that surrounds them. Check them out!

                               adaa          ifred          nostigmas.png

It’s not a walk in the park

Although I am excited to hike the AT, there are things that I am concerned about. I think it is important to acknowledge the fears and concerns so I can be as mentally prepared as possible.

20171006_161057What will I do about a job once I finish? I might not have a job lined up for when I’m done hiking, which is scary. Another issue is whether I’ll be in good enough shape for the trail or not. I know I’ll get in better hiking shape as I go and will need to take care of my feet, especially in the beginning. An injury to my foot could bring a premature end to my trip.

There is also the possibility that I will be miserable hiking 2,200 miles mainly alone. Weather is unpredictable; it could be raining for two weeks straight with nothing dry that entire time. It might wear on me, but it’s all part of the experience, and hopefully, I’ll endure.

Ultimately, while I may not enjoy every moment of the trail, it’s a journey that I am not going to back down from, and I’ll take it one step at a time!

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough?

20171006_124442.jpgHuangshan (Yellow Mountains) is pretty high and might be high enough to keep me from getting to you. It’s a huge mountain range and I’m only human!

On my first all-day about 10-hour hike with a backpack, I went through a series of emotions. From excitement to questioning my life decisions.

Before the hike, I thought my biggest problem would be my back from carrying a backpack (although much lighter than for the AT). I was already planning out the blog post on how I need to walk around carrying a backpack with bricks in it to prepare my back. And then lo and behold I get used to it! After about 2 hours or so, I didn’t even feel the strain of the pack because my body adjusted. So there went that blog post idea.

And after that, it was pain-free! 20171006_122620

Yea right. All of the paths are stairs. My knee joints were ready to give up on me.

I might have to consider a knee brace.  I’ll probably visit a few doctors before I hike the Appalachian Trail such as my ankle surgeon and maybe a knee specialist (my sister has one of those,  I’ll see hers). Call me crazy, but I’d like to minimize any damage done to my body on this adventure!

SoBo? NoBo? Yolo?

What’s with the abbreviations? Since I’ll be continuing to use them on my blog, I figured it might be helpful if I explained them. SoBo and NoBo at least; I’m sure you’re familiar with yolo…                                                                                                                               

map pic
Image by Google

SoBo refers to the southbound route meaning that the hiker starts in Maine and goes to Georgia. This route is the less common approach to hiking the trail. NoBo hikers are northbound, so they start in Georgia and end in Maine. The majority of AT hikers are NoBo.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people, on the internet at least, have strong opinions on which route is better.  For me, it boiled down to one thing. Timing. I graduate in May, and I have a wedding I’m attending in early June (like I’d miss your big day Chelsea) and to start the AT in Georgia I would have had to leave in March or early April, which wasn’t possible. The trail in Maine does close due to bad weather, which is why it’s important to start in Georgia by a certain time, and I would never make it with my timeline.

mt katahdin summit.jpegI won’t have the glorious moment of cresting Mt Katahdin at the end of months of hiking, but I’m not doing it for one great moment. I’m hiking it for all the small moments every day. And hey, I can always hike it again! 🙂

How did I get so lucky with my friends and family?

I lucked out with the people in my life. Honestly, I was expecting more negative reactions to hiking the AT because it is a little insane. However, I have received positive and encouraging responses!

My mom was immediately excited if worried about the safety of me hiking on my own, which she regularly brings up. (Anyone want to come with?). She started making plans for my dad and her to meet up with me, take me into town, bring me supplies, etc. It was an overwhelmingly supportive reaction.

My dad was a little more reserved, but only because he wanted to make sure I had thought through all of the logistics of hiking the AT and looking for jobs after. Once he realized I was serious, and I had thought it through, he was also supportive of my decision. I mean, he biked across the U.S. without a map when he was younger, at least I know where I’m going 🙂

Resized_20170810_133454.jpgI only told a few friends about my plan, to begin with, but I received positive feedback from them as well. Chelsea was particularly encouraging. She was excited about my idea and told me that if I have a chance to do it, I need to jump on it! I don’t know when I’ll have the opportunity to do something like this again. (Let’s be real, I’ll make it happen) She got just as excited for me as if she was also going. I’m still trying to convince her to come!

With these responses, I began telling my other friends and family; the positive responses kept coming. It reminds me to be thankful for the people in my life!

So you’re hiking all the time to prepare, right?

Oh, of course!

20170909_153003 (1)Well… I went on a few long hikes this summer. But apparently life doesn’t care that I’m planning a huge adventure, it goes on. Which means that right now, I am currently in Shanghai, China studying abroad. It’s difficult to continue contacting sponsors with the whole 12+ hour time difference, but I’ve made it work. Although long hikes? No longer happening. But I would argue that I’m getting decent practice.

I do a ton of walking every day because this city is huge and there are so many stairs (I mostly take the escalator) that work out your thighs! I walk several miles every day, which is a lot more than I did on an average day this summer. More importantly, I think I’m getting my feet in shape.

Once I’m back at my home university, I’ll have an easier time because it is literally at the top of a mountain. It’s one big hiking trail! But until then, I’ll have to make due with this magnificent city, although I’m sure there is hiking somewhere. This city has everything. If not, I might just have to take the stairs instead of the escalator once in a while.

 

It feels like my birthday!

Today, I opened my front door to find something exciting on my porch – a package from Sawyer! I may have squealed a little when I saw it, but no one can prove that happened. Having camped and hiked my whole life, I have come across Sawyer products and have never been disappointed. I reached out to them and they said they would sponsor me!

20170823_1304492.jpgThis package contained several variants of bug spray and sun lotion that will be necessary for the trail. On a hike the other day, I realized that gnats are going to be a major problem when hiking the AT and I can’t stand them – just ask Chelsea. The Sawyer bug spray works on several types of bug and gnats are one of them, so that’s perfect! I can’t wait to try out these products.

What’s in the box:

  • Sawyer Stay Put System

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    Darcy approves!
  • Controlled Release Family Insect Repellent
  • Picaridin Lotion
  • Picaridin Spray
  • 2 Clothing Premium Insect Repellent
  • Blist O Ban
  • 3 Shirts

 

Taking the Plunge

Hiking the AT has always been in the back of my mind, but it was just a dream, not something I had a solid plan for. This past summer, I went to Maine with my parents, and it got me thinking: why don’t I have a plan to hike the AT? Why does it have to remain an unattainable dream? It doesn’t. I may not be 100% prepared, mentally or physically, but if I wait until I am, I will never go.                                                                         

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Acadia National Park with my parents

I felt so invigorated while hiking in Maine; it brings me a rare sense of serenity and accomplishment. When hiking on tough trails, my mind is focused on the now. On where my next step will be, so I don’t twist an ankle, on the beauty that surrounds me, on the capability of my body. There is no room in my mind for anxiety or even depression because I am too busy living in the now. If that’s how it was on day hikes, I can only imagine what it will be like when I am walking weeks on end.

After I graduate, the social norm is to immediately search for a job and move on to the next thing. That is what I was originally planning on doing. However, post-graduation gives me the 4-7 months I will need to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, and I am going to take advantage of that time! Instead of keeping my goal of hiking the AT a distant dream, I am turning it into a reality.