I did it! On October 5, I finished backpacking 2,190.9 miles over 6.5 months – 199 days to be exact – through 14 states and lots and lots of rain. The Appalachian Trail thru-hike dream became my life for many months and now it’s done. A success. I am delighted to once again go to sleep each night without having to crawl on the ground and carefully pull off muddy boots as I ease into bed.
The last two weeks were fantastic. The trees in Maine were beautiful, plus we had mostly warm temperatures. Mrs. Santiago picked us up each night it was possible to reach a road crossing, and pampered us with drinks and treats as we headed into town for showers and yummy restaurant dinners. We grew soft from slack packing most of the last six weeks, so when we did carry full packs and camped out, we were quickly reminded how much tougher it is to backpack and camp. However the few nights we camped during those last days were gorgeous, with lakes and fall color everywhere. I enjoyed camping, even though I took advantage of every chance to be picked up and taken to a hotel with shower and warm meals.
Many people ask if I plan to hike the AT again. Nope. Not ever. I’m glad I hiked it and reached my goal, but I thought the AT was all about hiking when it turned out to be all about the kindness of others. Lots of people went out of their way to help me be successful and those are my best memories. Future posts will reveal some of the wonderful lessons and insight gained by stubbornly sticking with the challenge, but it was the generosity of strangers and friends that stand out the most.
Well…, okay I would hike part of it again, just not the entire trail. More than two months after finishing, I can say I am in love with hiking and have made time for many day hikes since finishing the AT. I have plans to hike the Chisos Mountains in early February, and part of The Lone Star Trail at the end of February. The year 2021 is my target for starting and finishing a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, which is 2,650 miles and purported to have an easier grade and fantastic views… plus hardly any rain. I research trails almost every day. Yep, the hiking bug is still with me.
In the meantime, lots and lots of people seem to want to hear me speak about adventures from the trail. I plan to use my stories to entertain and motivate people to go out and reach their own goals, whatever they may be. There are plenty of life lessons from the trail which can be applied to any other goal and I have both the skill to weave those stories into presentations people want to hear, and to help people reach their own goals through life coaching. I plan to keep hiking while encouraging other people to move from dream to life, too. When I’m a part of helping others reach their life goals, I’m a happy camper – and after 199 days of mostly camping along the trail, I definitely know how to be a happy camper.
It’s wonderful to have something special to focus on when your slogging through the miles everyday, and my favorite is meeting up with Marc, Davis, and Ann. They visited in Harpers Ferry last weekend and my excitement built as the weekend neared.
There are many hours during some days when hiking is simply pushing yourself to keep going, rather than feeling the miles fly by. That’s when it’s especially critical to feel the pull of something good to keep you moving along. I had these three to keep my focus positive:
We all pick daily mileage goals and usually have a couple spots picked for camping that night. Basically, you can pitch your tent anywhere along most of the route, so its enticing to stop early some days. Knowing you have someplace to be by a certain date on down the trail can make it easier, as long as you don’t make it into a grind.
I had to let go of my goal to reach Harpers Ferry by the time they arrived and instead figure out how to find a shuttle driver to Harpers Ferry once I was out of Shenandoah National Park. It was so much more fun to hike after I reduced the pressure on myself, had the shuttle lined up, and could enjoy the hike while anticipating their visit.
One lesson made clear on this journey is you can easily turn your dream into a trap by making up rules and schedules which are only in your head, like “I must be there by….” The reality is I can usually jump off trail at the next road crossing by having a shuttle driver meet me there, and then drop me back when I’m ready.
It’s a great life lesson, too. Much of the pressure I feel, is put upon me by myself. I don’t need to add pressure to my journey or arbitrarily create schedules when they aren’t needed. Right now, I’m trying to remember that wherever I am on the trail is exactly where I need to be, and no other expectation really matters.
In the meantime, I’m glad to have perks and extra encouragement from friends and family to help me stay focused on moving forward to Katahdin. It sure helps the daily grind be the daily hike instead.
After years of talking to potential hiking partners about hiking the Appalachian Trail, it became clear no one I knew was really serious about hiking all 2,189 miles of it in one season. I realized I was going to have to tackle this goal on my own and that’s when I fell into limbo. Without anyone with whom to coordinate, I didn’t know when to start this long hike. My husband suggested going sooner rather than later. His reasoned the longer I waited, the better the chance I would never go at all.
I took a hard look at what would be different about hiking in 2018 instead of a year or two later. The only disadvantages for going the very next season all had to do with money. Saving more money for the trip and current financial obligations were at the heart of every reason to wait. I’m a certified financial planner, with decades of experience helping people reach financial goals. I know a thing or two about money, and two things I know for sure. First, you can always use more money. Second, you will always find a way to have money for what you truly want.
I fretted about it for a few more days, and then decided my husband was right. If I waited a few more years trying to have “enough money” it was likely my dream would stay a dream and I would never go. It was time to set a date and figure out how to make the money work out.
I chose March 2018 and began researching how to prepare. Ironically, within a week I had a bona fide hiking partner also committed to go the entire distance! Ten days after she joined me committed for the entire journey and now we have a third partner who will hike at least the first month. I spent all those years searching for a hiking partner, when all I needed to do was commit to my dream and state my intention to those around me.
A couple months later the financial end worked itself out, too. I found ways to cut costs and to save more money. I was inspired to spend less on everyday items. Over time I became inventive in earning a little bit extra here and there. Now I have both a team and “enough” money. Funny how the definition of enough changes when it is no longer an excuse, but a part of your mission.
Whatever your dream, making it part of your life comes when you commit to the dream and take action. For me, the turning point was choosing a date and declaring I would go. I don’t know what it will be for you, but I hope you take the steps to make your dream become your life, too.