No, this is not an existential discussion of evolution or the meaning of life. This is actually a pretty short story of how we came to where were are right now- packing the house, quitting our jobs, and planning to live out of our backpacks for up to 6 months. For me, it all started on October 7th (I think Jimi will have a different take on when it all started, but bear with me here). Jimi was bored at work and sent me this text message:
And that was the extent of our initial conversation (complete with switcheroo to talking about enchiladas!). Kind of a joke, but kind of serious. Mostly a joke. Over the next few weeks, we talked about it some more. How could we make this work? Do I have to quit my job? Would we need to sell the cars? What do we do with all of our stuff? Is this crazy?
To answer the last question, I called my mom and flat out asked if she thought us hiking the AT was crazy (I think “Is this a crazy, stupid idea?” was my exact phrasing). She said kind of, but let me think about it. Jimi calls his dad, and Preston is extremely excited about it. I think that may have been what sealed the deal for us. One parent who is definitely behind us. When you’re thinking of doing something that a lot of people think is a waste of _________ (fill in the blank- a career, money, time, life, etc.), having one person in full support makes it much easier to turn your crazy, stupid idea into a reality. That’s not to say that our family is not supportive of this. I think everyone is rightly concerned about safety and the fact that we have to come back at some point and pick up where we left off.
By mid-November, we had told all of the immediate family and our close friends. I think we were getting pretty consistent reactions- lots of support from the previous generation and a lot hesitant congratulations from non-backpacking friends. And a lot of “I wish I could do something like that!” from everyone.
We were finally at 100% definitely hiking the trail at the end of the year when we told out landlord that we would not be renewing our lease at the end of February.
I think we really felt the support from family and friends during Christmas. We almost exclusively received backpacking gear, clothes and gift cards/money to help us on the trail.
They’re behind us. And we’re going.
Stupid. That’s the only way I can describe our first backpacking trip. We had around 40-50 pounds on our backs for a one-night trip. We also managed to pick a trail that went straight uphill for what seemed like miles. We were viciously angry and sweaty the whole way up, with our calf muscles screaming at us due to the stupid amount of weight. Getting up to the campsite was an enjoyable part with a beautiful 360-degree view of nothing but mountain peaks, complete with the subtle sound of the wind blowing through the trees and the site of the distant mountain valleys. I never experienced such a moment of solitude in my life, the pure agony of hiking up there turned into ecstasy, it was a damn good feeling. Once we woke up the next morning, the excitement went away, it rained for over 12 hours later. I mentally forgot all the fun from last night and thought my backpacking days were already over. We eventually gave it another shot, I’m sure it was the lady that convinced me to do this. You learn from your mistakes as you go, it’s definitely a learning process. After several more trips, it got easier and more enjoyable to where we just couldn’t get enough.
So why did I choose the Appalachian Trail? It was around a few years ago after we got a good number of backpacking trips in that we eventually talked about the Appalachian Trail and mentioned how awesome that would be if we could pull off such an adventure. Only problem was we had no clue on how we could mentally start preparing for such a thing, nor we had any clue if we had it in us. One weekend we decided to take a trip to the Appalachian Trail near Afton Mountain hiking through Rockfish Gap. We ran into this guy named Jim Bailey, who seemed very friendly and obviously very experienced in backpacking. We ended up staying overnight together at the Calf Mountain shelter and became friends very quickly, to our pleasant surprise he had a lot of extra vodka. The Appalachian Trail was brought up later that night and we mentioned how to make it possible. His first answer was, “Pay off all your debt!” That was probably the best starting advice because that was definitely possible for us. He knew all the backpacking tips and gear information you could possibly need. If I never met him, I don’t know if I would still be planning to hike the Appalachian Trail this year or ever. About a year later, I found out on Facebook someone from my high school graduating class was taking on the Appalachian Trail and he ended up completing it in its entirety. I couldn’t stop watching his posts and I was full of envy during his journey. Christy was tired of me talking about him and said, “You need to stop mentioning him and just make it happen for yourself!” She was right, this was brought up while we were backpacking on the Appalachian Trail looking at that gorgeous view, and I kept my mouth shut after that. Only a few months later our dream was turning into a reality. I remember calling my mom about the trail, except I was more on the doubtful side and said due to the commitments involved is making our chances extremely slim. I think I was also a little nervous mentioning this, because I was thinking all the parents would frown upon this. It’s probably the fact you are literally quitting your job and leaving everything behind to walk a trail living like a pilgrim, doesn’t sound smart in some ways when you think about it. Surprisingly, the next day my phone rings and it’s my dad leaving me a message, “Your mom told me about you possibly doing the Appalachian Trail, call me now!” I called him and I’ve not heard him sound so excited over the phone since I can remember. My dad loved the Appalachian Trail, some might say obsessed. He dreamed of doing the entire trail, but he would’ve needed mom to come along and cook for him. The only camping my mom would do is in a Winnebago, so I believe that thought stopped there. Back to the story, I told dad not to get excited, we don’t think it’s going to happen. He gave me a straight, firm suggestion, “Well, I think you should do it!” I was shocked and speechless! My percentage of confidence went from 25% to 75% at least after that discussion. When I told Christy, it did about the same or more for her. That same week, I was at work with my co-workers and we were randomly discussing the Appalachian Trail. At that time the owner by the name of Tom Austin walked in and over heard the conversation and said, “Oh I know someone who did the whole trail, he had a lot of great stories.” I responded with, “I want to do it, but I have to do sooo much to make it happen.” He gave me a look of confusion and asked, “Like what?” I paused for a moment in thought and said, “Welllll . . . . I have to give up my lease, move my stuff into storage, get all the right gear, save a certain amount of money, quit my job, sell one of our cars, and blah, blah, blah.” He quickly responded with his hands up and said, “Well, what’s stopping you?!” That moment was when I realized that the answer to that question was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!