Today, I completed my 2019 Northbound Thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. After walking 2192 miles over a span of 138 days from March 3rd to July 18, I summited Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus, at about noon. My journey started at Springer Mountain in Georgia, in four and a half months I’ve walked through 14 states, various national parks and forests, and elevations ranging from 177 feet to 6,658 feet. I’ve met people from Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ecuador, Ireland, England, Switzerland, many states of the USA, and some fellow Hoosiers. I’ve lost over 30 pounds, my starting weight was 210 and I now weigh 175. I’ve been bitten countless times by various bugs, became violently ill in Connecticut, been cut numerous times, had limp-causing blisters, and so many times the trail mentally beat me down. I was on the edge of quitting.
This dream of mine started about five years ago when a buddy and I first stepped foot on the trail outside of Harpers Ferry, WV. Since then I’ve spent four years in the Navy, but that whole time the idea of thru-hiking the trail festered in my mind. It dangled in front of my grasp; all I could do was dream, save up money, research, and plan. So I did. I realize now that even after five years of preparation I had no idea what the hell I was getting myself into. No amount of reading, video-watching, gear research, or day-hiking could ever truly prepare me for the full experience of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Chock it up to inexperience, ignorance, naïveté, or what-you-will, but to me it’s all wrong – there are no words or stories I could tell that would completely convey my experience. Before my hike I didn’t know that it only took a few hours on trail to realize that almost all of the last five years of preparation was all a wash. The only way to understand this trail is to walk it.
The Appalachian Trail was here long before me and will be here long after I die. A popular saying on trail is “the trail will always be there”. Next year, I bet there will be another “Yukon” that will try to finish and I hope they do. I don’t know if I’ll ever step foot on the AT again, I don’t know if I’ll attempt to hike another National Scenic Trail, I don’t know what I don’t know. What I do know is the trail will always be there, whether it’s in my mind, in my heart, or under my feet.
I’ve kept this blog clean to appease most readers, but I’m going to take a break from that to convey some of the truer parts of my hike: thru-hiking the AT fucking sucked and was collectively the hardest endeavor I’ve undertaken in my life. Sometimes I was a shit show: crying, throwing my trekking poles, screaming curse words into the wind, and begging the universe to injure me so I would have an excuse to go home. The portion of trail from Harpers Ferry to Vermont left me hating myself and the trail. I wanted to quit almost every day – I would google Amtrak prices home, flight schedules, and while walking I would think about calling my parents and asking them to send money so I could buy a bus ticket home. Every day I would call Haley cursing myself and the trail, constantly coniving a way to go home just so I could see her, but deep-down knowing I would stay for good once I got there. I wanted to go home, yet she was strong and would talk me out of it.
I stayed the course and stuck with it, I didn’t listen to the voices in my head telling me to quit. For the rest of my life I will be able to say I’m a thru-hiker. I’ve earned the Appalachian Trail insignia tattoo I’ll eventually get. I will always have this and I’m even going to make sure it goes in my obituary.
It may not seem so, but in total, the trail was one of the best experiences of my life so far. If past thru-hikers testimonials are true, then it may be one of the best experiences I will ever have in this life. Most times it didn’t feel like it, but now, after I finish, after I recollect on all the arduous pain and shit I’ve gone through, I know one thing to be absolute – it was worth it. Every damn second, it was worth it. I haven’t given the trail enough credit, it took the best and worst out of me, it beat and pounded me into submission, it sucked everything from me. Through all that it’s taken, it’s also given me everything I’ll ever need.
I owe this hike to everyone in my life who led me to the trail, in a way they are the white blazes that guided me to the AT. Haley, my parents, Alec and Lily, my extended family, all my great friends, my old shipmates, anyone who shared my blog, THANK YOU. You all hiked the trail with me, you were there through the trials and triumphs. Thank you to those who supported me financially during my hike, the funds you all gave me went towards food resupplies or hostel stays, your dollars were the tangible support that carried me on trail.
I stuck to the path, I put one foot in front of the other. I made it.