Right now I’m in Atlanta for the day after taking an overnight Amtrak train from Virginia last night. Tomorrow my friend Rachael, who deserves a big shoutout for making my life much easier, will drive me from Atlanta to the start of the trail and I’ll begin my journey. Also shoutout to Teeter, who I rented a room from when I spent a summer in Atlanta, for putting me up for the night and introducing me to their beautiful goats!
I was initially hesitant about starting tomorrow (April 7th) because it’s the anniversary of my father’s death. He passed away from cancer when I was 14, and usually I like to spend April 7th doing things to honor his memory. But it also happened to be the best day logistically for me to start my hike. After some thinking, I realized that if anything my dad would probably want me to start my hike that day and it might be the best possible way for me to honor him. He loved adventures and did some backpacking himself, so he would probably just be excited for me and maybe a little jealous. So ultimately I think it will be the perfect day to start my hike, and I’ll remember him as I walk.
Of course, there were a number of other things I had to do to prepare in addition to picking dates and sorting out logistics.
I formulated a strict budget that would let me save up just enough to feel safe, around $5,000. I actually wound up getting a promotion that brought me a little bit more money and I picked up some extra shifts at my second job, so I was able to save around $7,000. That will hopefully be enough to get me through the trail and give me a few weeks after where I don’t have to panic about being unemployed.
Physically, I started training last September. I’ve always been athletic, but had gotten pretty lax with working out for a while. I’d been walking to work for years since it was only about 20 minutes, but in September I moved a significantly farther away. However, to prep for the trail I decided to keep walking – which amounted to 4-8 miles per day. On top of that, my job kept me very active for several hours a day, including lots of going up and down stairs. Whenever I didn’t have a full day of work, I hit the gym for a few hours. Between that and the exercise I worked into my daily life, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since I was an endurance cyclist as a teenager.
While I was financially and physically prepping, I also spent a lot of time reading books about Appalachian history and culture as well as the history of the trail. Even though the trail really isn’t tied to Appalachian culture, for me the hike very much symbolizes leaving New York and coming home so I still felt the need to do some reading. It gave me a lot of helpful perspective, and I’m glad that I spent so much time engrossed in Appalachian studies.
My favorite books were What You’re Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte and Ramp Hollow by Steven Stoll. Catte does a really good job breaking down misconceptions and responding to inaccurate portrayals of the region, particularly those that came out of 2016 post-election reporting and J.D. Vance’s popular book Hillbilly Elegy (which I also read, and it’s trash). She made me feel a lot more justified in the complicated feelings that I was having around that time of wanting to defend the region and force others to acknowledge issues in Appalachia as well as the fact that Appalachia wasn’t single-handedly responsible for Trump (as many conveniently choose to believe), while also not absolving Appalachians of bigotry.
Ramp Hollow was pretty dry, but it gave a very far-reaching economic history of Appalachia, which was fascinating. It detailed the rise and fall of wealth in the region and showed how capitalism ultimately devastated a lot of the region both ecologically and economically.
I also had to spend a lot of my prep time picking out gear and learning more about backpacking. One major blind spot that I have is that I actually have very little backpacking experience, which I’m hoping to make up for with significant amounts of camping and hiking experience as well as simply having grown up in the middle of the woods. Picking out my gear took a while, partly because I had to research everything, but I think that I was able to get everything that I need and not spend too far above my gear budget. I’m not going to do a rundown of my gear on this blog, but if you have questions you’re welcome to ask me.
Overall, I feel pretty ready to start hiking tomorrow. I’ve put in a lot of work over the past six months to make this happen, and I’m excited to see how it pays off.