I was about ten years old when I heard about the Appalachian Trail for the first time. My mother mentioned it one evening and told me how wonderful she thought it would be to hike it. I thought it sounded interesting, but I didn't give the trail much more thought until the summer of 2010. That summer, I lived up in New Hampshire with a group of aspiring scientists as part of a Research Experience for Undergraduates. We spent every weekday hiking in the forest to collect data. As our location in a farmhouse in the White Mountain National Forest provided few forms of indoor entertainment, we spent our weekends hiking the peaks nearby. I loved the idea of nature being a playground, a wonderland of sorts, a new world just waiting to be explored. It was during one particularly long outing that I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail.
My plan was to begin hiking as soon as I graduated from college, so I spent my senior year reading everything I could get my hands on about the trail. I gathered backpacking supplies and went on a number of practice hikes. Thirteen hours after I took my last college final, I was on a train bound for Harpers Ferry. A friend had volunteered to go with me, and the two of us figured that we would be able to hike from Harpers Ferry (the traditional halfway point of the trail) to Katahdin before he needed to head back to school.
Well, last summer, I spent four weeks on the Appalachian Trail. There were a number of reasons that the adventure had to be cut short, including several reasons that I imagine anyone reading this blog has laughed with me about in the time since I've returned. But, as fate would have it, I fell in love last summer. Before my family drove to Bear Mountain, New York, to pick me up from my adventure, I learned that I loved little more than the sight of distant river valleys, the quiet rustle of wildlife in the morning, the scent of the moist air that comes with a summer rainstorm, the taste of fresh spring water, or the sponginess of the forest floor beneath my feet. I loved the return to simplicity, the time to think. I loved the sense of community on the trail, the instant kinship backpackers seem to feel with one another. I loved the utter lack of pretentiousness and superiority, loved the idea that each of us must find a way to eat, drink, and shelter ourselves, that we are all truly equals. And, while there were certainly challenges, I loved waking up each day knowing that my main goal was simply to keep walking north in the "long green tunnel."
So, after a year spent living at my family's hobby farm, working on local environmental issues, and TAing at the local community college, I'm returning to the trail. This time, I'm heading out alone, but I'll be leaving from Springer at a time when many other hikers are journeying north. I've repaired my gear and purchased a few new supplies, identified mail drops from Springer to Harpers Ferry (the rest will be determined at a later time), and dehydrated weeks' worth of food. This past weekend, I sent the first packages to Mountain Crossings, the Blueberry Patch, and the NOC. My pack is loaded and ready.
I've even got a trail name. Since the 1970s/80s, thru-hikers have taken on a trail name while on the AT. It had originally been very low-key, but it's almost a rite of passage now. Last summer, I hiked as "Thirsty." (We hiked in Pennsylvania in 90-100* weather.) But, this year, I wanted something more optimistic, something that fit how I feel when I'm hiking. Someone suggested I go with "Rainbow Dash" because of an eponymous (Okay, honestly, pun completely intended!) patch on my pack. Given that "Rainbow Dash" is at least 20% cooler than anything else I could have gone with, I decided it was a winner.
Now, I'm just tying up lose ends (e.g., going through some 2000 emails in my inbox--How does that happen?!) and waiting. On the 14th, my awesome family is taking me to Springer Mountain. I'll begin hiking on the 15th; I'll do the eight-mile approach trail and then sleep at the Springer Mountain Shelter before really beginning the northward pilgrimage on Monday.
Theoretically, I could be on the top of Katahdin on September 15. While I'd planned to keep a journal of my adventures, I hadn't intended to blog about them. But, enough people recommended I do this that they convinced me. So...For the next 4-6 months, this blog will be updated by my family and me. I'm not cool enough to have a smartphone, so my updates will only come during town stops. However, my lovely family has promised to supplement those postings with daily details of my progress to Maine.
That's all for now. Thanks for reading, and happy trails!