One year ago I started my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, a footpath that travels 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Over the course of the 4.5 months it took me to hike, I met hundreds of other hikers and found a place in a supportive community. There is a social aspect of the Appalachian Trail that many outsiders fail to see. A grapevine of information flows through the thru hikers, day hikers and trail logs. The people you meet are usually not afraid to talk and open up to complete strangers. This is how I met others whom I continue to keep in touch with

On my first day hiking all I had my mind on were the miles. The idea of seeing how far I could train my body to push through and the mountains I could climb up was so enticing. The longest hike I had done previously was two nights and I was not sure if I could keep myself interested in hiking for more than a week. There I was on the trail after a few days and it felt good to keep going. Another few weeks passed and it still felt good to keep going. I started to think of the hike as a number of small hikes. On each small hike I made new friends, met interesting people or even met back up with old friends. The scenery was always changing and my attitude and experience evolving. On my last day I had was my appreciation for my home, family and showers.

When the end finally felt like it was in sight I was ready for it. It took me 3.5 months to feel homesick. Through the beautiful landscape of New Hampshire and Maine the challenge was to drag myself to the finish line. The area had some of the most difficult rocky terrain that started to take a toll on my body. Previously I had felt confident pushing big miles and finishing the day quickly but now I dragged and fell behind. I had been on top of the world but now I had to come to terms with my own reality, that I was not impervious to wear and tear. 

It’s amazing how mental the hike is. Most people could push their body to a do a thru hike but mentally few could keep the motivation and keep going after hitting constant challenges. Thru hikers deal with rain, tired legs, sore feet, blisters, hunger and other hikers ect. There are a million reasons I could keep listing to stop and only a few to keep moving. It’s amazing how simple things like walls, a bed and a shower make for ultimate comfort. Plus a few points if you feel at home where you are. If you meet a thru hiker, it is their mental strength you should commend them on. If they didn’t have it before, it’s stronger than ever. The most important muscle you can’t see.

Now that my journey is over I found new ways to challenge myself in the real world. I have taken up cycling and am working hard to kick start my graphic design career. My thru hike has taught me to be myself while giving up fear and every day I try to incorporate that in what I do. I have walked to Katahdin but there’s so much more to aim toward.

To read more about my experiences please visit http://appalachiantrials.com/author/sara-douma and visit my Instagram @sarahikesalot.

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