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"Wait... You're Hiking the Whole Thing?"

My name is Madelyn, I'm hiking the Appalachian Trail, and this is my blog. I like writing, and I’ve heard it’s actually unlawful to partake in such a journey without having a blog, so this is my blog. This is also my journal, so it will contain raw thoughts that may or may not be censored or catered to an audience. This is for me, but thank you for reading if you so choose.

This is me not giving a fuck about what you think about my language or armpit hair or anything at all.

I’ve wanted to thru hike the Appalachian Trail for a long time. When I was in middle school, my dad was watching some PBS documentary about the AT and they briefly mentioned thru hiking. I remember nothing else, but something in me said: someday. At the time, I’d never been camping – in fact, it wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I’d ever even set up a tent – but I was already hooked on the idea. Over the years, I’ve had many dreams and desires come and go, rendering themselves obsolete from the visions I kept creating and recreating for present and future versions of myself. In 6th grade, we had to do an entire project about what occupation we wanted to hold when we grew up (which, frankly, is a ridiculous project to assign to 12-year-olds who barely have a sense of self-identity yet), and I’d said that I wanted to create the NWHL, and, while I’m glad that somebody else achieved that goal for themselves, I had only said that because my main joy as a 6th grader was playing hockey. Truly, I’d wanted to be an author, but even at that age, I’d known that a career in the arts was an unrealistic route for the life I was expected to live, and while I adored my year as a teacher and have accepted a teaching job for when this grand hike is finished, it was never something I had even thought about doing until I was applying for college and was supposed to pick a major. But this – thru hiking all 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine – this stuck with me.

I am so very privileged to be able to do this. I know that “privilege” has become a buzzword associated with discomfort and defensiveness, but I really do have so much of it and I would be remiss to ignore that fact. I know that I am so fortunate that my main takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic was an excess of time and not the pain that so many have felt globally. I know that not everybody can take several months off of life to hike. I know that I am privileged to have enough money saved up after only one year of working full time, largely thanks to my family's financial assistance over the course of my life. (Speaking of my family’s financial assistance, I would like to profusely thank my parents for generously giving my newly-graduated self the money that allowed me to buy a lot of the gear that I have – a gift that saved me from having to actually work toward purchasing those items.) In so many ways, my decision to hike the Appalachian Trail is a culmination of so much privilege.

Perhaps the thing that frustrates me the most about backpacking is how fucking expensive it is. In my research, I've learned that it usually takes $5k-$10k to complete the Appalachian Trail. This number doesn’t include the initial purchase of gear. A good, well-fitted backpack alone costs a minimum of $150. (Mine was not $150.) My backpack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad combined cost more than my current monthly rent. I felt justified in splurging on those three items because, aside from the hiking boots that I already had, these pieces of gear are the most important pieces for comfort along the trail, and if I’m going to be backpacking for several months, I think I can allow myself some comfort. All this to say: backpacking – and most activities that involve getting gear at your local outdoor outfitter – is wildly expensive, and that alone makes it widely inaccessible.

Me at REI purchasing my first backpacking gear (05/08/2019)

I think part of why backpacking is so expensive is linked with how we perceive connecting with the outdoors. I think about my mom, for example, who spends so much time working on my parents' gardens, walking her dog around the neighborhood almost every day, filling the backyard bird feeders at all times of the year - but people will point to me and say that I’m the outdoorsy one in the family. I just have the outdoorsy hobbies that are flashy and have high price tags. We have this absurd perception that you can only be outdoorsy if you exert strength in outdoor spaces – hiking, rock climbing, skiing – and not simply if you enjoy existing outside, reading in a hammock or finding the slab of green in your city’s downtown and listening to birds chirp.

Do you like being outside? Congratulations, you're outdoorsy!

Additionally, I have to wonder why backpacking is seen as such a cool thing to do. Here I am, willingly going into the woods with everything I need for days at a time strapped to my back, and I’m applauded for my “adventurous spirit”; however, there are literal homeless people who carry with them everything they have in a backpack, and people turn up their noses at them. Is it because I’m choosing this lifestyle? Why does that suddenly make it ok? In fact, I feel like it should be the opposite: people should be doing what they can to support those who don’t have a choice and scoffing at me for deserting what I have to live this way just for fun.

In summary... I’m really excited about this adventure, but I’m trying to recognize all of the structures in place that make it possible for me to embark on it in the first place.

Let me reiterate that this is my blog. While my amazing boyfriend is hiking with me, and he will make many features in my pictures and videos and stories, I am not writing his experience. I am writing mine. We may be hiking the same 2,200 miles (well, 2,193.3 according to the official 2021 count), but we will not be having the same journey, and I cannot write his story. For whichever family/friends of his are here, you're totally welcome in this space! Just know that this is going to be focused on my experience, not his.

Thank you for following along this journey with me!


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