Two years ago today, I stood atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and ended the journey I’d begun six months earlier in Georgia, a journey that was part of a lifetime of wandering and the kick-off to an era of my life that has been focused on adventuring.
While I don’t intend to retell the highlights of my adventures in chronological order, I think it best to follow Maria von Trapp’s advice here and “start at the very beginning.” It seems fitting to begin my storytelling efforts with an origin story.
In the summer of 2010, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in one of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) at Hubbard Brook Research Forest in New Hampshire. Along with 12 other aspiring young scientists, I lived in an old farmhouse in the middle of the woods. All week long, we spent every day hiking up and down mountains for our various research projects. And, given that we lived in the forest, when the weekends rolled around, there wasn’t much else to do besides hike.
And hike we did.
Before my time at Hubbard Brook, the only hiking experiences I’d had were those I’d enjoyed as a Girl Scout in coastal Florida. In my mind, a hike was simply a walk in the woods; I had no awareness that people even hiked mountains besides Everest and the other giants. And, the bushwacking up muddy slopes that I was doing for my research was not earning this New England version of hiking a warm place in my heart.
Nonetheless, when some of my favorite members of the REU crew decided to hike Welch-Dickey, I decided to come along. My friends at Hubbard Brook described the hike as “easy, with amazing views,” and I decided to believe them. I had an amazing time on those little sister mountains and added “hiking” to my favorite activities on Facebook that night.
In the weeks that followed, my friends and I went on increasingly difficult hikes, and I loved each more than the one before. The hike that changed my life was a peak-bagging hike of Tom, Field, Willey, and Avalon, which are found in the Crawford Notch region of the White Mountains.
The hike was exhausting. We spent all day climbing up and over Tom and then Field and then Willey and then Field (again) and then Avalon. The hike was longer and had more elevation gain than anything I’d hiked to that point, and toward the end of the day, I was riding a serious hiker’s high.
As I stood atop Willey, I noticed that the trail we were on extended beyond the summit. This amazed me. I asked where the trail led, and I was (erroneously) told that the trail I saw was the Appalachian Trail and that it continued on to Maine from its start in Georgia. During much of the remainder of the hike, I was lost in a reverie about how wonderful it would feel to do what I had just spent a day doing every day for six months. I thought about how much I’d love to spend a whole summer with the Appalachians as my backyard, with the eastern woodlands as my playground. I imagined climbing peaks to stand above treeline and looking around me to identify those I’d come from and to size up those I’d go over next. On Mount Willey, I decided that I would hike the Appalachian Trail one day.