After receiving my masters degree and working as a research associate for a few months, I began the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to hike the Appalachian Trail. Beginning in northern Georgia in April with a likeminded friend, we started a four month adventure that would end 2,000 miles later in New Hampshire.
Those first few months were cold and brutal. The Appalachian trail is one of three primary national trails, and many consider it the most difficult. Although it does not reach as high as its sister trails, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, it is the steepest, with the most elevation change, and often the worst weather. We experienced much of that for the first month, as we hiked through steep, ice and snow covered trails, with froze socks and frozen boots.
As winter turned to spring, however, our experience became more enjoyable. We were able to stay out past dark and drink a cold beer in town without freezing. I was given the trail name of Sugar Bombs by a girl hiking with her family, a name I thought fit me just fine and gleefully accepted. All seemed well as we made our way through North Carolina and southern Virginia. And then came summer.
Hoards of mosquitoes and 90+ degree temperatures made us almost wish for those winter days. Nevertheless, we pushed on through the 1000 miles of Virginia trail. Before leaving Virginia, I would find myself volunteering for the American Chestnut Foundation, an experience that resulted in a research project during my graduate studies.
On through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Unfortunately, I would have to leave in New Hampshire to begin my graduate program at the University of Puerto Rico, but my partner would go on to finish and become one of the legendary thru-hikers of the 2,000 mile club.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail showed me a great variety of landscapes and also that wilderness in the United States is never too far away, even in the densely populated eastern seaboard. Thanks to the foresight of some bright individuals, this project began nearly a century ago and land began to be set aside as the route developed. What resulted is a gem of a way to explore the outdoors of the United States, something that is invaluable to generations of people.