You’re doing what? Have you gone mad?

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To quote Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, “I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.” Yes, I have gone mad, bonkers, crazy, lost my marbles, whatever. I am going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) starting this March. I am walking from Georgia to Maine, and I’ve given myself six months to accomplish this feat.

What these people are really asking is why? Why are you going to hike the AT? Sometimes I don’t know how I feel or I think about something until I sit down with pen and paper, sever a vain, and bleed onto the page. There is something about writing that brings order to the chaos of the dark swirling clouds of thoughts in my head, and sometimes I surprise myself with the words I find on the page. I am a writer, a photographer, an artist and often words fail me when I am talking. My thoughts come too quickly, fragments of thoughts finding their way to my tongue; in short, I have a love and preference for communicating through written words. What follows is my exploration into why I am hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Why am I hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT?)

There are many reasons I am hiking the AT other than being crazy, so let’s delve into those reasons. My motives for thru-hiking the AT can be broken down into several reasons:

  • Timing
  • Health
  • Soul searching
  • The long-distance hiking bug has bitten

To get my reasons for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail down in a semi-coherent manner, I thought I’d write them out. This serves two purposes: first, it gives me something to point people towards when the whole why question comes up in conversation. Second, I tend to be the type of person who communicates best through my writing.

Time, time, who’s got the time?

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I started backpacking more decades ago than I’d care to admit, but the timing never seemed right for doing any long-distance hiking. Life has a way of throwing things in your path like kids, career, relationships, etc. all which place demands on your time. But, at the same time, time is your enemy. I remember a quote from Buddha about time…

The trouble is, you think you have time. ~ Buddha

The thing is, you never know how much time you have. While only 53, I feel time slipping by and want to do these types of things while I am still young and healthy enough to enjoy them. With the kids gone, no relationship entanglements, a pause in my career, and the like, I have the time to do some long-distance hiking. It helps that I’ve reprioritized my life and now place a higher value on hiking than in the past.

Health, here today, gone…

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One thing a lot of people take for granted in life is their health; until something happens affecting our health and we’re no longer able to do the things we once could. While I am still in good health, things seem to be creeping up on me.

For most of my life I have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, and as I’ve gotten older, my numbers seem to be climbing closer and closer to full-blown type II diabetes. What better way to help get my A1C down than a thru-hike? Hiking, i.e., walking, is one of the best ways to assist one’s body health wise. Hiking is great for your blood pressure, glucose levels, mental health, and other health issues.

These past few years I have been battling severe depression, and one of my therapists suggested hiking to help with my depression. Well, I returned to hiking/backpacking after a long hiatus and haven’t looked back since. Nothing has helped my depression and anxiety more than walking through nature with everything I need to survive on my back. There is just something uplifting about hiking; I now live to hike.

I’m Searching for…something

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I find myself at a crossroads, unsure of what direction I want to take in my life. I feel something missing in my life, but I’m unsure what that something is. One of the great things about hiking, for me at least, is it gives me time to spend with my thoughts, reflecting on life events, and placing things in perspective.

I am a writer and photographer at heart, so one of the things I am looking to get out of my thru-hike are experiences. I am searching for things to write about, things to photograph, and experiences that change my very core. I hope to meet others on America’s Trail, people who enjoy hiking as much as I do, people who are perhaps also searching for something missing in their lives, and anything the trail throws my way. If I knew precisely what I am searching for, there wouldn’t be too much reason to go hunting for it!

The long-distance hiking illness

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I often liken long-distance hiking to a disease or perhaps a virus that once it takes hold is hard to shake. For me the long-distance bug bit with the Colorado Trail and I found I loved spending weeks in nature, walking, and living and eating out of my backpack. While there were many ups and downs on the CT (and wildfires), I left the CT for Arkansas where I proceeded to thru-hike the Ozark Highlands Trail.
After finishing the OHT, I returned home with dreams, thoughts, and schemes of tackling a real long-distance trail like the AT.

That, of course, brings me to today and my plans to thru-hike the AT this coming March. Stay tuned for more, so much more as I undertake this endeavor…

About Gerard Saint-Pierre

I'm a long-distance hiker, writer, photographer, environmentalist, & digital nomad. I'm thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail NOBO starting in March to help raise awareness about mental health. Come and follow along as I blog about the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of a thru-hike while battling depression and PTSD.

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