4 Things About Being a Floridian that will Better Prepare You for Your Appalachian Thru-Hike

Sometimes, I let myself get discouraged when everyone I see on whiteblaze.net and other various AT websites seem to be mostly living in the states the Appalachian Trail threads through. I feel a little bit left out sometimes because I live way down here in Florida! Luckily, I’ve come up with a list of 4 things I deal with on an almost daily basis living in Florida, that may make my transition on the AT a little bit easier. Here you go:

 

Thing #1: bugs

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On a pretty much daily basis, I find these assholes in my home. They range in size anywhere from a fingernail, to a full-size SUV. I’ve been woken up by them crawling on me in bed before (Every Floridian has experienced this, not matter your level of interior cleanliness and housekeeping skills). I also deal with constant mosquitoes, flies, and spiders (I just killed one in my home the other day that was the size of my hand. I’m not kidding) and sometimes scorpions. I practically live in a swamp, and therefore, I live in bugs. I’ve learned to live with them and get over my fear of them. I think if I could get used to finding bugs in my home, I can get used to finding them in my tent (at least I can shake my tent out!)

 

Thing #2: Heat and Humidity

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I see TONS of hiker blogs talking about how hot the weather is getting. I can only imagine these people are walking anywhere from 10 to 20 miles a day, and the constant uphill/downhill can definitely turn up the heat. I’m only glad I live in a climate where I’m already acclimated to my pores releasing a waterfall’s worth of sweat as soon as I walk out my door. People in our state die every year from just from being exposed to the heat and humidity. At least when I encounter this kind of heat on the trail, it’s something I’m ready for. On the other hand, I’ve still never seen snow, so if I run into it, I might die (I’m flip-flop hiking starting in May, so I may be lucky enough not to).

 

Thing #3: Gators

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Bears aren’t scary. Animals related to prehistoric dinosaurs…are scary. I pass one of these every other time I hit the trails around here with my bike, and I’m always happy that I’m… on my bike. We’ve actually had to call animal services to retrieve one out of my pool a couple of years ago (I might as well be running a zoo, I know). I think he was in there waiting for me.

 

Thing #4: Lightning

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I’ve never understood why they call Florida the “Sunshine State.” They should call it the “Sunshine half the time, Lightning the other half” state. During the summer (when most tourists visit), you’ll be lucky to hit the beach and not get stuck in a storm. I’m not saying I wouldn’t feel somewhat afraid on top of a mountain with lightning crashing all around me, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to walk to class or walk into work, or been stuck on the beach and lightning has struck so close to me there was no time between the lightning and the thunder. Plus, I’m a lady, and men get struck by lightning 6x more often than women do, so I’m not worried about it!

I hope this makes other Floridians feel a little bit better about attempting to thru-hike the AT! Don’t get too cocky though, you still have to deal with hiking uphill and downhill, learn how to deal with ticks, and experience what the word “cold” truly means. Have fun!

My Biggest Roadblocks from Thru-Hiking the AT: Healthcare and Old Parents

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Let me explain, because these 2 roadblocks go hand-in-hand. I am a 23-year-old grad student who is still under my mom’s insurance plan that she receives through her job. Our family’s insurance is amazing. I could get my leg bitten off by a bear and need a prosthetic leg, contract lyme disease, collapse from severe dehydration, and be airlifted to a specialty hospital and end up paying very little out-of-pocket. My insurance could possibly come in VERY handy on the AT, and I believe everyone attempting to thru-hike the AT (or only spend even a couple of days hiking anywhere) should have health insurance. Injuries are almost guaranteed.

Here is my dilemma: my mom plans on retiring the same month I plan on heading out to the AT. Which means no more employer insurance for my mom, which in-turn means more expensive family insurance for my mom, which basically means I need to pay for my own health insurance. My mom had envisioned me graduating college, finding a job fairly quickly, and paying for my own insurance anyway. So, since I’m spending 6 months in the woods without compensation and paychecks, how in the world do I do this. Yes, I understand it can be expensive to hike the AT with food, hotels, new gear, etc….but I factored this into the “I have to save up $3,000 to $4,000 to live off of for 6 months” budget. I, however, didn’t factor in additional nearly $200 a month for individual health insurance through ObamaCare.

The other dilemma I’m facing is a lot of guilt. Now my mom is talking about staying at her job (that she utterly fucking hates) for 6 months longer, in which case (for some reason, I don’t really understand this big, grown-up money thing) she would have to fork out an extra $55 a month for family healthcare coverage. I don’t want to hold my mom and dad back from retirement, but on the same accord, I don’t want them to hold me back either.

My guilt lies in a question my mom asked me this morning: “Why do you have to hike the entire Appalachian Trail?” and I honestly couldn’t think of a better answer than “Because I just have to.” I figured this blog might be a space where I can flush out all of the things I talk about in my head and compile them into a paragraph that would actually make sense to someone other than myself. So in my best attempt to make sense, why I have to hike the entire Appalachian Trail:

I have spent the last 6 years in college. By the time I graduate, I will have spent 7 years for a Graduate Degree in Architecture. While I had a goal of obtaining a degree, pursuing it, and finally (within a year) achieving that goal, I honestly got my degree only putting half of my ass into my work. A lot of college students (not all!) take out copious amounts of debt in order to live on their own (even though their parents have a room for them very close by), pay for tuition, and in their spare time, party. I however, did not take this approach. Instead, I luckily have 2 very amazing parents who have helped me get through college debt free, but only if I got a job to pay for my own expenses and remained living at home (which btw, will cut your student loans in half if you can manage to suck it up and live with your parents as long as possible). So, since starting college I have worked at both Target and IKEA, and I still work at IKEA, a job that I am truly thankful for. If you are looking for a great college job with awesome benefits, IKEA. But, in having retail jobs through college, I have lost weekends plus a lot of hours during the week. If anyone has a friend or family member in an architecture program, you know that these programs are just as intense, if not more, than obtaining medical degrees or law degrees. For several semesters through-out school, I have practically lived at the school studio. Literally. Cots, mini-fridges, all-nighters three times a week. I have lost crucial time needed in order to put my full 100% effort into my work. I have given up on getting anything done between Friday and Monday. The point is, while obtaining this degree has been a challenge and will be a relief once I’m done, I haven’t dedicated my soul, my being, and everything I have into it. And more than anything, I want to put 100% of my soul into something in my life.

That something is the Appalachian Trail. Why the entire Appalachian Trail? Because I’m done only dipping half of my ass into the water. For the first time in my life I won’t have a schedule, I won’t have a job, I won’t have an agenda, and I would like to not have anyone to answer to except myself (The latter is growing seemingly more difficult now that this whole “mom retiring, losing my health insurance” thing has come up.) But why only do half of the Appalachian Trail, when I have the time and opportunity to do the entire thing? Won’t my sense of accomplishment be double what it would be if I did a half hike? Wouldn’t my self-confidence be 2x stronger than it would be if I only hiked for 3 months. Wouldn’t I learn twice as much about myself if I thru-hiked instead of half-hiked? I’m nearly positive I would be 2x more accomplished and grounded if I thru-hiked instead of only hiking half of the trail. Last year, I spent 2 months in Italy on a study abroad trip, and I can say with 100% certainty, if I spent 4 months in Italy I would have picked up way more of the language, understood the culture in deeper sense, spent more time exploring, and ultimately (and obviously) gotten 2 months more of life-changing experiences out of it. It’s that simple. If someone offered you 1 million dollars or 2 million dollars, and you knew you only needed 1 million….you would still take the 2 million.

Again, if my mom saw this, she would most likely come up with some sort of rebuttal of again, “So…why do have to hike the entire thing?” But that, at the moment, is the best response I can come up with.

If anyone has any any advice for me, is the same age as me in the same situation, or just wants to tell me to fuck off because you think I’m spoiled and have everything handed to me (you are rude,and a little bit correct, but I’ve never asked for anything my parents have offered to me and I’m extremely grateful towards them. I will be building them their dream home as soon as possible), please leave me comments!

First post, woot woot!

I received my first AT book today in the mail and started reading it a couple of minutes ago. However, Zach (the author) insists I do this right now. So I am being honest, and doing it before I read any further. 

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I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…

  • I want do crazy things while I’m young, not wait until I retire when I may not physically be able to
  • I crave the reassurance, satisfaction, and self-esteem of completing something I set my mind to. 
  • I need my faith in humanity restored. Working in retail for the past 4 years has basically brainwashed me into thinking that everyone is stupid, cold-hearted, mindless, and mentally disabled. I know this is not true, and I don’t like feeling like this. 
  • I need the time alone, to think about lots of things. I’m not sure where my life is going right now. I’ll have just graduated when I start this hike, and it’s up to me to find the job I want, and not get stuck in a job I hate. But I’m not sure what I want and what I hate.
  • I want to connect with my spiritual side. I don’t believe in God, and I don’t think I ever will. However, I do think mother-nature herself has something to say to me. And perhaps what she has to say will influence my life choices. 
  • I want to have something completely ridiculous and amazing (but also probably says a lot about my determination and mind-set) to put on my resume
  • I want to prove to myself that I can do anything. If I can hike the entire AT, I can do whatever the hell I put my mind to in life. 
  • You only live once, so why not?!

When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I will…

  • probably scream really loud
  • Have more self-confidence than probably 99.9% of the women around me
  • Know that I can do anything, and I’m unstoppable
  • Not regret anything.
  • Have connected with true inner self, and be completely happy with whoever she is
  • Have my faith in humanity restored thanks to all of the people who will hopefully help me out along the way!
  • Write a book about my experiences as a female solo thru-hiker (because nearly none of these exist).
  • Have proven to myself that even though many were doubtful that I, alone, as a women, wouldn’t be able to finish….that I did, and those people can suck it. 

If I give up on the Appalachian Trail, I will…

  • have spent an entire year of physical and mental preparation for nothing
  • have bought a lot of equipment for nothing. 
  • have to find a big-girl job even sooner
  • feel really discouraged about any other struggles that come my way in life
  • think that maybe all of those debbie-downers were right about how horrible it is to hike the AT alone if you’re a girl
  • kind of hate myself for a while
  • always think about what I did wrong, what I could have done differently, why I gave up, and this will eat at me for a very long time
  • never think of myself as the ultimate girl scout I thought I was. 
  • have let down all of my friends and family that were rooting for me. 

 

I will be doing what he suggests and printing this out, laminating it, and reading it in times where I feel like quitting. I’m determined to do this, and I want to do this. So let’s fucking do it.