As a youngster, I played in the woods, scrambling over boulders and walking a trail through lush leafy glades to school each day. Looking out my bedroom window, I could see a mountain where people walked with backpacks. They chased the spring blooms northward, following the Appalachian Trail.
75 years since its first blazes were painted, the Appalachian Trail remains the most iconic of American adventures. Thousands flock to Springer Mountain each year with dreams of walking from Georgia to Maine, a trek of 2,180 miles. Nearly 80% of those who start never make it past the first hundred miles.
Moving from New Jersey to Florida in 1977, I dreamed of walking home to the town I grew up in. Set aside for more grown-up pursuits, like college, marriage, and career, that dream never died. Fifteen years ago, I started planning an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, a journey of six months or more, leaning on experienced hikers for support to learn how to choose the proper gear and get comfortable with backpacking. I was ready physically, but took a mental blow: my younger sister was diagnosed with cancer. After her death, the dream went back in the drawer again, pushed aside again few years later, ironically, in a decision to focus my career on writing about hiking.
This March, as hordes of hikers arrive at Springer Mountain to walk north, I’ll arrive in Georgia with a fully loaded backpack, holding hands with John, the love of my life, at my side. Having met while hiking around Lake Okeechobee, and strengthening a friendship while hiking throughout the Orlando area, we fell in love and decided to take on this shared dream – a shared dream since childhood for both of us – together.
On March 19, we begin my walk home, a special gift for my 50th year, a birthday to celebrate in the Georgia mountains. We’ll keep walking, of course, past my hometown in New Jersey and on to Maine, two lifelong solo hikers learning what it’s like to work as a team, hike as a couple, and fall deeper into love with and in the outdoors.
It’s our intention to stay mostly unplugged through the hike, keeping tabs on the adventure in our personal handwritten journals. But enough friends and readers have asked to come along that we’ll be posting stories and photos from the trail here now and again so you can keep up with our adventures, the saga of JK & Navigator on the Appalachian Trail.