When I set off from Amicalola Falls in northern Georgia on March 15, 2013, I had estimated it would only take me about five months to reach Mt. Katahdin in central Maine. In my mind, that would be more than enough time to cover the entire 2,186 miles of the Appalachian Trail and still make it home to upstate New York to welcome home my husband, Tom, from Afghanistan. Tom is a Major in the United States Army, and for the greater part of 2013 he would be away on his fourth deployment to the Middle East. The way I reasoned it, if he was going camping, so was I.
The AT, as it’s known in short, is a hiking trail located in the eastern U.S. It extends from its southern terminus of Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to its northern terminus of Mount Katahdin in central Maine, passing through 14 states along the way. For more than a decade I had toyed with the idea of attempting a thru-hike of the AT — to hike the trail from end to end in one go. In fact, when Tom proposed marriage to me, one of my conditions was that one day we would thru-hike the AT together.
In 2012, when we learned Tom would be heading down range, I casually brought up the idea of a solo thru-hike; he didn’t flinch. In fact, he agreed immediately and actively participated in my preparations. He spent hours in the basement making various camp-stove prototypes, testing each one and ultimately presenting me with the one he deemed best. He tutored me through various wilderness survival skills and even spent the last hours before deploying making me a survival bracelet. If we couldn’t hike together, he would do everything in his power to ensure my hike was a success. His only request was that I get a more reliable cellphone.