Hammock Habitation: a Hennessy Hammock Gear Review 

Disclaimer: So I very much hope none of you have been laboring under the very false impression that I am in any way an expert in backpacking or hiking. I’m am average person who only recently began to take an interest in the activity. That being said, I believe the opinion of a novice can be just as valuable as an expert, if taken with a grain of salt.

Today I want to focus on one of the most essential pieces of equipment for a backpacker: the sleeping quarters. There are many options for a hiker when it comes to how to rest your head. Some choose to bring just a sleeping pad and take their chances in a shelter or under the stars. Some a simple tarp that can be pitched. Others choose from the endless varieties of tents. Personally, I made the decision to hammock camp. If you’ve ever researched the subject, hammock campers tend to believe very strongly in this choice, I seem to fall into that camp.

So why did I choose the hammock? Well I knew I didn’t want to rely on a shelter while thru hiking, the privacy is nearly nonexistent and I wished neither to be exposed to the smell of other hikes while I’m sleeping or expose them to my nearly prolific snoring. I considered a tent, noting the obvious increase in privacy, something I found important as a woman. My decision in favor of a hammock came down to comfort. I am individual with a history of back issues and the hammock offers comfort and support that sleeping on the ground cannot.

So now down to the nitty gritty of choosing the hammock. I considered an Eno hammock or maybe an amazon cheap parachute hammock, but one brand stuck out more than the rest. I liked reading about the passion put in their products and just had a gut feeling that this was the best decision for me. So basically it was guesswork and a little magic combined with an obsessive combing of reviews that led me to choose a Hennessy hammock.

Hennessy is a company founded by Tom Hennessy that specializes in hammocks of high quality. They offer a few varieties, but I settled on the Hyperlite Asym Zip. With a pack weight of 1lb 12oz, it’s light and easy to carry. I thoroughly enjoy the asymmetrical design of the hammock. This allows me to extend or sleep on my side without feeling an uncomfortable dip in my spine. The built in bug net is convenient and creates a comfortable cocoon to enjoy without gnats and mosquitos. With bonus bug proof, water proof, and windproof features, the one year warranty was just a cherry on top.

When ordering my new hammock, I was lucky enough to receive a solid deal. As a free add on to my Hyperlite, I also acquired a Hex Asym Rainfly 70D polyester, a free set of snakeskins and water collectors, and an upgraded 72″set of straps. All this for a whopping $190. In preparing to write this review I revisited the Hennessy website and found the same hammock, with only 42″ webbing straps and no snakeskins for $279.95. I am quite happy with my lucky timing.

Despite the awesome deal I got, I would still say this hammock is worth the 280. Prior to the first backpacking trip I described in the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part One, I had not had the opportunity to set up my hammock. So, the morning before the trip was spent in the front yard of my sister’s home pouring over videos that described fancy knots and confusing explanations for how to appropriately hang the hammock. This was confounded by the rambunctious nephew running circles around the whole operation and the refurbished Mario cart crashing into my hammock tree. It was about this point that I said fuck it, I’ll figure it out. And I did just that, the formatting of the hammock and rainfly making it almost intuitive to set up. In addition, I found my disorganized and amateurish attempts at sloppy knots had no difficulty in holding me up all night. What I’m saying is, even am idiot can hang this hammock and sleep easy knowing it’s not coming down.

The products I used to supplement my hammock set up included:

An additional snakeskin to separate the hammock and rainfly in the event of rain. This allows the hammock to stay dry.

A Klymit Hammock V, I find this to be rather cumbersome to inflate and deflate. Though I appreciate the shape and the extra comfort it provides in a hammock, I don’t see it as a necessary alternative to cheaper rectangular options. In addition, I did not get an insulated version, a decision I regretted deeply on a chilly night. I don’t think this was $100 well spent. 

A Halti Summerlite +40° mummy sleeping bag. This works for now, but I am considering upgrading to an under/upper quilt. It’s not terrible quality for a $40 sleeping bag, but it’s certainly not warm enough for a cold night.
Finally, some basic lightweight tent stakes that I picked up at REI.

I have spent both overly hot and overly cold nights in my hammock, though not at the fault of product. Overall, I would highly recommend Hennessy Hammock. It is super light, well made, comfortable, and easy to use. I cannot wait to test it’s limits to find out just how well suited it is for me. So if you care about the opinion of an average Joe, take my advice, buy a hammock. (But also get some insulation, that shit is fucking freezing when it gets below 65 at night.)

Honestly, it’s probably better to check it out yourself than listen to my gibberish.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part 2

Part 2: Failure 

My second  backpacking trip came a couple weeks after the first. My plan was to section hike all of the 41 miles of the AT that pass through Maryland. I planned to hike for three days, going 10 miles the first day and a little over 15 the following two days. Obviously this was a drastic increase from my first trip, as I planned on doing more in a single day than I had in three. My reasoning is that all three days would be full days, while on the first trip, we left around 5pm the first day and needed to be out of the woods by 8am on the third day. In addition, I was undergoing this trip independently so my pace was likely to be faster than the group trip. As you may have guessed in my tone and the repetition of the word “plan,” this trip did not go as intended.

In this instance a bit of background seems important. For whatever reason, I haven’t been feeling terribly well over the last month, meaning I was experiencing a flair in my depression and anxiety. It had begun to set in just before my first trip, so I was able to stymie my negative emotion enough to function normally on the trip. When I returned I spent nearly a week on my couch. My eating habits were declining and the apathy was extreme. There was no specific cause for the spike in depression and anxiety, and sometimes it’s just like that. I decided to take this trip because I am not certain when I’ll have the ability to do so again and I thought perhaps it would be enough to jar me from my mood. With the mindset of self exploration and a hope for an overdose on endorphins I walked into the woods on Wednesday morning, intending to be picked up at the other end of Maryland on Friday.

So, here are some of the things I learned.

1. Maryland privies  are horrendous.

Get on board MD, NJ is doing a much better job on this front. Honestly, I almost died when I went in there.

2. Audio books are great entertainment, but companions are better.

I know that my trip next year will be a solitary one, and I am prepared for that, I would even go so far as to say I’m happy about that, but it is a far cry from a gaggling gang of family surrounding you. I’ve hiked alone plenty of times, but with a full pack and no one to commiserate with, it can be a bit more trying on the resolve. In addition, groups set a pace and inspire competition; a solo hike requires large quantities of self efficacy, because you are the only one determining how far you go. Given my mental state, self efficacy did not abound at the time.

3. Sometimes it’s better to be surprised by what’s ahead.

I had hiked a couple miles into Maryland when I ran into an old man, clearly a backpacker based on dress and gear. He stopped me to ask about the terrain ahead of him and I told him it was rocky, but not terrible. He responded by informing me that I had some hard rocks ahead that he had difficulty coming down. It was with a bleak outlook that I continued ahead. It was indeed hell to climb those damn rocks. I’m not sure of the incline gain, and I’m certain it is not difficult I’m comparison to other parts of the trail, but my weeks of apathy took their toll in that climb. Knowing about it did not help, in fact the dreaded that built prior to the steep part of the trail made it all the worse. 

Almost at the top!
4. I really need to invest in some legitimate hiking clothing.

By the end of the 10 mile day my clothing were drenched with sweat. A combination of increased pace and humid and hot conditions caused much more drastic perspiration on this second trip. I know I will have to adjust to a less than pleasant scent while on the trail, but appropriate sports wear may help with the odor of a hard days labor. Not to mention the discomfort of wearing damp clothing while hiking.

5. Everyone warns you about how cold a hammock is but no one mentions how fucking hot it can get.

As I lay in my hammock I thought I might die of heat exhaustion. Honestly I was more hot lying in my cocoon than I had been carrying my pack all day.

6. Blisters are the devil.

For real, they may be the most evil thing in existence. At about mile 2 I could feel one of these malignant growths forming on my left heel. As I had on shoes I’d gone over 100 miles in and the same Wrightsocks I have always worn (if you’ve read my other posts you might be asking why I haven’t replaced them yet, the answer: I have no idea) it was a surprise to me to see the magnitude of my blister. At about mile 6 the worst happened, it popped. I stopped around mile 8 for lunch, at about 3pm, when I removed my shoes and socks I was horrified to see the monstrosity on my heel. It was dirt clogged and the skin was barely attached. Of course in this moment I recall exactly where my first aid kit is, under my bed at home. I did the best thing I could think of in the circumstance and poured hand sanitizer on it. Jesus fucking Christ. The pain was awful. So I sat for about a half am hour airing it out, then I closed the skin back over the rawness and continued on my way. It took about 2 hours to go the remaining two miles due to frequent brakes and a slow limping progress.

Gross, I know. This was the blister in the morning.

And this is the blister after another night following some first aid.
7. First aid kits are really fucking important.
As I’m limping along, I can literally fucking see the shelter when I roll my right ankle. There was this amazing popping sound and my immediate thought was “wow, that’s probably not good.” It didn’t hurt all that much though, so I got busy setting up camp. I got fresh water, had dinner, and set up my hammock. I tucked in early to wake up and get a head start. I woke up with a raging need to pee and every intention of asking one of the other hikers at the shelter if they had a spare bandaid so I could continue on my way. Yeah fucking right. I tried to stand up from my hammock and nearly fell and peed my pants as my ankle refused the weight of my body. As I limped my way to the privy I had the dreaded realization that I didn’t know if I could do it. I pondered what to do as I slowly broke down camp. When I finished I sat down on a rock and cried because I’d made the determination that there was no way I could walk 15 miles with both damaged ankles. The only thing to do was to call for a ride out. I made the less than half mile walk to the car stumbling as I couldn’t decide which ankle needed me to limp more. It took about a half hour to make it to the road.

8. Mistakes happen.

Sitting on that rock I was devastated. Telling myself I was stupid for forgetting bandaids and clumsy for rolling my ankle. But I have to forgive myself, because mistakes happen. Yes I forgot bandaids, but it’s unlikely a bandaid would have prevented my ankle sprain. With the limping and exhaustion and my already well developed talent for tolling my ankles, it was bound to happen. 

At one point the trail crossed a river and I failed to see the white blazes and so followed a side trail for about half a mile. While on that path I found one of the more beautiful sights I’ve seen from hiking. Well, aside from overlooks, nothing beats the view from above. My point is that if I hadn’t made that mistake, I never would have found the pool. Plus I found some amazing raspberries along the way. 

I mean, it wouldn’t make the cut for middle earth, but damn I thought it was pretty.
9. Knowing when to withdraw is not weakness.

As my left ankle is still raw and my right ankle is still swollen and it’s been over a week, I would say both were serious enough to warrant ending my trip. As this was intended to be a learning experience anyway, what I figured out is that I need higher boots, better socks, and to bring my first aid kit. I have to forgive this failure as it does not set the tone for my thru hike. An injury is not actually a failure and taking the time to recover requires strength. If I had kept going it would not have been strength, it would have been stupidity.

Overall it was not a bad hike, but it had its hardships. I got some amazing views and spent my first night alone in the woods. Each time I push myself I grow stronger and more ready for a longer commitment.

The amazing view from High Rock, MD.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part 1

Part 1: Success

A few weeks ago I took my very first backpacking trip, ever. Terribly exciting, right? The trip consisted of 2 overnights and a total distance of 14 miles on the Appalachian trail in New Jersey. Our party was myself (obviously), my oldest sister, C, her husband Ce, and three of her children, J, K, and A. A, though a wild and adventurous boy, unafraid of running into the middle of the street if given the opportunity, is still too young to navigate a hike, so spent the trip on C’s back.

I learned a few important lessons I’d like to iterate.

1. The sun rises in the East.

Unfortunately for my exhausted mind, on day three I forgot this important bit of navigational information and was insistent that the lake on our east, was the one indicated in the guide book to the west. The devastating realization that we were not as far along as I thought we were was not good for morale. Thank you C for pointing out the error in judgement.

2. No matter how many times you say a mountain is not a mountain, it’s still a mountain.

J came up with a wonderful inspirational motto for our hike: “tis not a mountain, but one foot in front of the other.” Unfortunately the two large ridges we had to scale up and down disagreed with her statement.

3. When hiking in a group it’s far easier to be the fastest than the slowest.

The person in front can hike ahead and wait for the stragglers, but the latter is forced to keep going in an attempt to keep up with the fastest. It creates an imbalance of exertion. Also, a 28lb child who is prone to bucking and steals all your water while he hangs out on your back makes it really hard to keep pace.

The relevant beast.
4. Appropriate underwear are vital.

If you wear boyshorts with a lacy border an then buckle a hip belt over top the for 3 days, you will get a rash on your lower abdomen from the chafing. I don’t recommend it. I really should expand beyond a thousand pairs of the same style underwear.

5. 2 lbs of spaghetti is never a good idea.

Honestly I don’t know when this is ever too little food, even for 6 people. We only used like a quarter pound and had to carry the rest out. Portioned meals are an excellent idea.

6. Bug spray ratios and reapplication are not as hard as I expected.

In the whole bunch we only got a single tick. The basic rules of thumb I’ve learned is deet on the legs and natural eucalyptus lemon bug spray on the top half. Reapply when the gnats get too annoying.

7. Throwing your cooking pot across the field at a shelter is never productive and actually rather rude.

After spilling my Ramen on the ground I may have thrown my jet boil as far as possible in a fit of hangry rage. This did not assist in the acquisition of food into my belly, but did spread food particles in a bear heavy area. I apologize profusely to the other hikers on the trail for my poor judgement and lack of care.

8. If you trip with a top heavy pack, said pack with slide forward and smack the back of your head which, in turn will lead you to smash your face on a rock.

No permanent damage done, but I did break my favorite sunglasses and ended up laughing hysterically as a lump formed on my head and my family looked on worried. I recommend head injuries while hiking even less than wearing lacy underwear. I have to say it was a rather funny experience and I wasn’t hurt badly, so it all works out. 

In memory of my sunglasses.
9. Hiking with people you love has both ups and downs.

The obvious benefit is the shared memories with your loved ones. Bonus, less embarrassment about the more taboo bodily functions that occur in the day to day, as those barriers have long since broken down. The negative is the other side of that same coin. Because we are family there is a certain amount of rudeness allowed that would not be acceptable among strangers, or even friends.

10. Everything will hurt. 

It really really did, but once you warm up, it improves. But I mean everything. But it was worth it.

I want to wrap up with a quick review of some of my gear. I carried a hennesy hyperlite asymmetrical zip, and I absolutely love it. It went up easily and I was relatively comfortable sleeping. I was freezing though, so I may need to invest in an under quilt. My ULA catalyst pack sat comfortably, I especially appreciated the straps which allowed for 3 across the body buckles, which helped distribute the load. I will definitely go more into detail about my gear in a later post when I feel like it. I really can’t praise these two pieces enough. One thing I’d like to say is don’t waste money on BodyGlide, it doesn’t do shit. Here is a great video with some alternatives and a better explanation than I can give about the previously mentioned product.

https://youtu.be/QFwKzk2mRJY
Finally, I’d like to say thank you to my sister and her family for the amazing support you give me and for the adventure we went on together. I’d additionally like to broaden that thanks to my entire family. All of you have been more supportive than I could dream of. Each and everyone of you is vital to my success and has helped me on the path to where I am today.

P.S. I thought of a couple more things I learned.
There was some crazy wildlife, I was unaware that porcupines lived in New Jersey. We also saw some tiny baby birds, wild turkeys, and various rodents.

SO LITTLE!

People will mock you if you just try and relax in your sleeping bag and happen to be in the middle of a parking lot.

It was just warmer, alright!?

I really need to invest in legitimate hiking clothing, regular t-shirts and lularoes aren’t cutting it. 

Pushing Limits 

Two posts in one day!? Yeah, just making up for last week, I was moving guys, give me a break. This week I took my very first steps on the AT. It was beautiful and everyone was so much nicer there than anywhere I’ve ever hiked. Seeing the sign that read “Appalachian trail” was magnificent. The overlook at Weverton had my heart all aflutter, despite the couple making out a few yards away. For the precious moments that I had with only three others, it was very affirming. Unfortunately we were soon overrun by what appeared to be a field trip and I had to dodge photo bombing a bunch of selfies. 

Back to the beginning. A friend of mine, J, invited me to go for a hike on the Monday following a Memorial Day cookout with our friends. If you’re following my story, you may remember in The Big Reaction I spoke about a friend who doubted my prowess in hiking. Well, they all did, this hike felt very much like a test, I went in knowing that J thought I was going to do poorly, or be very slow, or display some other shortcoming.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am stubborn as fuck, and if there is one thing I hate, it’s being told (whether explicitly or implicitly) that I can’t do something. So I set out that day to prove not only to my friends, but also myself, that their doubts don’t mean anything. 

After staying up well past 2 and moving all day Saturday and most of Sunday, I begrudgingly rolled out of bed at 8am. From there I drove to pick up a fairly hungover J from the house where the cookout was held. I brought him home to change and pack a quick lunch (turkey, cheese, and butter, GROSS), and we headed on our way. Not long before we reached Gathland State Park, our starting point, we made a quick stop at Sheets. I went in the bathroom and had a quick talk with myself. I looked into the mirror and saw a face with dark circles under the eyes and a look of fear. This was the longest hike I had ever been on and I was already feeling pain down my right leg due to my back injury being irritated by my move. But, I wasn’t going to fail. 

We arrived at the park, me with my day pack and water bladder, wearing hiking shoes. J in goddamn Jordan’s and carrying a backpack that contained 2 water bottles, a pack of cigarettes, and his turkey sandwiches. Away we went. I find that the first mile is almost always the most difficult for me, my muscles are cold, my body hasn’t adjusted yet, the beginning is still reasonably close enough to turn back. Finally, I’m starting to hit my peak when suddenly I feel like someone is knifing me in the gut, like I’m about to vomit and shit my pants at the same time. For those of you not familiar with what an ovarian cyst is like, this is how I experience them when they rupture. I’m lucky, my polycystic ovarian syndrome, or shit ton of cysts on my ovaries, presents with hemorrhagic cysts, so basically a slow leak rather than a sudden burst. What this means is I’m in pain but probably don’t need to be hospitalized. The joys of womanhood. 

So here I am standing in the middle of the woods in quite a lot of pain trying to prove myself with this hike. I’m proud to say that I didn’t even consider turning back, I stood for about 30 seconds and calmly explained what was happening to J. He watched me with a mixture of concern and a clear attempt to suppress the thought that I was probably being a drama queen. I probably was. We began walking again and I made it about half a mile before I needed to rest again. Leaning against a log I went to battle with myself. 

Now for my nonsequitor, but my tangents almost always have a point, so be patient. There is a concept that I use frequently in my professional life. Imagine your mind is a house, with separate rooms dedicated to the separate parts of yourself. For example, a woman might have a room for her motherhood, her role as a wife, her profession, her obsession with some band or TV show, her humor, her depression, and so on. The number of rooms is pretty incalculable, everchanging, and totally unique to the individual. If done properly, this can help close the door on parts of yourself not helpful for certain roles. For example, your mom room should be away from your professional room. I doubt yohr boss would appreciate being talked to like a toddler. I use this in my social work practice because it helps to isolate the parts of me that wouldn’t be helpful to a client. The room with my potty mouth gets closed, my personal experience that may influence how I view a client is sealed, there is a room for my judgement, and one for my shock and strong emotions. This allows me to treat a client in the best way possible because my mind is clear of the factors that could impact my professionalism. This also helps maintain boundaries between worker and client and allows me to disengage from the more shocking or terrible things I hear. This may seem cold, but it it’s necessary to protect myself and provide the best treatment I can. Another wonderful concept you’ll find I’m social work fairly often is mindfullness, for those not aware of what this is, here is the Google definition: 

” a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. “

Back to the original story as promised, I got through the remaining 12 miles of that hike through the application of these mental tools. Anyone telepathic would have thought I was an idiot, my mantra was “close the door” as I repeatedly forced my mind away from the pain. I practiced mindfullness by focusing on my present. I listened to the sound of mud squishing at each step, the feel of rocks under my feet and the strain of muscle in my thighs, I smelled sweat and the pungent odor of J’s cigarettes (seriously! Who smokes while hiking!?). Through this constant mental battle and a hand placed firmly on my abdomen, I made it to the overlook. At one point during the trek, I told J that I was taking the lead because I knew I would be slower and I thought it would be easier to set the pace, he informed me that he was content with this and that we were actually hiking at the pace he would normally go. I smiled then with what must have been feral ferocity, luckily J didn’t notice as he was both behind me and preoccupied with mushrooms or his cigarettes or some such nonsence. Either way, I don’t think he understood that significance of the exchange. 

We made it to the overlook and sat down to enjoy sunshine and lunch. I removed socks and shoes and began to scale the rocks barefoot. The view from Weverton is amazing, the river and the train tracks make quite a scene. Eventually perturbed by the amourous couple and gaggle of teens, I made it back to my sunning rock. I shoveled a bunch of walnuts down my throat and we were off again. The half an hour rest had allowed my muscles to cool so the first mile back was excruciating. I had lost my mental focus and my whole body was sore from the first 7 miles. But I did it, and we hit our stride once more, making mile 11 our fastest mile, a fact I find rather astounding. We spent the last few miles in amicable conversation, both of us elated to be so close to the end and preemptively proud of our accomplishment. When I walked out of the woods in was awash with relief… because there was the bathroom. Guys I still haven’t gotten the courage to pee in the woods. 

Before I close this post with something adequately inspirational I have one more story to tell. As we started the hike I rolled my ankle a few times, apparently I’m blessed with flexible ankles because this is a near daily occurrence and I’ve never sprained one. Due to this, J was certain I was going to faceplant into the mud. I had the reciprocal certainty because of his ridiculous foot wear (Jordans, really!?). Guess which one of us took the tumble? I haven’t laughed so hard in quite a while as I did when I watched him stagger to his feet all muddy, cranky, and flushed with embarrassment. I felt a bit guilty about the laughter, but there was some definite triumph mixed in with the guilt. Here is this guy, an avid hiker, who doubted my ability, and I’m the one who stayed on my feet. 

I’ll admit that my confidence in my prowess was a bit dampened by the fact that J probably had a bad hangover, but still, I made it through my longest hike yet, exhausted, sore from moving into a third floor apartment with no elevator, and doing war with my ovary. I know it will be different with more than a day pack, but God it felt good and I’m taking a step in the right direction. We finished our day off with a bit of reckless speeding on the hour drive home, gotta make that turbo whistle, and like a lot of chipotle. Overall I’d say it was a success. 


 

Let’s talk about socks baby. 

So anyone who spends any time on their feet knows shoes are important. But anyone who is doing any kind of long distance knows that socks can be just as vital. When I was doing my research on appropriate dress for hiking, I saw the recommendation of merino wool and I was all about it. However, when I went to browse around REI, I came across Wrightsock, the coolmesh 11. They were $13, more than I’ve ever spent on socks, but not unreasonable, especially when you consider the alternatives.

On first putting them on, I’m comfy as can be, they’ve got decent arch support, they’re the perfect thickness and they’re double layer to prevent blisters. They’re soft and breathable, everything you want in a long distance hike. Plus they’re a great turquoise color! Anyway, my first time out with these socks and I’m already in love. No blisters, much less arch pain (a chronic problem for me), overall great stuff. So I’m thinking that these would be great for my AT hike, they’re light and comfy, and I really want something durable that feels great.

How about NO. Despite the clear benefits of these socks, there is a major draw back. I wore them on an 8 mile hike with no problems, lots of extra comfort from my usual. So, I decided to take them for a 13.5 mile hike on the MD portion of the AT. At about the 7 mile mark, we paused for some snacks and to take in the view (I will go more in depth about this hike in a different post) and I took off my shoes to wander around the rocks in my bare feet. I noticed immediately that the outer layer of my seemingly magical Wrightsocks have split open. Ripped straight across just below the toe seam.

These socks didn’t even last 20 miles before tearing open. I’ll be honest, prior to purchasing these socks I’ve been hiking in some real cute novelty socks with sea otters on them. My point here is that I’m by no means an expert, but I won’t be buying these socks again. If I’m being fair, they’re advertised as being for “light” hiking, which I wouldn’t use to describe 13.5 miles, but the terrain was not difficult, so I guess it balances? I regret that the benefits of these socks didn’t last long, and maybe it was a fluke, but I wouldn’t trust 2200 miles to them. So, the search for the perfect socks continue.

Where do I start?

This is the awkward beginning to an improbable journey.

First, I would like to begin by saying thank you. Just the fact that you’ve made it this far into reading what I’ve written seems astounding to me. I am not a person who ever thought I had anything important to say and each of you who takes the time to share my journey is an inspiration to me.

Throughout my life I have always felt an obligation to care for the people around me. From bottle feeding orphaned squirrels, to comforting my mother, to reading my big sister a bedtime story,  I always wanted to be there for everyone. Ultimately this has led me to pursue a career in social work, currently I am a year away from achieving my masters. Unfortunately, I am not nearly as good at taking care of myself.

So begins the story of my decision to hike the Appalachian Trail, this might be a bit circuitous, but please bear with me.

It started with a relationship. A terrible no good very bad relationship. I spent close to two years of my life with a partner who was not appropriate for me and I realized that I was loving him far more than I loved myself. By the time I could leave my self confidence was practically nonexistent and I looked around and realized I was a stranger to myself. I have experienced depression frequently throughout my life, but nothing compared to the worthlessness I felt at that time.

So I made changes. I was lucky enough to have family to support me and a wonderful cousin to take me in. I started changing the way I ate, I made more time for friends, I started saving money, and finally, I began hiking. The aforementioned wonderful cousin decided we were going out one day, with no destination in mind. We ended up on a local trail, me in jeans and chucks, her in flip flops. We looked ridiculous, but it was the best I’d felt in a long time. We planned to go again and then again. Eventually we settled into a different trail in a state park and it was the one thing I looked forward to most during the week. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but thank you my lovely cousin, you helped save me that day in your flip flops.

When I began going to graduate school again I no longer had time to hike and I began to feel poorly again. I was working full time overnight, struggling in an internship I hated and trying to keep up with my course load. The result of so much on my plate was a herniated disc, between L4 and L5, pressing on my sciatic nerve. I was in serious pain and walking with a heavy limp for close to a year. I ended up having a bilateral discectomy in January of 2017.

I couldn’t walk independently for days. I was in tears when I moved at all and I only had a week to recover before returning to school. I quit my job, and gave myself time to recover. Unfortunately, if you go from working 40 hours of manual labor to doing almost nothing, you get fat. I don’t mean to criticize others’ weight, but I was unhappy with myself. On top of physical therapy, I joined a gym and began exercising. I bought new clothes, I started building muscle, I dyed my hair. I made it my mission to feel good again.

In April I began hiking again. I think the simple action of walking in the woods was newly empowering after my surgery. I could not only walk again, but I could probably make it up the steep hill that my cousin lovingly calls murder hill. Now that I wasn’t working overnight and exhausted I had a whole new appreciation for the world around me. I saw the world grow green and warm, I watched turtles sunning, I disturbed snakes on the trail. We deviated from our comfortable path and each trip was like an adventure. One day on the trail I mentioned in passing that I would like to hike the Appalachian Trail at some point in my life.

This is going to seem like a nonsequitor, but I have a point, I promise. In my final class of my first year of graduate school, my professor asked us to consider what brought us to social work and come up with a quote that represented this. A touch cliche, I know, but this was mine:

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” -A.A. Milne

I wanted to be there to tell people this. I want to be a part of their process, on the road to their success, whatever other cliche you want to apply. This is what was floating around I’m my head that Friday, and into the weekend.

That Monday I brought my sister to my usual trail and got to experience it with fresh eyes as I watched her discover the wonders that had become familiar to me. Namely there were a shit ton of turtles all in a row on a fallen tree and we decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go for a swim in the placid river. She was proud because she could outpace me and I got the chance to see something that I have seen so rarely in this sister. True pride, self confidence, happiness. This beautiful woman who has struggled throughout  her life was happier than I have seen her in years. Hiking contributed to that.

When we got home I found three books sitting on the kitchen table with a note from my cousin. She had bought me a data book, a guide book, and a mental guide for preparing to hike the AT. I was up until well past 2 the next two nights finishing the mental guide (thanks Badger). I was less than a paragraph in when I said to myself, “I am going to do this.”

What followed was a furious consumption of the books my cousin had given me and a Rollercoaster of emotions. I was excited and terrified, I immediately started panicking about the money and told myself I was no where near strong enough to do something so monumental. But then I remembered,

I’m braver than I believe, I’m stronger than I seem, and smarter than I think.

I want that pride I saw on my sister’s face, I want to feel confident in my body’s abilities, I want that delicious endorohin laced exhaustion that follows a work out. I want to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. I decided that I need to be selfish, I need to do something crazy and adventurous. I need to be who I’m supposed to be. So I figured, why not take a half a year off before I settle to my life as a public servant.

So I ask you, join me on my journey. Watch my triumphs and my lows. Watch me embarrass myself and overcome my fear. Come with me as I become me.