1. Experience Unparalleled Acts of Kindness.
Giving and receiving. You will experience some amazing generosity with no expectations of anything in return. Strangers will offer you a ride, a place to stay, a home cooked meal, anything. You might be surprised to find yourself letting your guard down and paying it forward.
2. Get in Super Human Shape.
You can almost guarantee weight loss. You will turn into a lean hiking machine able to walk 'mountain marathons' day in and day out. You will probably be the best shape of your life… and lower some stress levels.
3. Grab Life By the Balls.
Life might feel like it is passing you by while you sit on the sidelines. There are few things in my life that felt as real or as 'in the moment' as hiking the Appalachian Trail. Bang your chest and roar on top of mountains.
4. Become a Backpacking Guru.
You will sleep outside for nearly half a year. That is a substantial percentage of your life. More than most ‘survival experts’ probably ever have. You will be an outdoor and backpacking gear expert.
5. Forget What Day It Is.
Other than making sure the post office is not closed, the days of the week will blur together. Is it Tuesday or Saturday? I dunno, don’t care and neither does anyone else. Say goodbye to living for the weekend and the Monday to Friday grind.
6. Sleep With the Sun.
No alarm clocks. Back to the good 'ole caveman days. Sun rises, you wake up. Sun sets, you sleep. The term ‘hiker midnight’ refers to how early hikers usually go to sleep. After all, there is no electricity out there and you don’t want to drain your precious headlamp battery. You’re exhausted as well so get some rest.
7. Stargaze Like You've Seen In The Movies.
You’ll be outside most nights. Some will be on open ridge lines with clear views of the night sky. Goodbye big city light pollution. Shooting stars abound.
8. Observe Spectacular Animals.
Wild Moose, rattlesnakes, bald eagles, porcupines, grouse, turkeys, deer, black bears, coyotes, raccoons, peregrine falcons, mice, salamanders, turtles, bull frogs, fruit bats, red foxes, boars, copperheads, toads and several types of owls to name a few.
9. Eat Wild Blueberries.
Yea… they’re all over the place in summer. Get you a taste of that organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, whatever yummyness.
10. Meet Your Best Friends.
You will meet some awesome people from all over the country… and some from other countries. Everyone has different interests, backgrounds and their own reasons for hiking. All of them have made some sort of sacrifice to pursue this journey and actually do it. Sharing an experience as unique and dramatic as the AT can build life long friendships and strong camaraderie.
11. Disconnect From Tech.
You’ll never meet a group of people more excited to not have cell phone reception. For that matter, you probably won’t even see many cell phones. You mean no texting and no Facebook?! Well, you can in town. Block out those interruptions while on the trail though.
12. Enjoy The Bare Necessities.
Live simply. Your life boils down to about 40 items on your back. Let that soak in for a minute. No wallet or car keys in your pockets. No deciding what to wear every morning. This is it. You will quickly learn how little you really need in life. Mo’ money, mo’ problems, right?
13. Go Slow.
Go everywhere at 2 miles per hour. No speeding in your car or hurrying in the morning to get to work. You are walking. Rushing means running which is not realistic. Chill out and slow down. The first thing I noticed after the AT was the pace of a car. They were so FAST. The trees passed by like machine gun fire.
14. Learn the Forest.
You will become familiar with forests, plants and trees. Most of the USA is covered in ‘new growth’ or secondary forest which means it has been cut down at some point in history. Parts of the AT go through ‘old growth’ forests which have never been disturbed by logging. They feel prehistoric. I had never stopped to pay attention to forest types prior to the AT. The differences are dramatic.
15. Drink Natural Water.
Have you ever drunk from anything other than a water bottle or the tap? You will almost always drink from a stream or pond or river on the trail… filtered first, of course. Cool, fresh mountain water is pretty amazing.
16. Embrace the Unknown.
Adventure is somewhat defined by the unknown. You don’t know what is around the next turn of the trail, who you are going to meet, or what you might encounter. Completely new experiences.
17. Feel Free.
Break your societal routine. You will wake up with no agenda other than to put one foot in front of the other. No meetings, no bills, no errands, just hiking. Feel free to stop and enjoy that overlook, make a fire and stare at the stars, sleep in - whatever you want and whenever you want. Maybe you’ll stay an extra day in town and checkout that brewery.
18. Hit the Refresh Button.
You may suffer from personal issues (a lost loved one, divorce, addiction, etc.) and seek inner peace and solitude. You may just want to take a break and assess the next chapter of your life. Either way, the Appalachian Trail is a great time to take a step outside you regular life and reflect.
19. Forget About Politics.
You won’t watch any of your favorite sports teams play or follow the most recent political turmoil. New music and TV shows may come and go completely unnoticed. The most interesting thing is realizing how little you care.
20. See Scenery That’ll Make You Cry.
Sunrises, sunsets, mountain tops, overlooks and meadows. Some of these views will be permanently etched into your memory and may be some of the most beautiful landscapes you ever see.
21. Experience Overwhelming Pride.
6 months and over 2,000 miles is a huge accomplishment… mentally and physically. You will feel like a boss when you are done and excited to take on new challenges in life.
By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine and Bicycling Magazine to Fast Company and Science Alert. He recently wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe.