The truck's tires crunched the two inches of fresh snow, as Will and I rambled down the street to the Mammoth Lakes Post Office.  We had just spent the past week ordering gear, clothes and dog supplies for our hike on the AT; now it was time to see if any of our goods had arrived.  We jumped out of the car, as the snow fell steadily around us, and hurried into the post office. Will turned the key on our tiny post office box, to reveal four yellow cards...the indication that we had four packages of gear waiting for us behind the counter of the post office.  Since the post office had already closed that day, it was my job to pick up these four packages the next morning, on my way to work.  (Will works at June Mountain, which is about thirty minutes from Mammoth, and wouldn't be around when the post office opened or closed). 

I woke up bright and early the next morning and headed to the post office, just down the road from my house.  I parked the truck and pushed the post office door open to reveal...no line!  This is a rarity at the Mammoth post office, as the entire town uses this one facility to receive their mail.  I hurried up to the counter, and revealed my four yellow cards to the man behind the counter.  He looked at me for a second in disbelief and then reluctantly extended his hand to take my cards.  He stumbled into the back of the post office and came back to the desk fumbling with four large packages.  He gave an annoyed sigh, and looked up at me, as he was scanning in my packages.

"Just remember," he said, with noted frustration, "the internet is the devil.  You really should try to limit your online shopping." 

Now it was my turn for disbelief.  Had I really just been scolded by this guy for making him work?

I sputtered out a response.  "Oh, because then you have to work harder?" 

My retort was overshadowed by the response of a man behind me.  "Oh, come on man, you know, its job security.  We order packages, you have a job." 

The employee snapped back, "Really, we aren't that worried about job security here.  I will have a job whether or not you order this many packages."

Although I had a million snappy comments going through my mind, I said a quiet "thank you" and walked away from the counter.  I then realized that I had not checked my PO Box that day, and walked around the corner to see if I had any more mail.  I opened my box to reveal another yellow card.  I was quite satisfied as I made my way back up to the counter; knowing even if this employee didn't want to help me, he still had to.  As I approached the counter, I extended my hand to give the employee my card.  He shot me a look of anger and craziness, and I felt I was about to witness the reality of the phrase, "going postal." 

"Oh, it's you again," he said in a sarcastically sweet voice, "with another package!"

I just smiled, as he hobbled back to retrieve my package.  He came back with a small package and, as he was scanning it in, I took the opportunity to explain myself.

"I am hiking the Appalachian Trail in a couple weeks, so I had to order most of my gear online. "  I said.

"Wow, that is great.  Where are you starting the trail?" he asked with sweet sarcasm and feigned interest.  Apparently, I had wrecked this guy's day with all of my yellow cards, and he wasn't ready to forgive me.

We talked for about a minute, and I explained to him that Will and I were hiking the AT together, we would be starting in Georgia and hiking up to Maine.

"And how long does a hike like that take you?" he asked.

"Well, it will take about four-and-a-half months," I answered.

He snickered a little, out of, what seemed to me, disbelief and annoyance - I was hiking, while he was stuck behind the post office counter. 

"And how does a person like you take four-and-a-half months out of their life to do something like this?"  He was not hiding his annoyance now.

I suddenly had a million things going through my mind.  How will I be able to take four months out of my life to do something like this?  The answer was too complex to sum up in a couple sentences.  As I watched the post office line grow quickly behind me, I decided it wasn't time to explain all that had gone into this hike, to a man who most likely wouldn't be satisfied with any response.

"Luck," I replied, "I am just a lucky girl."  At that, I smiled and waved, and walked out the front door of the post office.  As I walked away, I heard the employee say to the next customer in line, "Yea I would like to quit my job and do that too...but...grumble grumble....moan moan..."  I resisted the urge to turn around and fully tell this guy off. 

As I was driving home, I really began to think about everything that had gone into planning and executing a hike like this.  The planning actually started over a year ago, and the process that has taken Will and I up to just a week left before we embark on the trail, goes a little something like this...

February 2011 -

Will and I are living in Johnson City, Tennessee, as Will is attending school at ETSU, a university with a stellar media arts program, specializing in Computer Animation, the program Will was enrolled in.  We had just moved to Johnson City a couple weeks earlier, and Will attends school, while I am job-hunting.  As we are living off of savings at this point, we are constantly on the lookout for fun and cheap things to do.  One day, we venture out to a local state park and spent the day hiking around the forests of East Tennessee.  We soon realize there are some awesome hikes in the area.  We find that there is a beautiful hike, very close to Johnson City, in nearby Hampton, TN.  We look up directions to get to the trailhead and venture out, one day in February. 

March 2011 -

Will is still attending school, I am still job-hunting.  We have started to realize that everything in East Tennessee is different from where we just spent the past five years in California.  The people are very Southern (the polar-opposite of Californians), the economy is incredibly slow, the job market is non-existent and Johnson City is the opposite of the resort town of Mammoth Lakes...it is full of strip malls, traffic and litter.  We find ourselves homesick for Mammoth.  Our retreat from the confines of the city, is to hike on the trails we find in Hampton, TN, Erwin, TN, Hot Springs, NC, and a few we find in Johnson City, TN.  We are pleasantly surprised when the temperatures in Tennessee get up near the seventies in March!  It is hard to believe that the first day of spring actually feels like spring.  After growing up in Wisconsin, and spending five years in the mountains, the first day of spring just meant that you still had about two months of winter left.  Will and I find ourselves hiking everyday.  He would finish his school day, I would wrap up my job hunt, and we would venture off on a trail.  It's amazing how much of a retreat it is to explore these trails.  We venture off just minutes from the city, but feel like we are hundreds of miles away from the gritty towns that we had driven through to get to the trailhead.  We start to realize that our favorite trails are on the Appalachian Trail.  All of these hikes we take on the Appalachian Trail gets Will thinking...

April 2011 -

We are taking hikes everyday...and our weekend hikes are getting longer and longer.  We are exploring more sections of the AT that are close enough to keep gas cheap enough.  I have talked to some local farmers, to see about working on their farm (my dream)...many farmers are happy to have me work on their farm, without compensating me in anything besides free vegetables.  I contact a local preschool, and am hired as their four-year-old teacher.  My job hunt is over, and now I am working everyday, as Will is attending school.  We are still homesick for California, but find solace in the beauty we encounter on our AT hikes.  One day, during a hike, Will expresses to me his lifelong dream of hiking the entirety of the Appalachian Trail.  He explains to me that when he was young, his parents "made him" take long (and beautiful) hikes with them.  He said that at the time, it annoyed him, but really gave him an appreciation for the outdoors and for hiking.  He went on to explain that he would spend his summers at his family's cabin, on the border of the Smoky Mountain National Park, looking at the view of the mountains from the cabin's front porch.  He said that the mountains you can see from his cabin are the mountains that the Appalachian Trail goes through.  Will told me that he always knew he would thru-hike the AT, he just wasn't sure when.  He grew up thinking that one day, he would hike this long trail that he had been gazing at every summer from his big Southern porch.  He told me he really wanted to hike it.  My simple answer to that was, "Let's do it." 

May 2011 -

I am working, and Will is finishing up his semester at ETSU.  We are trying to hike everyday, Will is ready...but my energy is lacking after spending the day with twelve four-year-olds.  We are taking long hikes on the AT every weekend, we can explore, breathe the fresh mountain air, exercise the dogs; and do all this for just the price of gas to drive to the trailhead.  We have talked about hiking the AT, and have discussed it in greater detail; we have decided that we will hike it in the summer of 2012.  We aren't really sure what this will look like, but this is our rough plan.  As our plans become firmer, Will begins to research other people's experiences and advice about their thru-hike of the AT.  He begins to research gear.  On a bike ride with Molly and Tess, Will stops at a neighbor's house, who is an avid hammock camper.  Will and the neighbor (John) talk for hours about hammock camping, lightweight camping, gear, and the Appalachian Trail.  Will starts researching lightweight camping with unparalleled fervor.  After my work days, my time spent with Will consists of him showing me countless YouTube videos about camping gear, discussing trail blogs, looking at gear reviews online...basically I watch Will become completely obsessed with hiking the Appalachian Trail, the kind of obsession that happens when someone is delving full-on into their passion, and working to accomplish a dream they have had since they were a young boy, spending their summers in Cosby, Tennessee.

June 2011-

Will has finished his semester at ETSU, and is now the job-hunter.  I am working everyday, learning everyday about the vast difference in culture between children and families in East Tennessee, as opposed to the families in California that I grew to love and had become so accustomed to.  I am also shocked at how little Early Education is valued in Johnson City...I am discouraged from writing a curriculum at my job or talking about children's progress with their parents.  I am, however, encouraged to make sure the children in my preschool class are quietly watching movies when their parents pick them up.  The differences in attitude and culture are quite shocking to me, and I wonder how long I can last in a work environment and a culture like the one I have found in Johnson City, TN.  Will echoes my sentiments.  Will has also begun to look at classes for the next semester at ETSU.  In addition to this, he has begun to do some research on the careers that someone with a degree in Computer Animation can possess.  He finds that, in most cases, individuals with this type of degree can find a job in Digital Media in some capacity...but it really wasn't his dream to just work in Digital Media.  He wants to make animations, use his creativity to make money.  To obtain this type of career, it is essential to not only have loads of talent, but also to work in New York City or Los Angeles, the two US hubs of the motion-picture world.  Will's apathy towards his current degree grows, as his intense interest in the Appalachian Trail grows.  Will continues to be a man obsessed, and begins writing down the best gear to use on the trail, in his new AT notebook, designated for all things trail-related.  I continue to listen to countless hours of Will's pure passion and excitement.  He has now begun to make a highly detailed spreadsheet, listing all the gear we will take on our trip (still a year away) and begin to wonder if he is pursuing his passion in the degree he has chosen.  While I begin to have these thoughts, Will begins to silently doubt his choice to study Computer Animation.  One night, as we discuss the trail and gear, we enter into a deep conversation.  It was the type of conversation that felt as though all that was said, needed to be said...it seems fateful.  Will goes on and on about the trail and gear...and I just blurt out, "I don't think you should be studying Computer Animation."  Will confesses that he is doubting this choice as well, and we go on to discuss the love he has for the outdoors.  I tell him that what he was now experiencing, planning the trail, was what I think happens when you are fully immersed in something you have tremendous passion for.  He admits that he thinks I am right, and had been thinking this as well.  We discuss that a career, the way he wanted it to be, in Computer Animation, would be a long road...and it would involve a lot of time spent in an office, behind a computer, most likely moving to a big city and working his way up the animator's ladder.  I just didn't see the passion for this venture, as I saw the passion Will had for being outdoors.  We both leave the conversation that night with heads reeling, wondering exactly what could be up the road for us.

July 2011 -

After our conversation, life goes on.  Will begins searching for Outdoor Education programs, and is happy to find one at ETSU, the school he is attending.  I continue to work, Will continues to job hunt, with very bleak results.  We continue with our hikes every weekend, and try to hike every evening as well, as the summer days are very long.  Some weekends, however, we can’t hike, as the Southern heat and humidity are oppressive.  During this time, we meet several people hiking the AT, and are able to talk with them about their experience.  The biggest piece of advice from the hikers we meet is, "If it's your dream, just do it" and "make sure you have a lightweight pack."   We heed the advice we receive and continue to go forward with our plan of a thru-hike in 2012.  Will looks into ETSU's Outdoor Education program, and makes several phone calls to the school, with many inquiries.  His calls are never returned by any school representative.  Will and I also discuss moving closer to my family in Wisconsin, as was our eventual plan.  It’s during this time that I remember a school I had heard of with a stellar Outdoor Education program.  I search for Northland College, and begin looking at their website.  I share my findings with Will.  I remember him looking at the class list..."They have a winter camping class, kayaking class...a dogsled class??"  Will can’t believe that such a school exists.  He begins to search the website with greater fervor, and growing excitement.  It is apparent, upon research of this school, that Will has to contact them.  He calls the school and is immediately sent loads of information, as well as appointed a school representative, who would be taking care of any questions Will has.  Will is given this admissions counselor's direct office line.  He goes on to discover that this is a small, liberal-arts college, specializing in Environmental and Outdoor Education.  It is exactly where he wants to be.  The admissions counselor explains to Will, that the school has no deadline for accepting applications, but accepts them year-round.  He tells Will that he can begin in September 2011, if everything goes okay with his application.  Will fills the application out, and is contacted by the school in two weeks.  They tell him that not only is he accepted, but his grades were so good that he will qualify for a large academic scholarship.  We begin making plans to head to Ashland, Wisconsin.

Early August 2011 -

We begin to tie-up loose ends in Johnson City.  I put in my two weeks notice at the preschool; we begin saying good-bye to friends and have reservations to rent a U-Haul.  We are prepared to make the move to Ashland, so Will can begin school in September.  The one missing piece is finding jobs for both of us.  I begin to look at jobs in Ashland, Bayfield and Washburn.  I am delighted to find many organic fruit and vegetable farms in the area, and find that one farm still needs help for the remainder of their season.  I contact Highland Valley Farm, and Will and I are both hired to pick and package blueberries.  (To anyone besides me, this may sound like a strange job to take...but having a farm is my dream, so I was beyond thrilled when the farm told us we could begin the day we got to Wisconsin).  We make the trip to Wisconsin on August 9th.  I am excited to see my family, who I have not seen since Christmas, and we spend a couple days catching up with family and friends in the Milwaukee area.  After a couple days, we make the drive to Northern Wisconsin.  I recognize the sky-high pine trees, lining the road, and am reminded of family vacations my family took "Up-North" when I was younger.  As we are driving on highway 2 en route to Ashland, the gravity of what we have just done hits Will and I at exactly the same time.  "Did I just apply to a school, get accepted, arrange everything and move a few states away in the matter of a month?"  Will asks, looking for reassurance.  "I was just thinking the same thing," I echo in response.  We had gotten so caught up in the momentum of our plan that this seemed like the first time we actually had time to consider what we had just done.  Had we done this all too hastily?  I then remember the simple and logical sentiments of a friend, when we explained our plan to her, who told us, "If it's right, and it's time, you don't have to wait a year to do it."  Will and I both know that this was the right choice.  We decided that even though our bodies are in Ashland, it might take our minds a few days to catch up with the plan we had just executed. 

Mid-August 2011 -

We have begun working at Highland Valley, and Will thinks it's okay, but I am floored.  I am so excited to be on a farm, it is so beautiful, and it is amazing to talk to other employees of the farm, many of who are equally as passionate about agriculture.  We work during the day, under beautiful blue skies, and take walks on the shores of nearby Lake Superior in the evenings.  We have once again found the beauty we were missing from leaving Mammoth Lakes.  Northern Wisconsin reminds us in many ways of Mammoth...a small town, beautiful, temperate summertime weather (no comment on the winters here), and a local population that is young and fun. 

September 2011 -

Will begins school at Northland College, where he immediately meets like-minded students, and loves being surrounded by those equally passionate for the outdoors.  He also gets a job at the Northland College Outpost, an outdoors rental shop where he can spend hours ogling and caring for outdoors gear, a growing interest of his.  I continue work at Highland Valley, and am excited to bring home my free 10 pounds of blueberries.  I learn from a co-worker, that a nearby apple orchard needs help with their fall harvest.  I contact the orchard, and begin working at the Bayfield Apple Company.  I, once again, am beyond excited to work on a farm.  We try to find some hikes in the area, and are directed to a hike in a forest, directly next to Lake Superior.  The hike is beautiful, and so different than any hike in California or Tennessee.  Will continues researching gear for the AT, and continues to update the gear spreadsheet.  We are saving any bit of money either of us can, to put into our AT fund.

October 2011 -

I continue to work at the Bayfield Apple Company; Will continues to attend classes at Northland College.  We are both enjoying ourselves...getting experience and education to make our individual dreams a reality.  We have been knowing for awhile that Will is going to have to take a leave of absence from school for Spring 2012 semester (as we plan to hike the trail, beginning in April) or somehow work the trail into an independent study, and receive school credit for it.  His semester ends in December 2011, my job at the Apple Company ends in late-November 2011, so we know that we both need to find jobs for January through April 2012.  Our minds turn back to Mammoth...January to April is basically the ski season in California.  We both contact our old bosses, who are happy to give us our jobs back for the 2012 ski season. 

November 2011 -

I continue to pick apples, pack them, and help to make apple cider.  I couldn't be happier.  Will continues to work hard at Northland College, where he is pulling a 4.0 GPA.  He begins to discuss plans of an independent study with his academic counselor and some of his professors.  He writes an independent study proposal, and his professors approve his proposal.  Will can now receive school credit to hike the AT.  He couldn't be happier.  And since he is technically enrolled in school, he will not lose his stellar scholarship, and can continue at Northland College in September 2012, with a full credit load.  We take a trip down to Tennessee for Thanksgiving, and stay at Will's family cabin in Cosby, TN.  We are encouraged by Will's family, who are just as excited about our AT trip as we are.  We continue to pinch any pennies we can to go towards our AT fund.

December 2011 -

Will is winding down his semester, and my job at the apple company has just finished.  I spend my time making goodies out of all of my free blueberries, and taking long walks with the dogs.  Will informs me of a holiday art fair at Northland College.  I then begin making plans to sell my handmade candles and lip balm in the art fair (another one of my dreams).  I pour candles for two weeks straight and Will and I set a table up at the holiday art fair.  I begin talking to local artists, and see how they make a living off of their creativity.  I am as equally excited to sell my handmade products as I am working on the farm.  We sell almost every candle and lip balm.  We both have such a good time at the art fair, and are so excited that everything sells, that we get a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  All the rest of our earnings go into our AT fund.  We spend the holidays with our families, in Milwaukee, WI and Washington, D.C.  We enjoy the holidays, and make a road trip out to Mammoth Lakes on December 26th.  We both begin working in Mammoth on December 29th, knowing we only have a few short months to make all the money we need for the summer and for our gear.

January 2012 -

Will is working at June Mountain, supervising Lift Operations.  I am working at a new Mammoth Mountain childcare facility in the village.  We are both working as much as we can, as often as we can, and volunteering for any overtime.  We are catching up with friends, but turn down many invitations to go out to restaurants or bars, instead inviting friends over for a home-cooked meal.  We are trying to save money for the AT, any way we can.  Will creates a website for our preparation and journey on the trail.

February 2012 -

Working, both of us.  Saving, both of us.  I begin to aggressively research foods and read a couple backpacking books, relating to health on the trail.  I research good hygiene practices, and the best vitamins and supplements to take on the trail.  I look into the health of dogs on the trail, and decide to invest in some pet supplements, to make Molly and Tess' time on the trail as enjoyable as it can be.  I begin to write a detailed budget for the trail, and am walking the dogs two miles a day.  (Will is working 40 hours a week, at a physical job, so this is his physical preparation for the trail).  Will and I both begin to take vitamins and supplements, in preparation of the physical toll that hiking the AT will take on our bodies.

March 2012 -

We both continue to work and save.  We are happy to get our tax returns back...and happy that our savings for the trail is finally becoming substantial.  We order all of our gear, based off of the research we have both been doing for the past year.  We make our travel plans, and make a plan on where to store the truck for the duration of the trail.  We establish emergency contacts, in case of any issues with the dogs.  We begin to prepare to leave Mammoth and begin the trail.

April 2012 -

Work and save...until April 15th.  We have packed our bags and made our preparations.  We are ready to get going on the trail.

So you can see, we have planned, prepared, saved and worked.  It has been amazing that Will's passion for planning the thru-hike of the AT has actually directed him in a path.  He has used this passion for the outdoors as fuel for his career, which is so exciting.  The journey we have had in the past year has brought me closer to many of my passions as well, and for this I am beyond excited and grateful.

There is, however, another side to this equation.  All of this planning and preparation has not been entirely in my control.  I have not accomplished this alone, and Will has not accomplished this alone.  And for that, I have to admit that I am an extremely blessed person.  I am blessed because I have the physical health and presence of mind to try to accomplish a feat such as this.  I am blessed because, even though my family may not understand my desire to walk 2200 miles, they full-heartedly support me.  I am blessed because Will has an equally supportive family, who has welcomed me and is amazingly excited for Will and I to embark on this journey.  I am blessed because I have been able to make money in the pristine Sierra Nevada Mountains, working with friends.  I am blessed because I have so many loved ones who are reading this right now, interested in what I am doing.  I am blessed to be able to embark on this journey with someone who has found his passion in the outdoors, and shares that infectious passion with me.  My only response to this type of blessing is pure thankfulness. 

So, as you can see, my response to the disgruntled postal employee was severely incorrect.  This hike of the AT has nothing to do with luck, but is rather the combination of hard work, careful planning, preparation and blessings for all of those things out of my control...that is how this four-and-a-half month hike of the Appalachian Trail will be possible.

Lisa
4/25/2012 11:01:43 am

What a great post, Missy! This is one for the archives. Anyone who wants to know why and how you guys are doing this will have most questions answered by this thoughtful and very readable piece of writing. Thanks for sharing! And take care of each other on the trail!

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