Hiking the Appalachian Trail for a Cause

Text by: Megan Hartwick

Hiking & Trekking. Hiking the Appalachian Trail for a Cause

In January of 2015, I dreamed up a crazy idea of how cool it would be to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, split into sections, over a few years. And then the next day, I decided I would do just that. I had become interested in long distance hiking over the past few years, and felt I was ready for something big. But the hiking itself wasn’t my only reason for beginning this adventure.

For a number of years, I have toyed with the idea of starting my own mental health initiative, one that could somehow benefit youth struggling with their mental health. I began to struggle with my own mental health at a young age, and, through my recovery process, noticed how few resources there are for young people with mental illness.

IMG_8833

In my own journey towards mental wellness, I found that spending a greater amount of time outdoors played a large role in my recovery. So I decided to combine my two dreams, hiking the AT and starting a charity to help youth with mental illness, into one dream: Megan’s Hike 4 Mental Health. Megan’s Hike 4 Mental Health is an organization that benefits youth struggling with their mental health by allowing them to experience the magic of the outdoors through summer camp.

I began my hike on April 23rd, 2016, at Springer Mountain, Georgia, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I set off to hike 300 miles in just over a month, with a flight waiting for me in Knoxville on May 26th. I hiked with one friend and met many new friends along the way. 300 miles seemed incredibly daunting, and, to be honest, I did doubt myself a few times on the first few days. Georgia especially was tough to hike through, as the state is full of big climbs and I was far from having my trail legs. But everyday got easily, and, before I knew it, I was summiting mountains at a rate I could not have dreamed of when I first set off.

IMG_9097

One day I remember perfectly was the day I reached 100 miles. The 100-mile mark is at Albert Mountain, which was easily my favourite climb of my entire hike. The mountain was so steep and rocky that I often found myself using my hands to pull myself up the side of the mountain, no longer being able to use my trekking poles during this ascent. Once I reached the top, there was a fire tower that I climbed up. From the top of the tower, I could see all of the mountains I had already climbed up and down, all of the trail I had already tackled, all of the progress I had made. At that moment, I knew that although I have set this wild goal of hiking the entirety of a trail over 2100 miles long, this dream was something I was truly capable of accomplishing.

IMG_9069

The most hectic part of my entire trip was the week spent in Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Within my first three hours in this part, I gained 2,189 feet of elevation within only four miles, encountered a three-foot long rattlesnake, climbed a rickety fire tower, saw six deer, and spotted one black bear! That same night a man was bit by a bear at a shelter not six miles from where I was sleeping.

I had got into a groove in the two weeks before I entered the Smokies; getting to camp, setting up my tent, eating dinner, getting to bed early, and waking up early to get started the next morning. But the Smokies were a whole other ball game. Because of the high bear activity in the park, hikers are required to stay in the shelters. This means sharing a shelter with different hikers every night — many who snore quite loudly — as well as the constant threat of rodents getting into your pack if not hung up correctly. Although I saw the most wildlife and differing plant species while in the Smokies, as well as meeting a number of great people, I was definitely happy when I reached Davenport Gap, the northern boundary of the National Park.

IMG_8844

Once reaching Davenport Gap, my friends and I found a hostel to stay at, where I found a guitar. Music is a huge part of my life back home, and I had really missed playing and singing while on the trail. That night at the hostel, full of guitar picking, harmonies, and plenty of snacks, was just what I had needed. I was fortunate to enough to encounter a guitar a few more times further down the trail, and enjoyed many great jam sessions with other hikers.

The Appalachian Trail, for me, was a near spiritual experience. It’s incredibly humbling to stand, completely alone, or with a few good friends, at the top of a mountain that you have climbed while carrying everything you need to survice on your back. It’s truly magical to look out for miles and miles without seeing a single piece of evidence of civilization. The trail taught me so much about the world and about myself, lessons I won’t soon forget. The moment I left the trail, after hiking 300 miles on my own two feet, I immediately longed to go back. I can’t wait to continue my adventure in the coming years.

To learn more about my adventure and Megan’s Hike 4 Mental Health, visit mh4mh.com or the Facebook page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *