About the Author, Hiking with Cat: “Hi y’all, I’m somewhere between a southern girl and a southern California girl who is completely obsessed with cats, mountains, and chocolate. When someone asks me about my love life, I think of the Sierra Nevadas, but when asked about my first love, I think of the north Georgia mountains. I can’t wait to hit the AT in February 2020 and see where the trail takes me! In true millennial style, I’ll also be tracking my hike on my Instagram @hikingwithcat.”

“Why on earth would you carry a bear can? You should hammock camp instead of tenting because it’s way lighter. Your base weight is too high; you’re carrying your fears. Ounces add up to pounds and pounds hurt.”

The more time I spend on Appalachian Trail and thru hiker forums, the more nervous I became for my upcoming hike. When I joined my first “Appalachian Trail Class of 2020” group, I was giggling maniacally, muttering about my excitement and hugging my cat while he indifferently purred next to me. I felt like I was part of an exclusive club, ready to throw on my members only jacket and tap out secret knocks to get into the clubhouse. I immediately started posting and chiming in with questions and opinions about rain jacket features (who knew pit zips were a thing?), tricks to stay warm in the winter (Nalgene full of hot water in the sleeping bag), and bear proof food storage (a much more taboo subject in the backpacker community than politics or religion). I showed off my brand new 2lb Dyneema pack to replace my beloved but heavy 4lb, 5oz one. I sought advice on quilts to replace my pesky, ounce-wasting sleeping bag. I chatted about start dates, trail names, and backpacker lingo. I inhaled anecdotes about hostels and resupply points. I read articles about budgeting and created my own (one of my ever-growing Excel spreadsheets). I gushed support and overly sweet positivity as I was used to receiving from my outdoorsy friends. But I began to feel like I was adding Splenda to iced tea in an attempt to make sweet tea (you can tell if you’re a southerner by whether or not you cringed at that). The more I read and dug into these pages, the worse I began to feel. I realized I wasn’t seeing the friendly and supportive comments and advice nearly as frequently as I thought. I started peeling back the layers to find the ugliness traditionally associated with middle school girls and anonymous commenters of the internet.

I was continuously seeking out information about the Appalachian Trail, following accounts and groups and pages and websites in a white blazed frenzy. And the closer my start date came, the more anxious and less excited I became. I started to wonder for this first time if I should even be doing this hike. Maybe I wasn’t strong or knowledgeable enough. Maybe I didn’t have my gear dialed in. Maybe I would be one of the 1/3 of AT NOBOs who quit at Neels Gap.

As I sit at Springer Shelter, meeting new hiker friends, chatting about food, cheering over the fact that it had been supposed to rain but hadn’t that day, and wondering whether we’d get to meet a certain YouTube hiker who would be starting the AT days after us, I let out a breath I hadn’t been realized I was holding (maybe that’s why those 600 stairs were so tough). I slept better my first night on the trail than I had in weeks. I realized I can do this. I don’t need the lightest gear, the most experience, or the best training. I can do this because I want to do this. I can hug trees and oogle at blue mountains all day and that’s all I have to do today and tomorrow and for many days after that. I’m not worried about quitting because if I do, I know that it’ll be for a good reason. I love it out here, and I’m ready to keep on keeping on. Here’s to nine miles down (I don’t care if the approach trail isn’t official, I’m counting it as day one), and many to come. Happy hiking, y’all!!