About the Author: Amy has three amazing sons who have all served their country in the US Air Force.  Andrew is currently serving as Tech Sergeant. Alex served as an Air Traffic Controller before being hired by the FAA. Evan is currently attending THE Ohio State University with an AF ROTC scholarship and will become an officer upon graduation. Amy married her husband Doug in 1987 after graduating from High School. Their marriage included the entire 25-year span of his military career. She and her husband have sold nearly all of their worldly possessions and live in their 39-foot fifth wheel RV with their two dogs, Archer and Louie, and their cat-that-thinks-he’s-a-dog, Apollo. They are retired and are full-time travelers, adventurers and explorers. Amy began long distance hiking in 2015 and will be thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail with a start date in April 2019. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook.
Hiking is mine.  ALL mine. Well, I mean, YOUR hikes are yours, of course.  But my hikes belong to me and only me. This is in stark contrast to most of the elements of the rest of my life in the past.  I am a middle-aged woman who has spent her life preoccupied with concern for the happiness of those around her. My mom, my sister and my step-brothers.  Then at 18, my husband. Then at 19, my son (eventually to be my three sons). And of course the myriad of other people that come into a person’s life – friends, co-workers and bosses, coaches and teammates, neighbors, etc.
Maybe it’s a “girl” thing, or maybe it’s just my temperament – I’m a happy-go-lucky, optimistic people-pleaser – but I kind of  forgot to care about myself, too. Yeah, it’s healthy to care about and for the people in your life. But there has to be balance.  I think women tend to forget who they are while working so hard to please those around them. It’s not intentional and it’s not the fault of anyone else; but the long-term repercussions can be damaging.
My story is fairly typical.  I had an abusive step-father, so I spent years wracked with pain over watching him mistreat the people I love.  I got married very young (too young at barely 18) and three months later was pregnant with our first of three sons.
The years raising our sons were magical.  I have the most incredible husband and children.  We led a storybook life of adventure, love and laughter.  But in retrospect, I lost myself along the way. At the core of our life was the United States Air Force.  I was my husband’s dependent. Every element of my life was tied to him and his Social Security number. For 25 years, I followed him around the world.  It took me decades to finish my Bachelor’s Degree. I stayed a permanent fixture at mid-level jobs in my career, because every few years, I had to quit and start over.  Even our hobbies were centered around my husband and kids’ interests – anything that sparked an energy in them, I would jump on board with 100% enthusiasm. If it made them happy, it truly made me happy, too.
We had three beautiful little boys.  I may have started having my kids at an early age, but I’m pretty proud to say that I think I nailed the mothering thing.  I made mistakes. Crappy mistakes. But they were my world and they knew it. Every misstep was offset with an immeasurable amount of love and in the end, they’ve become amazing adults.  But it was at the cost of my every waking moment being consumed with their well-being and happiness. Doctor appointments. Sports. Band practice. Constantly looking for that teachable moment – kindness, morals and ethics – quality of character.  Education. Every fiber of my being was wrapped around making sure they lived their best lives and became the best versions of themselves possible.
I have absolutely no regrets.  I’ve lived a life that many would envy.

Then, in my early forties, things changed.  It wasn’t a smooth, easy change. It was horribly painful and confusing.  There were multiple major life changes that happened all fairly quickly and put me into a tailspin.  My mother-in-law passed away and we moved back home to Ohio. I moved back to our small hometown while my husband lived and was stationed a few hours away, and along with that came a deployment.  My oldest son left home to get married and join the Air Force. My middle son left home to join the Air Force. My youngest son came to those teen years where he was very independent and didn’t need me for much more than to be a cheering face at his soccer games.

Within a year, I went from a loud house full of people to being alone.  Suddenly, I was very alone. And with that aloneness came a huge gaping hole in my life.  My purpose had always been wrapped up in others and now I had the aching feeling that I no longer had a purpose at all.  I wish I could say I was one of those people that transitioned through their “mid-life crisis” gracefully. I wasn’t. I went through horrible depression, my anxiety was through the roof, I made questionable, self-destructive choices – I rammed through this “crisis” like a bull in a china shop.  It wasn’t pretty.
Then I saw a Facebook post about the Appalachian Trail.  I’ll be honest, my first pique of interest was solely because I thought it would be lovely to go into the woods and get away from all the chaos and noise in my life (chaos that I had created).  Being alone to just think and regroup sounded magnificent. I started begging anyone and everyone I could think of to go on a hike with me. Everyone looked at me like I had lost my mind and I received a lot of resounding “NO THANK YOUs”.
Then, my childhood best friend Kelly showed some interest; started asking questions.  Suddenly, I was on the verge of the best adventure I could possibly dream of, and at the perfect time in my life.  That summer, I found myself on the Shenandoah section of the Appalachian Trail with my best friend. We spent about five days out there and my life was changed.  We had 45 pound packs and covered about six miles a day. We made every rooky mistake you could possibly make. But I did it and I did it all for me.
I found it.  I found something all mine.  I found something that was a healthy obsession that would carry me up and over the anxiety and depression of mid-life aimlessness.  I learned who I am. Every time I hike, I learn a little more about who I am. I survived a very difficult time in my life, with a little help from mother-nature (and Kelly!).
Since I started hiking, I’ve awoken a part of me that I didn’t know existed.  My thoughts matter, my interests matter, I can now find immense joy in pursuing activities that spark MY interests.  I truly did find myself out on the trail and I have to say, I really like me. I’m a pretty cool hiker chick and I plan on using the trail to learn and grow for many more years to come.  Because hiking is mine – ALL mine.

Amy Austin

2019 AT Thru-hiker