About the Author, Catherine: “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.”
Let’s talk about mental health. Wow, what a start. But honestly, while I’m usually daydreaming about mountains, trees or my cat, mental health has taken over my thoughts for the past five months. I’ve always considered myself a mentally strong person. I frequently hike solo and have even delved into the realm of solo backpacking without any real worries beyond what snacks to bring. I wave off comments or concerns about me being a woman hiking alone, responding with an explanation of my “ten essentials”, showing off my emergency whistle (and flare thanks to the concerned couple I met on top of Timber Mountain), and demonstrating my rad trekking pole fighting moves. I’ve run into many common hiker plights from dehydration to oddly aggressive mosquitos, ripped air pads to knee pain, but never any of the mental battles so many hikers mention… at least until recently.
I was diagnosed with PTSD with adjustment disorder and depression. I could say the diagnosis is when I began grappling with my mental health, but my denial game is strong, and I went 4 months before asking for help. It truly began when a coworker stalked and sexually harassed me. I never saw it coming, and I had to go to war against both the legal system and my employer to try to feel safe again. Unfortunately, I’ve lost every single battle along the way. All I have left is the fight both against and for myself, to reclaim my mental fortitude.
How am I going to tackle this new challenge my brain is posing for me? I’m leaving California and heading back to my Georgia roots to find some therapy in the green tunnel, the Appalachian Trail. My primary goal is not to complete the entire AT, but to help myself start the next chapter in my life. I will not be returning to my job, despite the fact I loved my work and was actually really good at it. I will not be returning to my home for the past 4 years, despite leaving some wonderful friends behind. Instead, I’m using the AT to leave the past where it belongs and forge a new future, one step at a time.
I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I will be hiking the Appalachian Trail in less than 3 short months. Part of the block comes from the fact that I’ve always said that I would never want to do a hike longer than about a month for fear of boredom. Once I realized that I pretty much always want to be outside and that I feel most myself when backpacking, I faced the other big question: why on earth was I hiking the Appalachian Trail and not the Pacific Crest Trail? I’ve been completely obsessed with the Sierra Nevada for the past year as my friends, family, coworkers, Facebook friends, local taco vendors, and strangers I meet at taco stands can attest. I spent every weekend I could driving the 2-4 hours to trailheads and hauling that horrible 2lb, 9oz bearcan up the mountains. I gushed about them like a cross between a proud mother and an infatuated teenager. I froze, I fell, I screamed, I cried, and I found peace all up above 10,000 ft. The Sierra Nevada mountains have truly been my latest love affair.
I’ve also been researching the PCT like crazy, reading books by thru hikers, hiking trails I know thru hikers will be on so I can interrogate them, researching resupply points and campsites along the trail, following hikers on social media, ogling pictures of the PCT, etc. With this background in mind, I return to my question: why the AT? The short answer is that it’s in my bones. No matter how far away I move, or how long I stay away, those Georgia mountains are imprinted on my soul. Georgia is where I grew up, where I first fell in love, where I embraced my weird self, and where I adopted my cat. Georgia is where my family is and my heart belongs. Georgia is where I first started hiking, and it’s where I need to start thru hiking. Plus, I’m a big old tree hugger and I’m stoked to be surrounded by trees for 6 months.