About the Author, Morgan McGowan: “Hi, I’m Morgan. I am 29 and live just outside of Boston with my husband of 2 and a half years. I try to appreciate the real things in life, family, friends, and the world. I love to travel and experience different places, cook new foods, and embrace my surroundings. I encourage everyone to find the small things that make them happy and help them grow. Follow my journey on www.livelifewell.me.”

I am going to preface this entire story with, I am not an expert backpacker. Neither is my husband. But we are both competitive, strong willed, and adventurous. That said, let me start out by explaining how two people, who never backpacked for more than two nights, ended up quitting our jobs and hiking the Appalachian trail… During one of our trips this summer to hike Owl’s Nest Mountain (White Mountains, NH), he started bringing up doing the Appalachian Trail. During the long hike, we joked about what we would need, what we would have to adapt to, how we would approach it, and the overall fun of planning something that seems to be a dream. By the end, we had a great dream but decided together it was just that, a dream. We are 30, have a house, a mortgage, good fulltime jobs, and I have tendonitis in both my ankles among other things. A six-month adventure is out of the question.

From 2012 when we first started hiking together

Each time we went hiking he brought it up again. Each time we would talk about it like we were going, and by the end agree again that it was just a dream. We would wipe off the dirt, get back in the car, and go to work the next day putting on our “work attire”, grabbing our laptops for another day at the office. Eventually out to dinner one Friday in October, he said to me “Morgan, I really want to do the AT. I can do it alone if you don’t want to come, but I want you to do it with me.” I rolled my eyes at another one of his crazy ideas and told him he could tentatively plan but that we had to complete a one-week backpacking trip first (I said this more as a way to move on and talk about reality). Well, it was November in Massachusetts, and unless you want to backpack in the snow and freezing temperatures, you have to go somewhere else. I was looking at going to Utah or Arizona, but between other commitments, holidays, birthdays, we just couldn’t find the time to make it work.

Our first overnight at Osceola, NH reaching the top

As the “tentative” planning continued, we had many conversations about what this really meant. My husband is a financial analyst and I am an operations analyst; we analyze, discuss and analyze. For my whole life I have been spontaneous and adventurous, he has been measured and calculated. One night, we were discussing our options and in the reality of potentially doing this he said to me “Morgan, we are almost 30 and have done everything “right”. We graduated college, saved up and paid off our student loans. We bought a townhouse outside of Boston, we got married, we moved up in our careers. When we are 70, we aren’t going to say how happy we are that we played it safe. We’ll realize that we passed on a once in a lifetime opportunity, for the status quo and the “rational” decision. This is something unique that so few people can say they did, and we can do it”.
This resonated with me more than I could have described. When my dad was 27, he joined the Peace Corps and move to Mali, Africa. When my sister was 22, she moved to Paris to pursue her dreams. I have only ever lived here. All I really needed was for someone to push me past my comfort zone and tell me that we can do it and that it is ok. As he seriously looked through the finances, and I mentally came to terms with the fact that neither of us will have a job, it all settled in. The list of things to plan for ahead of time is seemingly endless. But one at a time, we began to plan. We are lucky enough to have incredibly supportive families, who bought us a lot of items for Christmas and birthday gifts.
Now, it is February, we are scheduled to start on April 6th. It is real. Most of my coworkers know I am leaving, and my boss also knows. This has been a blessing and a curse for many reasons. One benefit, my leaving is not a shock and I can help the team make the transition ahead of time. Having been at my job for 7 ½ years, I want to leave on good terms. They have also been incredibly encouraging, so this has also helped reassure me that this is the right decision for us.
Some logistical items we are working through that helped us decide how to approach leaving our lives for potentially 6 months.

1. We will need health insurance- Most likely will be buying a short term Cobra coverage (still need to do)

2. Our house sitting here…with no one…- Since all of our things will be at the house still, I would not want to rent to a stranger. Instead I am going to have a person I trust, move in and pay minimal rent, something is better than nothing right? They don’t have furniture so it works out that they can use ours. Utilities will be transferred in their name. My friend (listed below), also has a key and can check up on the house at any time if needed.

3. Mail – Our mail will be forwarded to my best friend for anything unplanned (think wedding invitations, emergency mail, etc.). She will have authority to open anything she needs to.

4. Bills – All our bills have been set up for auto pay (thank you to my husband)! However, should something unexpected happen, my friend will also have a copy of our checkbook with some signed checks (make sure this is someone you really trust).

5. Quitting your job – We are waiting until after my annual bonus has been PAID out to formally notify my company, no point in risking potential income and tell them before (hence our April 6th start date).

6. Food drops – We have the first four weeks planned for food drops (same friend will help here), then we have a lot more food, not prepped in boxes. As needed, she will make them and send them where we tell her.

7. Getting to Georgia from Massachusetts – We will be renting a car and driving down. We plan to slowly enjoy our last few clean days together 🙂

Obviously, a large part of considering to do this is financial; most people end up not completing the AT because of this reason. Most people also don’t do food drops. If you’re someone like me, and need food variety, you know you won’t be just buying the same cheap things at resupplies along the way, no, you’ll end up spending a bunch of money on food. I consider it economical to buy food ahead of time only if it’s on sale. Doing a mail drop (for me) is only less expensive if I am saving more than $18 on the food inside ($18 and change is the going rate for the large flat-rate USPS boxes). I would say on average we have been able to save $30-$40 per box by buying things when I see them on sale, buying dried foods off Amazon, bulk items, etc. Little things like this have helped me justify some things. This is more of a mental justification than a real financial one, but isn’t hiking the AT a mental challenge as well?

Pack testing for our start!

Now, with a little more than a month and a half left, the idea has come from a pipe dream to a reality. The more we talk about it, the more real it is. The anticipation has grown, the basement has become a storage facility for all things backpacking related, and our excitement is palpable. Am I terrified? Yes. Am I nervous? Yes. Do I think this is going to change our lives? Absolutely. And I cannot wait to meet the people it is going to make us, and who we will become. The one thing is for sure, when we stop along the way I’ll be enjoying a nice glass of red wine, because some things never change.

A small glass of wine with a girlfriend after completing another 4ker!