About the Author: Laurie Freeman is a naturalist, environmentalist and soon-to-be retiree. She earned a BE in mechanical engineering and a MA in biology (ecology, evolution and behavior). Laurie spent the majority of her career as a professor of biology and environmental science at a small upstate NY community college. She and her husband Jim built their home (and homestead) using local material and human powered tools, and she continues to practice self-reliance by gardening and beekeeping. Laurie teaches yoga and runs a small herbal medicinal practice in her community. How she finds time to hike is a mystery. You can follow her AT thru hike on trailjournals, instagram @lauriefreeman and twitter @LaurieJFreeman.
I started seriously thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) in April 2018 when “Crazy Diamond” took a 6 month leave from delivering my mail to do it. That summer I lived vicariously through his trail journal. A few years earlier, another friend had set off on a thru hike; filling me with envy as he sat at our kitchen table and told us of his plans to start at Springer Mountain that spring. At that time, I told myself there was no way I could hike the trail. I just didn’t have time.
The possibility of hiking the AT first occurred to me back in the 1970’s. As a teen I had participated in a few multi-day wilderness experiences including Outward Bound. Two of those trips included climbing Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the AT. I have a clear memory of asking a leader on one of those excursions about the possibility of a career in wilderness adventure. I remember being the only female on many of those trips. Looking back, there were no role models or women to commiserate with. The possibility of a backwoods career did not register as anything more than improbable. Later, college, college debt, career and homesteading (see below) all eclipsed that old consideration of a thru hike.
One of my many backpacking trips in the Adirondacks.
Reconnecting with the Trail
In 2014 I reconnected with hiking when I teamed up with a new puppy. I made a commitment to train this dog to be good on a leash and good with commands. Lupercalia (aka Lupi) has since become an AKC Canine Good Citizen and a certified therapy dog through TDI. Lupi and I started seriously hiking in 2015, knocking off 8 of the Catskill high peaks. In 2016 we did our first ‘solo’ backpacking adventure on the French Louie Loop (aka the West Canada Wilderness Loop) in the Adirondacks, repeating that loop in the reverse direction in 2017. I also started backpacking into the Adirondack high peaks to complete multiple summits in a single trip. In 2017 I announced that I would retire (early) from my position as a college professor in May of 2019.
Proof that my dog still loves me even after all that training
Lupi enjoys the view from the summit of Giant Mountain in the Adirondacks
What happens to your thoughts once you tell yourself a thru hike is not only possible but in that realm of probability? I was afraid to tell anyone (even myself). Regardless, the thought would not leave me alone. To give my brain something to do, I started web surfing to learn more about thru hiking. The more I learned, the more nagging the thought became. Eventually, I broached the idea with myself. The conversation went sort of like this:
Other Me: “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Me: “Why not?”
Other Me: “You’re married to the most wonderful guy in the world. Why would you leave him for 6 months?”
Me: “True, but I want to do this for myself. Maybe he could visit me along the trail?”
Other Me: “What about all your other responsibilities?”
Me: “I could push pause on them, couldn’t I?”
Other Me: “That’s awfully selfish of you.”
The idea that a thru hike was a selfish act generated a lot of guilt; guilt about leaving myriad obligations around which my life revolves. One of those obligations is homesteading (which I know sounds like something out of the dust bowl days). In fact, there are lots of us homesteaders. There’s even a journal about homesteading, Mother Earth News, that has been in circulation since 1970. In 2012, Jim and I were among the first Homesteaders of the Year. We earned that honor by building our home by hand, producing all our own power and raising a large proportion of our own food. We still do all that. Leaving during the building/growing season seemed downright irresponsible (based on my Puritan-like New England upbringing).
In addition, I teach yoga to a dedicated tribe of students. I run a small medicinal herbal business with clients who would have to do without me for a lengthy time. I lead birding trips for the Adirondack Boreal Birding Festival. And I had promised to hike the Northville Placid Trail this summer with a good friend. I have plenty to feel guilty about.
Here I am soaking up the the summit of Dial Mountain in the Adirondacks
Sometime in the fall of 2018, my husband Jim noticed my obsession with the AT. It was a relief to finally talk about it with someone other than myself. As it turns out, he is supportive of this venture (though he can’t fathom why someone would want to do it). Voicing my intention and knowing I had support was sweet relief.
I did not anticipate what followed: a wave of fear. It felt staggering to verbalize my intention to hike the trail. I was committed but I was fearful of telling anyone else. I wasn’t afraid of what people would think, I feared that I’d actually have to do it. There would be no going back. This is exactly why Zach Davis (author of Appalachian Trials) advises to “publicly state your mission.” It makes you accountable.
A new wave of anxiety has hit as I peer over the edge of this precipice.