Nina Baxley: AT Thru-Hiker

Invasion of the Leaf Peepers
The Appalachian Trail stretches from Maine to Georgia
The Appalachian Trail

October 19, 2000

Because the leaves were changing in the park, the tourists, or "leaf-peepers," were out in full force. I met dozens of people every day, both on the trail and at the overlooks of Skyline Drive. Several of the people I met knew about the Appalachian Trail, and a few even knew about thru-hiking. Many, however, were shocked to learn of my endeavor.

A typical conversation went like this:

Tourist: So, how far are you hiking?

Me: Georgia.

Tourist: My God! Where did you start?

Me (grinning): Maine.

Tourist: You mean to tell me you're hiking all that way? When did you start?

Me: June 20. Hopefully, I'll finish up by Christmas.

Tourist: Where do you sleep? You don't really sleep in the WOODS, do you?

I also got questions about my pack weight, food, resupplying, hitchhiking, and, yes, how I keep the bugs off my legs.

One question I always got was this one: "Are you doing this ALONE?"

"Yep!" I answer. Some people told me I was crazy, but others showed admiration. One old lady tsk-tsked and said something about it being dangerous for young women to be out in the woods alone. It didn't matter that I'd more or less hiked alone for the past four months.

My favorite response, though was this one:

"That's amazing. I'd love to do that someday."

I really enjoyed sharing my hike with so many people as I walked through Shenandoah National Park, even though it was at times a strange experience. I sometimes felt like a mix between a celebrity and one of the Park's animals. Some people offered me food (which I readily accepted!), and others asked if they could take my picture (of course I said yes!). The attention was fun, and it was neat to be able to share the Appalachian Trail—a way of life for me this year—with people who knew nothing about it, and with people who could only dream of doing what I'm doing now.

I realize that I'm fortunate to be out here. My week in Shenandoah was a happy, peaceful time for me. The past few weeks had been rough, emotionally and physically, and Shenandoah was a time of both healing and homecoming.

Several of my friends admitted that they were worried about me when they read my last update. I was unsure about publishing the "negatives" of my hike in such detail, but then I wanted to give a true picture of the kinds of things I struggle with on the trail. My struggles aren't always physical, and they aren't always the same struggles that my fellow thru-hikers are facing. And just like in "real life," we all have good days and bad days.

On the AT though, for me at least, even the bad days aren't so bad. I'm always happy and thankful to be out here, and I often wish this hike didn't have to end. Sometimes, as I'm struggling uphill, I'll think to myself, "Would I rather be at CC's Coffee Shop in Baton Rouge, sipping my Mocha Java, eating a croissant, and reading a really good book, or would I rather be struggling uphill with this heavy pack on my back?" And the answer is always, "I'd rather be here." I'd rather be thru-hiking the AT, struggle or no struggle. I've never felt so good, healthy, or strong in my life than I do out here."

But now it's time for a break. I'm at the home of Tina and Henry Cleveland, two good friends from my years at Mary Baldwin College. I spent many happy hours (and few sad ones) here while in college, and I'm happy to be back. In the next couple of days, I'll play "catch-up" with Tina, go dayhiking with my friend Theresa, and possibly visit with a couple of my old English professors. This break is also an opportunity to let my TIRED body rest a bit. I've been looking forward to this little "vacation" for a long time. It's good to be back home again. Life is good!

Check out Nina's gear list and pack weight.
See the trail dispatch archive for previous weeks.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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