Please welcome Stacia who is guest posting with us today. Stacia grew up on a farm in the southern-most part of Georgia and was bitten by the outdoorsy bug at a young age, often playing in the woods on her family’s property for hours at a time. But it wasn’t until college that she first started hiking and eventually backpacking. At age 26 and again at 27, she attempted a solo thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and has been addicted to long-distance hiking and the adventure lifestyle ever since. Find more of her story on her blog Adventure Like A Girl or Instagram. I hope you enjoy her story as much as we do! — Chica & Sunsets

Three years ago, I set out on the biggest adventure of my life. I’d never been camping before, and I’d hardly ever been hiking, but I had decided I was going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. I’d be lying if I told you that I had any idea the profound impact this decision would have on my life. I guess you never really know what all of the nuanced consequences will be of any major decision, but I’ll tell you this: The Appalachian Trail ruined my life, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.  

The Appalachian Trail ruined my ability to make small talk. I’m guilty of completely tuning out whenever the people around me are discussing who lost the football game last night or that girl from work’s new boyfriend. I just have no interest in the mundane goings on that most people choose to fill their time thinking about. When you’ve stood on a mountain top with views for miles or camped underneath a star-filled sky, something inside of you changes. You realize that there are so many vast and important things going on in the universe. These are the things I want to talk about, not celebrity gossip.

The Appalachian Trail ruined my perceptions of humanity. Before I set out to hike a long trail, I’ll admit to being wary of strangers, being skeptical of someone’s intentions when they offered goodwill. I was a self-described cynic. But, after having complete strangers pay for my breakfast, bring me a cold soda just because, leave jugs of water at a road crossing without ever seeing the face of who they were helping, offer me a place to stay inside their home, and go out of their way to drive me somewhere I needed to be, I lost that cynicism. Now, I’m guilty of seeing the good in everyone. I have the ability to assume positive intentions even in situations that turn out badly, and my favorite person to meet is usually a stranger.

The Appalachian Trail ruined my white picket fence dream. Before the trail, I was living in a fully furnished, decorated home – with a mortgage to boot. Like a lot of Americans, I was neck deep in the rat race, placing inflated value on material possessions that I thought would make me happy. Home was a 1600 square foot house with a huge backyard. Now, I don’t make purchases if the item isn’t a necessity and I live in a 16 foot travel trailer. Rather than stability and security, I crave adventure and mobility. I don’t need things. I need experiences.

The Appalachian Trail ruined my negative body image. I’ve always been chubby, and ever since I was of the age where I started comparing my body to other girls, I’ve been self-conscious about my weight. I won’t say that the Appalachian Trail completely destroyed this feeling, but when you are literally climbing mountains day in and day out, your thoughts about your body are bound to change. For three months, my body was able to carry me and all of my earthly belongings over countless mountains for 8-10 hours a day. The longest I’d ever walked in a day prior to this was probably 5 miles. Three weeks into my first thru-hike attempt I knocked out my first 20 mile day. TWENTY MILES. You could never have told me this body was capable of that. While I still struggle at times with accepting my weight, I have a much healthier relationship with my body post-hike. I’m proud of what it is capable of, and thankful that it is fit and healthy enough to continue to do everything I ask of it.

The Appalachian Trail ruined my perceptions of beauty. Before the trail, I remember being that judgy girl who wore fake eyelashes to class and thought girls didn’t look “put together” without makeup. While hiking, I had somehow made it to Pearisburg, VA before I caught a glimpse of my wild and feral makeup-free face in a streaky mirror at a cheap hotel. I startled and looked away, disconcerted because I thought the girl in the mirror was beautiful, but there was no way that was me. I went from someone so insecure that I didn’t leave the house without a full face of makeup to someone who barely wears any, because I think a natural face is prettier and a dirty, sweaty, flushed face on top of a mountain is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

The Appalachian Trail ruined my plans for the future. Before hiking, I thought I’d get married, have a kid or two maybe, and spend my days working to pay off that house I’d bought. I had gone to graduate school and was going to become a teacher. I had a long-term boyfriend that I was planning to marry. I spent 26 years chasing this dream only to find out that it wasn’t really mine. It took walking through the woods for three months to figure that out. I sold the house, I broke up with the boy, and I worked service-industry jobs for a while until I figured out what it was that I really wanted.

I feel like my life started the day I stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail, passed that first white blaze, and pointed my heart toward Maine. Until that moment, I’d been going through the motions that I thought I was supposed to go through. I’d been waiting for life to happen, not realizing that it was happening all around me and I was missing the point. Now, I feel as though I have crammed more life into these past three years than I experienced in all of the first 26. I’ve attempted two thru hikes, each lasting 2-3 months. I’ve walked over 2,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail, and countless hundreds on other trails. I’ve gone hiking, camping and backpacking completely alone. I moved into a camper and traveled the east coast for a year with just my dogs for company. I’ve checked items off my bucket list, such as climbing a 14ker (14,000 foot mountain) and learning how to back-up a trailer. I am so much more self-assured, confident, and bold than I ever was before. I have friends all over the country that feel like family.

I’m on a course so different from the one I was on pre-hike that I often don’t recognize things I said or did back then as being my own memories. I may be less financially stable, I may not be certain what the future holds, I may feel at times like I’m just blowing aimlessly in the wind. But I’m endlessly, deliriously, insanely happy. The Appalachian Trail ruined my life, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Stacia: It was a pleasure having you! We love how the Appalachian Trail has ruined your life!
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