The Amazing People I Met While Hiking the Appalachian Trail Changed My Life

by Julie Fast

The Appalachian trail became my therapist. As a way to recover from a friend’s suicide, I set out on the trail that extends more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. I needed time to follow my thoughts to completion and find peace in nature. What I found instead was a motley crew of diverse people who entertained, challenged, and accepted me with no questions asked, merely because I was walking in the same direction.

Carrying a tightly packed 50-liter backpack and the immeasurable weight of grief, I took my first determined steps on Springer Mountain in Georgia on the brisk morning of April 2, 2014. As I sweated through three layers of wicking material and fell into the rhythm of pushing my body up and over quiet hills, my mind meandered slowly and painfully through the memories of Andrew.

“Why are you thru-hiking?” was a common enough question along the Appalachian Trail, but no matter how many times I responded, I couldn’t bring myself to tell the full answer. I couldn’t share that I was walking away from something violent and unexplainable as much as I was walking toward Mount Katahdin in Maine. When I met Tigger, however, I felt as if I could expose my darker reasons. Named for the way she bounced up hills, Tigger became my unofficial walking partner in the South, as we always seemed to synchronize schedules and distances.

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