Rachel and Arrow have been on the Appalachian Trail since March 17. We caught up with her on a zero day, that's a day with no hiking, while she was in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Her parents were visiting her there and are very proud and excited about her journey.
So, what's been great about the trail so far? "The weather has been amazing," she says. "We've only had four to five days of rain!. Even on the days that it rains, the sun still comes out. Some days were a little chilly, but it's been great!"
Another thing Rachel is enjoying is the time on the trail with people. "The community has been wonderful, talking to people and hearing their stories, and hiking with my hiking buddies, Tatum and Evan. It's so important to have good people around you--they can change your point of view on your situation when things are tough."
Rachel has been surprised about how much she has enjoyed the towns she's hiked through. "I've so enjoyed every town we've gone in and experiencing the uniqueness of the towns and their people."
Not everything has been easy. Rachel's had some challenges like knee pain in the first couple of weeks. "The knee pain was really frustrating. We started really slowly, averaging just 10 miles a day, but I've learned that every day you have a different ache and pain and that's okay. You're asking so much of your body that the soreness comes naturally. I've learned that the pain is temporary--it doesn't last forever."
Throughout the journey thus far, Rachel has already experienced a great deal of growth in all areas. "Physically, my body feels so good and has adjusted to what we're doing. This has brought me to be grateful for my body and how it provides what I need."
Mentally and emotionally, Rachel's been able to push through when she's experiencing difficulties. "I've never thought about quitting--not even giving myself that option. I've been able to think beyond what's going on at that moment and push through it, which is a lesson that applies to life in general."
One of the best things about life on the trail has been the spiritual growth she's experienced. "I get to commune with God all day. Tatum, Evan, and I usually hike solo in the morning and get back together in the afternoon, so I get to spend my whole morning getting to commune with God through prayer, podcasts, and music."
Rachel's time on the trail has also helped her have even more of an appreciation of God as Creator.
Of course, Rachel misses her husband, Parker. The couple FaceTime every time she has service, and they're handling the long-distance relationship pretty well. He's also gotten to meet her on the trail twice so far.
"I miss my husband and my best friend Kristen, but I love the simplicity of life. I have everything I need in my pack, and I don't want for anything. I feel like this is the way life was originally lived and it's easy to slip back into that."
What we really want to know is, "How is Arrow handling the trail?"
"Arrow is having the time of her life--she's the star of the trail!" Rachel says. "I've learned so much about her. She's a herding breed, and I've seen her instincts come to light. When we start hiking, she goes into herding mode and runs ahead on the trail and then waits until we catch up. If one person gets behind, she waits on them. She even chased a bear up a tree right before we crossed into North Carolina!"
So, with two states, Georgia and Tennessee, under her belt, and Virginia in her sights, what does Rachel hope to be experiencing when we check back in with her at the end of her second month?
"We'll be in Virginia soon. That's a big milestone for me because it will be far away from home. I'm looking forward to seeing the ponies on the Grayson Highlands--that's a highlight. I want to be knocking out 20-mile days. I really want to still be having fun by this time next month. Many people call it the Virginia Blues because it gets hard for people at that point."
Overall, Rachel is thriving on her Appalachian Trail adventure. She's content on the trail and, when we FaceTimed with her this past Saturday, she looked rested and just as thrilled to be hiking the AT as she was when we saw her off in March.
Her main goal as she continues her journey is to savor each moment. "I don't want to ever lose this wonder," she says.