It was one of the first truly beautiful spring days in north Georgia. Trees bloomed in pinks, purples, and whites, a canopy of blue sky provided a backdrop for a sparkling sun. In this setting filled with all the promise of the season, an eclectic assortment of people adorned in hiking boots and carrying walking sticks ambled around Amicalola Falls State Park carrying packs that weighed from 30 to 50 pounds. Sound like an odd spring ritual? Not to those who begin a thru hike (hiking the entire trail from start to finish in one continuous trip) from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine, on the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail (AT). At 11:13 a.m. on Sunday, March 17, Rachel Boice, one such hiker, and her hiking buddies Tatum and Cody, accompanied by Wonder Sheltie, Arrow, began an adventure--a big adventure! On that 49-degree, sunny morning, they left the parking lot at Springer Mountain and began a very long walk.
Why does a beautiful young woman leave her husband behind and undertake such an adventure? "I told me husband that this is something I want to do, and he said I should do it before we have kids. So, in 2016, I decided to go for it."
That decision led to over two years of planning and mental and physical preparation and leaving behind her career as a proof reader for court reporters. This all culminated on that Sunday morning earlier this week.
Jeff "met" Rachel through Instagram and learned about her plan to hike the AT with her dog Arrow. They struck up a conversation and soon learned we only lived about an hour from each other. So, Jeff being Jeff, asked if Rachel and he and I could get together for lunch to talk about her upcoming trek. When we met in Decatur, Georgia, about a month ago, we all immediately became friends. She's a preacher's kid, (we have two of those--Seth and Ben), she's married to a preacher's kid, (we have one of those, too,--Seth's wife, Ashley). Her husband, Parker, works at a church where her father-in-law is pastor. And, wouldn't you know it, Rachel and Parker Boice are interested in starting churches. It was serendipitous!
We wanted to share Rachel's story with you because she is taking this whole fresh path thing to a totally different level! As far as fresh paths go, the AT is one of the longest in the world!
Rachel's journey toward hiking the AT did not have a promising start. On her first backpacking trip on the 8-mile AT approach trail to Springer Mountain, she broke her foot because she was wearing the wrong shoes--she cried the whole way. But, on that truly horrible hike, she met a thru hiker. "I thought, 'I have to do that!'," she explains. "I came back and began doing research and began backpacking more."
Rachel and her hiking buddies, Tatum, from Florida, and Cody, from Michigan, pose for the final arch picture. And, because we wanted to be part of the momentous occasion, Jeff and I got in on the act.
The Preparation Begins
To get ready for her hike, Rachel has prepared physically by working out her gluts, hamstrings, legs, and back. She's hiked twice a week with a fully-loaded pack. Focusing on her gear, she has a 60-liter Gossamer Gear pack and an Outdoor Vitals hammock. There is also the important bear-proof bag that she can hang from a tree.
The physical preparation is important, but most hikers would agree that the mental preparation is as, if not more, important. "I found the book Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis to be very helpful. It guides you through considering your 'why' and asking yourself, 'what will happen if I quit?'"
Because hikers do better on the trail with a friend, Rachel is hiking with Tatum, a young woman she met at an REI thru-hiking class for women in January of 2018.
She also began her own YouTube channel, "Hiking with Arrow," which has garnered several hundred followers, where she does gear talk, tells about her preparation, and explains her reasoning for her hike.
"I've met tons of people through my site; this is such a great community!" she says. In fact, one of the thru hikers she met, Cody, flew down to Georgia from Michigan and met up with Tatum and Rachel to start the trip.
Another part of the preparation is simply planning where you can pick up supplies. "Since I'm hiking with Arrow, I have to be disciplined about my schedule because my husband is shipping her food to me. With that in mind, I'm planning to start with 10 to 15 miles a day so that I really enjoy it. I'm hoping to work up to 22 miles with my first 'zero day' being Franklin, North Carolina." (A "zero day" is a day with no hiking.)
Understanding her "Why"
For Rachel, the accomplishment of finishing the thru hike is important, but more important are the connections she'll make with herself, God, and others.
"This is about my journey toward accepting myself as God accepts me and learning how to be the leader He calls me to be. Nature is very important in my spiritual life and is a way I truly connect with God. I'm looking forward to a chance to focus on communing with God. There are also Biblical precedents for taking a spiritual journey like this one."
As a natural outcome of walking with God, Rachel is looking forward to the connections she will make with others. "This time will broaden my worldview as I talk and connect with others and learn their stories."
It's this chance to connect with others that helped encourage her to hike with her dog. "Arrow loves to hike! She listens well, is very smart, and enjoys long hikes. She also is a great way to connect with others and give them encouragement."
On Your Mark, Get Set...
All of this takes us back to the morning this past Sunday. In the pictures below, you see the official AT marker at Amicalola Falls, the "Discovery Room" where hikers get their final orientation before setting off, Rachel officially registering for the hike, and her getting her official AT tag. She's hiker number 1063 of the season!
Pictures from the Springer Mountain trailhead.
What does Rachel say to those of you who are considering a fresh path? "We're not here forever and things can change in an instant. You might not be able to follow your dreams if you don't set excuses aside and start planning."
With that in mind, Rachel is hoping to encourage others through her journey. In fact, she is dedicating her hike to a lady she met through her job. "She is confined to a wheelchair and she's doing the hike vicariously through me."
So, they're off! We watched them put on their packs, pose for a last picture, and cross the road to the Springer Mountain trail. You can follow Rachel on Instagram at @hikingwitharrow, and check out her blog on Youtube at "Hiking with Arrow!" You can also follow Tatum's journey on Instagram @Tatetakesahike and Cody's journey on Instagram @Cody_adcock02. Please look these people up, follow them, and encourage them as they travel the AT. Make sure to tell them FreshPaths sent you.