The Chicago Style capitalization tool gave me a score of 56 for this title. So if somehow through the magic of the internet you’ve found this post buried amongst the pile of other great hiker posts out there, pat yourself on the back. By the way, if you read my last post the lie was number 4. There is no money in hiking silly!
Preparing for this upcoming challenge goes beyond just planning for doing the Appalachian Trail. I’m actually also preparing to take everything I have and move it into my van — when I inevitably finish atop Mount Katahdin, there won’t be anyone waiting for me. There won’t be a home to retire to, there is no bed that will stay up until the late hours of the night wondering when I’ll return from war. With that in mind, I’ve basically been spending every waking hour both shrinking the size of everything I own and building my future around this hike.
So first things first: logistics. What’s the plan? Once my apartment’s lease is up at the end of February I’ll take the ol’ TyVANnosaurus and head down south with everything I own. From there I’ll be parking it with family, putting it under a tarp, and kissing it a sweet goodbye as I get a ride to Springer Mountain. While all of that sounds cool and easy, there’s a lot that needs to happen to uproot my life before I can start on this journey.
Here you have it. Five things I need to do before I abandon it all:
1. Renovate the Van
Depression and winter basically kept me bed-bound ever since November. With my gear already fine tuned and the minutes not passing by fast enough, I didn’t know what to do with myself and I hardly had a plan. It would have been easier to buy a $50 plane ticket to Atlanta and throw everything I own in a storage container, but with the boredom of real life taking over every fiber of my being, I naturally had to take the harder route.
I’ve been building the interior of my van since January 30. It has NOT been easy, especially as a woman who’s never built anything before. I graduated from YouTube University (I’m sorry, I tried to add in You-niversity here but it just wasn’t a good joke) by watching every video about building a van I could, and got to work. Renovating the van calls for completely gutting the rear, insulating it, putting in studs, mounting walls and ceilings, doing the floors, building furniture, rewiring and establishing the electrical, and finally painting it. By no means is it an easy task and somehow I’ve waited until the last second to get it done.
On top of that I also have to do all my own maintenance — I’ve been wronged by just about every mechanic or hired hand I’ve ever had, so at this point in my life I just opt to do it all myself.
2. Heal My Knee
Sometime between December and February I spent the time I wasn’t in bed trying to train for this trip. I had a fairly simple workout schedule: pilates and boxing in the morning, then an afternoon walk. That sounds good at face value, but when you also learn that I am an ambitious over-achiever, you see that I was doing 1 hour of pilates, 2 hours of boxing, and 5-10 miles of walking with a weighted backpack on. I essentially went from zero to doing all of that, and I paid the price.
I found a neat little hill near my home that was within walking distance and used it for incline training. I would walk there, then try and go up and down until I hit 5-10 miles. That only lasted about a week before suddenly my right knee swelled up a little bit, got hot to the touch, and was uncomfortable to stand on. Once I noticed that, I went back down to 0% and started thinking I’d never hike the AT, all my dreams were over, and life as I knew it was going to move in a very different direction.
For a normal person they would just call up their doctor and point to the problem and get a plan to remediate it. But I don’t have insurance, so I’m not a normal person. The last time I needed surgery, I flew out of the US to get it. That surgery was cheaper than a year of insurance premiums and the maximum out of pocket (plus deductible), and I got a whole month’s stay in a hotel for recovery. However, the one drawback is that I don’t have a way to get prompt medical attention for the smaller things, which is usually fine…until it isn’t (thus the reason for insurance in the first place, duh!).
So I’ve been paying out of pocket at $100 a pop twice a week to see a physical therapist, and it’s been going great. No more knee swelling and a lot more confidence before I depart.
3. Sell Everything
Homes today are just jam-packed with junk that never retains its resale value. When the news reports that crimes like pick-pocketing and home invasions are down, just remember that it’s because nobody uses cash anymore and nobody has anything of value in their homes. As I’ve been shrinking the amount of possessions I have to move into my van, I’ve had to get rid of everything, and I’m only now realizing just how much crap I have.
So I’ve been selling everything. Computers, video game systems, clothes, furniture, pots and pans, whatever. Goodbye and good riddance! The life for me is the life I can pull out of a backpack. I haven’t received a lot of resale value (almost everything sold at a loss), but really selling the stuff is more about keeping perfectly fine stuff out of a landfill.
4. Move to the Cloud
Over the course of 2022 I really got into Systems Administration and DevOps as a hobby. I built an endlessly scalable network in my home that hosted game servers, a media server, many websites, tons of services, and everything I wanted to keep private.
The thing is that the pandemic affected me in more ways than I’ve ever put in words. I became obsessed with privacy and security, and went down a rabbit hole of managing everything myself. As companies announced record profits while the people wept, it became apparent to me that I needed to be able to exist without them…so I did. I took all of my social media down, deleted any other accounts, and shifted from managed services to doing it all myself on my server.
That was an amazing and freeing experience, but now with the inability to host a server (because I will not have a home to host it in), I have to move back to the cloud. A lot of my time in preparing for the hike has been trying to figure out what I need for services available to me so that I can still access them on the trail. I’ve been diligently chipping away at building a virtual private server for my personal blog/shop and my cloud storage.
This has also forced me to reconsider what tech I need for the future. Shifting from a life of lights and buttons and code to one of rain, mud and sun is not to be taken lightly.
5. Figure Out the Finances
It’s no secret that I’m a complete weirdo, and that especially applies to finances for me. As it stands, I have no bank account and no insurance. I operate entirely with cash, save a single secured credit card that I maxed out in the first month. I retain no debt, I have no income, but I have a 300 credit score. I exist in a space that I call Schrödinger’s American. Both too poor and too rich to benefit from anything other people can get.
I need to figure it all out. How will I pay my way from Georgia to Maine? Surely I can’t just carry $10,000 in cash on me, and I can’t use my credit card that’s been fed the minimum amount due since I got it. Will I need to do taxes if my income is effectively $0? The only things that will remain as monthly payments are my cell phone (no contract plan), my one credit card, car insurance, and my cloud server. I’ve had to eliminate any monthly subscriptions like streaming and delivery services, plus my rent/heat/electricity. But, how will I pay for what I can’t cancel?
The answer is gift cards. When I say gift cards I mean like, prepaid cards and virtual cards. I can just reload and add them to Garmin Pay, then use it like any other card. Where everyone else in the world will casually use their debit cards like non-psychotic, reasonable people, I will be meticulously tracking the balances on gift cards reloaded by friends and family (with my own money) along the way.
Is that all?
I’m overwhelmed. For others, planning for a trip like this usually includes a story about how they had to break it to their boss that the all-star employee was leaving for a life in the dirt, how they took out new credit cards for the trip, or had to organize paying their bills. I feel like a true outlier in this sense, because my final days before my first steps will be spent working on my van and destroying everything I built to be homeless for the unforeseeable future.
I’m a little sad that after the trail there will be nothing for me to return to, but all in all there isn’t much here for me right now anyways. I’m not leaving behind anyone or anything. I’m just transitioning to a new chapter of my life on foot. With less than 2 weeks to go before I leave, I’m not even close to ready in this regard. By now most are just sitting around and twiddling their thumbs waiting to leave, but I’m SUPER busy…and burned out.
My final blog before I set foot down at Amicalola Falls will be a gear overview. Hope to see you there!