What is a lesson I learned while out on the Appalachian Trail?

Sometimes, you have to get out of your own way.

When I set out to hike the Appalachian Trail as a 23-year-old, single, solo hiking woman, I thought I knew everything there was to know about myself. I knew what I was doing, what I wanted out of life, who I really was, and why I was about to attempt to walk alone over 2,000 miles with a 30-40 pound pack on my back.

Why did I decide to leave my life behind and head to Springer Mountain in Georgia?

Of course, there are the stereotypical reasons – I love to hike. I love the woods. I read A Walk In The Woods when I was in college.

I think the more important question is “How did I know it was finally time to go?”

After living in the most northern tip of the state of Maine for almost two years as a high school dorm parent, I was beyond burnt out, feeling isolated, and in an unhealthy not-really-friends-but-still-with-benefits relationship. But I had been earning a generous salary and paid virtually no living expenses for those two years.

In the dead of winter, I looked at the numbers and realized I could afford a thru-hike. Now was the perfect time to quit my job and say goodbye, for now, to Maine. I was ecstatic to finally be free, be on my own, alone in the woods, and I swore to myself I would not get caught up with any beautiful, bearded mountain men.

This was going to be great!

Until I met Shenandoh. He was a beautiful bearded mountain man, for sure. After meeting on my first day on the trail, we flip flopped around each other for a couple weeks and finally had our first real conversation outside of the N.O.C. He had dirty humor and charm, but just enough to know exactly where the line was.

Yeah, he hit on me, but I was not having any of that! I was out there to be on my own, thrive in the wilderness, and gain even more strength, confidence, and independence than I already had. I would not be distracted. So I kept on hiking. Shenandoh and I started running into each other more and more often, on the trail, in shelters, or trail towns. I started to consider him a friend and fellow hiker, a companion of sorts. But whenever it was just the two of us somewhere, for example, breaking for lunch, hitching into town, or first ones to a campsite, he would ask all smiles “So is this a date? This is like a date right?” “No!” I always shot back. I was not dating anyone on the trail. “I was out there for me, myself, and I” I would say to myself… and sometimes out loud.

He really was a great guy, though. An excellent friend, hiker, companion, and beautiful mountain man! After hiking together for over a month and helping each other through challenges from blisters and exhaustion to Norovirus and Giardia, it was clear we were an inseparable team. Next time he asked, “So is this a date?” I paused. Then with a smile said “Yes. I guess this is a date.”

I learned a lesson. Something finally clicked with me. Sometimes, you have to get out of your own way. The only reason I was saying no to Shenandoh that whole time was because I had imposed a rule on myself of not getting romantically involved with anybody on the trail. Because I had been recently and deeply hurt. Because I didn’t want to be some hiker’s fling. Because I didn’t want any drama ruining my trail experience. But here I had collided with the most wonderful, caring, supportive, hilarious, handsome man I ever met. I couldn’t say no just because I said I would! After everything we had been through, how silly!

And for those of you saying this all sounds too good to be true – Shenandoh and I have now been together, as an inseparable team, for almost four years.

Happy Trails,

Mallory Malarkey