During my third year of working for Haworth McCall I was given the remarkable opportunity, offered to all fulltime staff, of taking three months leave at half pay. For my time off I had decided to take on the ambitious feat of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. This is 2192 miles of continuous wilderness trail following the Appalachian Mountain range in America from Maine to Georgia.
Naturally, this was going to take a little longer than three months. On average it takes roughly five to six months to complete. Luckily, I was able to convince Des and Brendan that this additional time off would be of great benefit not only to me to but to the company as a whole.
On June 5th, 2019, after a year of researching and collecting all of the best and lightest outdoor gear; honing my pack down to the barest essentials and boring the ears of off my colleagues. I was ready to hit the trail.
Beginning at Mt Katahdin in Baxter state park I was confronted with some of the most beautiful woodland left in the entire United States. The trail starts by meandering through one hundred miles of unbroken wilderness. Causing me to venture up steep mountain paths with only roots and rocks for footings; through waist deep river fords (including one beaver dam); along the shores of pristine lakes, ice cold from the late winter snow melt and over the constant tangle of tree roots. Which threatened to trip me onto my face if it even occurred to me to look at anything but my feet. This would all have been quite romantic had it not been for the constant onslaught of blood thirsty mosquitos and savage black flies (Humorously referred to as Maine’s state bird).
Throughout the trip I crossed through fourteen states, eight national forests, two national parks and climbed the equivalent of sixteen Mt Everests. I would sleep in my tent or in the three-sided log lean-tos built by volunteers at strategic locations along the trail. It would be these places where I would get to re-group with fellow hikers and rest my swollen, aching feet. There would not be much free time in a usual evening. Just enough to cook and eat a quick a meal of ramen noodles or instant mash and cured sausage and then to bed. When you’re living by the natural light of day you tend to get sleepy the second it gets dark.
On the whole this lifestyle was a welcome break from the norm. It had replaced the office hum with the unforgettable song of the white throated sparrow and the undulating applause of cicadas. The weatherproof environs in which I had spent the majority of my home life swapped out for a thin jacket, just enough to abate the chill on a cool evening. The trail had become my home, this narrow green tunnel of trees stretching for thousands of miles ahead and behind.
The trail is attempted by roughly three thousand people a year but completed by only a quarter of that. Whether it is injury, adverse weather or a simple loss of motivation there are many reasons to give up but fortunately none were great enough to make me quit. However, there were times when I seriously considered it. For instance, in Pennsylvania, a tree fell down during a storm onto my tent, narrowly missing my legs but thoroughly shredding my shelter. Nevertheless, I kept pushing and on October 6th, 4 months and a day after starting, I reached the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Springer Mountain, Georgia.
This was an unforgettable experience and an achievement I could barely conceive of even during the last few days. It is a journey which I am extremely grateful to have been allowed to undertake. The ability to pursue one’s own passions and achieve goals outside of a professional career are often undervalued or overlooked. Yet here at Haworth McCall these values are held at the forefront. Which is probably why the transition from the woods back to desk was so painless.