Jitters run through my body as if I had one too many cups of that delightful Blueberry Cobbler coffee from Wawa. Anxiety and excitement are building up like the super-volcano in Yellowstone, releasing bouts of steam into the crisp mountain air.
I keep reminiscing back to when I wrote my first article “Not Just Another Hiker” back in the sweltering humid days of June. Back then I was fresh to this world of hiking, dealing with advert racism within the online Appalachian Trail Facebook groups, and addressing it with my writing.
Never would I have thought in a million years that I would be here preparing for my first thru-hike in my life or that I would gain sponsors, publications and make genuine connections with people from all over the world. I frequently ask myself, is this real? Oh, yeah it’s real and the closer it gets to February the more it’s setting in that I’m going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. But not only am I going to hike the AT, I’m going to do it in the winter. Many people have tried to dissuade me but I won’t live my life scared, I’ll hike this hike prepared.
Planning for a thru-hike has been an adventure in itself and it has been both exciting and frustrating. Selecting tents, sleeping pads and packs remind me of the menu at The Cheesecake Factory, there’s a copious amount of articles, videos and companies to sort through. As an indecisive person, I spent countless hours burning my eyes in front of a screen of some sort just to make sure I was getting the gear that worked best for me. You know what they say “Buy once, cry once.”
Getting my gear early was important to me because I wanted to dial in my gear before I got down to Springer Mountain. My favorite piece of gear that I have so far is my tent, the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL UV 2. Not only is it spacious but it is durable, stands up to heavy rain and stays steady in the wind. I have no complaints, it was my first piece of gear and even though it weighs three pounds it is my humble abode. Over the summer and I have been doing shakedowns in the sweltering Jersey heat and now I have switched over to cold weather shakedowns in the Catskills and Rockland County in New York.
Shakedowns have been my backbone and by doing backpacking and camping shakedowns I have been able to see what is and isn’t working. If my shakedown isn’t working, I figure out where I went wrong, readjust and start over again. Persistence and staying mindful is the key to success, mistakes are a part of the learning process and only make you a stronger individual. Over the past few months, I have noticed a tremendous growth in my emotional and spiritual health and have embraced the challenges that the trail has given me.
Recently, I did a thirty mile, three day shakedown in the infamous “Rocksylvania” and it gave me a glimpse of the mental challenges that would await me not only in PA but throughout the trail. Everyday I am learning to embrace the suck, work on the things I can change and adapt to the things that I cannot. The AT really does change people and it pushes you to be flexible because nothing goes as planned.
Speaking of planning, baselayers and resupply boxes have been nothing more than a pain in the rear! Choosing baselayers that aren’t itchy like hell is challenging because I am so sensitive to wool and I want to rip my beautiful melanin skin off sometimes. Allergies to wool are apparently common and I have been experimenting with different brands as well as capilene and synthetic materials. Clothes are the vain of my existence but I have to choose meticulously for the comfort and warmth of my body and my mind. But eventually with the blessings of the nature gods, I will get my baselayers dialed in.
Resupply is no different and I find myself spinning in circles trying to figure out which hostels are open and when to time the drop of my resupply boxes. On the Appalachian Trail sending resupply boxes is not necessary but for those with dietary restrictions or allergies like myself, it can be a godsend. Many hikers resupply in the towns they pass rather than send boxes and although that’s a more viable option, it can also be a huge money spender. Next month I will begin the process of dehydrating food and creating masterpieces with the ingredients I choose. Having variety and creating healthy meals are paramount for my body to have the fuel it needs to take on 2,189 miles. Pop-tarts, snickers and Little Debbie Cakes need not apply here as I am truly obsessed with the food that I put into my body.
Covid has made this process much more complicated but it has not defeated my drive to make my thru-hike mine. Hiking my own hike is dear to my heart and an experience that truly is individual. After months of trying to hike with groups, being left behind, and feeling inadequate because of my pace , I have discovered the meaning of what it means to HYOH. No longer will I walk fast and hurt myself for the sake of others, I will listen to my body at all times and I will make the decisions that are best for me while on the trail. What may work for one person does not apply to everyone and that wisdom comes with time and getting out in the elements.
I am hiking this trail as part of my journey to be the second Black woman to achieve the Triple Crown. I am walking in honor of Black women who were murdered unjustly as a result of police brutality and racism. I am bringing color to the AT that I one day wish to see much more of. I am hiking the AT because I wish to be the change I want to see. This is the first chapter of my story and I am ready to write it, beginning with my journey of transformation.
Shilletha Curtis is a 28-year-old New Jersey native. She’s thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2021 and plans to be the second Black woman and first Black Queer woman to get the Triple Crown. She graduated from Rutgers in 2014 and got a degree in Social Work. She loves her dog, hiking and speaking her truth. Her goal is to bring diversity to the Appalachian trail and the hiking community as a whole. She also loves to do art and skimboard in her free time. Ubuntu!
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