How thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail Changed Me

Nine weeks off-trail and I’m feeling much more like myself. My energy has come back and I’m excited to do things again. My feet have stopped hurting. I’ve cut down sleep from averaging eleven hours a night to nine. The trail continues to impart lessons. Nature can’t be rushed. When you throw a system off of its homeostatic set-point it takes time to bring itself back to equilibrium.

Relaxing on the Appalachian Trail

How the Appalachian Trail Changed Me

Last week I was asked by a friend whether the hike had changed me. I answered, “yeah, lots of changes, but nothing comes to mind right now. I walk more.” That’s a pretty lame answer. So I’m going to put pen to paper and try and figure out how the hike actually did change me.

In no particular order:

  • My sense of time and distance are changed. This afternoon Jillian and I walked to the library. It’s about a three mile walk along the MKT. We’re still here as I write this and we’ll walk back on the MKT in the dark, probably around 8 or 9pm. A six mile round-trip feels short. To spend over two hours in a commute doesn’t feel like a waste of time.
  • I’ve completely lost my fear of being alone in the woods at night. It took a month before I could muster enough courage to camp alone. I thought every squirrel was a bear and falling branches were definitely Bigfoot. By the end of the hike I averaged 3-4 hours of hiking in the dark each night. Most nights I slept alone. I’m pretty sure one night I even heard a squirrel being eaten by a hawk. His scream was horrible – but it didn’t scare me. I just noted how interesting it was to hear a squirrel be eaten and then went back to reading.
  • I care much less about how people perceive me. This paragraph started out as “I don’t care how people perceive me” but that’s not true. I still care. Just less. Much less. I still haven’t gotten a haircut or shaved the beard. This is interesting because I think much of my motivators through my teens and twenties have revolved around image. That’s definitely why I got into bodybuilding. It was also probably a large driving factor in making all the YouTube videos for Healthy Gamer.
  • I used to care a lot about productivity. I’d try to stack tasks one right after the other and attempt to get maximal benefit out of everything. For example workouts, runs, and drives were accompanied by educational podcasts and audiobooks. Some of these practices aren’t bad. I’ll probably go back to listening to podcasts during workouts. But in retrospect I don’t know that it actually helped me get more done. It seems this need to constantly be productive was a large source of stress, and completely unnecessary. Now – I strive for balance, not maximal productivity. Nature doesn’t rush. Nature is balanced. This need to constantly go, go, go, to strive, strive, strive is an artificial creation of man.
  • I’m much more patient. I first noticed this while waiting in Union Station in Washington, D.C. My train was supposed to leave at 10:15pm. It was delayed, and delayed, then delayed some more and didn’t arrive until after 1am. And it was okay. I have a very clear memory of marveling at how I was not bothered by the delays. There was no irritation or impatience. I’ve practiced meditation off and on for years now and one of the practices is to sit with impatience in situations like this. Not try and eliminate impatience but to notice it, allow it to rise up, and dissipate. But this was different. There just was no impatience. I noticed this again on the long ride to Maine and subsequently on the long train ride back from Harper’s Ferry to STL. I didn’t have to notice or suppress impatience. It simply didn’t arise anymore.

Those are a few changes that come to mind. I’m sure I will discover more as time passes.

With these dramatic shifts in personality I think I need to update my philosophy for living. What follows is mostly for my own benefit. Writing helps organize my mind.

When I first came back I tried to jump into the old path – build a really successful business, sell it for a buttload of money, and then … well then have lots of money.

But this path doesn’t appeal to me anymore and I found I could not work up ANY energy to get started on a business plan. After days of internal anguish I realized:

  • I want the freedom to move around as I will.
  • I want the freedom to take big chunks of time off and do things like more thru-hikers.
  • I don’t want to trade the best years of my life so that I can have more security in my latter years.

This doesn’t mean I’m writing off a scaleable business entirely. But that I no longer wish to pursue a large business for the sake of building a large business and making a lot of money. If I do pursue something requiring investors and lots of time it will be because it’s an idea that sings to my soul.

“It’s better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

― Alan W. Watts

My vision for life hinges now not on getting rich but enjoying rich experiences.

So here’s the new approach:

  • Live as frugally as possible. What I learned on the AT is that you can exist, very comfortably(well, that may be a stretch), for pretty much the cost of food and a few incidentals. To that end I plan to live in a van or RV soon. Maximize mobility and dramatically reduce the cost of housing.
  • Focus my efforts on building a location-independent business. Continue building on Healthy Gamer. Create lots of mini-documentaries. Turn the AT footage into a series of web-documentaries. Write books. Give talks to schools and businesses. All things that I can do from anywhere in the world with a laptop and my camera.

I’ve been studying Wim Hof method. It’s a method of breath work, meditation, and cold exposure created by an eccentric Dutch man named Wim Hof. He claims that through his work he can consciously control his immune system and be comfortable in sub-zero temperatures. He’s proved this by doing crazy feats of strength like climbing to the death zone on Mount Everest wearing only swim trunks and holds the world record for staying submerged in ice water for over 90 minutes(the average person will become hypothermic within 5 minutes and lose consciousness within 15 minutes).

Wim’s stated goals are to help people become: “Happy, healthy, and strong.”

I think that’s a simple and elegant philosophy for life and that will be the measuring stick I use as I set new goals.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Relaxing at camp on the second night on the AT in Georgia.

Relaxing at camp on the second night on the AT in Georgia.

I’ve started going through my media. I have well over 800gb of photos and videos to sort through. Like the AT it will be a process of persistence and small steps 🙂 I’m also posting a virtual thru-hike on Instagram starting with Georgia and retrace my entire journey. Now that I’m home I’ll be able to update it more, with more photos, and more stories. It should be fun and by the end of this virtual tour I’ll have basically a book fully written! You can follow the virtual thru-hike here:


Jack Jones

Jack Jones

Quadzilla at Couch to Trail
Jack is on a quest to explore the world and find adventure. He is passionate about using his adventures to inspire others to follow their heart and step out of their comfort zone. He has hiked ~13,000 miles and was the 19th person to complete a Calendar Year Triple Crown in 2022.
Jack Jones

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