1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
"If it were all sunshine and rainbows, you know, we'd all be like - 'eh, whatever.' But it's not. It's a physical challenge. Something you can sink your teeth into. That's what keeps us coming back," says Duffy, my driver from the Gainesville Amtrak station to the Hiker Hostel. That about sums up my feelings about the trail: the allure, the frustration, the excitement, the reward. A chance. An adventure.
2189 miles of adventure.
I am the only hiker on the shuttle that morning. Though I meet another backpacker, an older gentleman, on the train, we have separate destinations along the trail: He and I part ways at the station.
I turn to Duffy. "You've shuttled so many people over these years. What would you say makes people successful?"
"That's a good question." He thinks for a moment. "One thing I know for sure is you can't tell. I've seen some really out of shape people finish, and some really fit people drop out. I do know it's definitely mental."
"Anyone who's been on the trail more than a few weeks knows that after two or three weeks you get into a routine. You get up, hike, go into town, and resupply. You have to have the ability to keep going past that boredom. The trail really boils down to a series of weeklong hikes. You have to be able to keep doing that over."
We pull into the Hiker Hostel in the midst of a flurry of activity. Hikers are everywhere, finishing breakfast, checking out, packing up, and loading up shuttles. Duffy drops me off in the bunkhouse -- and in another half hour, the shuttles pull out, and the hostel falls silent.
"I mean, people say it's life changing. It was for us. We opened up this place after we finished."
I spend the morning walking around, checking out the 'tiny house' cabins, and playing with Maggie, the hostel dog. Around noon, hikers begin pouring in: Joe, Nick, Annie, Jesper and Ida...
"I worked in Silicon Valley for five years. Lost a lot, gained a lot. My story is more complicated than that, but I really want this to be a success story."
That evening, we all relax around a fire pit, basking in one more warm night of comfort before the beginning of our journeys. The next thing I know, the sun rises, and we are the ones grabbing breakfast, packing up, and heading out into the woods.