View Full Version : Here's a long-winded one from a newcomer

04-02-2015, 21:46
Hey all!

New to this forum, so hoping I can get a few answers and insight into my story :)

As I type this I am knee, no waist....elbows? Okay, neck deep in engineering homework. In other words, living the life of pain and misery. On the bright side in 3 semesters I will be a free man. And that my friends is where the meaning of this post comes into play. Upon my graduation I am looking to fulfill a dream of mine since I was a kid, hike the AT from Georgia to Maine!

To make a long story more bearable, I am an outdoor enthusiast. My fiance has warmed up to the idea of hiking over the past few years, and along with my pug Raisin we have enjoyed many a weekend hiking here in the Blue Ridge of Virginia. It wasn't until a few months back that she through out the idea that she was considering a thru-hike. Well ever since that day I have not stopped thinking about the trail. I decided to extend my college education a semester, so that I can better time a March 2017 start date, hopefully with my girl by my side.

What I'm looking for a this point is a good starting place... What if anything should I do to prepare between now and then? How much money have people saved and survived the 2000+ mile trek? Etc, etc...Any advice would be much appreciated :)


04-02-2015, 22:37

You have made a huge investment in your education. That first job you get on graduation sets the tone for your career, and jobs are hard to come by. Perhaps it would be better to take a semester off before your planned graduation date to begin your hike? I only say that because many larger companies hire their new engineering graduates each spring, and if you miss that boat you might be waiting another year and competing with the following year's graduates. Unless you have really good contacts from internships and other experience I would be concerned about waiting too long after graduation to begin that job search.

If you have three semesters left it sounds like you may be a January graduate anyway? So why not consider taking this Fall off, doing a SOBO, and graduating in Spring of 2017 with a new Engineering job to go to.

04-03-2015, 05:31
IMHO, someone that has "warmed up" to the idea of hiking will most likely make a poor partner for a thru hike and will most likely not enjoy themselves. I would do much more hiking with her in all kinds of weather to see her ability to "enjoy the suck". This will help you prepare for the trail and also determine if your girl really does want to be on the trail. Have a backup plan if she decides not to go or decides she wants to go home 30 miles into the thru hike.

Most estimates say that it is best to budget about $1k/month for on-trail expenses for a thru hike. It varies depending upon when you start and how often you go into town for motels, etc. You also have to consider the expense of any newer/lighter gear that you may need for your thru.

As an engineer (EE/CS) with 30+ plus years of experience, I would strongly encourage you to finish your degree ... which you seem on track to do. You don't say what engineering discipline you are majoring in, but engineering is an area that will be able to provide you with a real career with great earnings power. Just have a plan on how to enter the work force upon your return from your thru hike. I agree with Imscotty about your job search issues. Not sure if you have the desire or finances to do it, but returning to get a Masters degree after your thru hike might be one way to re-establish your footing in the engineering world and increase your marketability.

Good luck.

04-03-2015, 05:38
For what its worth, I agree with Imscotty, who has some good points. You will be at a critical juncture when you graduate and should take advantage of the time, energy, and huge monetary investment you have in your career preparation and education. You likely won't have that level of momentum again to move smoothly into a field you like and get set up for your life's work. Losing that momentum will be difficult to overcome.

That said, if the romance of simple life on a trail is too compelling, I like the idea of a semester off and doing a southbound hike and finishing the degree at the end of the second semester, in time for the spring hiring. Time to apply some of the critical thinking skills you have learned along the way to arrive at the decision.

04-03-2015, 06:50
I have found that putting the AT thru hike on my resume has opened the doors to interviews and jobs which is lineing up with a new career path for me, I list it under education. They seem to want to talk to people who have done the trail and that gets the interview and also gets something the interviewer is interested in talking about.

However I do not know how that would work in engineering and right out of college. My situation is a bit different as I was and still am transition from one path to another. I do like the idea is hold off on graduation and hike it first. You may even get some credits for it you should talk to your adviser, just like in my case the interviewer was interested in it, if your adviser is you may get some special favor or at least some clarity of how to do it.

04-03-2015, 07:19
Thanks for your all's input. I guess I'll start by giving some more background on my education/job prospects. I graduated with an Associates of Engineering last year from community college, and transferred to finish my bachelors there after. I will be graduating with a degree in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech. I have already interned for a large commercial construction company here in Blacksburg, and they offered me a full-time summer job doing CAD design this Summer, back in my hometown where their other office is located. I really enjoy working with them, but am not sure if it something I look to make a career out of right now. This Summer will show that I hope.

As far as my finances, I will be in good shape by the time March 2017 rolls around. The internship pays really well, and I plan to do some part-time work on the side all summer, on top of working each semester as always.

Personally, my main reason for wanting to hike is not so much that I need to find myself of anything like that. I just want to do something for me, as selfish as that might sound. I feel I have followed the 'perfect path' by graduating high school, and will have finished my STEM degree by the time I am 22. Not so bad, but I'm craving some adventure before I settle down for the long haul.

04-03-2015, 07:58
Keep in mind the $1000/month estimate is per person. Many take six months to hike the AT (it can be done by strong hikers in four or so). My first 5-month thru hike (on the PCT) with my very frugal and experienced wife cost us about $10,000, and that was over ten years ago. Some spend over $10K to hike the AT solo.

And you will be delaying the start of your engineering career (CAD design for a construction firm may not count towards a PE if you're going that way in your career--will you have a PE supervising you there?). What's the monthly cost of that delay? Will you have student load debt?

When I graduated with my EE degree, I was in debt and engaged. Within a year I was out of debt and married and very happy, and my wife and I began a lifetime of adventure travel. We started with long weekends on bicycles and long loop hikes in the mountains, worked out our differences (there will be some) and found each others strengths. I earned my PE, got more established, started earning more money, and we started taking LWOP (leave without pay) for month-long adventures overseas on touring bikes and trails, and started hiking shorter trails like the Colorado Trail. It took about twenty years of gaining experience and confidence in each other in the backcountry before we successfully thru-hiked the PCT. We were financially secure by then, our mortgage was paid off, we could take indefinite leaves from work and really enjoy the trips. We were better prepared--physically, mentally, and financially--in our forties than we were in our twenties.

An AT thru-hike is a big investment in both time and money--it would make sense to be sure you're prepared for it as a couple. Some couples are naturally very good together on trail, some have to work on it and get stronger as they go, and some just don't make it.

04-03-2015, 08:03
Finish school, get a job and start making money--save 15-20% of your income for life (not hiking), keep making money, find out if that girl can cook. Find out if you can make it at a job for more than 3 years, much tougher than a hike... Take up crossfit or some other str/conditioning program, buy a mountain bike, head to bikepacking.net, buy a nice UL down bag and cuben shelter, plan some 2-3 day trips out your front door like the allegheny 400. thru-hiking is overrated, hiking is overrated particularly for younger folks that are trying to develop true financial independence; which means going to work most days...Earn your turns. Even a few weeks a year on the trail is plenty and you won't lose you're job! A thru-hike grinds your body and your social perspective, neither of them necessarily in a good way. The old man in the mountains and the hermit on the hill that shuns societal norms type of thing. It's okay, but it can make it difficult to strive for the normal trappings of life, which can be nice trappin's depending on how often you clean them. :)

Also, believe me when i say hiking with your girl isn't the best idea. basically it comes down to she'll be exhausted, you will to but less so cuz 'yer a guy and this is yer dream!" so you'll be doing double duty cooking and setting up and then rearing to go in the morning--she'll be tired and want to sleep in, but it's getting hot we need to beat the heat, you'll say, and that is how you start a fight on the AT with yer spouse/hikin partner.

04-03-2015, 08:48
So I guess it seems from your all's experience it may be worth putting off then? I guess I still have some more thinking to do at this point then. Most people I talk to that know me just tell me to go for it if I think I can do it. I'll keep thinking it over for now, and thank you for your insight so far.

On the plus, this June I am getting to put my pack back on for a 100 mile trek in Tennessee with some friends. It'll be good as I haven't had the chance to get back out while in school (my last trip I was 16 and did all of Shenandoah, before that some small solo trips at age 14 and 15). Maybe for the time being that will hold me over.

Looking back at my work: my long time goal is to obtain my PE. Staying in school an extra semester will let me take some more courses I desperately need as well as to prep for my FE. If I look to work for this company as a CAD designer then I will be working under some PE licensed engineers, so that will certainly be a learning experience.

Definitely have some thinking to do. I'll try and remember to post up a forum in June after I get back from that hike. So if you feel like it be on the lookout for a post from me around then :). Thanks again to everyone, happy trails.

Just Tom
04-03-2015, 09:07
I'm surprised by the answers. Unless you are a teacher with summers off, you only have a a few opportunities in your whole life to do a long-term hike. Most of us who missed that chance by diving straight into the rat race have regrets now. The rat race will always be there. Or just pretend you are a European and you are practically expected to take a year to see the world before entering the working world :)

04-03-2015, 09:14
Your upcoming trip to hike in Tennasee seems like a great time to figure this out more. Once a career is established a thru hike becomes very difficult to do. It becomes something that just gets put off until you have enough time which may be retirement.

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04-03-2015, 09:22
I will put in a vote for thru-hiking now rather than later. I'm an EE so the atmosphere is slightly different, but I often spend a day interviewing 5 or 6 entry level engineers who all have the exact same resumes and the exact same things to say. It always feels like guesswork as to which one is actually willing to work hard. It sounds like you will have good internships under your belt and are working towards a PE, so that already puts you in the category of employee that I would look at closely. If you complete your hike put it on your resume to explain the 6 month gap after school and spin it to the employer as proof that you can work hard to complete a goal. Someone worth working for will see your potential. Someone not worth working for won't. I took the path mentioned above, have never had a job that allowed a leave of absence, and now I'm in my thirties with too many responsibilities to thru-hike for many years to come.

04-03-2015, 09:30
Well if I end up doing this, I may have to mail you my resume from Katahdin :)

04-03-2015, 09:31
Im with tom on this. When we do something and we regret it later we can chalk it up as a lesson.
When we look back later on in our lives and regret something we didn't do,it is usually only after we realize that we have lost the chance to do those things.

04-03-2015, 10:36
Nothing is without cost. Figure out what it will cost to do the hike (monetary cost, opportunity cost, possible imploding relationship, etc). Be brutally honest with yourself in your assessments; they're going to be best guesses anyway so no need to pad them to justify a conclusion.

Don't ask if you should do the hike. Ask if you're willing to pay the cost to do the hike. When you have that answer you'll know what you're going to do.

04-03-2015, 10:43
I'm surprised by the answers. Unless you are a teacher with summers off, you only have a a few opportunities in your whole life to do a long-term hike. Most of us who missed that chance by diving straight into the rat race have regrets now. The rat race will always be there. Or just pretend you are a European and you are practically expected to take a year to see the world before entering the working world :)

Thats really not true unless you make it that way. The young man will be at a critical stage in his education and career as a professional. If this were a simple liberal arts degree with not much of a notion what he will pursue and the plan is to stumble into something interesting to do after college, it might be a different story.

One makes their own opportunities in life. The notion you only get one or two chances to do a long hike, take a world trip, swim with sharks, or run with buffalo is a little narrow given the possibilities and what others have done with opportunities that developed. This isn't luck to have several opportunities to do certain things. Luck is best described as opportunity coupled with proper preparedness. People make their own "luck", as such, one makes their own opportunities. If one is not prepared, then opportunities will be few and far between, when one is prepared they are not an uncommon occurrence. Getting an engineering degree is a lot of very difficult work, getting the PE license is even more, but its easier if its done in proximity to completing the undergraduate degree, much as its easier to pass the Bar quickly after completing Law school.

There are certainly choices to make, the trick is to make the proper choice at the proper time to balance responsible decisions that allow you to have a more broad path in life versus a narrow one. Sometimes the best advice is to stay the course and complete the plan first, then go about other things.

04-03-2015, 11:23
30 years ago my wife and I graduated and thought about doing the AT. But we got jobs, then kids, and those years passed quickly. Now we are ready to appreciate the trail in semi-retirement and will be starting this month doing sections 4 days at a time. If we love it next year we may do a thru hike but we shall see. The trail will be their whatever you decide, for us waiting worked out better as now their are no worries.

Just Tom
04-03-2015, 11:26
To each their own, I guess I just don't see the urgency of getting a job immediately after the degree VS waiting 6 months. Some of the comments made it sound like he'd be throwing away his life's career if he did that.

Plus this is WB, and you can't have a thread on here where everyone agrees, it's just creepy :)

04-03-2015, 12:02
As you can see from the varied responses, this is a personal decision that only you can make. If your life path will include wife, house, kids, etc., then your opportunities to thru-hike will likely present themselves before you start on the path, or much later. Also, consider interviewing for jobs and getting offers, then inquiring about a later employment start date to accommodate your thru-hike. You may be able to have your cake and eat it too, lol.

04-03-2015, 12:58
Take a break from school, and thru hike.
Graduate and move into job market without a hitch.

Or, just do whatever you want. Thats whats important anyway.

04-03-2015, 18:49
I'm surprised by the answers. Unless you are a teacher with summers off, you only have a a few opportunities in your whole life to do a long-term hike. Most of us who missed that chance by diving straight into the rat race have regrets now. The rat race will always be there...

I also disagree with this (and I respect it as an alternate choice). If you do what soulrebel mentions in post #8, save 15-20% of your income, financial freedom will come in relatively few years. In my opinion and experience, it's best to have financial resources at hand for a trip like the AT.