Hiking

Hiking the Appalachian Trail Against All Odds

Against all Odds

For 166 days, I traded the weight of titles and labels for an increasingly smelly backpack. No longer Dr. Burkhardt, or Major Burkhardt, or a guy with crippling depression; instead, I became an Appalachian Trail hiker called “Sketch.” Most were good days. Some brought me to my knees. However, October 2, at the summit of Mount Katahdin, was a GREAT day!

 

All things being equal, more than 80% fail to complete the 2,189.2-mile journey from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Map of the Appalachian Trail

Map of the Appalachian Trail. Used with permission from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

But all things weren’t equal:

  • I wasn’t a 20-something with a naively optimistic view of my potential anymore.
  • This was my third attempt to hike the whole trail at one go.
  • I hadn’t gone more than 3 months without a major depressive episode since retiring from the Air Force several years earlier.

 

Nonetheless, there I was at Springer Mountain with a 40lb backpack on my shoulders, preparing to do it all again. (To those that say the definition of insanity is attempting to do the same thing over and over, while expecting different results, I say: sweet! I’ve already got a membership card.)

 

What was different this time?

I had lots of help. Friends and family supported me from a distance with care packages and encouraging messages to keep moving forward. Friends flew out to hike sections of the trail with me, and strangers opened their homes to me when I needed a place to rest and get a hot meal. Even on the days when it was just me and the mountain up ahead, I knew I wasn’t alone.

 

I met some inspiring hikers from all walks of life:

  • “Special K” a 14-year old woman with a dream to be the youngest person to complete the hike,

Special K

  • “Sunset,” a 73-year-old man who started hiking in his 50’s, has hiked 10’s of thousands of miles, and has no plans to stop anytime soon.
Sunset

“Sunset”

  • “IronWill,” the first paraplegic woman to hike the Trail, became a good friend, and was quick to restore my sense of perspective when I thought my body couldn’t get me to the next town.

Stacey Kozel, or as we called her, “Iron Will”

  • “Tune-Up,” who suffered an irreversible injury to his arm while rescuing a drowning passenger during his service with the Coast Guard, began this hike as a Farewell Tour in anticipation of an unavoidable arm amputation. During the time we spent hiking together, I watched this amazing man shed the burden of PTSD, to find peace and confidence. His transformation led me to believe that there was hope for all of us.
Tune Up

“Tune Up”

 

Somewhere along the way, the miles and the mountains and the rocks and the trees blended into one beautiful, endless vista. I became Forest Gump. When I was tired, I slept. When I was hungry (I was ALWAYS hungry), I ate, and when I needed to go… I went.

Against all odds, I made it. But the truth is, it wasn’t until I realized that this journey (and life) is more of a “we” thing than an “I” thing that I really started moving forward.

Gabe Burkhardt

Feeling like Forest Gump at the summit of Mt Katahdin

This is my first time contributing to the WordPress weekly photo challenge. I hope I'm not breaking the rules by including several of my digital sketches, but I couldn't resist the chance to join in a conversation about the prompt: Against the Odds

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165 Comments

  • Reply Retirementallychallenged.com February 16, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    What an amazing journey! I’m curious, how much of it is an actual trail (I would imagine that some of it has been taken over by roads and development)?

    Also, wouldn’t it make more sense to hike from Maine to Georgia since it’s downhill? (Yes, I’m kidding.)

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 2:12 am

      You touch on an impressive aspect of the Appalachian Trail here. Sections of the Trail cross through towns, through farmers fields, and at one point in New York, the trail passes through a zoo. Yet, nearly all the trail is on protected land (even if its just a meter or so on either side of our “brown strip of paradise.” I’m sure a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo is involved, but somehow, the Trail is continuous all the way from Springer to Mt Katahdin.

      And you’re not the first one to joke about it being easier to hike south for the winter…

    • Reply allthethings3 February 21, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Wow, great post! Super interesting. I can’t imagine doing such a thing but I sure admire you. I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed so I have a tiny bit of knowledge about hiking though it barely counts. My blog post tomorrow is about a guy (Colin O’Brady) that broke the world record for the Explorers Grand Slam. Anyway, you have a great name, too. It’s what we named my first born. I’ll be back to read more. #bloggesstribe

      • Reply Gabriel February 21, 2017 at 4:46 pm

        Sweet! Looking forward to checking it out. I’ve never heard of the Explorers Gland Slam. Doesn’t Jenny rock?

        • Reply allthethings3 February 22, 2017 at 2:15 pm

          She’s the best. I met her at a book signing. It’s the only book signing I’ve ever gone to and I love books!

          • Gabriel February 22, 2017 at 9:47 pm

            I’m jealous!

  • Reply SueBee and Kat February 16, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    What a motivating story you’ve written and I LOVE your sketches. I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog… and all because you entered the weekly photo challenge. Thank you! ~SueBee

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 2:14 am

      Thanks so much for the compliments! And really glad you stopped by. Please feel free to stop in any time the mood strikes!

  • Reply The Farmer in the Dell's Wife February 16, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    You should be very proud to have completed this journey. A very good friend of mine just finished the AT back in August. I have a picture of him posing in front of the same sign! It takes a determined person to hike this solitary, arduous trail. Congratulations.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 2:16 am

      Thanks so much! But it’s not as solitary as you would think. I’ve met so many amazing people, both during town stops and while hiking, that the relationships became one of the most cherished aspects of the hike.

      Love the name of your blog by the way. And I’m looking forward to following along!

  • Reply draliman February 17, 2017 at 12:39 am

    Nice, inspiring.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 2:17 am

      Thanks. And it is inspiring. Particularly the amazing people I met along the way. Their stories made the hike all the more impressive.

  • Reply Didi February 17, 2017 at 12:39 am

    An amazing journey, overcome such a distance,  both in miles as in mind.

    The fact you weren’t a “20-something with a naively optimistic view of my potential” anymore might have been a good thing. You were more realistic, more determined and  stronger then someone in his 20s. That’s why you have  succeeded.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 2:19 am

      Thanks Didi.

      You’re absolutely right. I needed to be more “grown-up” before I could muster the stamina and resolve to make it all the way. But it was sure worth the wait.

      Can’t wait for the next hike. And this time, Monica will be joining me!

      • Reply Didi February 17, 2017 at 4:45 am

        Most things that are so deeply in our heart and mind, even without knowing, that we are so determined to do, are worth the wait. They make us who we are and looking back were worth  all the trial and error, the faillure, all effort and love we put in.

         I hope you and Monica have a great time! I actually don’t doubt you will. You are so lucky you are able to share such an adventure with the person you love.

        For now I’ll have to do with the fact that physical distance doesn’t define closeness but I sure find that difficult at times.

        • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:48 am

          Well said Didi.

          And I’m sure Monica and I will have a blast on the Camino this year. 6 weeks of wine lunches, countryside strolls, fresh air, and plenty of amazing time with the woman of my dreams. I couldn’t imagine a more wonderful adventure.

          • Didi February 18, 2017 at 1:54 am

            Enjoy the adventure with Monica!
            The sweet southern European way of life. Carpe Diem!
             It makes it even better that you can share that with the woman of your life (such strong sweet words, she’s lucky with you  and you with her.)

            Im looking forward to hear your stories of the Camino.

             

          • Gabriel February 18, 2017 at 3:55 pm

            Thanks Didi, and I’m looking forward to sharing our Camino stories. (but I think we both know that my blogging pace is very slow, so we’ll be able to enjoy these stories for many months)

  • Reply whippetwisdom February 17, 2017 at 2:07 am

    A very inspirational post and I enjoy the digital sketches as part of your storytelling here ☺

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 2:22 am

      Thanks so much. And we’re just getting started here!

      You have an amazing blog as well. Looking forward to following!

      • Reply whippetwisdom February 17, 2017 at 2:30 am

        Thank you Gabriel and good to meet you here in the blogosphere – I am looking forward to following your journey here too ☺

  • Reply Against the Odds: Pokemon Go  | What's (in) the picture? February 17, 2017 at 2:43 am

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  • Reply HikingWoman February 17, 2017 at 4:40 am

    Inspiring!!

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:40 am

      Thank you very much!

  • Reply Val Boyko February 17, 2017 at 5:33 am

    A terrific achievement Gab ? Wonderfully narrated!

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:48 am

      Thank you very much Val!

  • Reply aFrankAngle February 17, 2017 at 6:19 am

    Awesome achievement … congrats!!! Besides the accomplishment, the other hikers that you encountered is what grabbed me in this post. Quite the collection of definition special! Thanks.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:52 am

      Me too Frank. In retrospect, I wish I would have written this in such a way that the spotlight would have shone more fully on the amazing people I met along the way. They are what made this hike such a memorable and healing experience.

      Hope you get a chance to check out the links to each of these hikers. The summarized versions of their stories barely scratches the surface.

      • Reply aFrankAngle February 17, 2017 at 9:55 am

        An idea … you just described a possible future post.

        • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 10:12 am

          hehehe I might have a bit of a head start of you there. A did a series of posts called “Handful of Hiker Heroes” recently.

          You can check out a few by following links in this post (clicking the hiker nicknames should take you there)

  • Reply Inside the Mind of Isadora February 17, 2017 at 6:45 am

    First of all … CONGRATULATIONS … on your accomplishment.
    It is not easy. I could relate a bit because my eldest daughter went to camp at 14 (now, 49) and walked a portion of the Appalachian trail. She was at a girls camp for kids with depression. She had just had a suicidal episode. Her MD suggested this camp to us. It was a wonderful place for her. She still has her bouts of depression but that camp experience helped her to learn how to live with life’s challenges. Loved your adventure and the artwork is primo.
    Isadora ?

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:54 am

      Yes. Ecotherapy (employing activity in nature to promote healing) is quickly becoming a recognized treatment for all sorts of illnesses. Particularly mental illnesses. From my perspective, (and I’m glad to hear your daughter’s as well) the benefits are enormous, and long lasting.

      • Reply Inside the Mind of Isadora February 17, 2017 at 10:07 am

        I didn’t know the name for the style of treatment. Thank you for letting me know. Yes, proper medications and therapy have kept her on the right path. Thank you for your support in this. Isadora ?

        • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 10:08 am

          You too! See you soon.

  • Reply theslingsta February 17, 2017 at 6:57 am

    What an adventure. And what a great way to meet some inspiring folk. Hats off!

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Thanks Slingsta- but the best “reward” for me is “hats on.” Love me a grungy ol’ hat and not feeling the need to take it off inside.

      As far as the inspiring people I met, your absolutely right. These people are what made the trip (that and the nature stuff I suppose).

      Now…wouldn’t it be great if a few similarly inspiring people could be found in leadership positions and were willing to live in a White House for 4 years…

  • Reply Oh, the Places We See February 17, 2017 at 7:23 am

    I love your digital sketches and your whole story! Congrats on achieving a number of goals here. And keep on posting. — Rusha Sams

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 10:01 am

      Thank you so much Rusha-both for the comment and for stopping by!

      I really enjoy creating sketches, so I can assure you there will be plenty of new ones to peck your interest when you come back.

  • Reply Tanya February 17, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Amazing as always, Gabe!! Great post!! Your sketches are so fantastic and I enjoy them so much!

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 10:02 am

      Yay! Tanya, it makes me smile every time I see words from you.

      Now…if we could just see a few more words over at the Incurable Dreamer. (But maybe I’m just dreaming 😉 )

      Thanks you again. Its connections like the ones we make here that prompted me to create this blog. And so far, It’s been worth it. And more! Thanks for being my kind of people

  • Reply umashankar February 17, 2017 at 8:20 am

    You are blessed to have that fire in your belly; I admire your grit and compassion. Thanks for the priceless vignettes of your fellow pilgrims.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 10:15 am

      Thank YOU for the generous compliments, and for stopping by again.

      By the way… I think that “fire in my belly” means its time for me to eat more 😉

  • Reply Papa T February 17, 2017 at 8:25 am

    Hey There. I really enjoyed our sojourn on a thunderous afternoon. Hoped to do another “highlight” section in Virginia this year, but one of our pups required ACL surgery and that put a big dent in the AT fund. Actually thinking of shifting possibly to do the trip in the fall. Are you hiking?

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 10:21 am

      Aww I’m sorry to hear about you pup. Hope she/he is recovering well.

      I’m hiking this year. Definitely hiking the Camino de Santiago. And a friend and I are talking about hiking a portion of the Long Trail in Vermont together. Both will be amazing.

      As for more posts about some of the highlights from the 1200+ miles I have left to blog about (before writing my rough draft), They’ll be out fairly soon. (so long as we remember my “fairly soon” and the rest of the world’s fairly soon may not be exactly the same 😉 )

      Hope that you still manage to hold onto enough AT funds to get out briefly. I sure miss it, and I suspect you do to.

  • Reply Sheri @trail2peaktheadventurouspath February 17, 2017 at 8:50 am

    Beautiful, Gabriel. Somehow knicknaming the people you met (and removing their identity) made them even more human, more intriguing and more known to us. Beautiful.

    And then the length of time you spent hiking that trail…. wow! Very inspiring. What a way to journey back to yourself and mental health. And so interesting that you met others doing the same thing by taking on the same trail challenge. I know this will always be a struggle for you, but I admire your spirit and the way you chose to make yourself whole again.

    Thanks for sharing this very personal story with us. I liked it when I first read your other posts a while back, but somehow I like this one even more.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 10:28 am

      Ha! my wife Monica will love hearing that so much because she said EXACTLY the same thing when I told her that I didn’t want to publish this one 😉 Good thing I (almost) always listen to the boss.

      As far as the nicknames are concerned, I wish I could take credit. But there is a longstanding hiker tradition to leave our identities behind before long hikes, and to let the Trail (and other hikers) chose our new name. Can’t tell you how liberating it was to step away from being Dr. Burkhardt or Major Burkhardt in order to become the goofy guy thats been hiding out way down deep for the past few decades.

      Now that I’m Sketch (hopefully not Sketchy), its time to play!

      And you bring up another good point I should have mentioned on the About page. But I realized early on that I wanted to focus on other people as often as possible. Before publishing anything with identifiable information, I send a copy to the person in question and get written permission prior to publishing. And as an added bonus, These friends are happy to provide some free but much-needed editing and feedback. Win-win!

  • Reply rgayer55 February 17, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Outstanding post, Gabe. It is the people and relationships we encounter along this journey called life that make the trip fulfilling. I’m sure you touched their lives in a positive way as well. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 10:31 am

      Well said and thank you so much!
      But I promise we all tried not to touch each other in ANY way out on the Trail ;))

      We were just too muddy and stinky and hanrgy all the time.

  • Reply restlessjo February 17, 2017 at 9:46 am

    It’s such an incredibly long journey, Gabe! It’d probably take me the rest of my life, plus a bit more 🙂 🙂 There are some amazing people out there, aren’t there? Glad you met some of them.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 10:07 am

      I’m glad I met these people as well (and so many others I have yet to introduce).

      Now that you mention it, a good friend of mine is hiking the trail in sections. we started together a few years ago. While I keep going all the way back to the beginning, he picks up where he left off. We’ve hiked together quite a few times now, and I can tell that there is a lot to be said for “section hiking.”

      So, even if it does take a lifetime to cover the 2200 miles, probably wouldn’t be the worst way to use our time 😉

  • Reply Green Global Trek February 17, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Incredible achievement!! Well done! That is a LONG hike. Yikes!!

    Really enjoyed your descriptions of the various characters along the way.

    How do you create your art work? Is it all done digitally? So aesthetically pleasing.

    Peta

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 11:06 am

      Thanks so much Peta! Yes all of my paintings are digital. I use an iPad pro, Apple pencil for sketching, drawing, painting (often using one of my photos to trace details etc), and several apps to filter, edit, and polish images to make them look more presentable. So I have LOTS of help.

      Technology is so great that even those with marginal skills (such as myself) can create some fairly decent paintings.

  • Reply jan February 17, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    I’d like to walk part of the trail but I’m sure I wouldn’t make it the whole way! What segment would be recommend ?

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:17 pm

      That would be great jan, and I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun.

      Regarding the recommended sections, it depends on what you’re looking for. There are so many different types of terrain, gorgeous views, and can’t-miss hostels/towns to visit. But here are a few short sections that come to mind:

      1.) Catawba, Virginia- Trail is close to several towns here so it would be logistically easy to drop off a car at southern trailhead and get a ride back to your car from Daleville. This 3-5 day section will take you through 3 of the most popular vistas on the Trail. Dragonstooth (backside is technically challenging), McAfee’s knob (most photographed spot on the AT), and Tinker Cliffs.

      2.) Harper’s Ferry, WV- Access to the AT is easy (train, car, bike, even taxi from airport). This is the spiritual midpoint of the AT. I’m a history buff so this portion of the Trail was one of my favorites. First several miles north of Harper’s Ferry is flat and a great stretch to build up strength.

      3.) The White mountains (New Hampshire). This is NOT a good place to start a hike because the elevation changes are ridiculous, several areas require mountaineering experience, there are few places to bail out if you need to get to a nearby town, and weather is a big factor. However, if you’re in shape, and have plenty of experience- the unbelievable vistas, rugged nature, and sense of accomplishment that goes with tackling one of the hardest sections of the Trail makes this one of my favorite sections of the AT.

      I could go on and on and on… but this should whet your appetite. There are also plenty of web resources to check for more info (I occasionally guest blog at the trek.co so I’d recommend starting here).

      Thanks for the great question Jan!

  • Reply angelanoelauthor February 17, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Okay, I’m about to sound overly-superlative here so if you’re sensitive to capital letters and extreme punctuation, stop reading now . . . DELIGHTFUL, AMAZING, and AWESOME!!! that’s how I feel about your journey and your storytelling. Discovering it’s not about the “I” but about the “we” when it comes to achievement of any kind might be the single most important part of being a human. We need both the “I” and the “we,” but embracing the balance between the two–how I both GIVE and RECEIVE with grace is the work of a lifetime. I love that the 2,189.2 miles you travelled could inspire so many to see and feel how great “we” can be. Thank you for the post!

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:27 pm

      hehehe love it! I try not to let grammar and punctuation get in the way of a good story, so I’m thrilled when someone else joins in the fun.

      I also absolutely agree with you on I + WE = success and happiness, but you said it with far more clarity and conviction than I did. I can tell this is a life lesson that you’ve learned, and relearned, and taught, many times before.

      Thanks so much for the wonderful comment Angela. This, having a genuine and meaningful conversation with fellow bloggers who share a profound interest in growing and living and connecting, is why I love blogging so much. Please keep coming back!

  • Reply dave ply February 17, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Completing a hike of that magnitude is an amazing achievement, but I suspect it would have turned into a depressing grind without the company of all the others attempting the trek. Well done in any case.

    I suspect I would be in the 80% should I try it (or have tried it when I was more fit), and my trail name would become Forest Grump after a few days of hiking in the rain.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:37 pm

      Absolutely true about hiking becoming a grind without connections with others, but you might be surprised. I’ve met so many “unlikely” long distance hikers that I’ve long since given up on predicting who will go the distance.

      I’m trying to picture you looking like Forest Gump based on your Gravatar, but its just not happening 😉 and speaking of pictures… I just finished the sketch that was inspired by one of the photos in your recent Snow days post. (I sent it to you by the email tagged with this comment.) I’d love to get your impressions (but be gentle, I’m still an amateur 😉 )

  • Reply Ann Coleman February 17, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Congratulations on making that hike! That is quite an accomplishment! I loved this whole post, but my favorite line was the one about the journey being more of “we” thing than an “I” thing. The older I get, the more I believe that the most important thing in this life is connecting with other people…

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:51 pm

      Thanks Ann! I agree with you completely. And isn’t it ironic that we (certainly I) have to wait until we’re grown up to learn so many of the most important life lessons?

  • Reply Agness of Fit Travelling February 17, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    Great journey! This post was very motivational to start hiking!

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      Thanks for the comment AND for stopping by! Feel free to come back anytime the mood strikes.

  • Reply usathroughoureyes February 17, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Our hiking stick is raised to you! What a journey. Hiked a few miles of it and the scenery is breathtaking. You are doing it and shedding the titles too. Keep trekking.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:55 pm

      Thanks so much! Isn’t that AT awesome. And I’m jealous that you both are so close near Rochester NY. The trail through new York is filled great places to see. But what I remember best about the Trail through New York were the proximity to so many delicious Deli’s. Several of us called this the Deli Run 😉

      • Reply usathroughoureyes February 18, 2017 at 6:59 am

        Cool, the “deli run”. What an awesome adventure you are on and we are loving it. Remember, if you are ever through Rochester again let us know and we’ll grab something from a deli and swap stories.

        • Reply Gabriel February 18, 2017 at 4:01 pm

          That would be awesome! I’ve been reading about bloggers meeting up in their travels around the world, so if we’re ever around Rochester, we’ll definitely try to arrange something (unless you’re both back on the road again).

          Take care and enjoy the beauty of your backyard!

          • usathroughoureyes February 18, 2017 at 4:59 pm

            Its great to see the connections being formed on the sites and there are a lot of us out there. We all need to start sporting a symbol on our packs, vehicles, etc. so we can be known in the crowds, lol. Be safe and keep sharing your journey, we love hearing it.

  • Reply rugby843 February 17, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Love the pictures. Happy that you shared this adventure.

    • Reply Gabriel February 17, 2017 at 9:57 pm

      Glad you enjoyed, there’s plenty more to come. And thanks for stopping back by!

  • Reply Dudhwa Tiger Reserve February 17, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    What an astounding journey!..What a spurring story you’ve composed and I LOVE your representations. I’m so happy I discovered your blog..

    • Reply Gabriel February 18, 2017 at 3:54 pm

      Thanks so much for the compliments AND for stopping by! Please come back any time the mood strikes.

  • Reply janetweightreed10 February 18, 2017 at 3:11 am

    What a fantastic blog and journey,. Love what you had to say and the sketches of those you met on the Trail are absolutely fantastic. Well done you. I am a great believer in taking on these challengers because in doing them we learn much about our world, other people and ourselves. . Janet. 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel February 18, 2017 at 3:59 pm

      Thanks so much Janet- I LOVE getting compliments, especially from awesome bloggers such as yourself!

      And you’re absolutely right, we get to see (and expand) who we are when we challenge ourselves.

  • Reply karenlee February 18, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    I’m so glad you made it, indeed tried a third time. Very nice. Isn’t it amazing what a little (or a lot in my case) can do? 😉

    • Reply Gabriel February 18, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks Karen! Yup. We all go quite a bit further when we realize life is a team sport. Can’t wait to read about the next series of adventures!

      • Reply karenlee February 18, 2017 at 4:22 pm

        “Team sport.” Love that. 🙂

  • Reply karenlee February 18, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Support, I meant. Sorry. 😉

  • Reply Bel February 18, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    You write really well. I was definitely hooked and will add this place to my bucket list. It might take a while for me because even if I like to think I’m fit enough to do hikes like this – I barely survived the one in Arches. It’s going to be a lot of training for me but something to look forward to…thanks for sharing ?

    • Reply Gabriel February 18, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      For what it’s worth, Most of the central portions of the Appalachian Trail are very well maintained, have moderate elevation changes, and are chose enough to towns that you have plenty of chances to divert off trail if necessary to rest and get hot food before jumping back on.

      • Reply Bel February 18, 2017 at 4:58 pm

        Great. Now I’m just tempted to go. I blame you for it. J/k…Okay I’ll check it out perhaps sooner rather than later. If I survive then I’ll write about it. ?

        • Reply Gabriel February 18, 2017 at 4:59 pm

          Even if you don’t get a chance to go, I’ll still read about your next adventures!

  • Reply Bel February 18, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    You kinda raised the bar but I’ll try my best. Thanks!

  • Reply inesephoto February 19, 2017 at 3:59 am

    Thank you for this post, Gabe, and for introducing your new friends. They are amazing. I will share this post so that people who live with depression find inspiration and hope. Love your sketches, they show the people’s character. You are so right about ‘we’. It is so inspiring to know that there are others, and they don’t give up.
    Wishing you all the best.

    • Reply Gabriel February 19, 2017 at 5:40 am

      Thank you for sharing this post Inese!

      You absolutely “get” me, as one of my biggest hopes for this blog is to sprinkle a little inspiration (and maybe a few chuckles) back into our lives. Depression doesn’t get to define us any longer. Now it’s all (or mostly) about adventure and inspiration!

      • Reply inesephoto February 19, 2017 at 11:21 am

        I believe that there is a cure for everything here on earth. Adventures, finding your true potential and helping others is a part of the cure for depression.

  • Reply Naomi Byrnes February 19, 2017 at 6:05 am

    So moved reading this and glad you shared the digital sketches. When I looked at them, I had a sense of the connection and energy in the way you had been inspired and intrigued by each of the people you met along the way. As I read about your own decision and then each of the people you met and were supported by, I found myself feeling a awe for the qualities of life that are beyond any individual. I am going to try to open my eyes and heart as I walk the city tomorrow, wondering at the individual strengths, sorrows and hopes that flicker in everyone I pass.

    • Reply Gabriel February 19, 2017 at 8:13 am

      What a beautiful comment Naomi! I was already happy to be following your blog, and this is one of the many reasons why. You weave words of hope and promise into beautiful pictures that are even more poignant when juxtaposed against the perfectly curated art.

      • Reply Naomi Byrnes February 19, 2017 at 2:23 pm

        Thank you Gabe. Glad to know that! I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s a contribution so I’m especially enjoying this encouragement.

  • Reply slfinnell February 19, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Impeccable timing to contribute. Sketches look fine to me 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel February 19, 2017 at 11:08 am

      Thanks for stopping by and glad your enjoy the sketches!

  • Reply Stephen Rees February 19, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the rules of the photo challenge, if I were you. I think the whole idea is to get people to look at the blogs of others – outside of their usual haunts. I got here by you “liking” my “against the odds” post, and I try to at least return the compliment by at least looking if not actually liking every single one.

    Last year we were staying in Manning Provincial Park in BC – and that is, as it happens, the northern end of the Pacific Crest Trail. I had never heard of that trail before. Then I discovered “Wild” and read that – saw the movie too. I have also read “A Walk in the Woods” too.

    I suspect that there are more stories and sketches of yours I will want to see.

    • Reply Gabriel February 19, 2017 at 6:21 pm

      Thanks so much for stopping by Stephen and for taking the time to leave a comment. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is one my bucket list as well, but its a far more solitary experience and one I’d love to share with my wife Monica if we do go. So until then, we’ll be visiting a few more scenic and relaxing trails like the Camino de Santiago (in France and Spain).

      I hope yu enjoyed your visit here, and please stop back by whenever the mood strikes!

  • Reply Michelle Malone February 19, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    What a beautiful journey, Gabe! I love how you captured the stories of others and used them as motivation to keep moving. We were never really meant to navigate the world alone…so glad you discovered that. May blessings abound and continue to aim high! <3

    • Reply Gabriel February 19, 2017 at 7:53 pm

      Thanks so much Michelle! And you’re absolutely correct: “we were never meant to navigate the world alone.” It’s a lesson I have to keep re-learning, but I think it’s going to stick for awhile this time.

      • Reply Michelle Malone February 19, 2017 at 7:56 pm

        Think back to your basic training days. Could you have survived without a few special people in your flight?

        • Reply Gabriel February 19, 2017 at 8:02 pm

          Ha! My basic training days… folding t-shirts in perfect dimensions and barking T.I.’s. Those were the good ol’ days 😉 But you’re right, these stressful situations are designed to teach us to rely on one another.

          • Michelle Malone February 19, 2017 at 8:08 pm

            I reconnected with a few buddies from basic (after about 30 years), and it was like we were teenagers again. My son graduated from basic a little over a year ago, and the entire family traveled to San Antonio to share in his big day. I hadn’t been there since I graduated. I loved hearing the clicks of the TI’s shoes again. Weird, huh?

          • Gabriel February 19, 2017 at 8:13 pm

            It’s so true. When I returned to Lackland (this time as a surgeon and an officer) the memories flooded back. For me, it was standing in ranks until the awnings of our barracks in the predawn chill, waiting to file in for our 7 minute chow for breakfast.

            Congratulations on your son’s recent graduation!

          • Michelle Malone February 19, 2017 at 8:16 pm

            What beautiful memories! Thanks…he has matured so much in a year’s time. Keep writing and sketching; I’ll definitely keep checking in. 😀

  • Reply jmacindoe February 19, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    Great shots! Looks like it an incredible hike!

    • Reply Gabriel February 20, 2017 at 8:51 pm

      It absolutely was, and thanks for stopping by. It’s only gonna get better from here!

  • Reply Arionis February 20, 2017 at 10:03 am

    I love reading about your AT adventures. Coincidently, I just spent this weekend on the AT. The weather was unseasonably warm here in Virginia. My dog and I did a last minute spur of the moment overnight hike on Cold Mountain. The views up there were fantastic! It does wonders for me when I’m feeling down. I didn’t want to come back.

    • Reply Gabriel February 20, 2017 at 8:53 pm

      That’s awesome. I’m jealous you had the chance to hop on the AT for some late winter hiking. Makes me want to get back out on the trail as well…

  • Reply twobrownfeet February 20, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Wow! Love those sketches! I don’t know if I’d ever be able to complete a hike of this magnitude. I’m not so sure I’d even want to try. 🙂 Depression isn’t easy to handle and hiking or walking helps me look at the bigger picture — if there’s one at all! 🙂
    Cheryl

    • Reply Gabriel February 20, 2017 at 8:48 pm

      Ha! You probably know this even better than I do, as you have plenty of amazing experiences as a serial traveler, but this huge treks are impossible to tackle when considering the whole thing in a glance. But infinitely easier to take it one step at a time.

      Thanks so much for stopping back by and following Cheryl. I love your blog and getting feedback from a fellow trekker is a wonderful boost!

      • Reply twobrownfeet February 20, 2017 at 11:33 pm

        I know what you mean, Gabe. I’m trying to build my fitness to try longer treks with higher altitudes. When I’m ready. 🙂 We generally hike a mountain every month and most of the trails here are excellent for beginners. Just as you say, “one step at a time.”
        I haven’t been too good with checking other blogs lately, I know I should. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. Your writing is definitely something that makes me want to keep reading. 🙂
        I’m so glad you love our blog. Means a lot. Thanks a bunch! 🙂

        • Reply Gabriel February 21, 2017 at 6:46 am

          “Your writing is definitely something that makes me want to keep reading.”

          Cheryl, for me, this is the perfect compliment. Worthy of a hallowed space on the refrigerator that marks my most significant accomplishments (even more significant than current occupants such as: reading David Foster Wallace’ Infinite Jest, and eating all my veggies 😉 ).

          Thank you.

          • twobrownfeet February 22, 2017 at 11:55 pm

            Haha! I haven’t read a book in a year. You’re doing way better than me. 🙂

  • Reply Miriam February 21, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    What an amazing journey. Sounds like an incredible adventure Gabe and something that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Along with the memories of all those equally inspiring people you met along the way. Wonderful post.

    • Reply Gabriel February 21, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      Thanks Miriam. I was thinking about how important these unexpected relationships became as I read your recent posts about connecting with fellow bloggers.

      Someday, I really want to meet up with those I’ve been getting to know so well through their blogs. (sounds like an appropriate bucket-list item)

      • Reply Miriam February 21, 2017 at 10:41 pm

        Absolutely. Sounds like a perfect bucket list item to me. It makes the whole blogging experience so much more real.

  • Reply Monica February 22, 2017 at 1:06 am

    So proud of you! Next time we’re going together.

    • Reply Gabriel February 22, 2017 at 1:10 am

      Absolutely! I’ll even carry the wine skins 😉

  • Reply Tiny February 22, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    What a wonderful contribution to this challenge. Full of inspiration!

    • Reply Gabriel February 22, 2017 at 9:34 pm

      Thank you very much, and thank you for stopping by! Come on back any time the mood strikes. I think there might be a few more sparks of inspiration that may catch fire around here somewhere 😉

  • Reply The Hook February 22, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    I am in awe, my friend…

    • Reply Gabriel February 22, 2017 at 9:35 pm

      hehehe now you’re just being modest. You’re interviewing famous people!

  • Reply A Weekly Way to Share the Good | You are Awesome February 23, 2017 at 6:14 am

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    • Reply Gabriel February 23, 2017 at 7:01 pm

      Thanks so much for linking to this post on your blog Angela!

  • Reply Bun Karyudo February 24, 2017 at 6:55 am

    Goodness me! You met some very impressive people on that trail. (And of course, what you were doing was pretty high up on the impressiveness scale too!) I’ll bet it’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

    • Reply Gabriel February 24, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      Absolutely true Bun, I met so many spectacular people. And it was a good thing it took me 6 months to complete the hike, I was running out of superlatives (gorgeous view, amazing vista, delicious food, crazy hikers…)

      • Reply Bun Karyudo February 25, 2017 at 8:37 am

        It sounds tough but very rewarding.

  • Reply Patti Winford February 27, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Awesome achievement! Congratulations.

    • Reply Gabriel February 28, 2017 at 7:28 am

      Thank you Patti! And thank you for visiting. Hope you keep coming back, the party’s just getting started 😉

  • Reply Liesbet February 27, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    What a wonderful and inspiring account of an amazing journey, Gabe! I am so proud of you and immensely impressed! What a feat!! Especially doing the whole thing and having made previous attempts. I read Bill Bryson’s account and hiked parts of the trail myself, but just small stretches with a dog, a husband and a small pack. And, every time I did this, I watched in awe when a hiker with a massive backpack would pass us. And, every time, I pondered “I could never do this.” I wish I could, and parts of me want to accomplish a hike like this, but as I am becoming less impulsive and smarter about my body (and messed up knees), I know I would never succeed. I hate giving up, so I better never start!

    • Reply Gabriel February 28, 2017 at 7:46 am

      Hehehe I can’t tell you how many times I looked at other hikers, weighed down with crushing packs, and thought “nope. not a chance. Not gonna be me.” But somewhere along the way, I became one of those hikers. The transformation was as much a surprise as it was a victory. Loved it.

      I also respect that you have the wisdom to know which paths you want to follow, and which ones you will most likely succeed in. There are so many half-completed projects in my not-distant-enough past. I wonder what else I would have been able to do if I hadn’t squandered the precious time and energy.

      Thanks so much for the wonderful comment Liesbet and for following along!

      • Reply Liesbet February 28, 2017 at 8:05 am

        Well, rest assured that this achievement makes up for many, many other ones that might have failed!! I struggle with the same pressure… Life is too short for all the amazing things I want to achieve and places I want to visit. We all make choices and we have to own them without regrets in order to be happy. Beating the odds at amazing feats like this hike form highlights in our lives and is proof that we are on the right path! 🙂

  • Reply mossiephotography March 1, 2017 at 6:11 am

    AWESOME dude – it sounded like a epic journey!
    Thank you for sharing – and hope to see you post more of these inspiring journeys in the near future

    • Reply Gabriel March 1, 2017 at 12:30 pm

      Cheers! It definitely was. I’m ready for the next one.

  • Reply Mick Canning March 1, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Wow, seriously impressed at that! Now, I like hiking as much as the next man, although not as much as the next but one, but if I managed something of that magnitude I would be very pleased with myself!

    • Reply Gabriel March 2, 2017 at 6:21 pm

      Thanks Mick. Can’t wait to see what the next adventure will bring!

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  • Reply Discount March 14, 2017 at 8:46 am

    I’m inspired beyond words! I start my flip flop thru hike, nobo, from Harper’s Ferry right after the festival next month. I too have struggled with depression for many years and it has a way of numbing us to the things that matter most… (sharing with other humans), and so I chose the AT to be my therapist. I’m petrified! I’m a boiling pot of apprehension!
    They say that in completing the trail, one will travel roughly 5 million steps. It looks like I have 5 million new goals, but more important… to let the ‘we’ become a part of ‘me’. Thank you, Gabe!

    • Reply Gabriel March 15, 2017 at 5:07 am

      Sorry about that Discount, or some reason your comment found its way to spam.

      I’m so excited for you. A flip-flop will be amazing. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, but after a few days/weeks, you’ll settle into the groove. And I really hope you find the same sense of peace and satisfaction I did on the Trail. It’s not just about making it to Katahdin (Or back to Harper’s in the case of your Flip Flop), it’s about… well, it’s about more than I can explain in a few thousand words, but I’m so excited that you’ll get a chance to see for yourself here soon.

      And you absolutely have the right goal(s). One step at a time.

      And I’m totally excited to be following you as well!

      • Reply Discount March 15, 2017 at 7:00 am

        Thanks, Gabe! I’m​ so excited to know that the answers are coming to questions that I don’t even know yet. May sunshine flood you & your wife’s path as you prepare for the next adventure together.

        • Reply Gabriel March 15, 2017 at 7:01 am

          Thanks-and you too Discount!

  • Reply Barb Knowles March 14, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Wow. You’ve written/we’ve commented about the Appalachian trail and how much we have in common since I’ve walked one mile of it, lol. But in this post you have given more than one perspective. Fascinating. I have to go back and see previous posts to see if you’ve mentioned this, but I grew up as an Air Force brat and almost joined. A dumb decision about love made me change my mind, yet that, as all decisions, have led me to where I am today and am happily here. I hope you write about that part of your life as well.

    • Reply Gabriel March 15, 2017 at 4:57 am

      So glad to hear you’re in the right place in life Barb. I think about these things quite a bit… “What if I made a few different decisions?” I guess this falls under the broad REGRETS category. However, like you, despite all the bumps, bruises, and scars, we’ve ended up right where we’re supposed to be.

      I’ll certainly return to some of those pivotal moments in future posts. But I might need to warm up a bit first, I suspect it will require more writing skill than I currently possess to recreate these moments without sounding maudlin.

      • Reply Barb Knowles March 15, 2017 at 5:26 am

        I often worry about sounding maudlin when writing personal stories or memoir essays.

  • Reply Stubbs March 15, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Awesome piece, Sketch! I too am a sufferer of depression and will be making my second attempt at an AT thru hike in less than 2 weeks! Fingers-crossed no injuries this time around! Your post is very inspiring! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel March 15, 2017 at 8:41 am

      That’s sweet Stubbs. By the way, is that going to be your Trail name too, because if so, its AWESOME! Once I get a chance to catch my breath (I’m trying to respond to feedback from the two most recent posts) I’ll head over to your blog. I’d love to follow your hike.

      • Reply Stubbs March 15, 2017 at 9:50 am

        Awesome, thanks! Ya, it’s my trail name from last year, and I like it enough that I’m keeping it! 🙂 Congrats on your successful thru!

        • Reply Gabriel March 15, 2017 at 11:36 pm

          Cheers Stubbs! And congrats to YOU for getting another chance to play on the AT

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  • Reply Sara April 15, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Your strength is beautiful. I’m married to a Vet and we got into hiking so he could “walk off the war” as he calls it. It’s been a huge blessing

    • Reply Gabriel April 21, 2017 at 7:19 am

      Yes! I think it was Earl Shaffer who coined the phrase back in the late 40’s or early 50’s when he first hiked the Trail. Now several organizations (particularly Warrior Hike at https://warriorexpeditions.org) are dedicated to helping military troops make the sometimes difficult transition back to civilian life. So glad to hear you are your husband are able to enjoy some of the same benefits!

  • Reply TheCuratedLab May 20, 2017 at 9:39 am

    I am not familiar with such adventurous hikes neither I know someone who loves hiking but reading about your journey and it’s insights truly fascinates me.

    • Reply Gabriel May 20, 2017 at 11:29 am

      Glad you enjoyed the post- took almost 6 months to collect the material for;) and best of all… NOW YOU KNOW A HIKER!

      • Reply TheCuratedLab May 20, 2017 at 12:23 pm

        Absolutely!! And, now I respect hikers even more for all the physical and emotional strain they can go through..So, you were in Air Force..Now,that’s SOMETHING!!

  • Reply usathroughoureyes June 13, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    Such a great story Gabe that we can’t help note it on one of our upcoming post about our recent road trip. On our way back home we went up Mt. Rogers and into the town of Damascus, VA where all the hikers convene yearly. Hope its okay to link your story?

    • Reply Gabriel June 17, 2017 at 6:58 am

      You’re talking about Trail Days! The largest hiker convention in the US. (Can you imagine 10’s of thousands of hikers, not to mention retailers and Trail Angels, gathering in that teenie town for several days? It’s organized chaos.) As always, feel free to link and share with anyone you think might enjoy.
      Cheers!

      • Reply usathroughoureyes June 18, 2017 at 10:09 am

        Yes, this is what Mojo’s Café mentioned. They said it was amazing how the community hold up under the event. Thank you for letting us share your links. When we do that piece we’ll be noting you.

        • Reply Gabriel June 18, 2017 at 12:52 pm

          Mojo’s is the new hot spot in Damascus for many reasons. Not only do they have one of the few wifi hot spots (in a town with frustratingly few places to get decent cell service), but they have taken over as the premier Hiker Hangout now that the Blue Blaze cafe is out of business.
          Really looking forward to your post!

          • usathroughoureyes June 18, 2017 at 5:17 pm

            Good information Gabe. We know we enjoyed our food stop there. We know we’ll be returning.

  • Reply Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC July 3, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    Congratulations, Gabe!!! WHAT an accomplishment. Loved reading about and “seeing” some of your hiking inspirations. I love the diversity of this world of ours. Thanks for giving me a peek into a world I rarely visit.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

  • Reply Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC July 3, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    Added the Warrior Hike info at the end of my most recent PTSD article (Part-2) – and linked here and to your About page as well. Thanks for the info.
    xx,
    mgh

    • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 7:41 am

      Thanks so much Madelyn! Looking forward to heading back to your blog to get caught up again when real life gives me a chance to catch my breath.

      • Reply Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC July 6, 2017 at 9:15 am

        I am only posting on Mondays and Fridays (mostly), so you’ve missed little since your last visit. No pressure – breathe away! 🙂
        xx,
        mgh

        • Reply Gabriel July 6, 2017 at 10:00 am

          hehehe just reading this prompted me to take several relaxing deep breaths. Thank you!

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