The backpack that Rachel “Dragonfly” will carry on the AT as the Appalachian Trail Chaplain.

It almost doesn’t feel real that my hike is just a few months away. It feels too good to be true, like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. I haven’t trained like I should, because, well, part of me is scared I will have this hike taken out from under me just like the last. There is no one to blame for it, it is just the way COVID worked. Even still, I find myself continuing to grieve it. I find myself wanting to drive to Amicolola and register as a section hiker and hike a section, so I get a hang tag. The day my patches came in I sewed them to my pack because it was one step closer than I was before. It would be so easy for me to keep pushing things aside and say I don’t need to do it because I won’t get there. . . but I will. This hike will happen, I will make it happen. I find myself needing to get excited about it again, needing to spend some time in the woods.

I go to the woods, when I am there, everything feels right. Like I never missed a moment. I feel just as at peace out there now as I did when I fist began backpacking. It took me a while to get back there, but now that I am, I am so glad that I am home.

My preparation has taken time to get in the swing. Trying to work full time, plan a thru-hike, complete a rigorous master’s program, and taking care of a reactive dog; it has all taught me so much about myself. In this season I had to learn to prioritize self-care and my mental health which meant a job change at a not ideal time, leaving students that I love to have more time to train and prepare. My partner, Allen, has been fantastic. He is my biggest cheerleader. He encourages me to keep working towards the trail and when I am discouraged, he reminds me of this being my dream. He has worked hard to come up with ways to dehydrate some of my favorite meals we make at home and even found a way for me to see the dogs and give them treats whenever I feel far from them.

Rachel “Dragonfly” and her partner, Allen (left), with their dogs, Ivy (left) and Xena (right).

Life has forced my original plans to change a bit. I think the timing is a good thing now, it encouraged the job change and slowed me down enough to really focus on my mental health and preparation for the trail. I have been going through Zach Davis’ Appalachian Trials again, but this time slower, trying to really digest it and prepare the best I could. I take my recertification course for my wilderness first responder this weekend, and now that I work nights I get to go to the gym in the mornings, plan logistics, hike more, and dehydrate meals during the day while I work with Ivy.

All in all, I will make it to the trail. It will be just as much of a journey to get there, it just feels more like a fight, but the fight is with myself. I am excited to be preparing for this journey and to see how it unfolds. In three short months I hit the trail.