Earlier this year we started a project where we’d pray for the 2014 Appalachian Trail Thru-hikers. We created a page and then put out an invitation to anyone interested. Eventually we had a list of names and their short bio’s. As each hiker made their journey we would stay in contact praying for and encouraging them as well as send out care packages to their desired mail drop location. Of the hikers on our list we got to know the McCarthy’s, known on the trail as Wrong Way Jalapeno, Bad Camel and Popeye. Their journey and story intrigued us and we soon found them holding a special place in our hearts. After making a stop here in Pennsylvania to spend Fourth of July with the HBF family and take a “zero day,” (zero day – a day off the trail to rest and stock up on provisions) our friendship with them grew.
This past October Bad Camel and Popeye completed their thru-hike of the A.T. I’ll spare telling the story and leave that to Popeye. In a series of upcoming articles, she’ll be sharing her story and experience on the A.T. So as the founder of HBF it is my privilege to introduce the newest team member to HBF.
“I let go of my fears of failing and made the decision to go with them. It may just be the best decision I’ve made yet.” – Kayla “Popeye” McCarthy
My thru hike of the Appalachian Trail came about in a bit of an unusual way. My parents had been planning and dreaming of hiking the trail since I was about 10 years old. They were waiting for the right time to take on such an endeavor and finally they set the year for 2014. I vaguely knew of their plans but I’ll be honest- I wasn’t terribly interested. I knew I had two, kind of strange parents who were going to go for a really long walk and live in the woods for 6 months. I knew I had sleeping bags and sleeping pads stored under my bed and I knew boxes from REI would frequently show up at our house. What I didn’t know was WHY anyone in their right mind would want to do something like that! And I think that’s a pretty common thought for people who don’t know much about the AT.
I was so absorbed in my own life- which I’m sure is pretty common for most people in their early 20’s, that I wasn’t too concerned with what my old folks were up to. I was in college, living with my best friends, going to class, riding horses everyday- living the life. Right after graduating in May 2013 I landed a job in my chosen field. I was home for about a week and a half before moving to Ohio, where I proceeded to work my life away- sometimes working 90+ hours a week. There were parts of the job I really loved- I found I liked teaching people to ride their horses and see the improvement and know that I was part of that. I loved riding the incredible horses and ponies. What I didn’t love was that I didn’t often get treated with respect or kindness from my bosses. I didn’t love that my life completely revolved around work- by the end of the day I barely had enough energy to shower, eat something, and get into bed before getting up and doing it all over again. I didn’t love that the way I was being treated at work and it was affecting my confidence in myself.
It was incredibly difficult to admit to myself that this wasn’t the career or the future I wanted for myself. I had spent the last 5 years of my life telling everyone that this was what I wanted to do. I had worked hard to become a better rider, I had gone to Germany to do an internship, and I had never considered what else I would do with my life if this didn’t work out. I had been met with a lot of skepticism from family members and other people when I told them I wanted to ride horses for a living. “Are there really jobs like that?” “Can you really make a living doing that?” Yes, you can. A lot of people do- I just realized I didn’t want to. I felt like by giving up on my dream I was admitting that the people who doubted me were right. But it didn’t make sense to continue being miserable just to prove everyone wrong! Essentially I had made a decision that sounded really great in theory, especially when you are seventeen, and it was a decision that I don’t regret because I learned a lot. But the seventeen year-old-me didn’t think about the reality of that life and the twenty one year-old-me didn’t want the future me’s to continue to be miserable.
After many heart-to-hearts with my parents and a few tears were shed, an invitation was extended to join them on the Appalachian Trail in March. My first instinct was to say “YES! Anything to get me out of this current miserable situation!” However, knowing my history of making snap decisions and then regretting them, I didn’t immediately accept. What I really didn’t want was to put myself from one awful situation right into another one. I left my job at the end of November and moved back home. I started reading books about the trail and was immediately captivated. The sense of community really appealed to me, along with the challenge of taking on something so difficult. I was still hesitant though- do I really want to live in the woods, with my PARENTS, for 6 whole months?? I had always enjoyed hiking but I had only backpacked one day in my life, in 9th grade, and I hated it. It was cold and rainy and my pack was heavy and I had to pee outside. It was not love at first hike. But even with this not so great first experience on my mind, I couldn’t stop reading the books and found myself wanting to see all the sights and towns that were described. I kept going back and forth on whether I wanted to go with them.
I think the main thing that was holding me back was that I might fail. I had just spent 5 years telling people what I was going to do with the rest of my life and after just 6 months of being in said career, I quit. I was very hesitant to commit myself to another huge undertaking, not knowing if I had it in me to stick it through. In the end, I asked myself what I would be thinking if I said I didn’t want to go with them and then was sitting at home, working and going to school, and hearing about their adventures on the trail. I knew I would be kicking myself in the butt for not going with them! I let go of my fears of failing and made the decision to go with them. It may just be the best decision I’ve made yet.
Kayla “Popeye” McCarthy graduated college in 2013. She is also a 2014 graduate NOBO thru-hiker of the Appalachian Trail. She is also a team member of Hike by Faith. She has a love for horses, hiking and backpacking. She lives with her family in Michigan and has plans for future thru-hikes.