When you think about hiking the AT some of your fist questions to yourself are often: Am I physically capable? When will I get the opportunity to take 5 or 6 months away from a job? Am I mentally strong enough to keep hiking everyday for that long? Am I willing to put up with primitive conditions for so long? How afraid of bears am I? What is my gear situation? Northbound or Southbound? What are my reasons for going? Should I grow a beard or not? Is pooping in a hole for that long worth it?
I definitely had all of those thoughts, but the kinds of questions I didn’t think of at the very beginning were about logistics. Not just logistics on the trail, but keeping your life outside the trail rolling so when you come back home you don’t fall into financial ruin.
My logistical/financial situation set me up fairly well for the trail, which is one reason I know it’s finally time to start the trail. Right now I am a Masters student and am finishing up this internship sometime in May, which is the last requirement for my program. After that I will just need to finish my report, which I am constantly working on, and defend. Once my committee gives me the ‘oke doke’ I will no longer be a student or an employee. This will give me a great transitional period in my life to finally hike the AT. I would rather have started in Georgia and hiked north, but my situation wouldn’t allow that until 2016.
The question you have to ask yourself is does your opportunity costs outweigh your overall experience on the trail? For some people that is a definite yes; not earning that money wouldn’t be worth hiking the trail. For me though, young and uncommitted to much of anything, the experiences far outweighs my opportunity costs. If I was able to get a job at my current pay rate after my internship, over that 5-6 month period of time I would be losing about $25,000. That’s a lot of money to sacrifice for a backpacking trip. To me though it’s completely worth the sacrifice. Money is important in life, but isn’t necessary for me to be happy.
When you’re lying on your death bed will you be thinking about all the money you stock piled or the experiences you had in life?
Luckily with the job I have now, combined with my parents letting me crash at their place until this internship is over, I’m saving tons of money. Living with your parents when you’re 25 is completely uncool, and if I was still single I would probably remain single for this period in my life. I was strategic, get the girl to fall in love with me when I had my own apartment and then move back in with my parents. When I have this opportunity to save up for the AT though, I don’t have any reservations about living with the rents right now. If I had an apartment in the Cincinnati area and was paying for utilities and such I’d probably be paying at least $700-$800 per month, if I found somewhere fairly cheap. That’s a lot of money I can use for food on the trail or paying bills. On top of it all my dad buys me delicious beer because he doesn’t like drinking alone.
The amount of money I’ll save won’t just be a luxury, but a necessity. Luckily I won’t have apartment rent and utilities to keep up, but I will have my car payment, car insurance, cell phone bill, student loans and I’ll probably wind up having to buy my own health insurance. That’s a lot of payments I have to keep up while I’m out in the woods. It’s setting up a lot of automatic bill payments through my checking account and paying certain bills off in bulk, like car insurance.
My off trail bills are looking like this:
Car – I bought a new car last year so my car payments are still very much in their infancy. I was easily able to set up online bill pay through my bank. As long as I have the money in my checking account this will never be a problem while hiking.
Car insurance – I’m actually shopping around for new insurance right now. I’m hoping to just pay off my insurance six months at a time as I’ve been able to do with my current insurer.
Cell phone – Being a grad student near home has it’s perks because I’m still on my parents family plan. I pay my portion of the bill to my mom every month, or I just give her multiple payments at once, and I’m set. I’m just going to pay my mom for 5-6 months before I go. It’s not something I can default on since the bill is not in my name, but I’m too honest to just not pay for what I use.
Student loans – Most likely I am just going to defer my loans. I won’t be making any money and if you’re not making an income you can defer payments. Your interest keeps compiling, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. If not I will be able to lower the payment to a fairly small number. Technically I am registered for 1 credit hour at school while I work, so there is a possibility my payments won’t even start until after I’m done hiking. Regardless, that is one bill I am not worried about.
Health Insurance – This is the elephant in the room for me. I have been on my parents healthcare plan all through college because it’s far cheaper than having my own plan. I’m a very healthy person but I know the insurance companies are just waiting to prey on my bank account. I will be 26 this May so that is when I will be kicked off their plan. The three options I feel I have are:
- Buy my own private plan: This will most likely be extremely costly, no matter how small of a plan I get, but it will be easy to keep up with payments. I’m not sure exactly how paying your health insurer works, but I’m sure a big company will let you do automatic bill pay or pay in bulk.
- Government health care: I’m young, will have no job at the time and am pretty healthy. As long as Republican ass wipes don’t get it overturned in the next month this would probably be a very attractive option. I’m very for the healthcare act because it’s my opinion that all private insurance companies are crooked and could care less about your suffering, so I wouldn’t be feeling like I’m taking advantage of the system using government healthcare. But politics aside, it would be a great option.
- No insurance: I’m young and healthy, of course I feel invincible. I haven’t gotten anything more than a cold in about 6 years. I don’t know my doctors name because I never need to go. But what happens if I get attacked by a bear or fall down a mountain? Get rushed to the emergency room and either have to pay out of pocket or die. I’ll be living in the woods for a long time and there is a multitude of things that could happen that won’t happen to you in everyday society. It’s a cheap option though, that’s for sure.
After that I don’t know my options for health insurance. If anyone has any insight or ideas, it would be greatly appreciated if you share.
Now if you’re not coming off a Masters degree and living with your parents, you have all sorts of other things to worry about. Society happens and you have far more things to pay for. If you have small children to care for, you better not even think about hiking the AT right now. As a 25 year old I can never imagine giving up my life of adventures for children. I don’t like kids, I try to avoid kids at any cost, and they’re just whinny and expensive in my mind. Maybe someday my mindset on kids will change, but that’s at least 10 years down the line.
If you come home and find you’ve been kicked out of your apartment, car has been repossessed, and your plants are dead; you can always just go back to the mountains. Go hike the trail again or something. Resupply could be difficult after draining your savings, but it’s just a new challenge.
Outside trail logistics always sneak up on my mind. It’s definitely important to be mindful of your financial situation, but don’t let that keep you from having the AT discussions with yourself. I figure if hiking the AT is that important to you, finances will just be something to take care of while you’re hiking the trail. It won’t be something that keeps you from the trail. And if you’re a northbound hiker, don’t forget to finish those taxes before you leave.
It sucks thinking about money when it comes to your life dreams. If the trail is important enough to you though, it won’t matter.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness”