On March 6, 2015, Carol Horowitz ’77 set out from Amicalola State Park in Georgia on a thru-hike of the nearly 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. Her journey ended successfully on Sept. 7, 2015, on the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Here she shares her reflection on the experience.As I sit down to write about my Appalachian Trail (AT) journey, it has been a few months since I summited Mt. Katahdin in Maine. In some ways it seems a bit like a dream; I mean, life has gone on since I’ve come home and, though it is different, some things are much the same. I feel much the same, and yet, I feel different. I am more confident, a little more assertive and somewhat more restless when I’m ‘just sitting around.’
About a year before I began my hike, I first broached the subject with my husband Larry ’75—when I told him I was thinking of leaving him for roughly six months, he thought I was just going through a mid-life crisis. I had to explain to him that I had been talking about the trail with hiking friends for over 10 years. I was just waiting for the right time to go. The kids were all out on their own, we had no parent issues that needed attending to. I agreed with him that it was selfish—it was.
I felt compelled to undertake the journey for many reasons. I had gone from high school to Davidson, and married Larry before graduating. I had never lived on my own, never been self-sufficient. Intellectually I knew I could be, but I had never really had the opportunity to truly test my metal, both mentally and physically. I have watched as so many other Davidson friends have done impressive things, and I felt a bit like I wasn’t living up to my potential. Again, the intellectual and the emotional sides were wrestling. I needed to prove to myself that I could really do something hard—Davidson instilled some of that drive in me, and I couldn’t settle.
Going the Distance
Prepping for the hike was not difficult, but I was anxious the entire time. What would constitute a successful hike? One-hundred miles? A quarter of the distance? Halfway? Those questions followed me almost all the way to Maine. When people ask me if it was fun, I have to laugh. Indeed, there were fun moments, but overall, it was hard work, both mentally and physically. I say how many times I was somewhat jealous of the hikers who fell and broke their legs. They didn’t quit, but ‘got to go home’ with their heads up. How sad is that?
As much as I say I was self-sufficient and did this on my own, I had support that I never expected. I can’t give Larry enough credit for sending my resupplies, and coming to visit as often as he could. Then there were several of my Davidson classmates who met me along the trail and treated me to meals, showers, beds, laundry and good companionship. These visits would bolster me for days afterwards. Finally, there were those who sent me messages of encouragement via text, email or my blog (trailjournals.com/Penguin15). Family members, classmates, friends and complete strangers who read my blog wrote me messages that truly lifted my spirits, especially when I was struggling. I may have done the miles by myself, but I was supported by others the entire way.
Most days I hiked by myself. I loved the opportunity for quiet introspection. I had no great revelations, but I did have many one-sided conversations with God. Seeing nature in all its stages of glory, as well as its fury, as during thunderstorms, gave me a renewed appreciation of all that is around us.
I felt that God was with me, protecting me, during storms and dangerous rock climbs. I particularly recall one time up in New Hampshire when I was very much alone, climbing straight up a very difficult rock face in the pouring rain, thinking how that was probably the dumbest thing I had ever done in my life. I knew I was being watched over, and I made it safely to the top.
I learned that true beauty is a visceral thing. I saw views that made me just want to stop and stay.
“Real life” back in Charlotte has kept me busy and I haven’t been back on the trail as much as I’d like, but I know that it will be there whenever I make the time.