This is a breakdown of my mental state before hiking the Appalachian Trail from a rear-view perspective after completion. 

Summary:
The four states
1.	The seed has been planted
This is when the idea of thru hiking starts to marinate. For some this stage lasts years, for me it was approximately three months.  Advice: avoid making rash purchases in this phase. Embrace the excitement and commit to the decision already.
2.	Establishing roots
All in.  There is no going back once the roots have taken hold.  Typically, at this point the trail is all you can think about.  The information and amount of gear available is overwhelming and there is no distinct answer on what is right or wrong.  Advice: don't get overwhelmed.  Save up. Read on.
3.	The growth phases
This is when the countdown begins.  At this point, there is a solidified start date and the plans are in motion.  Each question leads down a rabbit hole of more questions.  Wait how do I get to the trail head? Advice: the more work you do here to prepare, the more smoothly things will go for you and the greater your chance of completing your goal.
4.	Sprouts
This plant is sprouting, and the more it was cared for in the previous few months, the bigger and stronger it will grow! Advice: there isn't much more to do than sit back and enjoy. 

1.	The seed has been planted
This is the first time I actively thought about the AT.  Suddenly, I thought of it often; it consumed me. The only way to satisfy the craving was to dive into the virtual black hole of thru-hiking blogs. In the back of my mind, I always knew the trail existed. I knew there was some type of footpath in the Eastern USA, and I knew a portion of it ran through most New England states.  I had even hiked a section of Bear Mountain with my dad in my earliest days of backpacking.

Digression: Growing up, I considered myself an honorary boy scout.  This was only possible in the 90's and early 2000's because my dad was the troop 22 scout master.  No offense to the girl scouts of East Haddam, but I got to backpack, rock climb and kayak camp while the other girls sold cookies and made bracelets.  We had always gone to Eastern Mountain Sports to outfit ourselves for these excursions.  For decades, they offered the latest and greatest in the outdoor industry.  Times have definitely changed with the expansion of online shopping and the ability for startup companies to grow via the internet.  

So, in November, I marched into EMS and picked out an Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack.  I was pumped! Osprey was a brand I knew and trusted, and it was on sale (major mistake #1)!  This pack weighs 3.68 pounds.  To put this into perspective, my big three now weigh 4 pounds (more about this in "The Prep").  In this very early mind state, I knew weight mattered, but I had no idea how easily it could have been cut.  I was in a super conservative financial head space and didn't think the "inflated" prices of "ultra-light" gear could possibly be worth it. I was going to be money-wise!  It did not take me long to realize that thru hikers do not operate by the same rules as weekend warriors.  My excitement and false sense of confidence caused me to rush into a purchase from a retailer that I would later regret.

In this mind state, the trail felt like it was another world away.  It was this exciting, adventurous, yet unfathomable prospect.  I wasn't letting myself become too attached to the idea because I would never be able to save that kind of money.

2.	Establishing Roots

This is when I started to tell people I would be leaving for 4-6 months to hike 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine. The looks of disbelieve and utter confusion were priceless, yet sometimes discouraging. Originally, I was looking for a support system. I wanted people to believe in me whole heartedly. In reality, I just needed to tell anyone and everyone who would listen. The more people who knew my goal, the better I would be when things got tough. You don't need people to believe in you, you need people to push you. 

It was February, and I had finally saved $3000.  I figured I could scrape together another $1000 before leaving in April.  When I went all in, the excitement became enveloped in anxiety. I was overwhelmed by the information I found online. I was intimidated by the planning process.  I was annoyed with the lengthy tips and tricks videos that never actually provided as much information as they claimed to offer.  It was incredibly difficult to find information about trail towns.  Every time somebody asked me a question that I hadn't thought of or didn't have a clear answer to, panic would ensue.  I began to second-guess myself.  The entire process sounded like a waste of time, a reach, an unnecessary hardship.  People thought I was becoming a martyr of the outdoor industry. And I began telling them I would just go as far as I could.  I wanted to help people avoid the fear and focus on the excitement. If I had been able to push beyond these limiting thoughts, I could have spent more focused energy saving money, buying better gear up front and completing more shake down hikes. 
 
3.	The growth phases
The growth phase is basically a countdown to my start date.  This is the time where I counted my beans and put the eggs in the basket, or the jerky in the Ziplocs, or the stuff in the stuff sacks.  You get it. I began with plenty of time to prepare for the hike.  I had calculated how much money I would be able to save by my start date.  The bus ticket had been purchased (major mistake # 2- always fly). Luckily, I didn't have much to do in the "putting the real world on hold" category.  I was already in post-graduation purgatory. I had a few more questions at this point, but I had a good general hold on things.  I kept meaning to look up how to get from Gainesville to Amicolola Falls, but tons of people have done it, so it couldn't be terribly difficult to navigate, right? 
 
4.	 Sprouts
Remember trying to fall asleep before the first day of school growing up? This was my exact mind space the night before leaving home.  Everything was ready.  This was happening whether I was ready or not.  I packed and unpacked my bag; I slept on my sleeping pad; I hiked in the rain.  I wasn't forgetting anything.  The problem was that nothing went as seamlessly as it could have.  I had more than I needed and simultaneously nothing that I needed!
                        

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