Member Spotlight: Carolyn Ryan

Last week, Carolyn announced that she was going to be hiking the Appalachian Trail; a 2,200 mile trek from Georgia to Maine. A solo endeavor, Carolyn will be pushed physically and mentally as she navigates the uneven terrain and whatever weather arises. Carolyn and I talked about what attracted her to this challenge, the preparation that is involved, and what she anticipates being the biggest challenge. Read the discussion below.

1.) How long have you been a member at Unified Health and Performance?

I have been a member of Unified Health and Performance a little over two years. I joined the gym February 2017.

2.) What inspired you to hike the Appalachian Trail?

I was first introduced to the Appalachian Trail when I was in my mid-20's. At the time, I belonged to a photography club. Each month, they (the club) would bring in a guest speaker. This one particular month, a man came in to tell his story of his journey on the Appalachian Trail. He shared with us a slide presentation (yes, photo slides! I’m that old) of amazing photos he had taken during his six months on the trail. His storytelling was such an inspiration, I was in awe and remember thinking that I too would love to do that “someday." That was the spark that lit a small flame. I had no way of knowing at that time, it would become a burning fire inside me.

3.) When did this idea come into picture? When did it become a reality?

The idea of hiking the AT was a fantasy for more than 21 years after I first learned of the trail. I was a wife and a stay at home mother. I had a full family life with all its responsibilities. I was busy and happy. A 6-month adventure during those years were not an option or a possibility and I had different priorities. The intrigue of the trail never left me though, and I still believed in “someday.” As my children grew and I had more “me time,” I started to focus a little on my needs. I was overweight and underactive. With encouragement from a friend, I joined a running group and in time, began to enjoy running. With more confidence in myself and more time on my hands, my desire to try hiking grew. So, when a friend said she would join me on a weekend hike to the AMC High Huts in the White Mountains of NH, I laced up my boots and headed North. That trip was magical, and the flame that was sparked 20 something years earlier began to grow. In the 5 years that followed, there were numerous weekend hikes up to the Huts. The mountains were calling me and I heard and responded to their call. There is an indescribable feeling when you’re standing on top of a mountain that you just summited, a mountain that took every ounce of energy inside you to get you there. When all you can see is pure untouched wilderness as far as the eye can see. My words fail miserably to describe the grandeur of it all.

As faith would have it, on these hikes, I would cross paths with several Appalachian Thru-Hikers. It was an opportunity to hear their stories of the trail and I ate it up! I had so many questions for them. Infatuated with their stories, I began buying and reading all the books about the AT I could find. This, in turn, added more fuel to my dream of hiking the trail. Over the last 4 years, I have invited everyone and anyone who was in proximity of me, to hike with me and would talk endlessly about the allure of a thru-hike. If you knew me, you knew the AT was on the top of what we now refer to as a “bucket list." Sadly, there were no bites.

How does a dream become a reality? When you set your intentions. When you say it out loud. When you believe it to possible. About 5 months ago, while in REI, I picked up an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Planner. I brought it home and read it cover to cover. It was then that I decided it was time to have a serious conversation with my family. I will spend the next 12 months prepping and preparing and will begin the trail March 2020.

4.) What do you anticipate being a bigger challenge, the logistics and demands of preparing for the journey or the sacrifices that you’ll have to make during the 6 months of hiking?

Although preparing for the trail will take many months, in the sense of researching and purchasing all the gear needed to live, cook and sleep in the woods for six months, preparing resupply boxes to be sent to the trail, making sure things at home are in order and physically getting my body ready for the demands of the trail, I think the sacrifices of 6 months of hiking will ultimately be the biggest challenge. The trail will be inherently hard. There is no doubt, I will be sore, cold, tired and dirty. I will be afraid at times, other times feel lonely and there will be no comforts of home. The trail will be a trial!

5.) Besides finishing the hike, what do you want to get out of the journey?

No doubt finishing the trail is the ultimate goal, but most people are out there for more personal reasons. For me, self-growth tops my list and that’s a big one for me as I have always been reluctant or more truthfully, afraid, of doing things alone. Self-discovery: to learn what I’m capable of. To experience nature. To push myself physically and challenge myself beyond my comfort zone. And to live a simplified life for a little while. That is what I’m hoping to attain from this journey.

6.) Do you think the gym has helped you get to a point, physically and mentally, to take on a challenge like this?

I definitely think the gym has helped me get to a point, physically, to take on a challenge like this. Over the last two years, 2 days a week, I have tried to consistently show up. That dedication and consistency has made me stronger and I have seen several positive changes in my body. With that said, I still have much work to do if I am endure 2200 miles. Focusing on endurance, additional cardio and balance exercises, while continuing to build my overall strength will help me succeed and I know that all of that is achievable with coaching and dedication at the gym. This will be an epic challenge. The Appalachian Trail is not a walk in the woods, it is a job and it will test who I am to my core. In addition to the physical challenge, I believe the mental challenge may be the biggest obstacle. How does one strengthen their mental muscle? Can they? With the positive physical gains I have made over the last few years, I suspect, in turn, it has helped my mental game to some degree. A successful thru-hike will take drive and determination to see it through. Is that something that can be built or is it something one inherently has? If I’m being honest, I don’t know if I have what it takes to complete the trail. What I do have is a desire to try.

Brendan Aylwardspotlight