After actually getting outside and doing it, I was hooked.

My Trail Story by Early Bird

Deserrae Potts, a.k.a Early Bird, shares the story of how she went from a completely broke student and inexperienced backpacker to a thru hiker in one year.

Trail Name: Early Bird

Trail: Appalachian Trail in 2019

Age: 21 years old

Hi my name is Deserrae, trail name “Early Bird,” and I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2019. I hiked the AT immediately after I graduated college. This is the story of how I transitioned from a completely broke student to a thru hiker in one year! 

Early Bird hitchhiking from town.
Photo provided by Deserrae Potts

My whole life, I have always been strongly drawn to spending time outdoors doing physical activity. It was common for me to regularly be frustrated that I didn’t have any skills, knowledge, gear, or even a partner to go and do the activities I had such a strong desire for. I got into climbing at the indoor campus gym while I was in college. However, I was always frustrated with the fact that I didn’t have a partner or the money for any gear. I always found myself relying on other people to take me out and teach me new skills. I couldn’t justify investing the very little money I had in the sport. It felt like I was at a dead end so I found myself looking for something I could do on my own.

Searching for my own thing, I knew that backpacking was something I had always wanted to do. I followed a girl on  Instagram. She thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail last year. I would constantly see pictures and read stories of her cowboy camping and hiking alone. I couldn’t get over just how on earth I could ever do such a thing. But the more I saw her doing it, the more I thought I could probably do the same.

Photo provided by Deserrae Potts

Miraculously, I ended up getting a backpack and tent as a gift. Next I spent money on a sleeping bag, which seemed like a big deal to me. I was saving every penny I could and working like crazy to pay for my college degree. At one point I remember giving myself a $10 a week budget to do something fun. This included anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary for me to live or own. Even if I wanted to get a cup of coffee with a friend I would have to dip into the $10. As a result I would only have $7 left. I’ve always been pretty careful about my decision making regarding money.

To make a long story short, I absolutely did not have the funds to start backpacking. But I still found a way. I went to yard sales all summer and I found a junky sleeping pad for only $2, but it worked for me! I saved up the funds to purchase a water filter and buy the cheapest stove and cook set sold on Amazon. Now that I felt like I had the absolute basics to get outside: a tent, backpack, sleeping bag, stove, and water filter. I just needed to find someone to go with. There was still no way I was going to go alone!

Photo provided by Deserrae Potts

I asked my friends to go with me several times. But after hearing “no” and “I’m too busy” so many times I just gave up. I was so desperate. I started to look for random people on Facebook. That’s where I found “Mountain Chicks Midwest” (a group which has ceased to exist). They had a backpacking trip planned for the next weekend that worked for me. All I had to do was sign up, and show up to the relatively local location with my gear. That was it. No  money involved. I definitely could not afford to pay $300 to go on a guided trip.

Photo provided by Deserrae Potts

I showed up to the trip with barely anything in my backpack. Because I didn’t own anything else to bring. I didn’t know a single person and I was the youngest one by far, being only 20 at the time. When we started hiking I was so nervous. My backpack looked considerably empty compared to everyone else’s. They were all experienced, often going on day hikes or weekend trips. The first hill we climbed up absolutely killed me. I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe how hard backpacking was. But regardless, I was instantly in love with it.

My pack wasn’t adjusted correctly and my shoulder and neck were killing me. Too afraid to speak up in fear that I would be complaining about something. I didn’t say anything until we got to camp where one of the women kindly helped me.  She showed me how to adjust my pack the correct way so I wouldn’t hurt. At night I heard coyotes howling outside my tent. As a result, I didn’t sleep at all. When the trip was over and I arrived home I felt more sore than I had expected. There were bruises on my hips. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to limp around for my shift at the hospital the next day.

Photo provided by Deserrae Potts

After actually getting outside and doing it, I was hooked. Spending most of my life living in an Appalachian Trail state (Pennsylvania), I can’t remember not knowing the trail existed. I always wanted to do this. But I really didn’t understand or think about what it would take to actually complete it. I ended up with a job making more than I ever had which was still close to minimum wage. I was living in a place with rent cheap enough to save extra money. When I decided to graduate a year early, I realized that I would actually have funds to do what I wanted!

Photo provided by Deserrae Potts

I remember taking 21 credit hours, and when I wasn’t studying, I was working 12 hour shifts. I was determined that I would be thru hiking in less than a year from now. Because Ibecame so obsessed with the trail, I could barely sleep. Constantly, I was praying about it, doing research, reading books, and watching videos. I had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to do it, but I wanted it so bad. In fact, I don’t really feel that I’ve ever worked so hard for something that I was so desperate to do in my whole life.

Photo provided by Deserrae Potts

Telling people what I wanted to do was scary. I was so worried that people would be disappointed that I didn’t really care about graduating college.  I found myself doubting if I could really hike 2,200 miles by myself. Because of my doubt I almost didn’t even attempt it. Eventually I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what other people think of my dreams. I am the only one who would make it happen for me. Making the final commitment in my head was one of the biggest and most intimidating steps of the entire trail journey. Without that first step, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about how I went from being a broke college student with zero experience to a thru hiker in a year.

Photo provided by Deserrae Potts

So if you’re thinking about thru hiking or backpacking and asking yourself how on earth you will pull it off, I’m here to let you know that where there is a will, there is a way. I promise, that whatever is stopping you has been overcome by someone else at some point and if they can do it, so can you!

(Disclaimer: At some point on my thru hike I have gone without every single one of these items listed in my absolutely necessary gear list, except for a backpack. Not that I recommend going without any of these items (except a stove), but where there is a will there is a way!)

Photo provided by Deserrae Potts

Related Trail Guide

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is one of the oldest National Scenic Trails in the United States. Its narrow corridor stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. The AT traverses 14 states on its way. The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world and is one of the Triple Crown trails. The AT is an amazing hiking adventure for long-distance hikers and section hikers. It is also perfect for day-hikers looking to enjoy the beautiful views. Check out our interactive AT map today!