Going AWOL


You thought quitting my job was crazy. Well, I’m just getting started.

Let’s talk about backpacking again. I first mentioned this in my New Year’s resolutions post and my interest has only grown since. With the desire to learn more, I recently set out to read a book about backpacking. Here is my review.

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller

Here is the Amazon summary:

In 2003, David Miller left his job, family, and friends to fulfill a dream and hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). AWOL on the Appalachian Trail is Miller’s account of this thru-hike along the entire 2,172 miles from Georgia to Maine. On page after page, readers are treated to rich descriptions of the valleys and mountains, the isolation and reverie, the inspiration that fueled his quest, and the life-changing moments that can only be experienced when dreams are pursued. While this book abounds with introspection and perseverance, it also provides useful passages about safety and proper gear, showing a professional hiker’s preparations and tenacity. This is not merely a travel guide, but a beautifully written and highly personal view into one man’s adventure and what it means to make a lifelong vision come true.

Well, a few obvious parallels between my life and Miller’s were easily drawn. We both were working jobs that we felt little passion for and, with the idea of shaking things up, we both quit.

I went for the more ‘standard’ route of a 23-year-old and retreated to the safety of mom and dad’s. Miller, with the support of his wife, left his friends, family, and work behind to spend five months hiking a span of 2,185 miles across 14 states (Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine).

Miller and I also both used our time off as a period for self-reflection and openness to new challenges. Miller’s challenge was obvious: get from Point A to Point B in a predetermined amount of time without injury. My objective was a little less defined: try new things to see what sparks joy. We each used the power of writing to self-reflect, mine through this blog and Miller through his “online journal” (was the term ‘blog’ not invented in 2003?). Our writing reach grew quickly as well. Miller soon started writing articles for his local paper and I joined the Career Contessa team.

In his five months off, and in my nine, we have come to very similar conclusions, despite the differences in our adventures. Here is our first key revelation, as summed up by Miller,

“As the result of my hike, I am much more inclined to do things.”

Challenging myself to breakdown the conventional box I was living in was scary. But putting myself in a new situation and excelling has been an insurmountable confidence boost. Rekindling long lost friends in New York, exploring Alaska, and traveling solo in Europe would not have been possible if I still resided in that box. This time has taught me that I am not a static person. My passions are dynamic, and I enjoy life most when I set out to deepen them or discover new ones. As the result of my step back, I too am much more inclined to do new things.


The second discovery is that we have become friendlier and more patient people during our journeys. There is no question that Miller had plenty of alone time while solo hiking the AT. My isolation, however, is more discrete. Currently, I spend my days in my house reading, writing, or planning my next adventure. Often, I see only my mom and dad during the day. Without work or school, I have lost factors that forced me into social situations, so it is now up to me to seek them out. Although I have always been a friendly person, now I have pushed aside any shyness and meet people, not just with the intention of being friendly, but with the hope of making a new friend. Whether traveling alone for the day or five months hiking solo, sharing an experience with someone takes it to a whole new level. Both Miller and I have gained a deeper sense of the importance of being friendlier to strangers.


My daily to-do list is pretty simple: get some exercise, write, read, and sleep. During the time of his hike, Miller’s was pretty similar (forget the reading). I think there is something about having little to do that makes you realize how long the day really is. Without the hustle and bustle of modern life, I have for the first time been able to consciously acknowledge every minute of my waking day. This has taught me patience. I do have the patience to have a drawn-out conversation with my grandmother. I do have the patience to sit in traffic. I do have the patience to play the same game with my cousin’s son 75 times over. And I have the patience because I acknowledge that I have the time.

I understand that without the multitude of factors that affect your precious 24 daily hours I am in a pretty unique situation. Despite this, I think we can all learn more patience by taking a deep breath and asking ourselves one question: is this important to me. It is important to me to talk to my grandmother, even if it is a long-winded conversation. It is important to me to sit in traffic at the airport if it meant that I got to see my boyfriend. It is important to me to play the same game 75 times over because I won’t always be able to so easily make him happy. If your job is important to you, then you can learn the patience for your commute. If the answer you seek is important to you, then you can learn the patience to wait on hold. If purchasing an item is important to you, then you can learn the patience to wait in line.


The next finding we shared is our ability to get by with less. I’ve spoken a good amount about my journey to minimalism on FromBrownEyes, so I’ll keep this short. [Read here, here, or here for more.] Miller learned that excess is a burden when he was forced to carry all he needed on his back. I learned excess is a burden when I had to pack up and move out. Although these were one-time situations for each of us, we both found the value in owning less and carried the mentality to our everyday lives.


The final lesson we shared is the pride and encouragement associated with influencing others. During his hike, Miller received responses to his newspaper articles and messages from friends about how his bravery to try something new has inspired them to do the same. Through the documentation of my journey, many people have written to me in the same way. Since starting FBE: I have had two friends quit their jobs, one move back home, two start a blog, one go on a solo vacation, and many purge their closets. I don’t take credit for their decisions, but each has told me that I inspired them in a small way. Like Miller, I am proud of the positive influence my journey has had on my friends.

If you are looking to go on a journey, even just from your couch, I would read this book. Maybe it will inspire you to go a little AWOL.


Would you ever quit everything and go backpacking? Let us know below.



3 thoughts on “Going AWOL

  1. Jeanette

    hi Tess! l love this statement in your blog: “Miller learned that excess is a burden when he was forced to carry all he needed on his back. I learned excess is a burden when I had to pack up and move out. Although these were one-time situations for each of us, we both found the value in owning less and carried the mentality to our everyday lives.” Nice lesson to be learned there! Thanks for the lovely post.


  2. Pingback: Starting the Trek – From Brown Eyes

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