Considering an Appalachian Trail thru-hike? Hire a coach!

Stop wishing. Start doing.

As an ultra runner, I had heard of Jenn Pharr Davis. I was in awe of this woman who had the remarkable ability to cover almost 2200 miles at an average of 47 miles per day to claim what at the time was the trail’s fastest known time on the Appalachian Trail. Strong women inspire the hell out of me, and I dreamed of hiking the AT (at a much slower pace) myself one day. However, at that time, life circumstances made that dream seem truly preposterous and I shrugged it off as a silly fairy tale. Until one day it wasn’t.

When COVID hit the United States one year ago today, I lost my entire personal training clientele, and I had neither the energy nor interest in rebuilding. I fiddled around with odd jobs, still teaching cycle classes here and there while working at a local running store, but I KNEW there was more. Sometimes people SAY they hear voices in their head and you think, “Oh, she’s crazy!” Well, I heard a voice in my head that I knew was my truth.

“Stop wishing. Start doing,” the voice told me. “It’s time to go hiking.”

But how do I make this happen?

Here’s the thing— I didn’t even know how to camp out for God’s sake. I had never pitched a tent, built a fire, or carried a backpack that weighed more than 3 pounds, but I learned. I took a three-day women’s trip with Blue Ridge Hiking Company with its fantastic guide Jenn Gift. We learned how to pack our backpack with what was necessary and what wasn’t, how to hoist it onto our back, how to pace ourselves, how to set up camp, and what to eat … everything we needed to know to live off of what was on our back for three days. We hiked from Max Patch to Hot Springs, smiling the whole time and I was hooked. “I’m thinking about hiking the whole thing,” I told Jenn. “You’re strong and you have the right attitude,” she said. “You should go for it!”

For months her words swirled in my head. “You should go for it!”

I told my husband, “I want to hike the Appalachian Trail.” Now, my husband is used to me doing crazy shit, like running 100-mile races in the mountains, training for hours for an Ironman, going camping on my own on the weekends “to figure it out,” so he said. “Yes! Let’s do that together someday when I retire!”

“I want to go now,” I told him.

“OK”, he said, a simple yes washing me with excitement and hope. After talking to my ex-husband and kids (two in college and one in high school), and making plans for them to visit me along the way, I had everyone’s blessing to go. Oh hell … Shit just got real. I’m going to need to hire a coach.

Why hire a coach?

I’ve hired coaches for 12 years now because I read somewhere that you should always surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. I’ve had running coaches, life coaches, business coaches, and therapists. I knew that if I was going to hike the Appalachian Trail, I would need to find the smart people, so I reached out to Jenn Pharr Davis, who emailed me back saying that Blue Ridge Hiking Company had indeed just hired Carly Moree ([email protected]) to do personal trail coaching.

I immediately signed up for four sessions with her, and for Warren Doyle’s week-long course at the Appalachian Trail Institute. Carly has hiked both the AT and the PCT and has even written a book on the latter with The Trek’s Zach Davis (who I later learned is also a coach). Carly was also the third woman to attempt to hike the PCT in less than 60 days.

Warren has walked the entire AT 18 times, and claims on his website that “the completion rate of ATI graduates is 75% compared to a 20-25% completion rate of non-ATI participants.” I can’t wait to spend a week with him learning the ins and outs of the trail on March 28th. (

Here are five reasons why hiring a knowledgeable coach has been a great investment for me:

  1. A coach shares your passion. Unlike your friends and family, a coach thinks you are brave and cool instead of that weirdo that wants to go live in the wilderness like a hobo without a job.
  2. Hiking is her genius. A coach knows the ins and outs. She can tell you what you will need, and what is superfluous. A coach can help you to plan, and provide you with lists of necessary supplies
  3. It’s good therapy. A coach believes in you! When you tell her that you have fears, she acknowledges them, then reminds you how amazing you will be, and what a great experience it will be for you.
  4. You become invested. When you pay the money, you’re more invested in both yourself and the plan. Period. You train and figure things out, becoming more badass each and every day.
  5. A coach will help you along the way. You WILL need help along the way because you are human. You won’t mind asking your coach for help BECAUSE YOU ARE PAYING HER WHAT SHE DESERVES. It’s a win-win.

Carly is quick to answer a text or give encouragement when needed, and I cannot wait to see what Warren has to share. More on that to come when I attend the institute on March 28 … But in the meantime, if you have a BIG ASS DREAM, don’t be afraid to get the help you deserve. Coaches help you to put your dream into action. It’s no fairy tale, sister; you just have to find the answers from smart people, and then be willing to put in the work.