The trails are there for you

by Heather Anderson, Author “Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home” (2019, Mountaineers Books)

The National Trails System has played a pivotal role in my life for the last 16 years. The day after I graduated college, I took my first steps northward from Springer Mountain, GA on the Appalachian Trail. Without any measurable backcountry experience I was setting forth looking for adventure in the unknown. 

In the 2,100-plus miles between there and Mount Katahdin, ME, I found it. I also learned many lessons about backcountry travel and myself. Over the following years it would be a pattern that would repeat: hike a trail, increase my knowledge and experiences, become more aware of who I was.

I completed my first Triple Crown by the age of 25. In all my wisdom gained, I believed that it was time to stop adventuring and move on with life. Within five years, I realized that I had been wrong. There were still lessons I needed to learn, and the only place I could learn them was on a national scenic trail.

In my new memoir, “Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home,” I chronicle my second thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. In 2013, I stepped onto a 2,000-plus mile long footpath seeking something other than adventure: answers.

I’d built a life around traditional norms but realized something crucial was missing. I believed that to find the answers I needed a new challenge on familiar terrain. I decided to attempt to hike the PCT as a traditional backpacker…in just 60 days.

What I learned along the way were many lessons and many answers about myself. Among these were acceptance, strength, determination, humility, and connectedness. I realized that there are no answers to be provided by any trail. We already hold the answers within ourselves; the trails provide us the opportunity to unlock them by connecting with ourselves. I’d always known I was different, but instead of embracing it, I’d fought it. Sixty days of intense hiking alone taught me that I would never find answers that way. I needed to accept myself before I could move forward.

I’ve subsequently completed the Triple Crown two more times and covered thousands of miles on our national scenic and recreation trails. I’ve gone to them to process the loss of my father and my sister. I’ve found the comfort I needed by walking miles and miles alone with my grief. I’ve also gone there to celebrate the finding of love, feeling the joy of nature with my husband. 

Hiking has been my path to healing, growth, challenge, and fulfillment. Our National Trails System is an incredible boon to those like me. No matter our needs, there is a trail waiting for us with open tread.

Here on the final day of a crazy journey, doing the thing that came most naturally to me, I knew why I had felt empty before: I needed to be true to myself and my calling…I had learned to accept myself for all that I was and all that I wasn’t. My calling came from the mountains and all that I needed to do to answer was put one foot in front of the other.

Heather Anderson, known as Anish, is the only female Triple Triple Crowner. She was also the first woman to complete a Calendar Year Triple Crown (2018). In addition to writing, she is a sought after public speaker. “Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home” is her first book. It is available in paperback, audio, and ebook format online. Autographed copies are available direct from the author at You can follow her adventures on Instagram @AnishHikes or on her website:

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.