I can still remember that cold March morning on Long Island in 1996 as I struggled to lift on my heavy Dana Design pack and load it in my parent’s car for the trip to Penn Station.  In a few hours I would be on a train to DC then a few rides with my future hiking partners as we worked our way to Amicalola Falls State Park in GA to begin our thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Whitney LaRuffa

Putting on my pack to head to Georgia

 It was a leap of faith for me and my parents.  I was only 18 when I left home and my parents had a hard time trusting me to go out into the big wide world on my own.  For the next 5 months I worked my way north to Maine, found a dog who I named Erwin that I had for many years, and I grew up from being a boy to a man. That journey forever changed my life for the better. 

After my thru-hike I found myself 3 days later checking into my dorm room to begin my college career at Virginia Tech. For the next 4 years I studied Wood Science and graduated with a BS in 2000.  The entire time I was in school I dreamed of graduating and then setting off on the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail to complete my Triple Crown of hiking.

Me and Earl Schaffer in 1997

Me and Earl Schaffer in 1997

As graduation approached I did a few interviews with various lumber companies to appease my folks, one that stuck out was a company based out of Portland, OR called North Pacific.

The job as they described was being a lumber broker, and essentially I would run my own business. The job paid well, included benefits and they would pay for my relocation. Not having a trust fund or really any other way to support myself after graduating I took the job and figured, “hey if doesn’t work out I’ll go hike the PCT the next year”.  I figured since I would be out on the west coast transportation to the trail would easier.

Now comes yet again another leap of faith…In March of 2000 I was a bar tender at a bar in the neighboring town of Christiansburg, VA.  On March 18th I was introduced to my new supervisor, a woman named Suzy. I was instantly smitten with her, but there was an age gap of nearly a decade, and according to her there was no interest on her end.

Driving through the badlands

Driving through the badlands

 After hanging out a few times after work, just a week before I was to graduate in May I decide what the hell and I kissed her, well that one kiss would change both of our lives. I worked that summer as an intern for USAID and traveled to Central America, when I returned in July Suzy and I traveled to Oregon for my final round of interviews and to scope the area out.  After only dating for a few months we threw all caution to the wind and moved to Oregon together that August.  We had no family, no friends, and no idea where we would live, but we knew it just felt right.  That leap of faith worked out though, we eventually got married, bought a house, and built a life together in Oregon over the next 15 years.

I didn’t get out and do my thru-hikes on the PCT or the CDT after moving here.  Instead I was successful at my job and tried to feed my wanderlust with climbs of cascade peaks, skiing all winter on Mt Hood, chasing steelhead and salmon in the many rivers around us, and backpacking on weekends and vacation time in Indian Heaven Wilderness, Goat Rocks Wilderness, and other areas around us.  As time marched on I missed my longer hikes and dreamed of thru-hiking a long trail again, in 2011 I started to knock off shorter thru-hikes or as I say “thru-hikes for the working stiff”.  

Visiting Devil's Tower

Visiting Devil’s Tower

I was fortunate and with the support and blessing of my wife I started taking my vacation time on various trails.  I was able to hike some of the best out there too including the John Muir Trail, Wonderland Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, Sierra High Route and even pioneered the first thru-hike of the Chinook Trail in the Columbia River Gorge.  While I hoped this would fill my desire to thru-hike, it really only made it worse for me and with each trip my desire to leave it all behind and get out in trail grew to something I could no longer ignore.

So a few years ago I started to think about my 20th anniversary of hiking the Appalachian Trail, I knew this would be a special year for me so I started to think of ways I could do a 6 month hike again.  While the PCT has been my backyard and I have spent many a miles knocking off section after section, my true desire was to hike the CDT.

Me and Dad heading to Penn Station

Me and Dad heading to Penn Station

 At only 72% completed the CDT held the kind of challenges I like: route finding, a low number of users, alternates galore so I can make my own adventure and a certain wild abandonment that calls to me.  I worked hard to curb my spending and start to save up my money, I talked with Suzy at length about how we could make it work for me to go away.  In the fall of 2015 things started to fall into place and my plan finally started to come together allowing me to make the dream a reality.  So now comes the next Leap of Faith in my life….

Last week I had to do what might have been the hardest part of this process so far, informing my employer of my plans.  I have always worked in the high paced world of lumber brokerage, acting essentially as a middle man between lumber producers and wood manufacturing plants.  The job has always been a 100% commission based and with the benefits of making a great living it also can be very stressful at times.  I sat down with my Controller and the President of my company on Friday morning.  I informed them of my intent to hike the CDT, why I was doing this and we agreed that this was best for me.  They did say that if I decided to come back to lumber brokering upon my return that I would be able to return if my hearts passion was to trade again.  The rest of the day was a whirlwind of meeting with a key few people at work and laying out my exit on Monday.

Springer Mountain official start of the AT

Springer Mountain official start of the AT

I now sit at home unemployed for the first time in nearly 20 years, getting things in order to leave in a month, and taking yet again another leap of faith to go fill a lifelong dream.  I have not felt this alive in years and while change is always scary it is also exhilarating and I wouldn’t have things any other way.