This year on her birthday, Carolyn Burman decided to do a solo hike in one of her favorite state parks in Connecticut. She has magical memories of that trek. She grew up hiking it — her mother even went into labor with her while walking the path. She looked forward to a peaceful, reflective experience in nature. Instead, she found something else.
“There was so much garbage in the park,” 26-year-old Burman says. “Plastic seltzer bottles in the stream that floats by the trail, a Dunkin’ Donuts cup…. I go out on this joyful hike on my birthday, and all I see is trash.”
The park Burman cared so much about was being abused. It could have been a “people are such assholes and everything’s hopeless” moment, but it became a call to action instead.
“I thought, ‘Oh, this is a sign. This is a reminder,'” she says. “I think we all can get really careless with waste. I felt like it was a sign from whatever power, ‘Hey. Remember? You gotta pick this up. You have to care more.'”
Burman has spent more time hiking on trails than just about anyone. In 2017, she completed the entirety of the Appalachian Trail as a thru-hiker, all 2200 miles. It took seven months — a commitment that many of us can’t even fully fathom. Aside from the sheer physical difficulty, there are the financial concerns and the endless logistics to sort out. But Burman wasn’t intimidated. It was 2014, she’d just graduated from college, and, like many young people, was at a loss for what came next.
“It just came into my head,” she says with a laugh. “I couldn’t have picked something further from what was within reach of my skills. Most of the responses I got from friends and family were like, “You? Yeah right.”
As her classmates were getting their first real jobs and launching their careers, Burman began working like crazy to save money. She nannied, she waited tables, she took free classes at REI, she trained physically, and she watched every Youtube instructional video she could find.
“I think part of the practice of a thru-hike is constantly saying yes to something that everyone else around you is saying no to,” she says. “You have to say yes to something that most people don’t think is the best thing for you post-college. You’re practicing doing something that’s totally for yourself.”