Calling college graduates! Times are perfect for planning the hike of a lifetime

Hilary Coleen Lufkin on the Appalachian Trail.

In the next couple weeks, thousands of college graduates will don caps and gowns and joyously march to “Pomp and Circumstance,” despite the fact that once the graduation ceremony is over, things look pretty bleak. The national unemployment rate is hovering just below 10 percent and precious internships and slots in graduate programs are being snagged by seasoned professionals. Though the job market may be discouraging, now is the perfect time for recent college graduates to embark upon outdoor adventures that provide much more opportunity for soul searching than an entry-level 9-5 job.

Such was the logic of Hilary Coleen Lufkin, who after graduating from the University of Mary Washington last year decided to hike a portion of the majestic Appalachian Trail before jumping into the workforce.

“When I was getting ready to graduate, I said to myself, ‘Now is the best time to do this. When else am I going to have no commitments or obligations?’” Lufkin said in an interview. “Not to mention I had a six month-grace period for my student-loan payments.”

Established in 1923 by one of the Wilderness Society founders, Benton MacKaye, the Appalachian Trail stretches for more than 2,000 miles between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. An estimated 3 to 4 million visitors, many of them fresh out of college, hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail each year, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Lufkin, a geography major, spent her last semester of college preparing for the trip, dehydrating fruits and vegetables in her dorm room and compiling food bags to send to various mail drops along the trail. Lufkin’s original plan was to “thru-hike” the entire 2,175 miles, a feat that only 10 to 15 percent of hikers who attempt it accomplish every year. In the end, Lufkin decided to take a shorter trip that took her from Springer Mountain to the Georgia state line in about two weeks.

“You have nothing to do but think,” Lufkin said of her time on the trail. “It was the perfect way for me to collect my thoughts and reflect upon the last four years amazing years that had just happened. A lot of people graduate with a fancy piece of paper and a bunch of facts in their head, but I don’t think they take the time to really understand what it all means. For me, the hike was cleansing and clarifying. “

If you’d rather hike out west, The Pacific Crest Trail and The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail are both fantastic venues. For those who want to connect with nature without strenuous hiking, a cross-country road trip with frequent stops in National Parks and wilderness areas is another option.

While unemployment may be a daunting fate for young people, the time to reflect and discover America’s wild places is a benefit that doesn’t come from sitting in an office.

photo: Hilary Coleen Lufkin on the Appalachian Trail.