Adam hiking

Trailblazer: Adam Navigates College and the Appalachian Trail

As Adam Gonyea stood at the trailhead of Springer Mountain in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, the reality of the journey ahead settled in. Over the next six and a half months, Adam would hike 2200 miles through 14 states, wearing through seven pairs of shoes on the Appalachian Trail.

Though he spent months preparing for the journey, getting into peak physical shape, he knew that nothing could truly prepare him for the challenge ahead. Still, even stronger than the fear he felt in that moment, Adam’s determination burned brightly.

Finding Himself Through Education and Experience

Adam, 39, of Gloucester, MA, began the Appalachian Trail following a divorce. He had been considering the trek for a while, practicing on mountains in New England, and understood the powerful healing effects of nature.

In reality, hiking the trail was a natural continuation of the journey he began when he enrolled at college. Adam, who owns a construction business, Trailblazer Construction, said he decided to go back to college because he was struggling to find meaning with his job. After working for a contractor, he thought that starting his own business might provide more satisfaction, but he mostly felt the same.

I was still swinging a hammer, but instead of working for a boss, I was working for a customer.

Adam said one of the things that drew him to the college was that it offered him the flexibility to work toward his degree on his own time while balancing his job and allowing him the opportunity to explore new opportunities.

He had tried college once before, attending a traditional four-year program right out of high school, but he didn’t have the foundation needed to succeed at that time.

At the time I was surviving, not thriving. I wasn’t given the tools and support that were necessary.

Exploring The Human Mind

Adam on computer

Adam enrolled in the college’s B.S. in Psychology program with a concentration in Human Services. He wanted to better understand the world around him – and ultimately, to prove to himself that he can earn his bachelor’s degree.

Growing up in a tough home environment, seeing firsthand the impact substance use can have on a family, Adam sought the tools to help him better understand those around him. He said the faculty at the College provided the encouragement and support he needed to feel comfortable while addressing challenging topics. He cited Siddartha Sosa Rodriguez, an instructor for the college’s undergraduate behavioral sciences and human services programs, as a particularly important influence.

Siddartha encouraged me to feel comfortable with the process of figuring out my own thoughts and being okay with thinking unconventionally.

Courses like Human Development and Understanding the Disease Model of Addiction helped him to better understand the human mind and how to navigate relationships.

When you understand addiction, you start to show compassion and forgiveness. 

Walking Every Step

At some point during his journey on the trail, Adam began to lose track of time.

You never know the date because there’s no need for it. Time completely disappears.

Instead of thinking in hours or days, he measured his journey by locations and the people that he met along the way.

Like many so-called “through-hikers,” Adam adopted a trail name, “Sweetwatah” – another way in which he shed his identity back home. When he’d encounter other through-hikers on the trail, with names like “Skeletor” and “Mudfoot,” they would remember each other not by the last day they saw each other, but the last state or mountain they met on.

Somewhere deep in the woods, Adam began to realize that hiking the trail wasn’t about getting to his destination, but each moment leading up to it.

It was about every step in between. About walking every step. 

Adam recognized he was taking the same approach with hiking as he was with his education, immersing himself in each moment and gaining as much from it as possible.

Reaching the Mountaintop 

Adam hiking

In the final days of his journey in the cold and rugged mountains of Maine, his body worn from physical abuse and lack of sleep, Adam began to doubt whether he would make it through. But just as it seemed all hope was lost, he approached the clearing in the trees signaling the end to the arduous “100-Mile Wilderness.”

While he had one last leg to complete his journey, climbing Mount Katahdin, he knew that night he would get a hot meal and a bed to sleep in and that he’d be restored for the last push.

I was overwhelmed with relief. A lot of people do the trail to run away from their problems. But when I got out, I was filled with gratitude. I was ready to go home and finish what I started by completing my degree.

Broadened Horizons

With only two classes left before finishing his degree, Adam said he feels like a different person from when he began his education at the College.

I’m really thankful for my experience. I will come out of this program a new man. My education and my journey on the Appalachian Trail have really broadened my horizons in a profound way.

Adam has proved to himself that he’s capable of overcoming obstacles to achieve his goals, no matter how challenging they may be. He is optimistic about the future, whatever it brings.

So many people fight the current. I’m just going to keep going forward.

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