Joe’s life-changing 2,200 mile hike along Appalachian Trail

Published December 7, 2015   Posted in Explore Lifestyles

There is a popular saying among dedicated hikers: “A bad day on the trail is better than a good day in the office.” And for a guy named Joe Jimenez, somewhere along the Appalachian Trail, that quote became a way of life.

Pinterest: Appalachian TrailThis is the story of a guy who’s grim employment prospects coming out of college lead him on a very different path through life, jolting the recent college grad out of the comforts of home and leading him down an unforgettable adventure that fundamentally changed his perspective on life.

And how could it not? He hiked the whole damn Appalachian Trail. All 2000+ miles of it.

If you take nothing else from this blog, understand this: this blog is not just about financial independence and early retirement. It is about charting your own course in life, grabbing your lifestyle by the horns and shaping it into something that is entirely your own. Forget society’s rules. Brush away conventional wisdom. You might just find yourself with a whole new perspective on life, and a few kick ass stories to tell about your adventures, too.

And as Joe took his very first step on that cold, wet day that kick-started his epic journey up the East coast, he had every intention to return to normal life one day. In a way, he has – but the definition of “normal” is no longer what it used to be.


If you hike 2,200 miles, you are allowed to have a little “dangerous” fun!

Fresh out of college, Joe was prepared to begin a traditional life. The year was 2011, and with a freshly minted degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Central Florida in hand, Joe was eager to comfortably slip into the society-approved progression of life: college, job, kids, retire and die. Hopefully, the “die” part would come at the end of that progression!

But life had other plans. Opportunities for work in the civil engineering and construction field were few and far between, especially for someone without a lot of experience. Joe was out of a job and looking for direction, a situation not uncommon for many of us.

First day of the hike

Cold and rainy, Joe sets out on his first day – solo

“Honestly, had there been jobs when I graduated I probably would not have taken this trip and my life would look a lot different today,” Joe admitted. “I thought I’d simply do this hike, come back, and continue right where I left off. I couldn’t have been any more wrong”

Here is where the situation DOES get a little more uncommon. Amazing, in fact.

Instead of spinning his wheels looking for work, Joe decided to take a hike. Literally. As a seasoned hiker, a break from normalcy out on the trails seemed appropriate. But true to his form, a 10-mile day hike wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.

“In a way I was using the trail as a way to buy myself some time until the situation improved.”

Think bigger. Crazier. Bad-shit insanier (<- new word!).

How about a trek along the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail to become a part of the 25% who actually complete the monumental feat? Yes, all of it. The whole damn thing.

Frustrated by a lack of job opportunities and with some spendable cash, Joe embarked on his journey to conquer the monster-sized adventure, built only for the strongest among us…and perhaps the craziest as well.

He hiked 2,184 miles on a northbound journey that began in Georgia and ended in Maine. Averaging 20-miles a day, he would be considered a quick hiker. In fact, his 24-hour record for the number of miles conquered is an astounding 47. Damn near 50 miles hiked in a single day.

But he did not hike every day; after all, this was not a race. Some days he took “off”, hiking a total of zero miles. But, that’s largely the point of charting a course this long – having fun at your own pace and taking some time to rest, reflect and maybe party a little bit with the locals.

“I could stop at a summit and stay there until the sunset, I could take side trails to lookout towers, etc… I was in control.”

Through the pain of walking for hours each day, building camp fires and staring at one breathtaking summit after the next, Joe’s environment slowly began to truly sink in. It was not just mountains and trees, streams and lakes, that surround him. It was freedom.

“I got a 5 month taste of freedom and it created a radical change in the way I approach life,” he said. “Its easy to gain an awareness of what is important and what is just a distraction that keeps us from seeing what truly adds value to our lives”

Freedom baby, freedom! 

Joe along the Appalachian TrailThere is something about lovingly fueling your evening fire with dried coyote dung that puts things into perspective. Our world is a truly amazing place, but so few of us ever experience the power that the wilderness provides.

Instead, we are stuck in offices focusing the best we can into our computer screens, responding to emails and keeping ourselves awake in meeting after meeting. Maybe we weren’t supposed to live like this. The wilderness thinks so.

“I was the happiest I had ever been in my life, and I was living a VERY simple lifestyle,” Joe said.

Today, Joe and his wife live in an RV (just like we are about to do very shortly!) and saving around 60% of their income, trotting headlong towards financial independence and early retirement.

“Living a simple life free of materialism is refreshing and has allowed us to save at a massive rate.”

Joe told me that the confidence he built on his Appalachian journey gave him the ability and determination to blast through barriers that once seemed insurmountable. And, there’s no way he would be in the same position today if he had scored a job right out of college and started into a traditional life rather than embarking on an unforgettable journey up the east coast of the U.S.

“We are working very hard now, but I’ve already used the FU money principle to negotiate a schedule where I have every other Monday off and 20 days off every year (as opposed to the standard 10 days). This has allowed us to take several trips throughout the year so I can keep motivated for our future lives as early retirees. ”

Joe and his wife want to reclaim the feeling that Joe felt along the Appalachian Trail. The feeling of fresh air and an endless supply of pure and simple freedom.

I’m with you, Joe. I do too.

Follow Joe Jimenez on Twitter at

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34 responses to “Joe’s life-changing 2,200 mile hike along Appalachian Trail”

  1. Love the perspective the hike/ journey gave Joe. Good luck reaching financial freedom!

  2. Charting one’s own course…I like it. I’m currently finishing up a grad program and looking for a new job, so I’m spending a lot of time thinking about Big Decisions these days. It can be easy for me to freak out and just think, “Aaahhh, I just need a job! Right now! Any job!” but I’m trying to stay calm and think about what I actually *want* to do — i.e., to chart my own course. I’ll have to keep this phrasing in mind as I’m moving forward. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Best of luck to you post graduation, Sarah! It’s true, find something that you’re truly passionate about, not something that society would have you do instead. 🙂

    • Smilin' Joe says:

      I’d say you got the right mindset… if there is anything I learned on the trail it’s that things always work out.

  3. B says:

    What an inspirational story.

    What i like about him is the way he opens his mind up about doing what he thinks is correct and then just go do it. Things will look horribly different had he accepted a traditional job and stay with it for 5 to 10years before leaping.

  4. Maggie says:

    Oh man. We were in a similar situation… but because we were married and had a baby, we didn’t even consider hiking the App. Trail. (Also, I would die.) I’m always amazed by people that are willing to take such big risks. It always turns out for them! Way to kickstart an amazing life right out of college!

    • Steve says:

      I’m amazed by those people too. This thought never would have occurred to me when I graduated college, that’s for sure. Had I done something like this, who knows where I’d be right now.

    • Smilin' Joe says:

      Thank you! I was truly inspired by the solo 70+ year old lady, people who quit their jobs, etc… that I met thru-hiking the trail. I felt like they were the amazing people. It showed me that anyone can do it. The AT has a great community of amazing people.

  5. That’s awesome! I just watched the movie “Into the Wild” the other day and find this stuff fascinating. I also walked about a whole 25 feet 🙂 of the Appalachian trail this summer when my girlfriend and I stopped at Blood Mountain one day during some travels to check out the scenery. That hike is TOUGH and I’m surprised the success rate is 25%! I would have expected lower.

    • Steve says:

      Yup, I’ve seen that movie as well as read the book – it’s actually the ONLY book that we had to read in high school that I actually enjoyed reading. I remember it distinctly! 🙂

    • Smilin' Joe says:

      Blood Mtn is one of my favorites in the south. I’ve done that one many times! You have to be slightly crazy to take on something like this, so naturally if you are insane enough to start it, you’re going to finish it ;).

  6. Dan Holland says:

    That’s awesome. Hiking at least part of the Appalachian trail has always been on my bucket list ever since I read Bill Bryson’s book about hiking the trail a long time ago. Not sure I want to do the whole thing but just to be out there and feel the freedom as you say, would be really motivating to want to feel that way all the time. Keep up the great work and love the articles. They are an inspiration to all of us “retire early” enthusiasts.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Dan, appreciate the kind words and the motivation. Thanks for reading!

    • Smilin' Joe says:

      Bill Bryson’s book was what first gave me the ridiculous idea of attempting something as crazy as this. It was really entertaining! I actually never even considered hiking the trail in its entirety until I met a man that had just finished the trail going southbound and was wandering around the smokies because he couldn’t leave the trail. He was the nicest and most humble guy I’d ever met and he played a big role in me finally making the decision to just go. I wish I could meet this guy again and tell him how much he impacted my life :).

  7. The world is a great, big interesting place to chart your own course in. Unfortunately, it is difficult to do so when you have to go to a budget meeting. Here’s to all of us working to make the lifestyle change so we can all hike our Appalachian Trails!

    • Steve says:

      I like it, MrFireStation. Some pursue these endeavors super early in life, others after. Your post retirement hiking adventures will be here soon enough! 🙂

  8. Yessss, I love this story! I didn’t have the gall to do something like this right out of school, but the more years I spend working in a corporate office, the more I feel the wanderlust. Hiking parts of the PCT and Appalachian Trail are definitely on our list for the next few years.

  9. Mrs. Groovy says:

    I love this, Steve. The mention of coyote dung reminds me of when we day-hiked a portion of the trail in the Smoky Mountains and didn’t end where we parked our car. We were helped by a hiker with a map who’d been out on the trail for a week. Mr. G offered to give him a lift to where he was spending the evening, but the hiker insisted he smelled too foul to step foot in our car. Mr. G was like “Oh don’t be silly” and I’m in the background jumping up and down, making faces and miming choking myself to avoid being in an enclosed space with the man.

    I second Dan on the Bryson book.

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Cool story. Hey, at least the guy was sensible enough not to want to funk up your car. Stand up guy, that one! 😉

    • Smilin' Joe says:

      I was that foul-smelling hiker! During my hike I met so many “trail angels” that made my journey so much more enjoyable and memorable. (free beer, rides into town, a place to shower) It’s incredible how many amazing people are out there if you look at the world in a different way that the news and facebook make it look like.

  10. Mr. SSC says:

    Haha! That’s exactly what I did when I figured out I had no idea why I was in college. I figured may as well pay for something I want to do and figure out what to do next, so I went hiking. After months of planning I took off from Maine and made it 1700 miles before I decided I had gotten out of it what I wanted went back to school.

    It was a life changing experience because it helped me refocus and figure out a direction for my life. While that changed some, it was a catalyst to get me where I am today. It’s amazing the confidence boost you get doing something like that, and for me that was my first solo adventure into anything. It showed me I didn’t have to follow the norms, or conventions, and it’s still applicable today.
    While we’re maybe not going down the ER path, we are full steam ahead to FI and our Lifestyle Change and bucking the normal conventions of “what life should look like”.

    • Steve says:

      Very cool, Mr. SSC. I think the best lesson that could possibly come out of an adventure like this is – aside from the confidence boost, conventional wisdom need not dictate your life. If it works for you, great. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something better.

      Over the years, I’ve found that there usually is… 🙂

    • Smilin' Joe says:

      Awesome Mr. SSC! That’s the whole point. Many people get so caught up in completing the trail that they start hating their lives by the end of it. It seems like you got so much out of the AT. Congrats!

  11. At the beginning of this year, after reading Wild and then watching the movie, Mrs. Saturday said she’s decided that we’re going to hike the entire Appalachian Trail within 10 years. I could not have been happier to hear that!

    Over the last 5 years, we’ve sectioned hiked several sections of the AT and to do the whole thing would be a dream come true. It takes a lot of tweaking your gear, getting the weight down, and using coupons to get all that gear over the years, but the trail is such a beautiful place to be!

    Love the story about Joe! Sometimes it really is the simple things in life that can make you happiest.

    • Steve says:

      Woohoo! Good luck with that goal. It’s true, so many times it’s the simple things in life that bring us the most happiness. I bet a few months out on the trail will leave you a much refreshed person when you return to “real life”! 🙂

    • Smilin' Joe says:

      Go for it! It’s not as hard as it seems. You figure it all out as you go. 80% of it is mental. Let me know if you ever have any hiking questions, I’d be happy to assist!

  12. Smilin' Joe says:

    Hey Steve! Thanks so much for featuring me on your blog. I love talking about the trail any chance I get as it is a very special place to me. As many commenters stated, an endeavor like this is not for everyone, but it’s important that we follow passions/goals/dreams and we shouldn’t let “earning a living” get in the way of it. FI is a an amazing pursuit, but we believe that we shouldn’t get so caught up in the outcome that we forget to enjoy ourselves along the way.

    My trail name was “smilin’ Joe” because I was exceptionally happy throughout my entire 2,200 mile journey. I try to lead a life the same way at home :). When I find myself having a particularly difficult day at work, I think of my hike and it always brings my spirits up, I’m very fortunate to have this to reflect on.

    If anyone has any questions, or wants to discuss hiking, early retirement, money, etc… please reach out to me, I’d love to nerd out about any of these topics! ;).

  13. Deb says:

    Excellent article! You’ve captured what makes Joe an inspiration to others who dream about adventure, travel & living more simply. He & Katie live in a way that makes sacrifices look like fun. I can’t say I’ve traveled nearly as much as I would like but I know what it is to live simply and I love that because of the lack of distractions I was able to focus my attention on my family which has been my favorite adventure thus far.

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