*One of a collection of stories written about alumni for the Jepson School of Leadership Studies's 25th Anniversary

The Appalachian Trail (AT) links Mount Katahdin, Maine to Springer Mountain, Georgia. While the beginning and ending points are constant, small reroutes change the actual path and the total distance of the trail from year to year. In 2016, the year Ann Louise Seaton, ’15, hiked the AT, it was 2,189.1 miles.

“After working for the government for a year post-grad, I realized that government contracting was not the career I wanted for myself. I started researching new career paths but also kept thinking about the AT and how much I love to hike,” says the Jepson School of Leadership Studies alumna. “I realized that if I didn’t hike it then, there was a bigger chance that I would never go.”

Seaton, who never backpacked before thru-hiking, spent the next month and a half training. After work, she walked around the streets of Washington, D.C., carrying her loaded pack. She gave her two weeks notice. She did one overnight hike as a test run to check that her pack was complete. And she flew to Maine.

On July 4, Seaton started her hike.Ann Louise Seaton

“My hardest days were the days walking felt mundane,” recalls Seaton. “I was happy to be out there every day, but at the end of the day, you’re doing the same thing day in and day out.”

Seaton explains that she listened to music and podcasts and talked with her trail family to get through the hard days. She passed time by identifying theories of leadership and group dynamics that she saw playing out on the trail. And as she wound her way southward, through the heart of Appalachia, she also thought about the region through which she was passing.

“The region is nothing like the places I grew up in, and I appreciated what we learned at Jepson about inequality and justice while walking through Appalachia.  Jepson prepared me to understand the larger system that people in the ‘thru-hiker towns’ of Appalachia are a part of,” says Seaton.

Seaton shares that her journey on the AT helped her to be more compassionate in a time of political divisiveness. Throughout the hike, she received encouragement from her trail family and Trail Angels, people who perform random acts of kindness to help hikers.

“The trail is full of the best people you will meet in your entire life,” says Seaton. “The trail taught me that everyone has something great about him or her if you take the time to really listen to each other.”

Ann Louise Seaton

Seaton arrived at Springer, Mountain on December 2.

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Walking for nearly five months gave Seaton time to think about her next step and contemplate what brings her joy. Ten months after completing her hike, Seaton now lives in New York City. She puts her Jepson School education to use working at BounceX, a tech startup in the digital marketing space.

“Many of the foundational ideas of the products I work on require an understanding of why people do the things they do. We’ve had speakers come to teach us about the theories of influence, and I think I’m better able to engage with those speakers because of my Jepson education,” explains Seaton.

Seaton shares that, since hiking the AT, she’s come to understand and adopt the thru-hiking motto: “Hike your own hike.”

“I don’t need the approval from other people to confirm what I decide is the right way of living for me,” says Seaton. “Conversely, what is right for someone else isn’t my decision.”