LRHS teacher followed wild calling for six months.
What would you give up for the experience of a lifetime?
Would you leave loved ones behind? Would you resign from your job? Would you agree to sleep in muck and mire for months on end?
Tatum Temple did.
In March of 2019, Temple, then 29, quit her English teaching position at Lakewood Ranch High. She wasn’t changing careers, nor moving closer to family. She was going on a journey she had been planning for years. She was going to hike the Appalachian Trail.
The entire trail. That means 2,190 miles of mountain terrain. It is the longest hiking-only trail on Earth. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, approximately 25% of those who attempt to hike the entire trail actually complete it.
Why did Temple want to take on this challenge? A glance at her background doesn’t make the answer any more apparent. Temple was never a big hiker, she said, only going on day hikes here and there with friends, more social activities than sporty ones. She loved teaching English, too. This was not Tatum running from anything. It was about running toward an opportunity.
“After college, I went straight into teaching,” Temple said. “I love it, but it’s an all-consuming job, and I have always said, ‘OK, before I turn 30, I want to do something big for myself.’ My sister (Jodi Randazzo) traveled the world and I looked at that experience and wanted something like that. Something crazy. This was my crazy thing. I thought, ‘If I can do this, I can do anything.’ It was almost like a test for myself while also being a break from teaching. It was something that would make me proud.”
Certainly I have a lot of respect for her accomplishment. One time, when I was on a Boy Scouts camping trip — I was 9 — I awoke in the middle of the night to get some water. I heard a rustling from a nearby bush. It was probably a rabbit or something, but in my mind, it was Bigfoot coming to eat me. I sprinted back to my tent and made my father, who was also on the trip, drive me home the next day.
Even today, I would last about three hours on the Appalachian Trail before I was ready to leave. Temple stayed a bit longer than that. She stayed on the trail for six months, starting at Georgia’s Springer Mountain and ending at Maine’s Mount Katahdin. She’s now officially part of the prestigious 25% of finishers.
She started the trip alone, but quickly found company in strangers. Not everyone hikes at the same pace, Temple said, but you see lots of the same people again and again. Some get a “trail name” out there, she said, usually stemming from an inside joke. Temple’s was Puppet, given to her because she glued googly eyes on her mittens. It was spending time with those newfound friends that Temple said she found the most rewarding.
It wasn’t a cheap adventure. Temple estimates that she spent $1,500 on gear, plus an additional $1,000 a month on food, laundry and other expenses. Every dollar was worth it, she said, and she is already planning her next hike. It won’t force her to quit her job — she’s back at Lakewood Ranch High, where she was hired to teach government classes after a different teacher, Kathleen Soles, moved to Colorado — but it might take up a summer break. Temple said she is considering different locations, but would love to do something on the West coast.
Temple said she never felt in serious danger on the trail, though she did see 10 bears over the course of her trek, including four on one day in Maine. She instead found what she was looking for: A break from the rush of the everyday, filled with views of valleys and sunsets and forests.
May we all find that kind of peace, on the Trail or elsewhere, in 2020.
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.