In 2020, Zach Cross of Atlanta, Georgia, visited Stone Mountain — and found he could barely hike more than a mile. He was huffing and puffing, and he tripped over rocks and roots. It was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.
That first mile took Cross about 80 minutes to complete. At the time, he weighed almost 400 pounds. His legs weren’t used to the rocky terrain, and he felt out of his element. Now all that’s changed. After hundreds of visits to North Georgia’s most beloved park, the 28-year-old feels transformed.
While many media outlets have been making a big deal out of his weight loss journey (Cross dropped about 200 pounds during the last three years), his real transformation is harder to see.
During the pandemic, Cross struggled with depression. Spending time in nature known to help boost mood and improve mental health. So is setting and achieving big goals. Hoping to turn his life around, Cross set out to start walking regularly, reports Atlanta News First. Soon, he discovered hiking—and a passion he never knew he had.
Now, three years later, Cross says he’s happier than he’s ever been. He feels strong and confident on the trail, and being able to move with ease has allowed him to appreciate the ecology that first drew him to the park.
“[Stone Mountain] is just such a gem in terms of the beauty, the wildlife here, the flowers,” he said in a recent interview with 11Alive News. That natural beauty motivated him to get up and hit the trail every day even when it felt impossible. Now it’s motivated him to broaden his hiking horizons.
Cross currently has his eye on a new objective: the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail (AT). The most famous of America’s long trails, the AT stretches from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine. Cross estimates that the trail will take him about five months to complete.
“I want to meet people and hear their stories and perspective. I want to immerse myself in the wonderful and strange landscape of Appalachia. I want to grow as a person,” he writes in his online trail journal.
Cross plans to begin his Appalachian Trail thru-hike on May 1, 2023. You can follow along by reading his updates at trailjournals.com.
This article was originally published by 50campfires.com. Read the original article here.