Junior spending 'nontraditional' semester hiking the Appalachian Trail

Rebecca Marcinko
April 05, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nick Malizia — junior, English and psychology — decided to get a little “wild” this spring.

Ahead on course credits, unable to study abroad this semester because of the pandemic, and in search of a topic for his honors thesis, the Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar was hungry for an adventure. Malizia figured that spending months immersed in the outdoors and taking in each tree and flower and creek every day could create an unforgettable semester – which is why he decided to spend the spring hiking the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. 

“I'm looking forward to the opportunity to be somewhere completely new and without anyone [who] knows me,” Malizia said. “I think that it'll be an interesting experience to see how you function in that completely new and kind of intimidating setting for so long.”

While hiking the trail will be a welcome change from the mostly remote learning environment from the past year, Malizia said it will also be “really different” and in some ways even “more isolating.” He’s hoping the world will be a bit closer to its pre-pandemic status when he returns to State College for his senior year.

Malizia expects the trail will be packed with people who delayed their plans to conquer it by a year and are ready to give their dreams of hiking it a second chance.

“I think that will flavor the experience in terms of who is out there and why,” Malizia said. “I'm interested to ask other people, ‘Why are you hiking? Why did you quit your job? Why did you take off from school during this weird time?’”

Malizia also hopes to apply the critical thinking skills he has gained through his liberal arts education to his hiking endeavors.

“Sometimes I struggle with critically thinking about something I'm reading,” he said. “I ask myself, ‘Am I having enough independent thoughts about this, or am I really getting it the way the author intended me to read it?’ I'm kind of excited to see if I can do that … in the real world.”

Malizia does not have a set “due date” for finishing his journey – his research taught him it’s better to not have a strict schedule when hiking the Appalachian Trail. However, he does plan to finish in time to work on his initial Fulbright application, which is due in August. He is a travel-lover who hopes to pursue his master’s degree in Europe, with an end goal of becoming a therapist.

“I think it's important to [know that] whatever the circumstances, if you're not really ‘vibing’ with what you're doing at the moment you can make a change if you really want to,” Malizia said.

Update: Malizia started his hike at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia, and was in Damascus, Virginia, on March 29.  

Those interested in following Malizia’s Appalachian Trail adventure can do so by reading his blog or checking out his Instagram stories.

  • Nick Malizia hiking the Appalachian Trail

    Although he started his Appalachian Trail journey on February 26, Nick Malizia does not have a set completion deadline for finishing his hike. His advance research taught him that it’s actually better to not have a strict schedule while hiking. 

    IMAGE: Nick Malizia
Last Updated April 09, 2021