Spring 2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Sarah J. Noonan

Second Advisor

Stephen D. Brookfield

Third Advisor

David W. Peterson


This study explored transformational adult learning and thru-hiker culture on the Appalachian Trail, employing autoethnography as research methodology within the qualitative research tradition (Creswell, 2007). The researcher explored thru-hiker culture by hiking the complete Appalachian Trail for five months, involving a 2,185 mile journey experienced as a continuous “flip-flop” hike. The researcher began hiking northbound from Mount Greylock, Massachusetts on June 25, 2014. Mount Katahdin, Maine, the A.T. northern terminus was summited August 15, 2014. The southbound journey commenced August 20, 2014 from Mount Greylock and ended at the summit of Springer, Mountain, Georgia, the southern terminus November 22, 2014. Personal observations through daily blog posts and weekly newspaper articles were collected, and used to critically reflect on the experience, a process integral to transformational adult learning, and achieving an understanding of thru-hiker culture. Themes associated with the transformational learning included compassion, community, and simplicity. Theories used to analyze learning included Flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), Hierarchy of Needs theory (Maslow, 1970), Ulysses Factor (Anderson, 1970), and Transformational Adult Learning theory (Brookfield, 1987, Mezirow, 1991). A description of thru-hiker culture revealed a unique hierarchy among participants, distinctive norms regarding social interaction, language, and concepts of self and others. The study illustrated the intimate relationship between the self as an independent actor and also member of a culture (Bruner, 1990). The study reveals A.T. thru-hiker culture through a description of the experience, knowledge gained from critical reflection on the experience, and the role of physical and psychological challenge on the emerging self.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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