Thursday, August 06, 2015

Top Five Worries About Thru-Hiking the AT

Blissful Hiking is republishing this excellent guest blog by thru hiker "Datto" with some good commentary on the worries hikers have concerning a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail and applicable in many ways to any long distance trail or hike.

Okay, so you're looking to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail and have some worries and concerns. Let's go through the Top Five Worries About Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail -- if others want to contribute and add their list of AT thru-hiking worries and remedies, by all means jump right in:

Worry Five: My [girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, parents, friends, resident alien, mother-in-law] think the idea of leaving work and your good life back home just to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail is nuts.

It's unsafe. It's irresponsible. It's useless. It's impossible. I could go on and on describing all the reasons I've heard before, during and after my AT thru-hike. The best one was the utterance said right to my face when I had been thinking of thru-hiking the AT: "Why would you ever want to doing something like that?" and I'd responded, "Why did they climb Everest?" and the response back to me was, "That was almost as crazy!" It's still makes me smile to think about that day. Look, the vast majority of people don't like change and society doesn't like things off the curve. But you'll find those experiences are the specific things that make life memorable, that make life worth living, that allow you to live life fully. Taking on great challenges -- and succeeding. I honestly can't thing of many things more enlightening, enjoyable, just-plain-fun, exciting, frustrating or memorable that I've done in my short life than my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. For extra credit, look at the link to view my listing of the Top Ten Likely Benefits From Completing Your AT Thru-hike that I'd composed previously. And you'd want to give up the things on that list of likely benefits just so you could go to work every day and come home at night to watch Wheel Of Fortune? Maybe your mother-in-law was right about you. Wapner. Wapner at 4:30.

Worry Four: I'll run out of money.

That's a big concern since running out of money is in the top five reasons AT thru-hikes end prematurely. It's pretty simple -- if you haven't saved $5,000 cash to spend on your AT thru-hike, it's likely you'll run out of money or may go into considerable debt just to complete your AT thru-hike. That $5,000 cash includes the money you spend from the time you get on the plane/train/bus in your home town to when you arrive back in your home town after you complete your AT thru-hike. It includes gear you would replenish or replace on the Trail but not gear you start the Trail with at Springer Mountain for northbounders or Katahdin for southbounders. Even if you have $5,000 saved up, here's an important part of the utilization of that $5,000 -- if you're a northbounder you need to have one-half of that amount still available to you when you reach the southern Connecticut border. Reason: the New England states are very eye-opening expensive and you've been spoiled by the cheaper costs of the southern Appalachian Trail states.

Worry Three: I don't know if I'm physically capable of carrying a backpack 2,186 miles.

You would not believe the number of people I know who had started their AT thru-hikes in the absolutely worst physical shape you can imagine. Way overweight, all kinds of medications they had to take that made them [choose your side-effect here], all kinds of physical disabilities. I know people who were seventy pounds overweight who made it from Springer Mountain, GA to Katahdin in Maine. Heck, a blind guy started his AT thru-hike with his white cane and went over all those rocks in North Carolina moving the cane back and forth. Earl Shaffer was just ahead of me on his third AT thru-hike when I was on my AT thru-hike -- and he was 80 years old. That's right -- 80 years old. So, are you telling me you can't do what an 80 year old guy could do, a blind guy could do and someone who starts their AT thru-hike being 70 lbs overweight could do? As some sage thru-hikers before me have said, "It's just walkin'". You get used to it, relish it, begin to enjoy it, begin to enjoy the life on the Trail. And you know what? When you have completed your thru-hike you'll likely think it was the best time of your life.

Worry Two: What if I get bored -- I've never been in the woods for that long of a period of time and I've never been away from my family for that long of a time -- maybe I should arrange to start my AT thru-hike with someone?

Ha, if you're a northbounder you have no worries at all. The Trail will be crawling with people who are starting their own AT thru-hikes. You don't need to find someone to start an AT thru-hike with -- there will be loads of people hiking along with you. Interesting people from all walks of life -- hairdressers, history teachers, recent college graduates, retirees, Army generals, furniture salespeople, people just back from the Peace Corps or similar, computer professionals, divorcees, happily married folks, rich executives, people who've been out of work for a long time, foreigners, domestics, conservatives, liberals, people with alternative lifestyles back in "society", FBI agents, journalists and cab drivers. Those are just some of the individuals who I'd hiked with during my AT thru-hike. On the Trail it's a microcosm of the world. It's not just crazy outdoorsy people -- in fact, outdoorsy people are pretty much few and far between. I would say it's more about people from all walks of life wanting an adventure, wanting a challenge, wanting to do something interesting with themselves. The outdoorsy part you learn on the Trail if you don't already have it when you start. You'll probably meet people for the first time right on the top of Springer Mountain, who've also climbed up the side of the mountain to start their AT thru-hike just like you, that you'll also go up Katahdin with when you finish your thru-hike in Maine. I know it is hard to believe -- I was told that it would be that way by past thru-hikers when I was preparing for my AT thru-hike and I'd been skeptical of it. But you know what? I met up with several of the people I'd first met on Springer Mountain, GA when I went up Katahdin six months later. You develop friendships along the Trail -- sometimes life-long friends, sometimes romances, most of the time it's people you'd never met before you'd started your AT thru-hike. Some of those people are not going to be at all like you -- but you'll still enjoy each others company. I can tell you I met up with introverts, extraverts, groups of hikers, people who liked to hike and camp alone, devoutly religious folks and atheists, Moms and Dads. It's takes all kinds to show up one day by chance and start north from Springer Mountain or south from Katahdin. There isn't necessarily a "type" per se but since you are reading this I can expressly say that you are the type and you'll meet up with many of your type right on the Trail during the first few weeks of your AT thru-hike. So don't worry about it at all.

Worry One: What will I do afterwards?

Now there is something to think about while you're hiking. Not every day, just occasionally -- once a month or so. There's a chance when you get to about, oh, mile 2,000, you're going to think to yourself, "I can't go back to how it was before. Not after having experienced this." The "this" meaning your life on the Trail. One suggestion I can give you -- if you have the ability, plan ahead of time to take 30 days after you complete your AT thru-hike to put a plan together before you start moving in any direction with your life. It will give you time for perspective as well as time to get yourself back to experiencing that amazing colossal spigot in the kitchen that has clean flowing water coming out of it that doesn't need to be treated. Take a walk through your local Wal-mart after your thru-hike and gaze upon the people who never had the chance, nor will have the chance, to experience what you've had over the course of several recent months. Watch how other people lead their lives. What you currently think is normal, before your AT thru-hike, may seem so odd when you return from completing your AT thru-hike. When you first watch the Nightly News upon return from the AT, remember about all the kindness that you'd experienced on the Trail, about the happiness you saw first-hand for yourself. That is how the world truly is -- not the way it is presented on a nineteen inch diagonal view of the world. Whatever you decide to do with yourself after you return from your AT thru-hike, I know you are going to be thankful.

Best of adventures to you!


1 comment:

Beccah said...

Nice write up. I can honestly say, only 1 and 4 are on my mind. I'm living like a pauper for a year so that I can squirrel away enough money to hike AND live on for 3 months after while I search for new employment. I'm really concerned about finding a job post hike.