6 Weak-Ass Excuses For NOT Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Although I talk a big game about successfully thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, in reality, I admire the 75% who attempt and fail?  Why?

Because they tried.

For every person who fails to make it from Georgia to Maine, there are 50 who never even make it to Georgia.  These people are master debaters, and unfortunately they’ve dedicated this energy to convincing themselves why the Appalachian Trail won’t work.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t- you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Well my friend, I’m here to tell you that your reasons for not thru-hiking are weak-sauce.  Here’s why.

6 Weak-Ass Excuses For NOT Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

1) You Don’t Have the Money

Yes, the amount of money required to thru-hike the AT is sizable.  For most, this will range anywhere from $3-$5K after acquiring all your gear.   If capital is your biggest concern, odds are, you’re barely scraping by as is.  Padding the bank with five thousand dollars can seem almost as daunting as the five million steps that would follow.

And to be blunt, some of you won’t be able to save that much money- at least not without a drastic change to your current situation.  But realistically, few fall into this group.  More likely, you can save the money, but you aren’t taking a thru-hike seriously.  You’d like to hike the Trail, but aren’t willing to make the sacrifices.

Could you pick up more hours at work?  Could you find cheaper living (Mom and Dad would love to have you around for a few months)? How much money are you spending at the bar each month?  Focus first on how you can save more of the money that you’re already earning, then look at increasing income.

If you’d like to hike the AT, saving money is impossible.  If you need to hike the AT, saving money is inevitable.

2) You Don’t Have the Time

Specifically, “I can’t get the time off of work.”  This excuse is valid only for those of you who love your job / career and are genuinely convinced you couldn’t get back to an equal or better situation within a year of completing the Trail.   For the rest of you (read: most of you), this excuse is weak-sauce.

Here’s a little secret, getting six months off is never going to be convenient- at least not until retirement.  A lot can go wrong between now and when you turn 62.  One example: death.

Life is short.

Do you want to spend this time plotting along the safe route- the path that others have carved out for you?  Or do you want to walk the length of the country?  Do you want to keep talking about your adventurous dreams, or do you want to live them?  Do you want to explore the motherfucking mountains for a half year?  If there’s any hesitation, maybe the Trail isn’t for you.  Maybe you’re in the “I’d like to hike” category. But if the previous few sentences lit a fire in your stomach- then start plotting your exit strategy. Now.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs

3) You’re Too Old

Already covered this.  You’re only too old if you’re dead.  If you’re dead, then I’m sorry, the ship has sailed.  If I was a bettin’ man, I’d wager that you’re not dead.

4) You’re Physically Incapable

Maybe you’re badly out of shape.  You see the pictures of thru-hikers online and notice they come in two shapes: thin and emaciated.  You fit neither of these categories.

Or maybe you’re working with a health condition.  Coming off surgery.  Heart complications.  Diabetes.  Polio.  Etcetera.

Listen, I’m not a doctor.  If you’ve consulted with yours and (s)he said that backpacking ~2,200miles is going to result in certain death, then maybe thru-hiking isn’t your adventure.  But if you’ve written off the Trail before seeking the input of someone who gets paid to have credible medical opinions (i.e. not you), then you are selling yourself short.

If you’re currently in miserable couch-potato, lose your breath climbing the stairs, strain your back putting on socks sort of shape, guess what- you can thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.  Now if you go into the AT in this sort of condition, the Trail will chew you up, gargle you, and projectile vomit you out like a Merlion.  But if you embark onto the Trail in this shape, no offense, that’s the result you deserve.  Thru-hiking the AT is really difficult (which is what makes it so rewarding).  It requires discipline.  If you’re in piss-poor shape, this discipline will have to begin before your hike.

But do you have to be in 20, 15, or even 10 miles a day sort of shape going into your hike?  NO!  Your fitness level will dictate your initial pacing, but if 4-6 miles a day is what it takes to get through the first three weeks, so be it.  The last one to Katahdin wins.

The stories of people losing more than 50+ lbs on the Trail are all-too common.  I’ve talked with people who’ve lost that in the first month alone.  Don’t let perfection prevent you from trying.  You’ll get your hiker legs on the trail, not before.

And for those of you working with injuries or health issues, I encourage you to read Brittany Lea Neal’s story.  She made the decision to thru-hike after breaking her spine, nearly paralyzing her for life.  She’s also hiking with an auto-immune disorder.  As of the writing of this post, Brittany is several hundred miles into her thru-hike and having the time of her life.

There’s been deaf, blind, old, young, and one-legged thru-hikers.

Remind me, what was your excuse again?

5) You Don’t Know How to Backpack

Do you know how to walk?  Then you know how to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

The AT was very literally the first backpacking trip I had ever been on.  I went into the Trail as outdoor-incompetent as it comes. I learned how to pitch a tent only a few days before leaving for Springer.  The more I talk with fellow thru-hikers, the more I learn this story is not all that unique.  A lot of people go onto the AT having little-to-no idea of what they’re doing.  The harder and more important question to answer is the why.  Once you figure that out, the how is cake.

6) Your Significant Other Won’t Let You

You can swing the money and manage the free time, but one giant roadblock still reamins: your spouse.  You’ve mentioned the idea in the past which was quickly countered with a “over my dead body”.  Dream: demolished.

This bullet point isn’t a suggestion to hike without your significant other’s consent (i.e. the act that precedes a divorce).  You also shouldn’t pick a fight or resent him/her for his/her stance.  Instead, if your spouse sits firmly in the “fuck no” camp, there’s a good chance you haven’t utilized the most powerful human tools: empathy.  Another way of saying this, your spouse doesn’t know your why.

Step 1)  Figure this out for yourself.

Step 2)  Give them your copy of Appalachian Trials (I’ve had several parents and spouses tell me that the book helped them to finally understand their loved one’s desire to hike).

Step 3)  Sit down and have a heart-to-heart about why the Trail is so important to you.  Chances are, if they love you enough, they won’t want to rob you of this opportunity.  The key is making them understand.

And if that doesn’t work…

Step 4)  Get a new spouse.  Kidding.

(Lead image: Henry Solich)

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Comments 7

  • Layla : Jun 7th

    Planning to leave my job and move to another province anyway, I have a plan: when I quit my job, I’ll also see if I can put myself on a waitlist (probably about a year-long wait?) for free psychological counseling in the city where I’ll be living afterwards. That way if I can’t find a job, I’ll have someone to help me through it.

    If Severus Snape is brave enough to do what Dumbledore asks of him in book 6 (even with the fear that he’ll have his soul broken again and have to re-experience the painful process of putting it back together again, and only dumbledore’s reassurance otherwise), then I can be brave too.

  • Weezie Frame : Mar 13th

    Im a 54 year old women that is sick of this f;n life and doing whats expected. The ideal of hiking the A.T. came to me and I can’t stop thinking about it , However I am in nursing school . have two teenagers still at home , a super shitty marriage and on top of all that I”m very broke while I work at the waffle house for a measley 40$ a shift, My question has anyone ever been able to do this without any of the “required gear”? What if I just collected a few items from home and just fuckin started walking:) 🙂

  • Mark Stanavage : Aug 8th

    I have a serious question.
    I’m a LASH. I live for every week I get out
    I worry that six months of being on the trail, I will have a difficult time shoe-horning my mind back into my cubicle. Playing with doing a doughnut (do the middle then when I take off work do both ends) . It would be less trail time, maybe less mind expansion. Going on thru hike in 2023. I could have a lot pre-done. Can always go back and do all after retirement. Just worried I won’t be able later.

    • Debbie Meeks : Aug 8th

      I laughed when I saw your post. Not because I thought it was funny, but because I have mentally been telling myself that I will be hiking the AT in 2023 as I will retire in June 2022!!! Perhaps we will run into one another. Good luck in your preparations.

  • Greg : Aug 8th

    #6 3-a
    Have your spouse “shadow” you with a vehicle and (tent, travel trailer, >>>???) It makes your hike “supported” and can be a “vacation” for them. (Just an idea: I saw it at least twice while I was section hiking on the trail this year)

  • Hazel : May 3rd

    When I was 20, I would have agreed with you. At 46, however, I understand that it’s just not that simple for many. Some of us have careers that we value and cannot just take half a year off from. We have bills to pay, a mortgage, young children at home, and other such things. When you’re middle-aged, you can’t just drop your life for awhile and expect much to remain when you return.

    • Zach : May 3rd

      Fair point! At 37, I’m not sure I agree with 28-year-old me either.


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