7 Things You’ll Miss After Hiking the Appalachian Trail
The one-year anniversary of completing my Appalachian Trail thru-hike is quickly approaching, so it feels like an appropriate time to reflect on what made life on the trail so great. While hiking the AT, there were countless times that I missed the conveniences of “real life” back home. Since being back, I often miss the simple life of the trail. The grass is always greener. With a nostalgic lens that ignores the challenges and views only fond memories, here are seven things I miss most about the AT:
1. Hiker community
Hikers are some of the most supportive and fun people. It does not seem to matter what brought each individual to the trail—once you’re there, you all share the same job title: hiker. Fellow thru-hikers are your family. Getting to camp and seeing familiar faces feels all warm and cozy (especially if they have a fire going). If you fall behind your recent crew, you still feel close when reading their entries in the logbooks. It’s like social media, but on paper. Or say you are in the middle of Maine, and you run into a hiker friend you haven’t seen since Tennessee. That is a ridiculously awesome feeling that is sure to bring a big smile to both faces. You might even be so overwhelmed by surprise that you scream like a preteen who just spotted their favorite boy band. (I speak from experience—shout out to Neema!)
2. Living outdoors
Life is simplified when carrying everything you need on your back. Whatever your shelter may be (tent, hammock, tarp) it is full of fresh air and forest sounds. The rain may bring you down on occasion, but the sun eventually brightens you up. Waking with the sun and winding down at dusk just feels right. Many of the stunning views throughout the trail serve as perfect break spots during a day’s hike. I’ll gladly trade a chair and table in an enclosed room for an elevated outcropping with a wide-open view of some of the oldest mountains on the planet.
The excitement of discussing/envisioning food as you hike into town, followed by the gratification of consuming two full meals immediately upon arrival simply has no parallel in “real life.” That excitement grows exponentially if the town includes an AYCE buffet. The addition of fresh fruit and vegetables from a grocery store is icing on the cake. That first shower you take after hiking for several days straight feels like the cleanest you ever have been or ever will be. You are shiny and new. If laundry is an option, it feels amazing to know that dry clothes are in your future. Clean is good too, but dry is greater than clean in this equation.
4. Sh*t hikers say
“Hike your own hike”
“All I need is two trees”
“It’s downhill from here”
“Virginia is flat”
“I’m doing 20 today”
Not to mention the endless gear talk or blaming AWOL for a rough stretch. They all seem to begin as authentic statements, but eventually turn into some sort of trail-wide inside joke. I honestly miss hearing or saying at least one of these on a daily basis.
5. Nobo-sobo “rivalry”
In retrospect, this is one of the most hilarious aspects of a thru-hike. In all actuality, there is no difference in what a northbounder or southbounder is physically doing. We are all hiking a long distance from one point to another. The fact that we are doing it in opposite directions seems to create a rivalry as if we are two teams competing head-to-head in the annual AT Bowl. (Full disclosure: I am telling this from the only perspective I have, which is northbound.) We are clearly not competitors, but I suppose we are upholding the tradition of trash talking the opposing team just like in sports . My hiking partner made up a joke during our hike: “How many sobos does it take to screw in a light bulb? It doesn’t matter how many try, they’ll just keep screwing it in the wrong way.” For myself and all the nobo hikers I know, I can confidently say there was no actual disdain toward sobos. But it sure was fun to pretend.
During a long-distance hike your activity level is extremely high (with the exception of zero days). There is no question of what you will be doing each day, because the answer would be too obvious: you are going to hike. The endorphin rush from this intense daily exercise produces a continual state of euphoria. Surely someone knows how to figure the amount of energy a typical hiker exerts each day. I am not that person. I do know that it’s most likely much higher than a typical day back home.
7. Sense of achievement
Thru-hikers work toward a long-term goal with measureable progress each and every day. You can see your progress on a map. Each landmark or town or mile marker is an achievement. Each achievement piles onto the rest, boosting your confidence, which carries you to your ultimate goal: reaching the top of the last mountain.
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