A Conversation with Worry and Logic

We’ve all seen cartoons of a person with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. As I am gearing up for my 2023 thru hike of the Arizona Trail, I am fighting angels and demons of my own. I am realizing that I tend to be anxious about things that are out of my control. There are so many unknowns when it comes to thru hiking. Yes, the objective is simple, walk from point A to point B, but many factors can quickly upend even the most carefully laid plans.

I’ve had an internal dialogue playing out in my head as my departure date draws closer. The worrying part of my brain is imagining scenarios where everything goes wrong and we inevitably end up wandering around in the desert before succumbing to a horrible death. The logical part of my brain reminds me that experience is on my side and that many of my fears are irrational or unfounded. I’ve found a helpful tool to de-escalate my stress is to visualize a conversation between my worry and my logic. 

Posing in front of an AT sign in Maine. Photo courtesy of Anna “Magic” McKinney.

An Internal Dialogue 

Worry: Arizona (and the west in general) had a record snow year. I didn’t anticipate having to consider bringing microspikes along. Research has led me to expect temperatures in the day to get into the 90s, and the lows at night to be in the 30s. As I’ve been following the weather along the trail before setting out, it seems like those averages are still to be expected, but I worry about another freak snowstorm since we will be starting in mid-March. I still can’t shake the worry that maybe we’re starting too soon, or are getting in over our heads because of the record amount of snow we could run into as we journey north.

Logic: We experienced similar lows while on the AT. My tramily is all using the same gear from our 2021 thru hike, or new pieces of gear we’ve upgraded. Our sleep systems specifically are all rated for 10°-20° weather, and we are prepared to hike the whole trail with our winter gear. We are equipped to deal with less-than-ideal conditions, and I know we can always get off trail and lay low in town for a few days if the forecast looks unsafe. 

Worry: I am concerned about hiking in the desert in general just because that is new and unfamiliar territory. How will I handle the heat? I fear that I am in over my head and out of my element. Does that just come from the fact that I will be in a different environment than I’m used to? Is this just imposter syndrome, or do I not know what I’m doing? 

Logic: I am much more prepared for my second thru hike than I was for my first. Since finishing the AT I have worked as a backpacking guide in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and became a Wilderness First Responder, so I am confident in my backcountry skill set. I have a sun shirt, ridiculous sun hat, hiking umbrella, and will be lathering on lots of sunscreen to combat the sun exposure and heat. I also will have gear with the capacity to carry five liters of water, so I won’t have to worry about dry camping.

Water crossing on the AT. Photo courtesy of Anna “Magic” McKinney.

Worry: I doubt my physical ability to tackle the AZT. I wrote a blog post about my training regime leading up to this hike, and yet I still feel like it wasn’t enough. Does that feeling ever go away, or is the only way to prove myself wrong to accomplish what I set out to do? 

Logic: Ultimately I know that no matter how much training I did beforehand, there will still be growing pains as I once again adjust to life on trail. No amount of physical activity in preparation will emulate walking from dawn till dusk each day. I will just have to embrace the suck.

Worry: What once was supposed to be five of us setting out together has dwindled to three. Only Magic, Truffles, and Pimento will be starting the trail together, Hangman and She Devil has decided not to attempt this year. What will hiking with just the three of us be like? How long will it take before we get on each other’s nerves? Will we make friends to hike with or is it just the three amigos for 800 miles? 

Logic: The three of us met on the AT and have since intertwined our lives even more. Truffles and I are engaged and Pimento is going to be the best man at our wedding. We hiked close to 1,200 miles together on the AT, so 800 on the AZT shouldn’t be an issue for us. We will aggravate each other, but we have open communication to express when we need a break from each other or need time alone. Our bond is too tight to let trail grievances come between our friendship. 

Worry: Are we going to make it to trail. We have dreamed up a logistical triathlon to get to the southern terminus. We decided to drive across the country from the east coast to the northern terminus. We will be parking a vehicle at the end of the trail, and then will be taking a flight, bus, and shuttle to get us to the Mexico border to begin our hike. Since we have to jump through so many hoops, though, I feel like there are multiple ways our plans could take a detour or things could go wrong. 

Logic: I know we will eventually get to trail and begin hiking, but there are a lot of obstacles we will have to tackle before we even begin. We have been planning this trip for months and prearranged our overnight accommodations, booked our flights, bought our bus tickets, and scheduled our shuttles. It’s been a big headache before we even begin our hike, but rationalized it would be better to get all the legwork done ahead of time so that we could just walk back to our car at the end of trail. We want this too badly to let travel delays stand in our way of completing this dream. 

Feeling on top of the world in the White Mountains. Photo courtesy of Anna “Magic” McKinney.

What Am I Doing Out Here? 

My biggest logical takeaway from all this is to keep my expectations in check. All I have to compare this hike to is the AT. I know going into this that the AZT and the AT are very different, and I’m not chasing the same experiences as my first thru hike. What am I hoping to get out of my second long trail? Why am I putting myself thru hell again? Am I trying to prove something? If so, to who? Spending time with my “why” helps put all the fears, worries, and doubts into perspective and reminds me that there is a bigger purpose to this hike. My “why” will serve as a mantra when times are tough and I want to give up.

Even If I’m Scared

I anticipate nothing but positive experiences in Arizona, but I’m going into this trail with an open mind and a positive attitude. I know every day won’t be great, and I’ll probably shed plenty of blood, sweat, and tears along the way. Sometimes the most profound moments are experiences that transpire even when you’re scared, and I am so eager to once again be a scared thru hiker. 

Inspirational print by Ani Castillo.

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