A Letter to My Pre-Trail Self
The following is a guest post courtesy of Strider, a 2014 SOBO thru-hiker submitted via our “Submit a Story” form.
It has been exactly 12 months since I took my first steps on the Appalachian Trail. My thru-hike has shaped me in so many ways, a journey that I could never forget. One I think about every day.
Now as a 2,000 Miler, there are so many things I would love to say to my younger and more naive-self about the adventure he was about to go on.
In a quasi-attempt at time traveling I have written a letter to my former, pre-trail self. It goes…
It’s taken me all my will not to call you by your trail name. Mostly because I know how happy you will feel when it gets ordained. You’ll feel relieved that it won’t have anything to do with being from Australia. That’s all I’m going to give away.
I’m writing this to you since Old Man is going to give you some advice, I want to give you some of my own.
In a few minutes you’re going to be staring at the registration box at the base of Katahdin. Your heart is going to be beating so fast and you will be restraining a broad grin not wanting to get ahead of yourself.
Smile, smile big. Feel everything.
You’re going to race up Katahdin but in the ensuing days you’re going to fall. You are going to doubt yourself and you are going to be screaming for someone to talk to. You will swear the Wilderness is empty.
Be patient, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other.
Up and down the trail you will meet people, hike with them and in an instant they will be gone. You will first experience this in Monson, your trail family will split as quickly as it came together.
Keep your head up, keep hiking and keep your eyes open. Maine is gorgeous.
At times you will feel invincible, you will pass slower hikers and leave them in you wake. But your battle will not be with the physical demons others face. It will be with your own head.
Your battles will be misreading the trail guide, losing your GoPro, finding your GoPro and within all that trying to leave it all behind and continue to hike.
Keep fighting, what the trail takes from you it will give back in other ways.
Remember to be patient, you will meet a couple of chain smoking oldies and they will give you some of your best memories. Resist the want to do more miles, don’t think about the next town, enjoy the moment.
You will reach the Whites and meet your match. You will want to take the side-trails, take the shortcuts even just get a ride down the line. Ignore the pain, don’t look up to the summit, just keep walking.
When you reach to top of Mt Washington, you will never look back.
You will meet a pair of southbounders that you love being around. No matter what don’t lose them. Yes that will mean doing a 24 mile day with a killer hangover to meet back up. You will unknowingly pass them but when they catch you, a day swimming in the lake will make it worth the struggle.
Time will pass so quickly, don’t forget to look around and take it in. As a trio you will walk almost 500 miles together but one day it will suddenly be over. The time sleeping on the New York metro after a long day trekking along Fifth Avenue, will now be a fond memory.
Pennsylvania will look flat on paper but it will trip you up. It will be hot, water will be scarce and its rocks will have you without a soft step for weeks. But you will not be alone, lean on your trail community.
Later you will walk solo for a while, but remember it is not a race. You are now as fit as you have ever been, you have mastered your emotions and the trail is not what it was in the north. So take your time, stop and go to the high school football game. Enjoy the conversations with strangers in the diner, and maybe this time don’t be in such a rush as to not get your number from the ATC in Harper’s Ferry.
That night you will meet someone that you will hike with all the way to the end. This person will become one of your best friends. Time will later drift you a part, cherish it.
Your hiking group will continue to change, people will come and go but you will learn how great it is to have people around the shelters at night.
Enjoy the times you shotgun beers to celebrate the beginning of the Shenandoahs, making s’mores around the campfire and being hiker trash outside of Virginia Tech. Embrace the debate, the diversity of personalities, open your eyes, learn and discover.
Grasp the challenges, the leaves will begin to change colour and the temperature will begin to plummet. Don’t be stubborn enough not to ask for help. When you can’t use your hands to put on your warm clothes, you’re going to need some.
The Green Tunnel will make you feel unbeatable but the challenges will keep coming. It will be your fellow SOBOs that will get you through.
You will see snow fall for the first time but that will also mean you will have to hike with frozen shoes. You will trek in knee-deep snow, it will be fun for a bit but it will soon turn into a nightmare.
Keep your head down and put one foot in front of the other and an afternoon watching movies by the heater will never feel so good.
After the snow fall you will be fearing the Smokies. Clutch on to the adventure and don’t let go. Embrace the Smokies, lap up the views, it won’t get much better than this.
The nights will keep getting colder and sleep hard but don’t forget why you are out there. After a tough start in Maine you will tick off obstacles with enthusiasm and you will be having the time of your life. It is a lifestyle though that won’t last forever. The shelter hopping you will be doing will make you feel too comfortable, don’t be scared to take a chance and camp out in firetowers and observation points.
Most importantly never forget seeing more stars in one night than you ever had before and the feeling of waking up in the clouds.
The miles will continue to fall until you find yourself standing among trees coated white by frozen rain about to enter your 14th and final state.
You will feel impatient like you were at the start. Each night you will go to bed worried about the cold. No mountain will ever get you down like this. You will want it to end, you tell yourself that you will never hike post-trail.
However don’t forget that soon it will be all over, whatever you crave will be yours. But don’t kid yourself that those desires will feel as good as you have come to believe.
Soon it will be your last night on the trail. The thought that every one and every thing you have come to love will soon be gone crystallises into reality in front of your eyes. I promise you, you will not be thinking about the future in that moment.
So whilst you drink the beers you surprised all of your fellow hikers with, savour every drip, every song that echoes through the shelter. Chat without hesitation about your favourite moments because as much as people will be proud of you, no one will ever understand what you went though like your SOBO brother’s will.
As you reach the peak of Springer Mountain the rain that had fallen will freeze creating a white canopy around you. You will not know what to say or how to feel. A sadness will hit you, the knowledge that it is all over.
Because whilst you prepare to start your journey in search of Springer Mountain you will learn that it was really never about the end.
That’s why I sit here writing this and I am jealous. You have it all ahead of you. There will be so many times when you think back to this letter and wonder why I am jealous. But if you keep count of the number of times you wake up and think “Damn, I am living the dream” then you will know why.
You are a long time a “past thru-hiker”, make it count.
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Thanks so much for sharing Zach! 🙂 GO SOBOS!
This is lovely!!
Wow, that was beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to write it.