10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Hiking the AT
Can I be honest with you guys for a second? I was completely unprepared to take on a thru hike. Sure, I read all the blogs and books, watched all the documentaries and Youtube videos, and tried to plan and train as best as I could. But honestly, I was so unprepared. I had never been backpacking. EVER. I had never even spent a full night out in the woods in a tent. I had done plenty of day hikes (a maximum of 12 miles) and that’s about it. My wonderful husband had all the faith in the world in our success, but you could say the odds were stacked against me for making it to Maine.
All that (embarrassing stuff) being said, I don’t believe anything can truly prepare you for a thru hike, except just to learn as you go. The trail teaches you everything you need to know, all in good time.
But there are some things I wish I’d known.
#1 Hiker hunger doesn’t kick in for about 3 weeks. The first few weeks of our hike, I wasn’t hungry at all. I had to basically force myself to eat every day, and we carried WAY too much food in the beginning. It’s hard not to over-prepare when you think you’re going to starve.
#2 Pooping in the woods is not as scary as it seems. Just trust me, it’s not so bad. In fact, it becomes quite natural after 5 months in the woods.
#3 You don’t need bear spray!!!
#4 “Waterproof” is a myth. There is no. such. thing. Some things may take longer to soak through than others, but if you spend hours walking through a downpour, you are going to be wet. If you are not soaked from the rain, you will be soaked from the sweat inside your waterproof gear. Go ahead and crush those “staying comfortable while hiking in the rain” dreams.
#5 The people you meet will be the best part of the hike. I am not the most outgoing or social person, and meeting new people has always been intimidating for me. I was worried about the social aspect of the trail, and what kind of people I would have to interact with. I quickly realized that my fellow hikers, the trail angels, and the trail community would change me forever. I met so many inspiring individuals, and the trail allowed me to open up to others in a way I never have before.
#6 The mental aspect of a thru hike is going to be the most challenging. Sure the mountains are high, and the terrain is unforgiving (looking at you Pennsylvania!), and hiking 20 miles a day is super tiring. I read Appalachian Trials before the hike and made sure to bring my why-I’m-hiking lists along, so I had it in my head to be prepared to be mentally tested. But it was so much more of a struggle than I ever realized it would be. I’m so thankful and forever indebted to my ever-supportive husband who never let me quit.
#7 Take photos of EVERYTHING. I thought I took a lot of pictures on our hike, and I have about 900, but it’s not enough! Take photos of people, not just the views and sights. Take photos of the shelters and the campsites and the trail towns and the trail angels. And better yet, take videos!
#8 Writing in a journal every night is totally worth it. I wrote in my journal (almost) every night while in my sleeping bag right before we went to sleep. A lot of the time I didn’t feel like it and it felt like a hassle. But let me tell you, I’m so glad that I did. I can look back on those pages now and remember specific places and specific days with a smile or a laugh. I’ll be able to share that journal with my children one day, and I’m so thankful for that.
#9 Podcasts are going to be your best friend. Some people are capable of being alone with their own thoughts while hiking for 10 hours, but sadly I am not one of those people. Every time we had wifi, both of us were scrambling to download as many as our phones would hold so we could have a ready supply of listening material. I tried music at first, but quickly got tired of the same 75 songs. Podcasts are where it’s at! This American Life anyone?
#10 You are so much stronger than you ever imagined. You are going to surprise yourself every single day. You will hike 25 miles like its no big deal. You will be able to set up/tear down camp in under 7 minutes. You will be able to consume 3,000 calories in a single sitting and still be hungry. You will be qualified to lend hiking advice to others. You will be a 2,000 miler. And you will make it to Maine.
A little extra #11 It’s ok to be unprepared. The trail will mold you and shape you. It will change you from the inside out. Take it from this inexperienced, unprepared, successful thru hiker.
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