10 Thoughts I Have Six Months Out From Beginning a Thru-Hike

I have all the feels.

Okay, so I made the decision to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail… like five years ago I made that decision, but yet here I am six months away from stepping foot under the threshold in Georgia, and I must say I have all the feels. Yes, it is true that I made this decision a long time ago, and have probably told every person that I encounter (like every barista, mechanic, friend, foe, my cat knows, literally every person) since that decision, but here I am with an actual start date and a countdown. WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING? So if you are at all like me, then you will sympathize with the fact that I have about 1,000,000 thoughts about any decision in my life, hiking the AT is no exception. So to spare you 1,000,000 point list, let me narrow it down to the top ten thoughts that I have six months out from starting a thru-hike. Oy Vey.

1. What the actual hell am I doing?

This thought comes at no surprise. I have no idea why the hell I am going to hike this trail. Actually that is false, I do know why. I have thousands upon thousands of reasons as to why I want to need to hike this trail. I need to prove it to myself that I am capable of doing amazing things. I want witness the sunrise over the Smokeys. I need to spend some serious alone time with myself (we will get to that in thought 9). I know God is telling me I need to do this: to meet amazing people, to see a part of this creation that I haven’t seen, to literally walk with God. But of the many reasons as to why I need to hike this trail, there are doubts and fears and utter distress over the venture that I signed up for. So much so, that find myself paralyzed at the magnitude of this undertaking.

People, my family and friends especially, think I am absolutely nuts for doing this. And they are probably right, but it has also been a dream part of my being for five years now. So they are finally realizing that this is real & I am not kidding around. But, they have their doubts and so do I. I have read books about the trail, my mom bought me the AT board game (yes that exists) and I have memorized all the fact cards, I have followed all the Appalachian Trials Bloggers from the classes of 2014-2016 on Instagram and Twitter. I have a backpack and a tent and trekking poles. I worked in Mt. Rainier and hiked to freaking Camp Muir in the snow through a fog storm, hell I have done my homework. But I still have NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL I AM DOING!

2. I honestly have no idea how I will walk 2,189+ miles.

But like really, I have no idea how I will walk this much, up hill, over rocks, in hail storms, with black flies and mosquitos. It’s not that I am lazy, okay I am moderately lazy, but I get a little winded walking up a big hill at home that is paved and I have nothing on my back. Taking on 2,189+ miles that I have no idea what is ahead of me is daunting and exhilarating at the same time. My only solace is that I run, poorly, but I run. I am training for a half-marathon (in two weeks!) and I am treating that as my training for the AT. If I can run 13 miles in a day then I can walk 13 miles in a day. That makes logical sense, right? I hope so.

3. I do not have enough money to do this.

Yeah, this is a real concern. I have done my reading and I know that it takes the average person (me) around $5,000 to hike the trail, that includes food, lodging in hostels along the way, and money on zero days. I am not at the living paycheck-to-paycheck level right now, but I am not swimming in dough either. This decision to hike the trail is a financial decision that I am anxious about, I won’t lie to you. I have student loans, I will have to help pay for part of my rent while I’m gone, I have health insurance and credit card payments to take care of. For me, hiking the trail is not an escape from my life back in CT, it is a part of it.

Money is never, ever, easy to talk about. Asking for money is a weakness of mine. But the fact that I am hiking with two other gals, starting up a funding page is a possibility. I am applying for sponsorships from companies, I am asking people to get me REI gift cards for Christmas and my birthday, I am vulturing any free basket of granola bars and fruit snacks (so good) I see at the nearby grad school. I am asking people to sponsor care packages and drops for me while I am on the trail, giving them lists of what I need. I gotta do what I gotta do. It may be a concern for me, but I am not going to let it stop me from hiking.

4. I have told too many people that I am doing this.

So I have to freaking do it. End of story.

5.  OMG I am going to hike 2,189+ miles, I am a badass.

MY LEGS ARE GOING TO TAKE ME FROM GEORGIA TO MAINE. That thought is so amazing, and makes me so proud of my body. These short and stumpy legs are going to carry me up and down mountains, through the woods, and probably to my grandmother’s house in NJ and beyond. My body is so beautiful. My legs are strong, and will get stronger. My feet are gifts from God, and they will hurt and bare the biggest burden because of that. My waist will be bruised and scarred, and it will keep my body together and my pack on my back. My arms will hoist me up difficult climbs and steady me as I descend tough mountains.

My body is beautiful, my body is strong, and I am a badass!

6. Can I tell the difference between poison ivy and normal ivy?

Okay, this thought is more for show…I know which one is which. Obviously I paid attention in Girl Scouts, and I have had too many personal encounters with poison ivy (some too personal), to know that the little shiny green plants with three leaves, one a little smaller and lower on the stem, are poison ivy.

But this is a generic statement of the fact that I am not a wilderness expert. I have a sticker from Disney World that says I am a wilderness explorer (an explorer is a friend to all, be it plants or fish, or tiny mole), but I don’t know which berries are good and which ones are going to harm me. I guess I need to invest in one of those tiny booklets or just not eat random plants on the trail. I am not not a woodsy person, but I am also not not a city person. Hiking is going to be a complete 180 from my current life, and I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t scared and nervous.

7. I can totally poop in the woods.

I’ve done it before!

Alli, you have hiked before. You have backpacked before. You have walked many-a-miles with a backpack on your back before. This is going to be no different. One step at a time, one night at a time. You can do it! Confidence and patience are the names of this game. Just remember to not poop on the trail like an animal, okay?

8. I make my boyfriend kill spiders in the apartment, how am I going to sleep in trail shelters?

This goes back to the statement before: I am not not a woodsy person, but I am also not not a city person. I will, I repeat, I will freak the hell out the first time there is a mouse near my head in a shelter. I apologize in advance to anyone who will be sleeping near me for that moment when I shriek in a pitch most humans are incapable of doing. Mice, or any other critter, near my head or my space disgusts me. This is something that I know I will get over, and it will take time, but I’m not pumped about this.

9. I am going to be so in touch with my thoughts.

I am going to have 5 months of being in my head. That is exciting and terrifying at the same time. I am going to have so much time to think about things, dream up things, work some shit out, pray, explore ideas and overthink things I’ve done or said in the past, it is all there. I am not a person who requires a lot of alone time, I am an extrovert by nature (pun intended), and the fact that I will have so much time to myself while I am walking is a bit unnerving. I have never been alone with my thoughts for that long. I am anxious to get to know myself more and more on this hike, to be in an ongoing conversation with God through the woods and pastures of the AT, and to think through tough things in my life.

But, as I just said, I am not a person that needs a lot of alone time, and therefore I am already making accommodations as to avoid said alone time. Podcasts. Books on tape. Two hiking buddies. All things that I plan to utilize as much as possible on this hike. I am going to listen to so many books and podcasts. I told my hiking buddies to save topics for the hike. I have even started a list of “things to work through” while I am in the middle of Pennsylvania crawling up rock scrambles and trying not to break my ankle. I am pretty set, at least I’d like to think I am.

10. So… I need to start training for this, right? Ugh.

Living in New England, I am lucky in that I experience the extremes of every season. It is hot and humid, it snows and ices, and there are a lot of bugs. I have already asked a friend if I could camp out in her backyard in the snow this winter, and I am mapping out longer hikes to do as it gets colder. But I feel like I should have been doing a lot more earlier on. I see people doing shake-down hikes in June and walking around the city in their full packs in September. I am not there. Should I be? Am I behind? How will this affect me come March? What am I doing? Should my food drops and refilling places be marked by now? Should I know where to hop on and off the trail at every town by now? Should I start dehydrating fruits or whatever now? OMG I am so behind!

This anxiety is real.

I know you are suppose to ‘hike your own hike’ but does that apply to planning as well? Plan your own plan? I am paralyzed by the magnitude of this undertaking. I am frozen by the huge decision I have made, and all the planning that is required. What am I doing? This is something that I have talked about and dreamt about for five years now, and now I am 6 months out from starting. I am so excited, I am so nervous, I am so skeptical, and I am so proud. I know I am not alone in these thoughts and concerns, but it is sometimes nice to get share them. It makes it more real, and that is good enough for me.

So here’s to planning, stressing out, and dreaming of the trail.

In peace, friends.

Alli

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Comments 9

  • Avatar
    Kristen : Sep 23rd

    Great post, Alli! I’m also planning a NOBO hike starting at the end of February and have so many feelings about it (mostly excitement though!). I live in Fairfield, CT right now, so not far from you. Maybe we’ll cross paths on the trail. Happy planning!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Gail Barrett : Sep 23rd

    You’re not the only one feeling overwhelmed. We don’t even have our sleeping system yet and have done no shake down trips. We don’t know anything and have no experience. Still, we are getting excited. Hopefully we will learn as we go and not make too many mistakes! I hope see you on the trail!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    bighodag : Sep 24th

    You’ll be fine. Start slow & let your body strengthen. Learn what young poison ivy (red) and old (hairy vine) look like. Always be willing to take the next step. Godspeed.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mike Phillips : Sep 24th

    Hi my name is Mike I’m 60 years old and I am going to walk the AP in late March or the first of April but I don’t want to go alone do you know any people I can go with

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Dc Meeks : Sep 25th

      If I was ready to do my hike now I would say yes, however, I still have to wait until 2023 to do so. I wish you the best. Contact me via message on fb as I am not far from the trail where I live.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Linda Vance : Sep 24th

    Hey Ali — At the risk of sounding like an old fart, let me tell you that Ipods are God’s gift to the long distance hiker. In the mid 90s, I spent four months working by myself as a backcountry ranger in Colorado. I am not an extrovert, so this was fine by me, and since my day/winter job was being an academic, I had a lot of stuff to think about. I never ran out of thoughts. But then I went home to Vermont, too damn many days in the car, and when a friend called and said, Hey, come to the jazz festival in Tanglewood, I agreed, but said I was going to walk. Which I did. I had– you may have seen one in an antique store– a transistor radio. It was hot shit because it was small (about 3 times the size of my cell phone, but everything is relative) and lasted 10 hours on a 9V battery. I eked out the battery by only listening to Fresh Air (Terry Gross wasn’t young, even 20 years ago) and All Things Considered, so I would have something to think about. But then, on Day 6, I ran out of battery, and I ran out of things to think about. I mean, there was nothing. Not a damn thing. I had managed to come up with working theories or conclusions about every question I had had on my mind up to that point, and I had no more questions that interested me about my discipline, or any other discipline about which I knew anything. By Day 7, I was calculating the average weight of each step I took on my feet, in both standard and metric measurements, ranging from grams per square centimeter to pounds per square foot. Fortunately I got to northern Massachusetts before I lost my mind. So of all the communications technologies that have hit the market in the last 20 years, the one for which I am most grateful is the iPod. Podcasts are my friends…..

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Chris : Sep 26th

      And I thought I was the only one who can’t help obsessively doing math while I hike (and swim, and run)! Fun with fractions and decimal conversion!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Dc Meeks : Sep 25th

    Hi Alli. I enjoyed your post. Good luck on your endeavor. HYOH!!!!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Chris : Sep 26th

    All I, this is an awesome post. I’m having many of the same thoughts. I probably will still be having them when you pass me headed north (I’m starting early, but I’m definitely going to be on the “smiles before miles” plan)!

    Reply

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