Still Trying to Wrap My Head Around This

Time is flying by, and in almost exactly two months, I’ll be starting my thru hike on the Appalachian Trail.

It seems crazy to me that it’s this close already. I started planning for this almost a year ago, and at that point it seemed so far away that it was barely reality, even as I watched the class of 2017 start off on their adventures. I watched their YouTube videos and read their blogs, and saw some who seemed to relish every single moment even when it sucked, and some who hit huge barriers with health or circumstance and dropped out.

Very, very soon that’s going to be me.

I grew up in Milwaukee, and while I’ve been camping since I was really young, I wasn’t what you would consider “outdoorsy” until relatively recently. In the past three years I’ve gone from someone who hated going to the gym to someone who has considered buying a third bike (a mountain bike this time). I’ve spent a ton of time outside in the last three years as a sailing instructor, but I’m definitely still new to backpacking. I’ve always loved hiking though, and I’m looking forward to testing my limits and getting in crazy good shape on a thru hike.

The glamorous life of a sailing instructor.

Am I ready for this?

I still feel vastly unprepared, and I’m not sure if that feeling is inevitable, or a result of me actually failing to prepare enough. I have some evidence of preparation: I have almost all of my gear, and I’ve used most of it on an overnight backpacking trip. I made my Appalachian Trials lists about why I want to thru hike. I currently have three jobs, and have managed to save what I hope will be enough money. I’ve spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos about hiking.

On the other hand, I’ve only been on two backpacking trips in my life, both just one night, both this past summer, and both in beautiful weather. (Not that either of them went perfectly-more about these in another blog). I’m pretty sure the notebook I made my lists in is packed away in my friend’s basement with most of my stuff, so I might have to make new ones. My three jobs don’t actually pay that much, so I still worry endlessly about not saving enough and running out of money. I probably have spent more time sitting on the couch reading about hiking than actually hiking in the last couple of months. It doesn’t help that I live in Wisconsin, and finding hiking with decent elevation gain is sometimes challenging. Also it’s winter, and the average temperature in the last week was 1.6° F, which doesn’t make it super appealing to spend lots of time outside.

Don’t let the snow fool you- it was like 70 degrees this day.

So basically, despite having over a year to prepare for this, I’m still a big ball of nerves.

But I’m also crazy excited to actually get started and experience this thru-hiking thing I’ve read so much about. I’m learning, especially now, to take things as they come and try to relax. And I’m looking forward to having this blog as a way to process what I’m feeling and share it with family and friends and random internet strangers.

See you on the trail in 58 days!

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Comments 3

  • Avatar
    Arnold "bloodhound" Guzman : Jan 6th

    Ashton,

    What your contemplating is no simple undertaking. Your body, the vehicle that’s going to transport your tired, hungry, smelly, miserable self the 5 million or so steps to Katahdin, is one of your top assets. Getting it in hiking shape is one of your top priorities. The A.T. has a life of its own and doesn’t care that you live in relative flatland and can’t do the training needed to do thousands of feet of elevation gain/loss per day; it will give you NO mercy.
    What you, and other flatlanders, can (and in my opinion ‘should’) be doing is finding a large stadium and start working out there. Put on your backpack with at least 30 pounds in it and spend a half hour a day (at first) going up and down till your legs burn. And don’t just go straight up and down but sidestep it, left foot leading, then right foot leading. If you have access to a treadmill, set it as steep as you can and again, wearing your pack, set it as steep as it goes and march at a 3 mph pace for as long as you can stand it. But don’t stop there; turn around and walk backwards for an equal amount of time. This will build your quadriceps quite nicely. Trust me, you will thank me for that when you hit those long, downhill stretches of trail. Also, if you can find one, spend a little time on a stair stepper.
    I am a very active trail angel/maintainer, spending hours and hours back on the trail and I have met my share of hikers with knees swollen up like grapefruits or hobbling along with bad cases of plantar fasciitis, many of whom sadly are forced to end their hike.
    Always be mindful of the ugly fact that statistically, with anywhere from 2/3rds to 3/4 of hikers not completing their through hikes, the odds are against you the moment you set foot on the trail. The way to overcome this is with adequate mental and physical preparation, and proper gear and logistical readiness. Also, you stated that money is a concern. Well, money is a BIG concern and from what many hikers tell me, you can never have too much.
    With all this in mind, I wish you the adventure of your life and hope to serve you trail magic in the backcountry! Sincerely, Bloodhound
    #backcountrytrailangel #backcountrytrailmagic

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mumble : Jan 9th

    You’ve got this girl! Being from Florida, I know the feels of not having a great way to prepare. How did my boyfriend and I prepare for our thru? We ate. A lot. Enjoy the time you still have eating your favorite foods and seeing your favorite people, because once you’re on the trail, it’ll kick you into the shape you need to be in. There is no easy way to simulate the crazy changes in elevation that you’ll experience each and every day. Half the battle is mental, and it seems like your brain game is strong and getting stronger! Feel free to reach out if you have any girly questions/or any concerns that you just want to air out! I’d be happy to help!! We’re on IG at @Lifeat2mph. If I don’t hear from you, HAPPY TRAILS!!! (:

    I don’t know what kind of time frame you’re on, but if you can, my biggest advice is to take your time and enjoy every single step of your thru-hike, because it’ll be over before you know it!!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    The Swords : Jan 11th

    I feel like I just read about myself! My husband and I are starting our NOBO hike in March, and all of our stuff has been in boxes for over a month as we’ve crashed at our family’s house. We’ve been saving saving saving too, and I still worry about money. We also only have ONE backpacking trip under our belt, but we’re planning one more before we leave. All that said, I just keep telling myself it will all be okay! Everything will always work out, even if it’s not as planned. It might even be better! I hope we see you on the trail, so we can laugh about the reservations we once had!

    Reply

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