21 Lessons Learned in 2021: AT Edition

Goodbye to 2021 and Hello to 2022

I can honestly say I cannot believe this year is already coming to an end. It feels like just months ago I was preparing for an adventure of a lifetime, but that adventure has come and gone. So has this entire year. Funny enough when you spend 202 days of the year hiking in the woods it’s easy to feel like time has disappeared, because it has.

Enough of those thoughts though, let’s get down to the real reason you’re here. The reason you clicked on this post in the first place. You came here to find out the secrets of 2021. The 21 things I learned on the Appalachian Trail this year. Throughout my AT hike this summer I asked friends, strangers, trail angels, hitches, etc. if they would share one lesson the Appalachian Trail has taught them up to that moment in time. These are some of the answers I received. You should know now, some of theses are to be taken very seriously and others…not so much. Readers discretion advised!

21 Lessons Learned from 21 Trashy Hikers

1. Pee before you get into your tent.

  • Now, this may seem obvious right? But in all honesty at the end of the day after you’ve done all your super hard walking and super hard cleanup from dinner, getting cozied into that sleeping bag is all that matters. I CANNOT stress this enough GO PEE. Pee before you get comfortable because that internal battle of forcing ones self to get up and get out of the tent is worse than anything you can imagine. Sometimes I just figured I may as well just pack up and keep hiking if I had to get out of my sleeping bag. Gosh. Just pee, it’s so much easier.

2. You don’t know what you can do until you take your shot.

  • This spoke to me as I’m sure it speaks to many other successful hikers. You literally just don’t know. You don’t know sh*t until you try and I don’t want to hear otherwise. You can come up with all sorts of excuses of why or why not in your brain but until you just TRY you will never know what you’re truly capable of. Time and time again this was proven to me on the trail. Don’t let your negative thoughts take precedence over the power of positivity.

 

 

3. “I can learn to be comfortable ANYWHERE.”

  • Worried about getting a spot in a shelter? Or maybe you’re concerned that the tent sites aren’t the best? That’s okay, because you will learn to be comfortable anywhere. I slept in parking lots, parks, strangers homes and even enjoyed a casual stay in a warm bathroom one night. Your standards of what’s comfortable will change when you’re out here. Let that perspective shift happen.

4. NOTHING is ever “flat”.

  • What a common misconception. Let me wipe this out of your mind ahead of time. If someone tells you something is flat DO NOT whatsoever listen to them. Nothing is ever flat. It’s a lie and it’s false hope. It’s the worst. This ties into another thing I’d like to advise and that is to ALWAYS double check information for yourself. Someone else’s .2 might actually be a .5 and getting those mixed up can make or break some people. Just do everyone a favor and make your own decisions with your own information!

5. If you’re having a bad day someone is always happy to be there for you.

  • It’s true. Whether you’re a stranger or a friend on trail no one wants to see another hiker having a tough day. People constantly check in with each other on the trail and this sheds a little bit of light to the type of community the hiking culture promotes. A simple “are you okay?” or “how’s your day going?” can change someones entire day. Countless times I had people thank me for just stopping to chat with them. We don’t see enough of this in everyday life. Little acts of kindness go a long way out there.

6. Take time to STOP, LOOK UP & LOOK BACK. Take a Blue Blaze!

  • It’s great to be focused on getting your miles in and getting where you need to go BUT I will argue it’s also great to stop and enjoy the space you are currently in. Be present on trail. The mountains ahead of you will always be there, but you will not always be in that moment, in that time, in that place. Take time to appreciate the little things. Stop and say hello to the fluffy dew covered morning moss or maybe wake up early to see the sun paint the sky before your eyes. Take a blue blaze and don’t forget to look up and see whats around you not just whats under your feet.

7. Take pictures of the people not just the views.

  • THIS IS EVERYTHING. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that someone told me this before I got on trail. You can google pictures of the amazing views you had but you cannot google the moments with the humans you meet along the way. Take photos with & of the people. Those are the memories you’ll want to look back on. Don’t be afraid to ask for someones phone number or social media so you can keep in touch in the future. There are many people I have no way of contacting that I wish I knew how they were post trail. Don’t make it awkward and just ask. 

8. You gotta poop your own poop.

  • I’m going to leave this one for personal interpretation. But you know if your friend needs a hand give them one. If you want to eat spicy cuban pork two dinners in a row and wake up with that hellfire morning poo, by all means I support you. PYOP people. 

9. Everyone has their demons.

  • Each person who makes a decision to come out on trail has something that they are hoping to get out of it. It is not up to you to judge another person for the reason they are on trail. Be humble, everyone out there has demons they are fighting. The trail can be a place of healing and many people are seeking that when they go out there. It’s okay to have bad days, rough days, angry days. It’s okay to have feelings besides being in awe of nature. We all have demons. We all have imperfections. Try not to project yourself onto others who are working through those things.

10. Learn to eat & walk.

  • Sounds simple right? Eating and walking is a skill. I highly suggest learning how to snack while you walk! There were some days I was determined to get to a specific spot to have lunch and neglected to shove food in my mouth until I was there. Every time this happened I was HANGRY by the time I got to my lunch spot. Hanger on the trail is like no other hanger I have felt before. You can feel the way your energy is drained. Avoid this by simply snacking & walking!

11. Be patient with yourself and others. Learn to cherish alone time!

  • Patience is important. You are important. Listening to yourself is important! It is okay if you don’t make the mile goals you wanted that day. It is okay if you struggle to set up your tent and your 3 months into hiking. It is okay if you hate cooking or blowing up your air mattress. It is okay to admit you’re not okay. Be patient with yourself and with others. Everyone out there has different levels of skill and experience. Try not to compare yourself, your gear or your goals to someone else. You are on your own journey. Secondly, time alone on the trail can be the most influential time you may have. It is a time for you to reflect on you. I encourage you to intentionally spend time alone, you’ll be surprised how much you learn about yourself just from choosing to hike by yourself one day.

12. Everything will probably work out. Maybe not how you wanted but enough to be okay.

  • There is a lot of truth to this statement. You can plan out every detail of your trip but at the end of the day your plans will go out the window. I know prior to hiking I mapped out what my first 500 miles “should” look like. Day one all that went out the window. Plans change. Moods change. People change. You will change. Be adaptable because in the end that will be much more enjoyable than the pressure of perfection. Things always tend to sort themselves out, the trail has a funny way of doing that. Listen to it.

13. Everyone needs a cuddle puddle!

  • A cuddle puddle? I’m talking human contact as a whole. I remember the first time someone gave me a hug on trail. In that moment I realized I had not had other human contact in 2 months. TWO MONTHS. That’s a long time. Allow yourself to be open to hugs & platonic snuggling. Feeling embraced by someone is really special. There is scientific evidence that proves how hugging can help improve health, reduce stress and relieve pain. The release of the chemical oxytocin in our bodies when hugging, cuddling or holding hands is associated with more happiness and less stress. HUG & SNUG.

14. Everything is temporary: Good & Bad

  • Believe it or not just as in the “real world” everything is temporary. There’s a saying out on trail that it is the “highest of highs and lowest of lows“. This is very true. You will experience so much joy one day and maybe not so much the next. It’s temporary. Remind yourself on the harder days that this too shall pass and on the great days soak in every ounce you can.

15. Keep it dirty.

  • Do I need to explain this? Keep it dirty. You will rarely be clean, so stay dirty. Get used to it. Embrace it. Live in your filth! Worried about smelling bad? You will and you will learn to love it. Embrace all the wonderful odors & things that your NATURAL body does. It’s a wonderful thing.

16. The trail provides.

  • It’s hard to truly encapsulate what this means until you are out there but trust that it is true. Countless times I saw it happen for me and for others. Trail magic appears on days you are dying for a coke or a cookie. Humans appear when you haven’t seen them for months and the moment reuniting is pure magic. Oh, did you break a trekking pole? That’s funny because you just met a day hiker who is willing to give you theirs. The trail provides. I swear by it. Trust in the trail. 

17. “I am capable of hard things.”

  • Thru hiking will likely be one of the hardest things you will ever do in your life. It’ll be so many things beyond just hard but it will be difficult too. It’s good to start telling yourself “you are capable of hard things“. Train your mind to accept this and live in it. Your hardest days on trail will STILL be better than your worst days at home, at work or in school. Heck, it might even be better than your best days at home. At the end of the day you need to remind yourself that it isn’t just a walk in the woods. It’s a mental, physical, emotional and enlightening journey. The best journeys are the ones that are challenging. You are capable of hard things.

18. Thru hikes are overrated, underrated and everything in between.

  • Ummm, what? Yeah, that’s right. Soak it in for a second and let it simmer. Take a moment to ask yourself what you are doing, why you’re doing it and what you expect at the end of it. Do you have intentions behind your hike? Do you have a timeframe or personal goal? Do you just want to live and party in the woods for 4-6 months? Thru hiking can be mostly anything you want it to be. But it is what YOU make of it. So yes, it can be overrated. Yes, it can be underrated and yes it is everything in-between. You will find more meaning in this at the end of whatever journey you go on.

19. Being present in your own life is such a gift & everyone cares about everyone so much.

  • Let’s dive into this a little bit. When’s the last time you felt truly present in your life? Quite honestly, do we even really know what that means? I know for myself that I didn’t have a true concept of what it meant to be present in my own life until I was on trail. So from my perspective this means that I am solely focused on myself. I have the ability to wake up and make choices that are free and of my own. I am taking each step and enjoying that very moment. I don’t have to focus on going to work, paying my car bills or if my landlord remembered to turn the heat on for the winter. I am one with myself. I am one with my choices. Often in society we do not have the chance to be as present with ones self as we may wish. We find reasons to be distracted or have outside sources of stress we take onto ourselves. The trail allows you to be fully present with you. It’s a beautiful thing. Part two of this is that, yes, everyone cares about everyone so much. There is a sense of family & community amongst hikers and trail angels. Whether you know someone well or not at all there is still this urge to care for them. It’s wonderful.

20. Life is short, follow your dreams.

  • Easier said than done right? WRONG. Prioritize your dreams over what is the societal norm. We all make excuses for neglecting to do things we love. We all find reasons why we can’t versus finding reasons why we can. It feels easier to be attached to our job than it does to be attached to a personal goal. Fear takes over our minds and tells us we can’t do that. Unfortunately we grew up in a world that tells us go to college, get married, get a job, buy a house, have a family, retire and die…happy? That sounds SO boring. I cannot tell you how many retired folk I met on the trail who would say “I wish I did this when I was younger”. I REFUSE to be one of those people when I am older. Follow your dreams, life is WAY too short to make excuses otherwise.

21. Never feel bad about HYOH!

  • HYOH? Hike Your Own Hike. I noticed before trail in the online communities there is a lot of negative use of the term “HYOH”. People on FB would throw it out in condescending ways towards others about gear choices or questions they had. It is really sad. I don’t think HYOH was ever meant to be such a negative thing. I bring this to light because you should NEVER feel bad about hiking the hike you want to. Thru hiking is ultimately a selfish journey. Who you decide to bring into that and for how long is up to you. What do I mean by this? I mean to tell you that you are allowed to hike with whomever you want, for however long you want and if you decide you no longer want to hike with someone that is OKAY. Outside of just hiking partners there is a lot more meaning. HYOH can be embraced in a positive way! Remember to tell yourself it is YOUR journey. If there are things people are pressuring you to do that do not align with your goals or needs it is okay to say no! It is okay to be independent. It is okay to not want what others want and to voice that. I am telling you right here, right now that every choice you make on trail should feel good for you personally. Don’t let FOMO get to you. Don’t let others needs and wants define your choices. Do not compromise from what you want because someone else tells you you should. Hike Your Own Hike, and love it.

Let’s Wrap It Up

I hope that some of this made you laugh. I hope that some of this spoke to your core. I hope that there are relatable things you can carry from this into your everyday life. If there is anything I have learned in the last year it is that just because I am not on trail anymore doesn’t mean I cannot live my life with the same passion and intention as I did when I was out there. This year will forever have changed my life. It has opened doors in ways I couldn’t imagine and awakened a beast of desire within my soul. I am excited to see where my feet will take me next.

 

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Comments 5

  • Jeffrey P Pascoe : Dec 30th

    Thank you for putting into words so much that is true, both on the trail and in life. So much wisdom. I admire you very much!

    Reply
  • Michael mullen : Dec 31st

    I really get what that journey did for you. LOOK BACK AND SMILE…Great story …….THANKS

    Reply
  • Russ Hobgood (Russ 1663) : Dec 31st

    I really enjoyed your 21 points. Truth is spoken and I thought as I read each. Preping for next spring to go at the trail in Virginia sections. Waiting because my shoulder needs repairs. Dealing with because ir must be done. I didnt start hiking until I retired at 65, you are right, don’t wait for the chance to be away from day to day madness. Happy 2022 and best of trail luck to you Wild Jocelot 😎

    Reply
  • pearwood : Dec 31st

    Thanks, Jocelot. This is beautiful.
    God bless you.
    Steve

    Reply
  • Turtleback : Jan 17th

    Some great insights, especially about peeing before sleeping and ignoring negative comments on social media. Thank for your encouragement while summiting Mount Katahdin.

    Reply

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