21 Ways to Not Quit a Thru-Hike

One of the things I really wanted to prepare for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike was a kind of “cheat sheet,” with actions to take when I will feel like getting off trail and going home. I’m sure that I will feel like quitting more than once in the time I’ll be on trail —  everybody does. Even Heather “Anish” Anderson, who has hiked three long US trails three times, has days when she wants to quit.

This task of preparing that cheat sheet has been sitting on my to-do list now for months and I’ve been torturing myself with getting started. I guess having a task that is not very well-defined makes for a great thing to procrastinate on getting done. I’m realizing that trying to imagine how I will feel on trail is really hard. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a very well-defined task (start on one end and keep walking till you get to the other end) but at the same time it is so undefined what will happen on the way. I have tried to imagine some reasons I would want to get off trail. A lot of them probably apply to most people, and some will be more me-specific:

Reasons I Would Want to Quit

  • I’m tired.
  • I’m hungry.
  • I’m soaked and all my gear is too.
  • Something came up and I had to stay behind, so now my trail family is really far ahead and I feel lonely.
  • I miss home.
  • I miss my loved ones and my friends.
  • I’m bored.
  • My feet are hurting a lot.
  • The mosquitoes have sucked all my blood.
  • What’s the point of this hike anyway?
  • I’m scared.
  • The weather is not at all nice.
  • I’m injured.
  • I feel lonely.

I haven’t included emergencies with family or friends that would require me to go home to Denmark in this list. While hiking the AT is priority for me for sure, emergencies like that should not be questioned. The trail will be there next year too — the people in my life have first priority in cases like this.

So What to Do If I Feel Like Quitting?

I have read many hikers say “never quit on a bad day,” and that really is great advice that I will definitely follow. With that in mind I have made a pact with myself: I can go fuck this shit and rage quit the trail, but only to the nearest hotel or hostel. I have to spend at least one whole day there being warm and fed before I can seriously consider getting off trail. While I’m there I can ask myself a lot of questions.

This list of ideas for questions to ask myself and actions to take is a very mixed list of things that money can buy, things to think about, people to talk to, and inspiration for staying on trail. These are things I imagine will help me and probably most people, but again, your personal list will probably look completely different.

  • Is there a piece of gear you could get that would make life easier for you?
  • Are you getting enough vitamins, minerals, and probiotics? Try some supplements for a while.
  • Take the time to find a massage therapist to help you with soreness.
  • Can you find an all you can eat place to sate your hunger?
  • Consider splurging and take a night in a really nice hotel with a jacuzzi or something that will seem absurdly luxurious.
  • Call your loved ones and tell them how you feel.
  • Have someone that knows you well ship you a care package with comfort items. Or maybe prepare an “emergency box” before starting the trail and have a friend ship it if you need it.
  • Is there a new podcast or audio book that could help propel you a little bit?
  • Are you stretching your muscles enough? Do a relaxing stretching routine. I really like this relaxing stretching routine from Fitnessblender.
  • If the weather just sucks — could you wait it out for a few days instead of quitting?
  • Maybe slow your pace a little. If you are feeling exhausted dial back the ambition for making miles for a little while.
  • Carry some food that might be heavier — but will make you happy. Carry out something you miss even though you would normally consider it too heavy.
  • Is there a way for you to slackpack for a while to regain some strength and motivation?
  • Maybe consider a flip-flop? This can be both because you are running out of time, but maybe also to shake things up landscape wise.
  • Work a little harder to find a group of people to hike with that could help you have more fun.
  • Take a “vacation” for a week and come back to the trail refreshed.
  • Consult your “why am I doing this list.” Mine is in this blog post.
  • Write pros and cons for leaving the trail and let the list marinate for a week while you go back on trail.
  • Try to imagine what will happen a week from now if you quit the trail now. Where will you be? How will you feel?
  • Ask your friends for inspiring things like TED talks, podcasts, or articles about people with much fewer limbs than you overcoming amazing things.
  • Explain to someone on trail how you feel. Be honest and vulnerable and really think about their feedback.

All these ideas are ones that can be used in the thinking process. The idea is that they all will put you back on trail again. Always get back on trail at least for another five days before making a decision.

So You Still Want to Quit

  • Well shit.
  • Try some more ideas from the list above.
  • Ask yourself: Could I do another 50 miles and come back to the idea? If no — why not? Do you have a great excuse to not just do another 50 miles?

If you have to quit then that’s how it is. No shame in that — even if you wrote a long ass blog post about how to not. But do take the time to think the decision through. Your financial and emotional investment in this trek deserves that.

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Comments 1

  • Alex James : Mar 4th

    Good blog. I think you shall do well I’ve not seen a post so thought out and with such logical and applicable advice. Happy Trails.


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