3 Most Asked Questions as I Prepared to Thru-Hike
My plans to hike the Appalachian Trail were officially made public in February of 2022. Back then the thru-hike seemed far away. Now it feels very real.
This time was used to prepare along with family, friends, and work colleagues. Back then it was still undecided if the hike would be done northbound or southbound. All I knew was that I wanted to give the challenge a try.
And it’s to be expected that as the date crept closer, conversations about the trail, thru-hiking, and my goals became more frequent. Reactions ranged from those who knew past thru-hikers or had hiked themselves, people who were super excited, and others who had no idea what it all meant.
These conversations helped me to work out some of my own thoughts about this upcoming adventure as well as receive lots of encouragement. However, the following three questions were asked the most:
1. Who are you going with?
People mean this in the best of ways. It’s a solid question.
My response: I’m starting solo and excited to meet people along the way. The hike can be done in all sorts of formats. However, it’s quite common for people to start a long-distance hike solo because then connections can be made with people who have similar goals.
I’ve personally grown to enjoy hiking by myself. I’ve hiked the Foothills Trail (SC) and 200 miles from Niagara Falls to Pennsylvania on the Fingerlakes Trail System as mostly solo trips. On the other hand, I am choosing to hike the AT because of the community. I know people will be around to share moments of joy and struggle. The sense of community brings comfort. The ability to meet other hikers online who are starting around the same time also brings comfort. I look forward to seeing a few familiar faces, including several solo female hikers, as all embark on this new adventure.
A co-worker asked me the other day How many people are in your group?
After months of being asked who are you going with, I thanked her for using this phrasing. I will be using this in the future. Because even though she knew I was married, there was a lack of expectation that I would be starting with other people. I was able to explain my plans without the need to immediately defend the next question.
2. Is your husband (insert: partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other) okay with you going?
There have been conversations where this question has come up five, six, times in a row. And I’ve had to explain repeatedly, that yes I am married. Yes, my husband is aware of my thru-hike. And yes, he is okay with me doing this for myself.
Simply put; my husband’s job requires a lot of hours and for him to frequently travel out of town. And he just isn’t into the long-distance miles like I am. And that’s okay.
Here’s the truth. I never thought going on a solo thru-hike while in a long-term relationship would be possible until I heard other people talking about it. People hike with kids. They hike in their 20s and they hike in their 60s. They hike in couples, with friends, and solo. And there are lots of resources (podcasts, social media, books) where these stories are shared. It is possible to follow dreams and support your significant other. However, every time someone pushes this question a sense of doubt does creep in. Six months is a really long time to be away. Is he really okay with me going?
The other day I asked him did you ever think I was going to back out? His response: absolutely not.
There’s no doubt it will be hard. I’ll miss him, our cat, our small apartment, and our family and friends at home. But it’s 2022 and there are so many ways to stay connected to home. I like to believe that six months apart is just a blink compared to all the years to come.
3. You’re bringing a gun, right?
To this I always joke back: Does a pocket knife count? Trekking poles?
Bear spray or a gun will not be with me as part of my thru-hike. This is up to user preference – to each their own. But if every single person on trail carried a gun I’d 100 percent feel less safe. Plus I’m too much of a gram weenie for those unnecessary ounces!
Of course there are things I need to be aware of. Risk management planning is part of preparing for any trip. I have items and plans in place that make me feel safe.
I’m more concerned with injuries taking me off the trail than anything else.
When it comes to the AT, and most long-distance trails, it’s important to understand there are communities of people who support hikers. I know I have options. People provide trail magic in all forms including food, shuttle services, laundry, showers, lodging, medical assistance, training on how to live alongside wildlife, and general encouragement. Towns are built around supporting hikers. They want hikers to succeed. Surprisingly, hikers do not have to carry 2,200+ miles worth of food and sleep inside every once in a while.
I won’t be bringing a gun, but there are many ways I manage my fears to make safe, conscious decisions.
Have these conversations before your hike!
I fully believe that no matter how repetitive these conversations can be, they are super important. It’s allowed the chance to share the positives of long-distance hiking to those who may not be familiar. To explain that these trails are supported by communities of wonderful people. To share that, yes, females can hike solo and feel safe – even without a gun, dog, or a male companion – and that it’s pretty common. That it’s okay to spend time away from your partner and still be in a loving relationship.
And lastly, the more I share my plans with others, the more excited I get to experience it all for myself.
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