5 Reasons I’m Thankful My AT Hike Didn’t Go As Planned
I set out to complete a flip-flop thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail this year, but wound up hiking only 567 miles, a little over ¼ of the trail. I first realized I might not finish the trail when I decided to have my stepdad pick me up a little past the Mason-Dixon line due to a knee injury, and I’ll admit that I cried at the prospect. Now that I’ve been home for a couple of months and had a chance to reflect on the amazing experiences I had on the AT, though, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I’m a proud LASHer (Long Ass Section HIker), and I am looking forward to hiking more of the AT in the future.
Here are a few of the reasons I’m thankful my hike turned out the way it did instead of the way I planned:
I met amazing people.
My start date was delayed for a month and a half due to my cat suffering a serious health problem. While I waited for her to recover enough to feel alright about leaving her, I told myself that the delay would lead to my meeting people I couldn’t imagine my hike without. I was right. To be fair, I’m sure I would have met a whole different bunch of wonderful humans had my hike gone differently, but that doesn’t decrease my thankfulness for the ones I actually encountered.
I started out in Shenandoah National Park intending to do a flip-flop hike. I naively thought I’d get up to speed pretty quickly there, but most of the hikers who started in Georgia flew right by me. Fortunately, my first night on the trail, I met Grumpy. He was meeting up with family in Harpers Ferry but they wouldn’t arrive for another couple of weeks, so he was taking his time getting there. We stayed at the same campsites through all of Northern Virginia, and having a friendly face waiting for me when I dragged my sweaty self into camp in the evening was the only thing that kept up my morale on most of those rough early days.
In Connecticut, I met Mojo, or as I came to call him after our first town day together, Jaywalker Jim. We hiked the first 100 miles of Vermont together before I returned home the first time, then I came back to the trail to traverse the 100 Mile Wilderness and summit Mt Katahdin with him as he finished his thru-hike. He taught me about how the trail provides and how quickly people can become close friends while hiking together. We shared amazing lunch views, hotel rooms, fabulous sunsets, tuna fish, and gorgeous campsites on remote Maine lakes. We laughed (he literally laughed every single time I farted, which was a lot), we fought, we sang, and we talked about all sorts of things. His companionship made all the difference to the later part of my hike and I am so very grateful to have shared the experience with him. I would not have made it to the top of Katahdin without him.
I had a chance to spend time with family.
Since I live in Wisconsin, I usually see my family in Massachusetts only once every couple of years. I had already been planning on visiting with my mom and stepdad when I passed through Massachusetts, but expected it to be only a few days. I wound up spending more time with them than I have since college, and it left me with many fond memories. I got to hike and try a bunch of delicious New England IPAs with my stepdad, and I got to hang out and read with my mom and help her with grocery shopping while she was in the midst of being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I even got a few visits with my sister and her kids. It was a very special opportunity to reconnect with my family as an adult, and I’m so grateful for that time.
I was able to practice self-compassion.
I’ll confess, I never wrote out the “Appalachian Trials” list for “If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…” I did, however, spend some time thinking about it, and hoped that if there was some reason I needed to leave the trail that I could reconcile myself to it. I’m someone who spent a lot of time in my teens and 20’s beating myself up for all of my perceived shortcomings. Back in those days, I would have berated myself as a failure for not completing the whole trail as I set out to do. These days, I try to treat myself the way I want to treat people I love: with kindness and compassion. I am glad that I’ve been able to recognize that although I did not complete the entire AT, I did learn a lot from the experience.
I learned to be flexible and embrace changes of plans.
One of the biggest lessons I hoped to learn from the trail was how to take the unexpected in stride. I’m a planner, but I knew that with so massive an undertaking I could not plan everything ahead of time. I knew many unpredictable challenges would arise and I would have to deal with them as they came up. First I had to delay my departure date, then I had a knee injury, then I had some delays due to illness, then I had a major life shift that brought me home, and finally I was called back to the trail to experience the end of my friend Mojo’s journey with him. My planned flip-flop turned into a very convoluted and discontinuous path. Not completing the journey I had laid out is the best thing that could have happened in terms of giving up control and opening myself to the experiences I had instead of the experiences I set out to have.
I am home starting an exciting new chapter of my life.
I set out on the trail in part because I was feeling stuck. I had been living in the same place for over 10 years, working at the same job for 9 years, living with a partner for 5 years whom I cared for but didn’t want to spend my life with, and dating the love of my life for 3 years without seeing a real way forward towards having a living situation where we could be together more. Partway through Vermont, just as I was beginning to truly enjoy my hike, my love decided he was ready to take the necessary steps to live with me and drove to come pick me up. If I had been set on hiking the entire trail, I would possibly still be out hiking right now, or would have just returned home this week. Because I came home early, I’ll be starting my new job tomorrow, which is the first step towards finding a new apartment where I can live with my love. My journey on the trail was an amazing experience in its own right, but it was also a catalyst to set my journey of life back in motion, and I’m very excited to see where it takes me next.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.