5 Ways I’m Mentally Preparing for My First Thru-Hike

Thru-hiking any long trail clearly requires mental toughness to deal with the constant pain and often monotonous task of hiking every day. While I’m preparing my gear and my body for my thru-hike, I believe the most important preparation isn’t physical. Gear and injuries are inevitable, but mental fortitude can help push a hiker through the most difficult days on trail.

Tapping into Existing Thru-Hiker Wisdom

As mentioned in my first blog, I’m obsessed with the Appalachian Trail. I already consume info about hiking in every media: books, podcasts, videos, and even articles about AT history. I’m also lucky to know people who have completed long thru-hikes, including the AT.

Their advice is clear: just keep going, no matter what. Expect to be uncomfortable and to want to quit, but be strong enough to keep going. I’ve followed hikers on YouTube for the past few years and have seen some incredible displays of strength and resolve. I especially look up to the female thru-hikers who have had to take time off for surgery or to heal a broken bone or to treat Lyme disease or deal with loss in their family and have all returned and finished the trail. It’s obvious that grit is one of the most important traits needed to be successful and I have been focusing on developing this in myself for the past few years.

Taking a Break from Social Media

As a millennial, social media has become a crutch for me. Bored? Tired? Waiting in line? Sad? Scroll through endless updates.

A smartphone can be used as a tool, especially for hikers, but it also has its cons. In the past few years, the comparison to others my age has been difficult. Watching my friends and acquaintances buy houses, get engaged and married, have kids, get promoted, and settle down makes me feel behind on some sort of timeline that I don’t even want to be part of. I’m incredibly happy with the life I’ve chosen, but it’s hard to be so sure when everyone else seems to have different goals.

I’ve chosen to give up all social media for at least a month, probably longer. Hopefully, this mini social media detox will decrease the “withdrawal symptoms” when I don’t have the ability to constantly scroll on my hike. The pandemic significantly increased my screen time and I desperately need the larger break from the internet that I’ll get on the AT.

Tree in winter with white blaze and trail guides box

Hiking in all weather is definitely part of the necessary physical prep

Staying Busy with Other Projects

Having quit my job in March and subsequently delaying my hike for another year, boredom seems inevitable. Currently, I’m taking a break from obsessing about gear and instead keeping my mind engaged with other long-term goals. (Don’t worry, I’ll be back to nitpicking every detail of my gear in January). The main way I’m keeping myself busy is with an internship at an environmental peacebuilding NGO, with the hopes that the experience will help me transition to a future career in the field. For about three days a week, I’m assisting on proposals, education materials, CRM development, communications, and more. Aside from that, I’m learning web development with the goal of building a personal portfolio for creative and professional projects, and I try to complete a lesson every day. I am also almost done with a course on Moral Leadership with former classmates from my Master’s program. Also, and perhaps obviously, I’m blogging, which has been a great start for me to channel my energy and preparation.

Instead of focusing on staying in physical shape for hiking, I’m trying to keep myself busy with fun fitness goals and activities. I joined a co-ed slowpitch softball team, I go on walks every day, and I also recently started biking. Having recently trained for and run my first 10k, I’m hoping to continue running for as long as the weather allows.

Preparing with My Hiking Partner

While both of us were actually supposed to hike in different years, fate has brought one of my college friends and I together again for this hike. I’m so grateful to have a hiking partner to chat about every little anxiety, plan shakedown hikes with, and share logistics and planning. I’ve heard so many horror stories about partners and friends having differing hiking styles and it being difficult for them to continue hiking together. Luckily, we both know what to expect, we have the same goals and hiking style, and have the same expectations for the trail. There are certainly many details and scenarios that we still need to work out and I’m looking forward to catching up with her over the next few months.

Learning to Deal with Anxiety

I am extremely anxious about this hike. So anxious that I’ve already had a couple of panic attacks about it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really excited about this hike and I am often daydreaming about every different aspect of trail life. What I’m really anxious about is the first few days. I’ve lived my whole life with various stomach issues, of which stress and anxiety are the biggest triggers. I’m terrified that the first few days or weeks on trail, I’ll be too anxious to eat or my stomach issues will flare up. The best things I can do are continue to develop my coping mechanisms for the expected anxieties of trail life and to also remind myself of all of the strategies I have for dealing with the inevitable stomach problems. I’ve already had some Type II fun experiences backpacking, hiking, and traveling, so I know I’m prepared, I just have to keep reminding myself that I am.

Lastly, as my brother has reminded me, I’ll never be completely prepared, so just go out and f-ing do it. I truly am learning to enjoy the completely unexpected ride that is life. I know that I can’t expect and prepare for every difficult situation I’ll experience, so the best preparation is just to be adaptable. While my anxiety may sometimes convince me that I’m not qualified or not mentally tough, I have had so many experiences that prove that I am. As an environmentalist, I have that hard-edged hope and grit needed to continue to work on a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I’m hoping that not only will hiking the AT show that I am tough, but also will give me even more tools and experience to tackle future challenges.

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Comments 6

  • Chris : Nov 15th

    You got this. I did start last April and made it 20 miles. Gear non-testing the reason. That I have corrected and will start again 2022. Once I started gear testing, my worries went away and I now know that I CAN do it.
    See ya on the trail,

    • Amanda Genovese : Nov 17th

      Hi Chris,

      Good luck this year! I have tested my gear for a few years now and I’m excited to get hiking.

      See ya out there!

  • pearwood : Nov 15th

    Hello, Amanda!

    • Amanda Genovese : Nov 17th

      Hi there!

  • kathryn M vashro : Nov 16th

    i wanted to start 2021, but like you i was following the advice of those stating to not go.
    I am working on 2022, but i am overwhelmed with gear lists, a bit of fear(crimes and animals), i have biked across the country and know about getting drenched, so not concerned about that. I would love to go with another or at least start with another. My family and a few friends have said they may meet me part way, but not going to depend on that. Any bits of information you can pass to a 2022 thru-hiker on the AT

    • Amanda Genovese : Nov 17th

      Hi Kathryn,

      If you want to start with someone, I’d suggest looking through the AT Facebook groups. If you don’t find someone, don’t worry too much because there will be lots of others starting solo then. Good luck!


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