A conqueror, an athlete and a bad-ass – that’s what.
I already wrote an entire post to answer Zach’s question: “I am hiking the AT because…”
My answer to “When I finish the AT I will…”
…I do not definitively know the answer to that and I am not sure anyone who has not done a thru-hike of the immensity of the AT can really know the answer. We all speculate about how we will feel when we finish, we all fantasize about who we will have become when we have finally reached that goal but without having endured something so foreign to our everyday lives it is hard to say.
When I finish the Appalachian Trail thru-hike I will expect that I will feel like a conqueror, an athlete, a “bad-ass”. It’s not just that it is going to be tough; I’ve done long day hikes in the Whites, I’ve slept out in a tent in ‘bad’ weather, I’ve been tired, hot, hungry and experienced pain. I have not experienced all those things day after day, month after month to the extremes that I know I will on the trail.
Thru-hiking the AT from sunrise to sunset in all manner of weather and all physical conditions is a feat. The single-minded pursuit, over the long months, of “finishing” the hike takes a mental and physical fortitude that many do not have judging from the statistics (about only 20% of hikers who begin the trail complete it). To finish the entire trail as a thru-hike is to conquer, not the trail, but one’s own limits.
No matter what condition a hiker starts in, if he/she perseveres on the trail they become conditioned, more toned, lose fat, gain muscle, gain endurance. I’m not saying they become the image of athletes that we see in glossy magazines with chiseled, glistening muscles. No. But hiking 20 -/+ miles every day has the inevitable effect changing one from a puddin’ cake physique to something like a hiking machine – the body adjusts to the expectations put upon it. There is no denying that putting in all those miles is “working out” -everyday, like an athlete– in order to achieve our goal.
Most people probably don’t even want to thru-hike for obvious reasons but they do tend to admire, just the same, someone who sets out to do what they themselves don’t want to do or dare to do. (I’ve met people who don’t even know what the Appalachian Trail is) For those that have some idea of what thru-hiking the AT entails, they are usually in awe of someone who accomplishes walking all 2,200 miles of it – over months. They can’t imagine wondering along the whole east coast carrying a backpack, sleeping in the woods, going without showering, encountering God-knows what kinds of beasts, barely eating (and I haven’t even mentioned not being ‘plugged-in’) and most of all, doing it solo. It’s as if those who embark on hiking the well-traveled, well-resourced AT are headed off to an unknown land or planet – anything can happen! You have to be a real bad-ass to do that.
What’s not a ‘given’
These are the (almost) ‘givens’ of reaching the finish line of the journey. I am hoping for far more this; I’m hoping for a new beginning to the rest of my life, a change that will endure after the finish line is crossed and I’ve recuperated. I’m hoping to make life long real friends, to be inspired to take my life in a new direction with a new passion, I am hoping to thru-hike another trail, another country. My hopes are high but my expectations I keep real.
When I finish the AT I will…
we’ll have to see.
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