A Good Thing Gone Bad… Kinda

When I first decided I wanted to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, it wasn’t planned to happen as quickly as it did. I thought about it, and it was something that was challenging yet enjoyable, and I wanted to push myself to do this. Somehow it got to this point, and I have no words to describe how happy I am about it. Yet, I do seem to be having other emotions towards this thru-hike that I have not wanted to admit.

Butterflies or Dragons?

I am having a rough time getting all my ducks in a row, connecting the dots, making my 5 step plan, yatta yata. It isn’t impossible and it will get done in time. Due to the stress of being a bit behind, and feeling like I don’t know anything and the hardest part is, I don’t know what I don’t know. With this, I have begun to resent it a little, and second guessing. Second guessing myself comes easy, but second guessing myself at a time like this is lethal and I won’t do it, I have to stop. It kills me to just type it, and I hate that I have but I need to talk about it before it discourages me beyond the point of return.

I have the three major things to survive figured out… Food. Water. Shelter. Everything else is just a luxury, and I say that as loosely as possible and is meant to be taken with a grain of salt. I noticed before I started planning, and before I realized how much I didn’t have, I enjoyed everything the Appalachian Trail means… But I stopped focusing on that and why I wanted to hike.

I have been told again and again and read about numerous people’s experiences is that the best thing to do to prepare… is just do it and learn while you’re out there. I am going to take that in a lot and hold it with me for the next few weeks. I don’t want to experience a disdain of myself or resentment to a life changing experience I haven’t even started, so while I am behind on preparation, what matters is the journey to Katahdin.

Has anyone else experienced feelings like this?

Affiliate Disclosure

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.

Comments 10

  • Paddy Smith : Feb 8th

    Hey Molly,

    I’m most definitely having these exact same thoughts. I’ve got three weeks before I fly out to the states and I still feel like there’s so much more I could do to research and train for the AT. I’ve reached a point now where, like you, I’ve got the main things sussed out sort of but there’s lots of little bits and pieces I don’t have yet. I think ultimately I’m more of a just do it kind of person and learn by trial and error. I’m sure I’ll make mistakes and it might cost me more money in the long run but researching everything to death just exhausts me and I never feel confident that I’ve made the right choices. So I’m just choosing not to worry too much and kind of think everything will work itself out in the end. Good luck and I’ll maybe see you out there!

    • Molly Brown : Feb 8th

      I like how you put “researching everything to death.” I couldn’t agree more, its to the point that I need to take a step back or I will miss something. When is your departure date exactly?

  • Mike Winkle : Feb 8th

    Going through the same thing. Can’t wait to see Maine.

  • Ray Appen : Feb 8th

    Molly , I know 100% what you are feeling. I am a bit older than you (61) and actually don’t camp or hike … But leave Springer March 6.
    I also publish newspapers for a living and below is a column I wrote that has not run yet that is about exactly some of the stuff you are worried about. More or less. I am sure we will both be fine.
    Here is the column:
    All the light we cannot see

    Apologies to Anthony Doerr

    It’s funny that I never noticed before. I fairly often wake up around 3am, get dressed, and drive to the YMCA where I wait in the parking lot in my car from 4:00 to 5:00 a.m. for the Y to open so I can swim and then lift weights. That hour waiting is my writing time – my “me” time. It energizes my entire day – my entire week. It keeps me whole.

    I drive the same route every time and go thru the same routine every morning. It’s dark when I drive to the Y. Down Academy street I go, over 400, right on Preston Ridge, left into the Y. It’s always the same – except for today. For the first time in all these years I noticed that it really isn’t dark outside ; there are lights everywhere – on both sides of the road, on every block, on every building, along almost every street. I count 15 bright lights on poles right now as I sit here in the Y parking lot – illuminating empty static space – all night long. I am the only one here and these 15 lights have been burning since about 6:30 pm. And it’s now 4:30 am.

    Interestingly enough, it looks like there are about another 7 or 8 lights on poles around the Y pool that are not lit. And, for the record, I’m not picking on the Y; I just happen to be here. The lights have been burning everywhere since 6:30 pm.

    We really experience very little “darkness”. Have you ever thought about it? All night long coal fired power generating plants across the country feed the power grid and spew toxic carbon into our air that is poisoning our planet so we can illuminate empty parking lots, the sides of buildings, store fronts not passed by a single car, and empty sidewalks, roads, offices, and neighborhoods. Check it out next time your are out driving late at night or early in the morning. Lights, lights everywhere. Why?

    We turn off our lights in our homes because it wastes electricity. So why do we illuminate empty parking lots all night long – safety? So install motion detector cells or use timers. They’re fairly cheap. Or, simply program 75% of all these lights to be off when they are serving no purpose other than to burn coal and support the power companies.

    Why do we have all these lights turned on? Is it because it is light we cannot see? Maybe we should turn a lot of them off – you think?

    I think the reason I have never noticed this frivolous and wasteful light is because it is simply invisible to me. It is just there. I had no reason to notice. So what changed? Darkness changed.

    It’s interesting – at least to me – probably only to me. I have been thinking a lot about light lately – so much that I am loosing sleep. But the light that I am thinking about is “off” and I am trying to imagine how I am going to feel out in the middle of the woods in pitch blackness and I know that at least at first I am going to be very uncomfortable. I imagine that I will get used to it. But the act of thinking about it is what caused me to notice all these illuminated sides of buildings and empty streets. Darkness helped me see this light.

    I plan to leave Alpharetta from Springer Mountain in about a month and walk the Appalachian Trail – Georgia to Maine – like 2200 miles – along with several thousand other folks from all over the country and world.

    I hate camping. I don’t like to hike. But I have bought most of my gear and I’ve been training, reading, and , yes, hiking in preparation. I anticipate more than my share of darkness and, yep, I’m gonna change up my little morning routine.

    Half of the journey will be in pitch black darkness somewhere on top of a mountain or in the middle of forests. That will be the sleeping part but I know that before I fall asleep, I’ll be awake and it will be dark – really dark – and that will be so different. And it will be so illuminating.

    We’ll see how far I get with my little adventure. – one foot in front of the other a day at a time. I may make it to Maine and I may not, but I already know that when I get back all this light that I can see is really going to bug me.

    I’ll try to keep you posted.

  • Ray Appen : Feb 8th

    Molly, actually that was not the column I intended to share with you. Sorry. (It’s actually not quite finished as I am still working on it). It is this one:

    AT LOG

    Feb 5 – 35 days until day 1 on the AT.

    So it has been roughly four weeks since I decided to do my thru hike. Yep. I know that there are stages that people go thru when they are dealing with major life events – such as a death in the family or loss of a job. Getting mentally and emotionally “ready” to walk 2200 miles in the woods by yourself would be included in the “stage thing”. Very interesting so far.

    “How am I going to feed myself”, “When the sun goes down it will be pitch black, as in no light. All I know is light. How does that work for you”, “Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my”, “No more ignoring people I don’t know. If you want to keep all your “facilities intact”, you will become at ease making friends on the trail – with strangers” , “Freezing rain, pitch blackness, alone. Can you say, “yippie”?”. Sleeping soundly in your nice warm bed at night Ray? Sure you want to do this?

    I feel like the Scarecrow, the Lion, the Tin man, and Dorthy – walking thru the enchanted Forest – before each realized they already had what they thought they were missing. And I know that behind all the noise, flashing lights, and terrible stuff on the other side of the curtain is an old faker moving levers and trying to scare everyone and that indeed, he has no magical powers as was thought, and was far more frightened of being discovered than they were of encountering the great and powerful Oz. It’s going to be fine Ray.

    Did I mention that I don’t like to hike and I hate camping?

    So I guess I have lost my mind.

    – Note to self: several sentences that people have told me have helped a lot. You never know when some little thing you say may move someone’s mountain. “You’re going got have a blast” – Susan xxxx, Atlanta resident, recent sola thru-hiker (in 114 days) and whose trail name is “Cashmere” . She has already pulled her permits to hike the Pacific Trail this coming Summer. “There is nothing you can do to really “prepare” for the trail. You just have to go. Don’t overthink it.” – Kimberly Maxwell, Milton High School graduate, 23 ish, and recent sola thru- hiker and whose trail name was “xxxxxx”.

    – Note to self: Why am I doing this? I think I have an idea and I have to be able to answer that question to have even a remote chance to complete this. I don’t want, to steal a lyric from Bob Dylan, ” to be sound of the clown in the ally” to myself. That would be intolerable. I don’t want to go thru life worrying about loud noises made by a fraud like the “great” Oz hiding behind a curtain.

    – Note to self: ” I just realized that it breaks my heart to think of all the young kids today who have never heard and will probably never know songs that really have played a role in crafting parts of my soul and heart like “A Hard Rain A-Gonna Fall” (Dylan) , Helplessly Hoping (CSNY), or “Simple Man” ( Grahm Nash) and instead take their inspiration and their values from today’s rappers. That, to me is a blackness that is darker than any moonless night that I will ever encounter on some mountaintop alone on the AT.

    Baring down the homestretch in assembling all this “stuff” I need to do this. Lots of moving parts. Even though I keep reading and being told that the gear is not such a big deal compared to the mental and emotional preparation required, it is to me. Organization, planning, and getting going are probably the Achilles heel of my Achilles heel. Hello.

    • Molly Brown : Feb 8th

      Ray, I loved both of them and they were both incredibly well written. You put the emotions into words better than I could, thank you for sharing it!

  • elWiesel : Feb 9th

    Also got a month and a half before starting, but so far I have not had time to panic about the trail (too busy with thesis-writing-panic).
    But, what might help,especially if you have hiking experiance, is just setting up a definite plan for the first bit and treating it as basically weeklong, maybe two, hike. All plans beyond that go out the window anyway(the internet claims, atleast) and the gear you need should be the same. On that note, if you worry about the little stuff, you can get that along the way if you need it.
    Hope that helps.

  • Chief : Feb 9th

    I too plan to take a hike this year on the AT. I am going with no preconceived notions of how far or how long I will hike. I have a ride to Amicalola Falls S.P. scheduled for early April. I have a pack, tent, sleeping bag, shoes, clothes….still need a cooking system, bear canister for my vittles, and I still need to decide what kind of food and how much of it I want to carry and where to get more. I have a Sawyer filter for water that will screw directly onto a water bottle…I guess I should try it out before I start out. So many things to do and so little time left. I am sure I will forget some things. A brother will pay my utilities while I am gone. My daughter will maintain my lawn….what else? I am bound to forget several somethings. Just do it! Get ‘er done! Automatic payments for my vehicle have already been arranged. What else? I know I will forget something. Note to self: don’t forget to unplug the coffee pot!

  • Ronen Schatsky : Feb 9th

    Hey Molly. Just wanted to say that I also just graduated high school and am feeling a similar concern–though it’s way in the back of my mind–that despite all I’ve read, despite all I think I know, there’s no way to anticipate the uncertainties and the struggles of this trail. And those unknowns could be what throw me out of the 25% of finishers. One thing I do know, though, and thanks to Zach Davis and countless others for this, is that the most important equipment out there is the kind that can adapt to any circumstance, fix anything–the brain. Human beings have overcome tremendous challenges just by letting their natural spur-of-the-moment problem-solving take over. We can do this, not necessarily because we’ve prepared the best, but because our species is a brilliantly can-do species. All we need is the confidence that we can always figure something out. Good luck, and know that your worries will evaporate if you let your ingenuity take over.

  • Phoebe Whiteside : Feb 17th

    Hi Molly! I have been feeling JUST like this lately – I’ve been planning this hike for over a year now, but I seem to be feeling less and less prepared as time goes on. I think you’re absolutely right – we can’t let those anxieties take over and turn excitement for a good thing into being disillusioned before we even begin. ALSO it looks like we have a lot in common! I also graduated high school early to attempt a thru-hike, starting March 2nd (although my father will accompany me – it’s a lifelong dream of his). Maybe our paths will cross. What is your planned start date?


What Do You Think?