A Rude Awakening to Just How Tough the Hike Is

In my first post I promised brutal honesty so here it is. Georgia is one tough mother! In three and a half days of hiking I’ve managed to go 31.1 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Now my original plan was to hike eight to ten miles a day. So you may think that this fits right in with it. However, that original plan included loads of time to stop and enjoy views and chat with people and even more time in camp lounging around, writing in my journal, and reading my Kindle. The reality has been so far from that vision that it isn’t even funny.

Reality Bites

Each day I stumble into camp exhausted with barely enough energy to set up my hammock and eat something. It has taken me all day to hike between eight and nine miles. There have been zero opportunities for lounging, not more than a few sentences a day in my journal, and only a few pages read as I fall asleep with the sun. Me, the habitual night owl who has battled insomnia for most of my life, now falls asleep around 7:30 p.m.

It feels like Georgia is intentionally trying to weed out the weak on this first section of the AT. Nothing has been easy. Well, maybe about ten minutes a day –  a day mind you –  the hiking is easy. Other than that, everything is tough. The inclines are difficult and the descents are knee killers. If you are lucky you’ll manage a minute or two of relatively flat terrain before you have to climb again.

Then there’s the weather. While I have been lucky on one hand because it hasn’t rained until today, it has been bitterly cold at night and snowy on two of the days. Managing body temperature is crucial both while hiking and while sleeping. While hiking, it’s a constant shuffle of putting on and taking off gloves, hat, buff, fleece jacket, and long-sleeve buttoned shirt. And I mean constant shuffle. You don’t want to be too warm because then you sweat and sweat makes you cold when the sun goes behind the clouds. But if you take off too much then you can’t get warm enough even when huffing and puffing up Blood Mountain. At night, however, it really becomes serious as temperatures drop and the wind picks up. I’m a hot sleeper, which is one reason I choose to hammock, but the wind whips right around my hammock and makes it even colder. So I’ve bundled up with literally every article of clothing, which makes me feel like the Stay Puft marshmallow man. Even with all of that and my under quilt, top quilt, and sleeping bag liner, I’ve also had to utilize HotHands in both my gloves and my socks every night. I wouldn’t say I was warm or even comfortable, but I survived with all of my extremities.

Another One Bites the Dust

While preparing for this trip, I kept coming across this statistic that said that 80 percent of people intending to complete a thru-hike don’t make it. And a large portion of that number drop out before getting out of Georgia. At the time this blew my mind. Now, I totally get it. Between the tough miles and the cold nights, there hasn’t been a lot of good times and we haven’t even talked about the crappy food and the homesickness. I’ll save those for another post.

I’ve already heard of four or five people quitting and at least one who hitched a ride to Neels Gap and skipped about 30 miles of trail. I sympathize with those dropping out but absolutely don’t understand those skipping portions of trail. If you are going to half-ass it, why do it at all? At least have the decency to just outright quit, go home, and tell your friends and family that it wasn’t for you. There is absolutely no shame in that.

Current Game Plan

Going forward, I think it will be important for me to focus on smaller goals. As I’m struggling up yet another mountain, thinking about 2,160 more miles to go is totally demoralizing. So I’m going to break it down into smaller chunks. My current goal is to get out of Georgia, which is at about mile 78. So, here’s to the next 47 miles. They can’t all be as tough as the first 31. Right?

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Comments 45

  • Kathy aka mom : Mar 10th

    You are one tough woman!

    Reply
    • Sonja De vrues : Mar 11th

      I feel like I write that post about how hard Georgia was!!! I had no idea how gruelling it would be.unfortunately the first 200 miles are mostly like that (I got off at hot springs) but what helped me was staying in the day and not thinking about the next day! It was worth it even though I did not hike the AT only a section. I also was alone and got met with fear and sometimes horror about that.good for you. Also my hike got more enjoyable when I insisted on longer stops and even made tea at times on the trail.its probably not something you’ll do twice so enjoy it!

      Reply
    • Bari and Megan : Mar 11th

      Me and my wife thru hiked the AT in 2016 for our honeymoon. I came in with the attitude that we were going to make it and we did, because I we were already in love with the trail. While me and my wife have been section random parts of the trail for years we were so looking forwards to seeing the parts we’ve never seen. We didn’t want to miss one mile, but that’s something that’s apparently is rare. Most late stage thru hikers that aren’t weeded out by the weather or terrain, and later injury or money, will eventually skip parts of the trail for one reason or another. For most the AT becomes a journey of endurances, and most eventually fall back on skipping. And once you skipped once, its hard not to do it again. I’d said out of the 20% of people didn’t drop out before Maine, at least 90% of the remaining have accumulates larger miles skipping via yellow blazing. Thru hikers that skipped hate admitting it, you practically have to see them do it for them to admit to doing it. This will lead late stage thru hikers to scoff at anyone who is passionate to commit to actually hiking the whole trial because it makes them feel like they cheated, which isn’t easy. To be fair though, most ‘purest” like to brag about how they really thru hiking, making them easy targets for the guilty. Its funny, I never thought or called myself a purest, I never thought of it that way, I just wanted to know in my heart that I did the whole thing, and that’s what the trail is really about. Hike you own hike, live your own life, the two are synonymous with each other. Hiking the trail isn’t about anyone thing, its about doing something that makes you happy with the life that you lived. That’s why so many people get off, they realised what they left behind, and that’s OK, that’s fine, its your life, be happy.

      Reply
      • Jacqueline Munson : Mar 11th

        I agree 100% with Bari and Megan. Each to his/her own. I have yet to hit the trail. Though I have climbed mountains. Dream has always been to do the AT. There is so much joy and satisfaction in climbing/hiking. Sections or thru. Most wonderful feeling.

        Reply
    • Claudette : Mar 11th

      You’re going to LOVE the A.T. In Virginia!! Just keep coming north!
      I’ll be rooting for you !

      Reply
    • Early Riser 71 : Mar 11th

      Great article. I wonder why people don’t prepare more thoroughly for the physicality of the trail? I was in really good shape and thought GA was on of the easier states. Beautiful as well, but many don’t get to enjoy it because they are so out of shape and hurting at every view. Folks….listen…please….Train hard so you can enjoy hard! ER 71

      Reply
    • Erin (Caboose) : Mar 17th

      I lost you somewhere after Neels Gap! I hope our paths cross again out here! 🙂 I’m thinking exactly the same thing. Georgia is no joke!

      Reply
  • Cindy : Mar 10th

    Great post!
    Will be following
    Happy Trails

    Pitstop

    Reply
  • Angela O’Hanlon : Mar 10th

    Beth, it sounds hard as hell, but I can tell in your words that you’ll get out of Georgia. Then you’ll conquer the next goal!! It sucks that it’s so cold at night, but soon you’ll be hating the hot weather! You’re amazing and you got this!

    Reply
  • Susan Copeland : Mar 10th

    BYE GEORGIA!! Peaches ain’t that great anyhow! Pblttttt!!

    Good vibes, stay strong!!

    Reply
  • Biggs : Mar 10th

    Keep it up Beth!! I’m so proud and also so jealous of you!!

    Reply
  • Chris Guynn : Mar 10th

    The AT is a roller coaster and GA is the price of admission going NOBO. It some ways the trail gets easier but in all ways you get better by not quitting.

    Reply
  • Sarah Dwiggins : Mar 10th

    One mile at a time, one foot at a time. You’ll be out of Georgia. Proud of you!

    Reply
  • Cliff : Mar 10th

    I look forward to following your hike. Great first post! Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  • Maureen B : Mar 10th

    Best wishes. Am enjoying your posts, living vicariously through you. Jealous. Would love to be there!

    Reply
  • ADK46r : Mar 11th

    You need to rest 10 minutes after every 50 minutes of hiking. Use this time to refuel your body with trail mix and water. Have your pack off for these 10 minutes and stretch. Enjoy the journey, you’re not in a race so don’t turn the hike into one. Good luck to you.

    Reply
  • Steve Bing : Mar 11th

    I am glad for you that you are able to do this. I will read each article you post. Keep up the fight.

    Reply
  • Jann : Mar 11th

    I like your attitude. The AT is difficult, it’s da*n hard, I know, I did it 6 years ago when I was 58. I broke it down to 28-week-long backpacking trips. (It turned out to be 30 weeks) I hiked 10-12 hrs per day to get my miles done. You really have to want to do it all the way. For me, quitting wasn’t an option. It sounds like quitting isn’t an option for you either. You go girl! I’m with you and am sending you good energy.

    Reply
  • Laura Dixon : Mar 11th

    Keep up the great job Beth, thinking about smaller goals will get you there, keep Staying strong, YOU GOT THIS!!!! I don’t think we have to worry about you quitting, from your incredible blog, you already can see mile 2160. Keep blogging, you have a following and we are all cheering you through to the finish line. Visualize and enjoy the scenery, take it all in and yes remember its a marathon, not a sprint. Make time to talk to those people.

    Reply
  • Jeff Mann : Mar 11th

    Eat, stay hydrated, rest and enjoy. From one of the 80 percenters who did make it out of Georgia last year.

    Wish I did more. Can’t wait to try again.

    Fun!

    Reply
  • Jeff Mann : Mar 11th

    Sorry didn’t make it out of Georgia.
    Enjoy.

    Reply
  • Beth Freeman : Mar 11th

    I live in East TN. – so know the weather has been terribly off, but it will get better. Wildflowers, redbuds, dogwoods will be awakening, if not already. I envy you, and your doing something, that I can only read about. So like others have said, enjoy the walk!!!

    Reply
  • John McClendon : Mar 11th

    You keep it up! Please keep posting. Living vicariously through you. Looking to start the AT myself so thanks for your HONEST dialog.

    Reply
  • Sydney Kenyon : Mar 11th

    Great post! Keep going one day at a time. I start tomorrow and think I may have just read my story in your words. See ya on the trail.

    Reply
  • Carol Haley : Mar 11th

    You just completely described my Georgia hike! NO WHERE did anyone post what you have. I was in the exact mindset as you in the beginning and shocked at the brutality. THANK YOU for your honesty! You are much younger, so pace yourself and you will outlast the brutality!!

    Reply
  • Greg York : Mar 11th

    Stay focused. Head up. Get to CT, and I’d be proud to walk a ways with you! Safe journeys.

    Reply
  • Diane Keesee : Mar 11th

    You can do this! I am always amazed by how fast the through hikers are moving by the time they hit Virginia. You will be in your stride soon!

    Reply
  • Anna : Mar 11th

    I have hammock camped for about 10 years now, using Hennessy hammocks, and something that might really help you is to hang your hammock really close to the ground and pile leaves and grass around it to stop the wind. I don’t use an underquilt so it may be different, but in the winter I let my hammock lay partially on the ground so that I can get that extra insulation. Also, make sure to pay attention to where the wind is coming from before you set up and try to use hills and fallen logs as wind blocks. Don’t give up on the hammock! It is worth it, you just have to use your surroundings. Good luck!

    Reply
  • Rick : Mar 11th

    Take it easy and make sure you take zeroes! I made it to Damascus last year before getting injured, but didnt realize how over trained i was until after I returned. Enjoy the beauty and don’t worry about miles at the start. Be extra cautious in heavy rain or snow! Id probably zero on snow days which I didn’t do last year and i got 2nd degree frostbite.

    Reply
  • Jonathan Mason : Mar 11th

    Keep up the journey. Going to try it the summer of 2019 with an Army buddy of mine. Time will not a priority because we are both retired. At 65 it will be a challenge. I will keep following your epic quest. Stay strong!💪

    Reply
  • Jeff schnittger : Mar 11th

    Go and trust yourself. I am a West Coast Sierra and Rockies hiker and climber living in Kentucky. Pretty sure I can handle the terrain but the mental game and commitment scares me. Funny how I look at a 3000 foot granite face at 11,000 feet and don’t blink but shudder at being alone with my thoughts for half a year. What’s in there??

    I am considering the AT but have a 6 yo and at 50 not sure it’s a way to spend my time. I am skipping Swan Lake today and taking her hiking. We all make choices and you chose to be a badass, which by definition is not easy. Like my daughter says, “no one said catching mice was easy.” I will remind her that some day!

    ONE FOOT IN FRONT IF THE OTHER, repeat a bazillion times getting stronger each step!!

    Reply
  • Kymberle : Mar 11th

    Perseverance. Always.

    If you ever want to quit, it can never be when you are going uphill, hungry, exhausted, bad weather, or homesick. It has to be when you are standing on top of the mountain, looking out, with the beautiful sun and fluffy clouds and the breeze in your face.

    Dig deep. You are much stronger then you will ever know.

    Reply
  • Kevin Brown : Mar 11th

    Stick it out! I did the AT SoBo in 2005. We are all different, but after 4.5 months, we were knocking down 30 mile days on that same Georgia terrain! I am not telling you this to stroke my own ego, but to tell you how much stronger you will get week by week! Hike your own hike and keep on keeping on!

    Reply
  • Tasha Murphy : Mar 11th

    Your are AMAZING!

    Reply
  • PermissiontoBoard : Mar 11th

    At age 58, I hiked 2000 miles of the PCT in 2015. At the start I set the bar low: my goal was to hike until I couldn’t, to remain flexible about the trail.
    I had a good time at first, but began having a great time, once I began to “hike my own hike.” After 800 miles or so I was flip flopping here, taking a week off there to visit with family, skipping a northern California section where heat illness was a risk.
    It’s your hike. Be safe and enjoy it.

    Reply
  • Sherry : Mar 11th

    My husband and I have been day hiking Georgia for 2+ years and you have gotten as far as we have (Neels Gap/Flat Rock Gap) in a few days! We have totally been amazed at the through hikers and at age 63, we will probably never finish the whole thing, but our goal is to finish Georgia some day and hike some in every state, so 7 more states to go and 30.9 more miles in Georgia (we’ve done other miles past Neels Gap). To each his own, but enjoy your journey, safe travels, Godspeed, and You Go Girl!

    Reply
  • Peggy R. AYERS : Mar 11th

    I laughed so hard, thank you for your honesty! It’s said three weeks to get maximum strength and endurance. Your getting there… looking forward to your other post. Enjoy some though by waiting on other hikers when you see them, ask where they’ve been?

    Reply
  • Kathleen : Mar 11th

    The pain is real. You’re doing great! Just keep walking : )
    I enjoyed reading your post.

    Reply
  • Craig : Mar 11th

    Thanks for the honest post. I am heading out to do a section of the FL trail soon and then plan on doing the A.T. next year. Keep on posting and keep on trucking.

    Reply
  • tbone jones : Mar 12th

    Great story ,and great comments,Its the journey, not the getting there that is important.

    Reply
  • FLScouthanger : Mar 12th

    “No plan survives first engagement.” It just becomes the plan to deviate from. It will eventually become easier and more enjoyable. Each day you’ll learn more about how to manage your situation. Stay positive and keep on keeping on. HYOH & enjoy the opportunity you have. Godspeed.

    Reply
  • Robert Wolfe : Mar 13th

    My son and I are on the trail now. I 100% agree with you. It is tough. You’ve admitted it and are facing it head-on. Hang in there. It will get better. Seize the views and enjoy them.

    Reply
  • Sharon : Mar 14th

    Take time and smell the roses along the way…….GREAT job Beth!!

    Reply
  • Kelly W : Mar 16th

    Good morning Elizabeth,
    Well you have inadvertently answered my questions about where you are on the trail and how you’re faring.
    The best laid plans, right?:(
    The say the A/T will make you or break you….I do believe you’ll be in the class of the former. Over the years I’ve read many hikers accounts of their thru hike on the A/T. SO many of the journeys began just like yours! And one common theme in those books was how the day(or mile mark, or footstep) comes when a kind of “breakthrough” is felt. When the mental protest ceases, the mind quiets; the feet cooperate, the load lightens.
    But those things can’t happen in the absence of what you’re experiencing now.
    I’m here in(snowy!) CT rooting for you..keeping you in my prayers for safety and good health.
    When I feel I can’t take anymore, or take another step, somehow I’m reminded that it’s time to practice gratitude. Always seems to put the wind back in MY sails….I hope it will work for you.
    Onward!! And do NOT be discouraged..every step IS A STEP!!
    Kelly W

    Reply
  • Erin (Caboose) : Mar 17th

    I lost you somewhere after Neels Gap! I hope our paths cross again out here! 🙂 I’m thinking exactly the same thing. Georgia is no joke!

    Reply

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