Accepting Reality but not admitting defeat.

This week I did the math, to complete the trail before my return flights I need to hike 16.6 miles a day.  If I take one zero a week the number becomes 19.2

I am still only a 12/mpd hiker, I am not getting better and stronger every day,  I am still the last of my group to hobble into camp, the trail legs are not coming.

The At providing another great view

The At providing another great view

In what seemed like the answer to all my prayers, another hiker has arranged long term slack packing for a large group of us here at the very back of the bubble.

So many other hikers have told me that the reason I hurt so bad is the weight of my bag, it had been said so many times I had just assumed it was true.  But three days into slack packing I know the truth, that the weight of my bag has no bearing on my tired aching feet.  They hurt, and they hurt badly, bag or no bag. 

As the reality of my capabilities becomes clearer I am faced with trying to accept that I cannot walk to Katahdin, without admitting defeat. 

I think of all my reasons why I am hiking the trail, of how I will feel when I make it and how I will feel if I don’t. But when I was writing those lists I had never considered the possibility that I would be working as hard as I can to get to my goal, while watching it slip further and further from my reach.

View from Beauty Spot

View from Beauty Spot

At my current rate, without zeroes I fall approx 400 miles short of a thru hike.

What do I do? I have thought of nothing but this for the last four days. I have broken down crying both on trail and in camp because I am not ready to accept defeat even though I need to make some tough decisions about the integrity of my hike.

Do I continue north at my current pace and end my trip somewhere around Mt Washington?

Do I flip/flop so that I still get to see Maine and miss a section in the middle?

Do I yellow blaze a large chunk ahead to finish at Katahdin?

Do I yellow blaze in smaller pieces to keep moving forward?

None of the options sit comfortably with me, I am not yet ready to admit defeat.

How do you accept that you are not a thru hiker and still keep moving forward?

Hanging out at uncle johnny's

Hanging out at uncle johnny’s

Does this mean when other hikers ask if I’m thru hiking I say no? Is long ass section hiking just as impressive?

‘Little bean’ who is currently my strongest supporter thinks anyone who spends 6 months in the woods hiking is a thru hiker, Katahdin or not.  Little bean also smiles and indulges me when I theorise that cutting my feet off and finishing the trail on hands and knees will be a good solution.

Realistically I need to go see a foot doctor to work out what is wrong, but when your in a foreign country on travel insurance it’s not quite that easy, plus I’m terrified they will tell me I can’t keep hiking or worse, that I’m just a big baby and need to harden up.

My problem is not that I hate the trail, but that I love it too much.

These last few weeks have been nothing but a blast, great times with great people. Even in the pouring rain.

Little Bean, mountain dude and superfeet leaving NC

Little Bean, mountain dude and superfeet leaving NC

For now I continue slowly north and try to decide what is most important to me about my hike.

Thru hiker prom, a lot of bloggers in one place

Thru hiker prom, a lot of bloggers in one place

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Comments 16

  • GadgetLegs : Jun 3rd

    Hang in there and do as much as you can and make a decision closer to your travel dates. Enjoy the journey and don’t worry about the ending.

  • zrdavis : Jun 3rd

    The only opinion that matters is your own.

    I know it seems crazy, but you’re still not at your physical peak. You may yet to hit your true hiker stride, and your 16 mi/day goal could still very well be within reach.

    But let’s assume that doesn’t happen. The only thing that matters is that you get what you want out of this experience. If that involves hiking continuously to whatever point you get to, so be it. If that involves slack packing every day to boost your mileage so be it. If that involves yellow blazing past what you anticipate to be the less-desirable sections, so be it.

    Ask yourself, “I have X days left on the Appalachian Trail- what do I want that experience to look like?”. Make that happen. Have no regrets.

  • Tom : Jun 3rd

    Ya flew all the way here to hike, so hike! You planned to hike x number of months, so hey, hike x numbers of months – you get to where you get, you see what you get to see. It’s all good and nothing gets in the way of that. If you come up a few hundred miles short (or less!), you will still have done more than sooo many other folks (the vast, vast majority of people). Don’t fret, have fun and enjoy all the wonderful folks and views and bask in your specialness.

  • Francis : Jun 4th

    Hi Steph, I don’t have any hiking advice because the AT is still only a dream for me, but I remember watching your (super awesome!) video from the Badger Sponsorship competition. I hope you will find a feasible solution soon, but regardless of what you decide, I just wanted to say you already spent more time on the Trail and hiked more miles than most people ever will, and that makes you incredible in my book. 🙂

    Please take good care of your feet! I think they will still take you to some beautiful spots.

  • Sookie : Jun 4th

    I was thinking the same thoughts when I was on the trail and decided to push myself harder and ended up with a very bad sprain. I had to get off at mile 310. I now spend everyday while I heal thinking of getting back on next March. I didn’t anticipate having such a strong desire to get back on the trail. I think about starting somewhere so I hike 2000 miles and heck with the rest, but I think of the trail everyday. I also live in some kind of cousin because I’m back home but I’m really supposed to be on the trail for the next 3 months. It’s very hard knowing where I belong.

    The loudest thing I heard in your blog is that you are having a blast, meeting great people even in bad weather. You are also making life long memories and friendships. It’s all about the journey finishing or not.

  • Carly Monahan : Jun 4th

    Amen to all the other comments! It’s YOUR hike. All that matters is that you make it a hike you’ll look back on with a smile! And good on ya for making the journey here to investigate this trail!!! Whether you hike 500 or 2,178 miles, hiking the AT is about the journey – people connections, trail towns, stopping to enjoy great views, or glens, or falls/swimming spots – these things are an essential part of the AT experience. It’s the culture of the trail that makes it so significant. If you’ve met a great group of folks and can keep pace with them for a bit longer, then perhaps take a zero or two where you can at least get to a shop with good footbeds/shoes/metatarsal support (take care of your feet!!) and then yellow blaze to catch up, maybe that’s an option. Just hike until the time’s up and it’ll still mean an impressive hike. Or, if it’s aslo important to you to see more of a variety of places, I would probably personally choose to hike to Harper’s and then flip-flop. (But if that means abandoning a great group of hikers, then ignore that opinion!) 😉 Best of luck!

  • Bill Garlinghouse : Jun 4th

    I’d consider flipping so you get to hike Katahdin, the Whites and the Greens. Plus you’ll see all your friends again as you cross paths!

  • Steven David Solis : Jun 4th

    Know a thing or two about yellow blazing from my section hike. There are some trade off’s i noticed for myself, such as more achy feet from the hard pavement, though the millage was greater from the traction.So would say that, with best intentions, to make the decisions as they come along for better or for fun. Always told to hike my own hike, for sure, we all hike for our own reasons. and those reasons can change en rout, whether as sobo, nobo flip flops or a section-er. Also was told the trail will change you, and you never know how, but that’s how we grow, with change.

    As with any decision there are always the flip side of thing and the silver lining to the cloud quote some say frequently. One of the tough things about hiking for the long term in general is the strife we give ourselves (weather our fault or not). Often being the harshest one to judge ourselves in trivial moments. And when your hiking all the time it’s easy to get carried away in the depths of the mind. What you focus on is what you’ll see the most. The time you spend with great people, the sights you see the towns you visit. the hike is what you make it. Thinking of how you will feel at the end if you make it or not, is something that you’ll never know till it happens even if you really want it to. The anticipation for some this is all the motivation they need. Listen to the encouragement of other around you and let it elevate you. We all support you!

    Hiking the trail taught me how most to live in the moment and that the stars still shine even when we cant see them. Happy Trails!

  • Maria : Jun 4th

    I’m just so impressed by all you’ve accomplish shed so far!!

  • Eric : Jun 4th

    As someone that has spent a lifetime hiking in the woods – a lot of times, the pain you are describing is caused by your footwear. Even the most expensive pair of boots will cause pain if the don’t fit/support your feet properly…

  • Skinny : Jun 5th

    Take the time you need to rest your feet, don’t worry about the miles. If you are in good health, the miles will come more easy.

    As you progress north, if it still seems likely that you would not have time for the entire trail, then I would take Bill’s advice and flip flop.

    I enjoyed all sections of the trail, but if I had to, I would have skipped the mid Atlantic states to make sure I got the northern states.

  • Chris : Jun 5th

    I wouldn’t give up hope yet. I have ‘bad’ feet. They take FOREVER to harden up sometimes. Because I know this will happen, I am doing a half-thru (Springer to Harper’s) in 2016 and planning a full-thru (nobo) in 2017. Don’t push too hard. If you hurt your foot for real (I pulled something in my arch once, it took about eight months to stop ‘stabbing’ when I walked), you won’t even get to enjoy the rest of your time on the trail. Good luck, and have fun out there!

  • George Brenckle : Jun 7th

    Hi Stephanie: just keep going and don’t worry about the destination. Enjoy where you are and who you are with. I’ve just started and already have an injury. I started worrying, focusing on the destination that seemed to far off and was not enjoying where is was. I’m slowly beginning to realize that it’s where you are that’s important. Where you want to be is secondary. It sounds like you are with a wonderful group. Enjoy. And if you run out of time, just make plans to come back some day. There’s no “trophy” here.

    Whatever you decide, skipping ahead to see New aw gland and Katahdin or sticking with your group – things wil work out.

    All the best!


  • Siobhan Sheridan : Jun 7th

    Maybe try contacting the dept of Homeland Security and explaining you need more visa time? The 6 month limit is a pain for thru hiking. I argued for a longer time limit when I landed in LA and after a lot of discussion was eventually given 12 months. This has taken the pressure off and I can now complete the hike without having to hurry. Good luck, maybe see you on the trail sometime.

  • Ukelady : Jun 8th

    Possum and I keep going in and out of the same fears – I refuse to end this hike anywhere but Katahdin, even if I have to skip some near the end. People hiking near us seem to all be doing 20+ mile days or are planning to flip flop. So we are just trucking on and picking up miles when we can, we finally did our first 15 miler! Hope we run into you as we all make our way forward.

  • Pink Floyd, NoBo2011 : Jun 9th

    Have you considered just buying an extra 1-way plane ticket? Check out some prices – you might be able to find something affordable, and you could just stay longer. If you can’t afford it, maybe family/friends could help out, or you could even put up a “send me home” pledge thing on a website somewhere.

    And yes, you might toughen up yet, and you might be able to bust out some big miles and summit Katahdin and still make your original trip home. Maybe it’s the shoes, maybe getting some hiking poles would help (do you have any already?). There are a lot of unknowns, and you can’t be certain you’ll fall short of Katahdin.

    That being said, let’s assume you simply don’t have the time for all 2200 miles. 2/5 of my trail crew were sectioners, and it doesn’t matter. My strong recommendation is to spend your time with the friends you made on the trail. If that means yellow-blazing to keep up, just do it. If it means hiking slowly and saying goodbye early, that’s fine too. Fun fact: Mt Washington was originally intended to be the Northern terminus – not Katahdin. When I summitted Washington myself, it certainly felt like an ending.

    Most of all, stop worrying about it! You might not have enough time to reach Katahdin, but here’s the thing – you still have 2-3 months to do *whatever you want*! I know it’s the hardest thing in the world not to obsess over Katahdin, but I promise you, when the trip is over, you won’t remember finishing – you’ll remember hiking. When the time comes, you’ll do whatever you need to do, but in the meantime, enjoy yourself! You’re thru-hiking!


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