I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring up at a wall of shoes.
An employee in a green vest approaches and asks if I need help. Absolutely I do. She asks what I’m looking for, and in a moment of panic, I tell her I don’t know, and tears form despite my very rapid blinking. She tells me she’s going to get another employee with more footwear knowledge to help me out.
Along comes the next employee in sandals, socks, and a long ponytail. He asks me what I’m buying shoes for, and I tell him I’m planning to hike the Appalachian Trail. Or more accurately, I say, “Well, umm… I don’t know. I’m thinking about… I mean, well, I’m going to try and hike the Appalachian Trail.” He asks how much of it, and I tell him the whole thing. He tells me that’s awesome, that he thru-hiked the PCT, and then we turn our attention to shoes, where he tells me there isn’t one right answer, you can hike in whatever you want. He did his whole hike in the sandals he’s currently wearing in the store. So it really depends on what I like.
This answer only serves to make me more anxious. I want him to point me to one shoe, say “This is the one you should get,” and then I’m all set. Because I don’t know what I want! Every time I go to make another purchase or decision, I’m overwhelmed by how much I have to choose between. I know no two hikers are the same, and that what worked for one person may not work for the next, but I really want someone to tell me exactly what to do and buy and make this whole process so much easier.
I wish there was a cute little pre-made pack you could order with everything you’ll need for a thru-hike. Doing that from the comfort of my couch would be so much easier than answering so many questions about my preferences with a store employee.
And I’m terrible at pinpointing exactly what I want because I’ve never really had to before. Up until now, I’ve always had a blueprint to follow. I went to the same college as my cousin in the same city as my sister. I got a job based off the recommendation of a professor who told me it would suit my academic interests, and it allowed me to stay in the same area in Boston where most of my friends live. Any questions I had, I could just ask someone to direct me what to do next and I’d be on my merry way.
But despite the ease with which I could stay in Boston and do a 9-5 job that everyone else seems to be doing, it’s not right for me. This is the first time I’m taking initiative toward something I actively want to do, rather than simply going with the flow, meeting others’ expectations, and following the path of least resistance. And while it’s so exciting to take this first step in actively shaping my life into what I want it to look like, it’s also terrifying to not have someone beside me telling me what to do next. I’m fortunate to have so many other hikers online putting up their gear tips and hike information, but they feel far removed and there are so many opinions, it’s often hard to decide which advice to follow.
This all hits me when I need to make big decisions, like what I want to wear on my feet for 2,200 miles. Or at least for the first 500 until they give out and I need to buy a new pair. After crying to my friend, who tells me I don’t need to make a decision today, I bite the bullet and get the Hoka Speedgoat Mid. I’m excited leaving the store, and I feel relieved to have made the first of many decisions.
A week later I’m returning the shoes. I wore them to work and after only a few hours, they were pinching my toes and I had to take them off.
So I’m going back today looking for a pair of Altras with a wider toe box. And even though I’m exchanging them (and my sleeping bag, and my water filtration system) today, I don’t think I made a mistake. I made the best decision I could with the information I had at the time, and that’s all I can expect from myself. That’s what I’ll keep doing, and when I need to backtrack on something, that’s OK. It’s all about making this hike my own, putting myself out there, and doing something new and exciting that no one will hold my hand through.
My hope is that this hike prepares me for life, teaches me to take risks and make choices even when I’m unsure, because that’s the only way I’ll learn and grow. It’s the only way I’ll advocate for what I want in life, and not settle for what’s easy or already been tried and tested. It’s better to put myself out there and mess up than to have never tried and continue on a path that’s easy, but void of passion and integrity.
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