Section Hiker to Thru-Hiker: Can I Do It?

Whenever asked, I’m proud to stand up and say, “I’m an A.T. section hiker.” Most of the time I’m okay with that title but every now and then…and lately, more often than I care to admit…I find myself re-visiting that question, “Why not try a thru hike?” I pour over my collection of A.T. thru hiker DVD’s and each one awakens the desire to become one of that elite group…and yet, here I sit…
I ponder over just what it is that’s stopping me from even attempting to fulfill this dream of mine. Of course, there are the obvious reasons (aka excuses) that I’ve touched on before:

  1. Money: completing a long distance hike isn’t cheap! (I’ve actually sat and calculated how much I’d have to try to save each month to pay my recurring bills back home and to cover my expenses while on the trail. The amount required can seem out of reach.)
  2. Time: How could I afford to be gone so long (which again, ties in the money aspect of it. I’ve already reached the southern boundary of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park so there’s some time I could deduct from the total requirement.)
  3. Handling the reaction of others when the announcement is made (although I doubt anyone who knows me would be too terribly surprised by it)

     Sure…those are all seemingly good reasons to just do my best to continue my section hikes with the hopes that I’ll summit Katahdin before I die. But…if I dig deep down inside for the real reason….and if I’m honest enough to come clean with what I find there….my main reason for not making the jump from section hiker to through hiker is:

As I watch those DVD’s, I see what those hikers are going through and I wonder:

1. Can I do that? Can I handle the Whites? My fear of heights coupled with my “too close to the edge” phobia? River crossings? The weather?


2. Can I hike for miles alone?


3. Can I spend the night in the woods and not be completely terrified?

4. Am I adept enough to handle all my gear on my own?


     5. What happens if I fall or get hurt? I’m not known for my grace!


(I didn’t really fall here…just exhausted after climbing Blood Mountain!)

This list of fears may seem silly to someone else, but they’re very real to me. I am good at planning our hikes so I know I could handle the logistics of attempting a thru hike. It’s confidence in myself and my abilities that I fall way short on. I find myself wondering if my desire to see this dream of mine come true will ever be enough to overtake my fears and make me do it. I’ve done my best to be content with what I’ve done on my section hikes and each time I go out I learn something new. I’m certainly not complaining. But that dream of completing a thru hike doesn’t seem to want to go away…

I wonder how many others there are out there like me?

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Comments 6

  • Ronen Schatsky : Feb 28th

    I totally feel you here. I’m thru-hiking myself, but the fears you listed resonate a lot with me too. They’re mostly what’s making me nervous about the journey ahead, actually.

    • Dreamer : Mar 1st

      I admire you for having the courage to head out for your thru hike in spite of the fears that stick in the back of your mind! Can’t wait to see the photo of you when you summit Katahdin!

  • Glenda Edmondson : Feb 29th

    My first section hike will begin May 21 of this year for a planned 160 miles with my sister. A thru hike has always been a dream of mine, but with three children and an aging mother in my life…it won’t happen this year. And I certainly understand your fears!!

    No matter what age I get started, I will always believe until my last breath that I will at least attempt a thru hike!

    • Dreamer : Mar 1st

      Best of luck to you and your sister with your section hike! I, too, typically hike with my sister (and my brother as well, when he can make it out with us). I know you guys are going to have a blast!

  • Chelsea : Mar 3rd

    I totally understand your fears. I myself wonder those things too on a thru hike. I love the outdoors but at night in the woods, your mind can play tricks on you (this is my main fear). Either it’s my mind or Ive watched too many horror films or zombie shows. Either way, I hope I will get over that fear and the only way I suppose I will, is to face it. I hope you one day complete the AT! I am hoping to complete the AT, JMT and ice age trail in Wisconsin. Good luck!!

  • Mark Stanavage : Mar 3rd

    I always felt like i was second rate or second best whenever I answered the question “Are you thru-hiking? “…no,only section hiking. I won’t have the time or money until 2023, at best. I do intend to do it. And I will. So will you. We are already superstars by having carved out chunks of the most famous trail on the eastern coast. Most people park closest to entrances of malls or businesses. Ten to fifteen miles is an nice day…most people don’t do that in a week. Be proud!


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