Challenges That May Take You Off the Trail

I’m beginning to realize why completing a thru-hike really freaking difficult. 

When people tell you most hikers won’t finish hiking the 2000+ miles of the AT, that only 17, 510 people since the 1930s (according to the ATC) have actually made it, you’re thinking, “Wow! Hiking that far is hard!”

And when you think, “wow, it must be hard to hike over 2000 miles in one calendar year,” what do you think of? What challenges come to mind? Physical exertion, time, money?

That’s what I thought. I thought it would be hard to exert that much energy. Plus, people told me I would miss showers, sleeping in a bed, being clean, and being dry so much that I would want to quit. People told me the unchanging and unending stretch of Virginia would make me so sad I would want to quit. After being out there for a month and a half, and after being off the trail for another month and a half, I can tell you those are not the things that make a true hiker get off trail. 

Now, yeah, it’s depressing to put on wet shoes for 6 days in a row. And if backpacking for two weeks straight made you realize you’re really not happy in the wilderness, that is also fine. You are not a piece of shit if you don’t finish a 2000 mile hike because you don’t like living minimally in the woods for 6 months. God, I wouldn’t want to live somewhere not conducive to my lifestyle for 6 months! I would be so sad!

So let’s put this on the table: there is no such thing as “quitting” the trail. Once you’ve gone out there, in any capacity, the trail has become part of your beautiful life. You will never be able to quit it.

A Determined Hiker Can Still Leave The A.T.

There’s tons of people who want desperately to keep hiking but can’t. Let me tell you from experience, it’s really difficult when your mind is ready to keep hiking but your body is not. 

I became susceptible to quitting because of challenges no one told me about.

No one told me that hiking with a strained LCL would feel like tiny mice were inside your knees clipping your tendons and mining for rocks in your knee caps. No one told me I would want to be present for my family’s traditions. No one told me I would want to be there for my friend who got incredibly ill. No one told me I would be missing my grandparents as I am out on an adventure of a life time.

Struggling to walk at Max Patch

In a landslide, my hike suddenly became compromised by the love I have for the people who made my life so amazing. And I think this appreciation actually came from hiking. Being away, being on the trail surrounded by the kindest people, being strong enough to go to Georgia alone made me realize how much of me and my happiness I have to owe to my parents, my family, my friends. The Trail taught me the importance of loving and appreciating the important humans in your life. 

By consequence, I began to lose my hike. I’ve been struggling because it seems so impossibly difficult for me to provide support and love for the important people while also completing my soul-journey on the trail. And I started to feel like I don’t have enough space in my life for all the love I want to give. 

The Pain of Being Away

Completing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail is not equivalent to a vacation or time off or an escape or a new work out schedule. It’s a complete lifestyle change. It means you are going to be away from things and people and places you love. It means you are going to have to stay focused in a world of distractions.

I have spent every day thinking about the A.T since I left it. Which is why I find it incredibly insulting when people look at me as if I have quit, as if I’m not a true thru-hiker. But, let’s not talk about that.

I’ve felt the pain of being away from those I love, but I have also felt the pain of being away from the trail. And honestly? The latter is much worse.

Missing someone shows you care about him/her, that you need him/her in your life. You will have time together. You will find the time and place. But life is constantly changing and sometimes it becomes a necessity you spend time apart.

But missing a journey? That’s so much more painful, because you know that you are robbing yourself of personal growth and exploration. 

 Remember, Simba. Remember Who You Are.

In distancing myself from the trail, I have distanced myself from all the beautiful things it has taught me. If you’re in danger of losing your hike, if you’re facing challenges that beg to bring you home, here are a few points that might help:

  1. You are a bad ass because you went out onto the Appalachian Trail. No matter how much you hiked, you are part of a community of bad asses. Welcome.
  2. You know how to survive. Remember those nights you were afraid you were going to die? Or when you lost your tent poles? You survived those challenges because you problem-solved. You woke up in the morning stronger than you were the night before. Don’t let those muscles disappear simply because you’re not using them. Remember that you know how to survive out there, so you can definitely survive in here.
  3. Listen to your heart and it will lead you to where you need to be. It ultimately comes down to what’s important to you.

Life is Lemons,

and sometimes we just really don’t want any fucking lemonade.

I’ll be back on the trail in a few short days and I cannot tell you how excited I am! It’s been a hell of a rollercoaster of emotions, so, if you’re going through the same thing I want you to know you are not alone. And you’ll find your way, because you’re destined to keep on journeying, to see all the things worth living for. 

Rock and roll on, you beautiful soul. 


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Comments 6

  • Rachael Upchurch : Jun 16th

    Thanks for sharing this! I am thru-hiking the AT next year and although I am motivated to finish it… sometimes I feel like the pressure just to finish may take away the beauty of just being out on the trail. Just starting it is an accomplishment in itself! You are amazing for your honesty and I wish you good luck when you get back out there! 🙂

  • Bill Yeadon : Jun 16th

    After reading over 100 blogs over the last 2 months that ranks as one of the best. Hope you continue to love the hike and those you miss. You can do both.

  • Patrick Brown : Jun 16th

    Great post!
    I’m glad you’re headed back out.
    Alot of people don’t understand the reasons hikers may have to get off the trail. Nor how much the trail also tends to consume one after you leave it.
    Personally, I was on a flip-flop last year, but due to some serious stomach issues I had to cut my hike short after about 600 miles. But still…that’s 600 MILES!
    Not once have I ever thought myself a failure or any less of a hiker.
    In fact, I’ll be back out there in about 2 1/2 weeks for another 300 mile chunk of trail. It would be more, but I have to come back in time for my wedding or my fiance
    would (rightfully) kill me.
    Keep on trucking.

  • Vince Piquet : Jun 19th

    Had tendon issues in ME last June, and had to stop just into the 100 mile wilderness. Spent the last year rehabbing it and helping a number of friends with long overdue projects. Going back to ME next week to try again. Good luck with your journey. Your thoughts give me positive inspiration. Fair winds and following seas.

  • Jill Knox (Straps) : Jun 19th

    Lil Wayne,
    Love your blog entry. I met you way back in Georgia – you came into the tent sight after dark after climbing Jacob’s Ladder (I think you and your friends did 17 miles that day?”)
    My husband Babbitt (who quoted the Big Lebowski with you) is still on trail but I got off after mile 400 – in Roan TN due to a knee injury.
    I will be going back – but not until next May, finishing in 2018.

    I just wanted to say that the thing I loved about the hike more than anything was the people I met – and you were one of those who inspired me due to your apparent joy of the entire experience – (even while dealing with blisters!)

    I’m happy that you are getting back on trail. I have dealt with a little bit of an identify crisis after coming off trail and reading blog entries and following my husband and other fellow hikers through their journeys is the only thing keeping me sane while off trail! 🙂

  • Rhea Patrick : Jun 20th

    You’re not a thru hiker till your through !


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