The Eight Stages of Planning a Thru-Hike
“Hey, wanna hike the AT?” was a question I had a very quick answer for. It was right around seven months ago that a friend from high school asked me this. With no buildup or prior discussion, I answered back as fast as I was asked — with an affirmative.
1. What did I just sign up for?
I immediately felt as though I signed a verbal contract and I didn’t read any of the fine print. It sounded like something I had always wanted to do. Of course I want to spend time hiking with friends; why wouldn’t anyone?
The next logical step of finding yourself in a binding contract would be to see just what you got yourself into: Over 2,100 miles. Fourteen states. Five to seven months. Panic quietly after taking in this information. Read every book ever written about hiking the trail, starting with “A Walk In The Woods” by Bill Bryson (naturally). Find The Trek.co where you look at every gear list ever written, and read even more.
3. Move (temporarily) back home.
Thankful to have supportive parents to take me back in, I left my adorable apartment and a roommate I loved living with to set my plan into motion. This was the most crucial part of my saving-up-to-hike-unemployed-for-five-months plan.
4. Gear up.
Research even more. Decide every little piece of equipment you need to survive, then pick through several different companies, compare prices, quality, and what you guess will work for you. I hadn’t started backpacking until this previous year, so I was completely starting from scratch. I was lucky enough to work for REI part time, and meet the most knowledgeable people who helped me immensely, even if they didn’t know it at the time. Shout-out to store 110.
5. Tell everyone.
A great way to hold yourself accountable is to make your goal known. Zach Davis makes a point of this in his book “Appalachian Trials.” Once the word got out, I had little pushes of encouragement from my close friends and family, which helped me to prepare mentally for such a feat. I’m very grateful to have such a strong support system off the trail, which I know I can fall back on. Telling everyone also includes my employer; a difficult but necessary task so I could drop everything for the foreseeable future.
6. Enter complete and utter sadness about leaving your cat.
How can I leave this tiny face for five months? She’s going to hate me for it, or think I’m dead. I don’t know which would be worse. I can attribute this subtly depressing thought pattern to one of my preparatory maneuvers. It all happened directly after starting a countdown on my phone that showed me how much time (even down to the minute) until my flight to Atlanta. There was probably a full two weeks when the thought of leaving could make me cry. Not only leaving my cat was a grievance, but also my dogs, one of the most fun-to-work jobs I’d had, and the life I was living. Coming back after this trip, I already knew, was going to force me to make some big changes.
7. What if I hate it?
I have no idea how this whole thing works until I get my butt on the trail in Georgia. Soon after the despair of facing change coming my way, I had a lot of negative thoughts because there’s no way to know what will happen until I try.
8. Acceptance and excitement.
After surmounting the beast of planning and preparation, it got to a point where I accepted entirely that this is what I’m doing, and I’m going to do my very best at it. At this moment the excitement really hit me. The countdown timer ticked on day after day, my last day at both jobs rolled around, and time was going by faster than ever. Every morning since, I wake up and immediately am drawn to glance at my pack leaning against the wall, staring back at me — ready and eagerly awaiting for me to grab it and go. After pouring over novels, blogs, and websites of all drifters who have navigated the trail before me, taking note of suggestions and warnings, trying out gear and talking to fellow hikers, for hours, then weeks, then months, I do not have the slightest idea or tiniest prediction of what the trail holds for me, but I do know that I am as ready as I’ll ever be.
Follow my nomadic happenings here and on Instagram: @jennnerrr
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