Fear and Stoke Haunt and Drive Me
A few nights ago I awoke at 2 a.m. in a panic. Thoughts started racing through my head. Mice in shelters. Bears. Oh god, I haven’t practiced hanging my bear bag yet. I’m going to get hypothermia. Should I get a pair of down booties? Or a liner? I’m definitely going to forget to sleep with my water filter if it’s freezing. Hmm. Giardia. I should practice pitching my tent in the pouring rain. I should bring extra leggings. I definitely should have trained for this instead of going to the Netherlands for a month and gorging myself on delicious chocolate and beer. Yum. Ugh. Flabby. I’m going to die. I hope there are good people out there. I hope I find a trail family. Wonder when those maps will get here. Oh god, oh god, oh god.
On and on and on the worries spiral. The fears, the doubts, the temptations to give up before I even start. It’s so warm and comfy inside, they say. Don’t you want to stay? They whisper at me in the shadowy corners of my well-heated room. They tell me it will be cold, hard, crowded, not worth it. You can’t do this. You won’t make it. What are you thinking?
It takes all of my energy not to listen.
I’ve wanted to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail for years. I’ve hiked both Springer and Katahdin, and that feels symbolic. I’ve done the ends, now I need to see the middle. I feel the trail calling me and there’s nothing in the world that could stop me from heading north. And I’m out-of-my-mind excited. I’ve spent the last two years paring down my gear and investing in ultralight. I’ve made a gigantic itinerary spreadsheet and a list on LighterPack. I’m itching to walk and to be where I belong. For sure, I am stoked beyond logical explanation.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have fears.
Worry and Wonder
The worries that crowd in the dark spaces and infringe on my determination to walk to Katahdin are unbearable sometimes. It seems like everyone around me in “real life” thinks I’m insane, or thinks I shouldn’t do it. This is probably not news to you. It’s completely reasonable for a mother to worry, of course, but my mom’s concern that something bad will happen to me is, in turn, concerning to me. Maybe I should take my Garmin after all, or maybe I should have studied martial arts for the last three years to prepare for an attacker. Maybe I should bring more things than I need to ward off discomfort or homesickness. Maybe I should. Maybe I should. Maybe I should.
I know that any good narrative should have a resolution, but I don’t really have one here. I’m really just writing words. I guess I’d just like to say, for all of my fellow 2019 thru-hikers currently wrestling with worry: you are not alone. We got this.
Worry is natural, though unproductive, and concern has evolved for a reason. We should be aware, alert, cautious. But we should also not give in. Because we are hikers we know how to push through. We know how to weather storms and pack in the sunshine. We know how to treat blisters and take rests and rely on each other. We know how to cry, walk a little more, cry, walk, pitch a tent, and sleep, and wake up. We know how to survive and look at sunrises and marvel at the wonder that exists in between the tree trunks, the beauty in every little blaze. I’m ready for some pain, some trees, some snow, some rain, some stories. These are what keep me stoked. I’m learning to lean into the lightness instead of choosing the few dark corners.
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