Fear as a Motivator


As hard as I try to clearly define my personal why, my reasons for thru-hiking continue to be ill defined and somewhat vaporous.

I listen to others provide clear reasons why they are thru-hiking, and I’m afraid…

I’m afraid I won’t have a strong enough reason to continue when I reach my breaking point.

I’m afraid my motivation will crumble under the weight of the bone crushing adversity I know will occasionally arise.

I’m afraid of letting down my loving wife, my hiking partner and best friend.

I’m afraid my knee and ankle issues will bring me down.

I’m afraid of turning to anger instead of acceptance.


So why am I doing this, risking so much for a reward which I may not be open minded enough to even see when it comes?

Well, for lack of a more eloquent way of expressing my motivation…

I have wanted this since I was a teenager, many long years ago. In fact, the desire started long enough ago that I’ve forgotten what it was that originally motivated me to begin with. My reasons have changed many times over the years. But, reasons have always surfaced to replace those which preseeded them, and I have always remained steadfastly determined to one day experience the entire trail.

It’s not because I want to stand on Katahdin atop the sign, I can stand on a sign down the street. It’s not because I specifically want to backpack the AT, I backpack regularly and love it no matter where I go. It’s not because I feel a need to test myself against something so immense I know I’ll be challenged, life has already taken care of that for me more than once. It’s not because I want to be hardened by the experience, in fact it’s just the opposite.

It’s because I want to become soft…

I know you cannot “overcome” 2,190 miles of trail in all kinds of weather and other adversity. I cannot beat the Appalachian Trail, and if I try to do so, even if I finish on Katahdin, I still lose. I’m praying the trail will soften me and allow me to truly accept the many gifts it has to offer. I want to become more comfortable among groups of people. I want to accept opposing viewpoints without being judgemental. I want to absorb the lessons taught by bad weather, rough trail, and days of Cliff bars…rather than just enduring the experience. And, I want to share these transformative experiences with my best friend, lover, wife, and partner….Caboose. After all of the years she has put up with me, she deserves a better version.

I don’t want to leave my mark on the trail. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I want NEED the trail to leave it’s mark on me.

Why am I thru-hiking the AT? To move further down my personal trail toward being the best me I can become. Because I’m afraid of dying without having made the effort.

…and I hear there is great micro-brew along the way!

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Comments 5

  • Rebecca : Jan 25th

    Such nice, authentic words. I can relate to many things you say, especially in the first part where it’s about your fears. I share similar fears and similar things I care and don’t care about. All the best for your thru-hike!

    • Engine & Caboose : Jan 28th

      Thank you! It’s hard to openly admit to being fearful, there is a stigma of somehow being weak when we do so. But it’s really empowering isn’t it.

  • mike : Jan 27th

    Great entry! I hiked the aT 3X in the 1980’s and was one of the first 2000 hikers to hike the trail. yes, fear is part of the experience as the trail takes us out of our comfort zones in many dimensions. I feel that technology has helped to tame some of the fears of failure, such as planning a 20 plus mi day but to discover one would have over 10k ft of elevation change when is acclimated to much less through analysis of detailed maps/trail profiles.. Also, technology has created more connectivity that lessens some of the fear.perhaps the best way to manage fear and let reality dissipate it is to live in the moment day to day, week to week. Dont let assumptions and acceptance to norms lead you. For example one has to hike the trail in one year to gain thruhiker recogonition, yet on ecan flipflop, hike sections when in seasonal peaks etc. Avoid the cognitve schema of linearity! Also, let creativity flow as this will be more manifest in awareness as you hike. Creativity can take many forms such as imagination, visualizing the human past of where you trek- as well as the wisdom that Nature can provide through its other sources such as animals and plants. Yes, sentience occurs in non-human forms. Believe in a Higher power of many forms.Spirituality is a big part of the experience-though a way of accessing this is increasing more difficult to obtain-solitude My at hik echange dmy life forever and am always trying to rediscover that magic of my first 20 mile day, finding a new shelter to sleep in that was unlisted in the trail guide on a wet and almost torrential downpour night in southern appalachia. Bacially, the concept of awe. Hopefully some of these observations will help empower you to achieve your goal of an aT thruhike. Happy Trails 2Spirits

    • Engine & Caboose : Jan 28th

      Thank you for sharing Mike! You allude to the benefits of being flexible in your thinking, and while that’s been a weakness of mine for many years, I’m hopeful the trail experience will teach me to accept it all without pushing back.

  • Caleb Bonner : Jan 31st

    Great article! Thank you for this.


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