Finding Your Reason
So you made the leap. You have begun the exhausting mental, physical and financial process that is preparation for a thru hike on the Appalachian Trail. At this point you probably have a good idea of what gear you are bringing, how many mail drops you will use (if any), and odds are you’ve told several friends and family members about your plans. At first they were probably excited for you, as if you were going on vacation…until you break the news that you’ll be gone for half of a calendar year.
Now, if you associate with any modern day humans they probably gave you a look that can best be described as being somewhere between confused and disgusted. Sadly, many people today aren’t even aware of what the AT is, and the idea of leaving the first-world comforts of home behind for more than a weekend seems horrific. How on EARTH can you survive without texting silly photos of yourself to your best friends or playing the mini-arcade that is your phone? Wait, you plan to WALK? Do shelters at least have A/C?
Aside from your backpacking/outdoor buddies, the general public typically can’t comprehend the decision to voluntarily carry a heavy pack for months on end for no obvious reason. Ask yourself, what will you gain from this? You’re putting aside your job, possibly going into debt, and uprooting everything you’ve come to know and worked for. Why? What is the reason for your hike?
If you’re smart (and hey, of course you are!), you’ve already made or started on making your own version of Zach’s lists (I am thru hiking because…, When I finish I will…, If I quit I will…). Beautiful start, good for you! If you’ve just piddled with them but never fully put thought and effort into those lists, I can’t emphasize enough just how important identifying these things are. The decision to uproot yourself shouldn’t be taken lightly, no matter what age or mile marker you’re at in life. Are you hiking for yourself or are you forcing this for some other reason (ex, following a friend or significant other)? What are you trying to prove or gain from this? What turned you on to the idea of hiking in the first place and will that support you months down the road when you’re exhausted and smelling like a hardcore hobo?
Many of you share similar stories to mine: I’m a college graduate not quite sure where to go next…so I figured I’d go to Maine…on foot. I’m hiking to learn a little more about myself but mostly because it’s what I love doing. I’ve spent the past three Summers teaching backpacking and horseback riding to boy scouts and being on a trail puts me mentally where I want to be. Hiking has gotten me through the hardest times in my life and I know it will always be there for me when I need it. I no longer find myself swearing at the slow internet connection or cold cup of coffee, and instead focusing on basic necessities and really getting to know the friends surrounding me.
I’m hiking because I’m a 22 year old with an auto-immune disease that’s costing me my joints and I’m not sure if I could wait, mentally or physically, to do this hike after retiring. I’m hiking because my horse died and I needed a new outlet for all of my energy and frustration. Finally, I’m hiking because I suffered and injury that almost left me paralyzed for life. I’m hiking to get back in shape after that ordeal, but also in celebration of something I’d always taken for granted…my ability to walk.
Whatever it may be, your reason for hiking is your motivation and it is entirely your own. It may only make sense to you and that’s perfectly okay, but be prepared to defend your reasoning (at least in part) to your friends and family when you announce your hike. They may not understand it but if they see your drive and passion for it, they’ll be more supportive and will come to terms with your decision.
As for me, stay tuned for updates as my dog “Scout” and I embark on our NOBO hike April 4th 2014! See y’all on the trail!!!
-Brittany and Scout the Adventure Beagle
SIDE NOTE: For your parent’s sake, don’t do as I did and announce you would be spending six months backpacking from your hospital bed the day after you break your back! They’ll appreciate it! 😉
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Hello Rodeo, Congrats on overcoming your injuries and going forward with your life. I’m wondering if you have weight limitations on how much you can carry on your back? If so how do you get around that? I have 3 ruptured disks, so am mostly a day hiker, but still dream of hiking the AT. Trying to figure out how to overcome this. I am a 60yr old retired female and hike a lot on the Lone Star Hiking Trail in Texas carrying light weight. I did recently hike Big Bend and when I did the South Rim carrying my water (pack weighed 10lbs) was in considerable pain. Thanks for any ideas you may be able to share.