Getting Off Trail – Two Week Recap

The title says it all. I made it two weeks. I ended up getting off at Dick’s Creek Gap. I was lucky enough to have my wife shadow me for the first two weeks and get me this far. I want to remind everyone I was 6ft tall at 270 pounds when I started. I am by no means a small person. I am also not a football player. So you can imagine that I am “slightly” overweight and out of shape. This is all my fault due to my lifestyle over the past few years.

What happened?

It was a rough two weeks for me. I’m not saying it isn’t a tremendous task for everyone else to hike this trail. However, everyone has their own experiences, even when you are in the same bubble. These are just my experiences. Week one consisted of trekking from the Arches (approach trail) to Neel Gap, and week two consisted of going from Neel Gap to Dick’s Creek Gap.


Out of the gate, I ran into issues. The entire first week, my heart rate was between 165-180 bpm during my hikes. This is exceptionally high as my calculated max heart rate is 186 (you can find this number online). To sustain this rate for hours a day is not healthy. At night, my resting / sleeping heart rate was between 90-100 bpm. My average resting / sleeping heart rate is in the low 60s. Again this is another indicator that things were not well. I slacked packed most of the week to try and help with the heart rate. I knew I was out of shape.

After making it to Neel Gap, I took two days off to help bring the heart rate back down. During week two, I was more conscious of my heart rate and slowed things down even further, which worked. However, my body decided to throw me another curveball. While I was able to eat breakfast and dinner (when in town), my body decided not to process any water, food, or electrolytes I consumed during my days of hiking. This came to an explosive head on my last major climb from Addis Gap to Deep Gap Shelter. As I was halfway up Kelly Knob (1 mile up with 1000 ft of elevation gain), my body decided to bring back up all the food and water I had given it.

I turned around and made my way back to Addis Gap for the night. I tried to take food, water, and electrolytes slowly but could not keep anything down all night. The next day I did the climb again and hiked the 5.5 miles to Dick’s Creek Gap. Luckily my wife was able to hike up (she’s super in shape) and carry my bag (full gear pack of 30 pounds) from Deep Gap Shelter for the last 3.5 miles. At this point, I hadn’t had food or water in my system for almost 36 hours and was venturing 5.5 miles.

Why did I get off the trail?

As you can see from the “Health” section, my body told me I was not up to this task. I was also not having fun 98% of the day. Even after a long day, I felt no sense of accomplishment. I’m not sure what I should have been experiencing, but I can tell you it was not the same as you see on many YouTube videos. The weather was also a problem.  Three days of my two weeks, the weather made national news for the massive storms that rolled through. There were some great points on the trail. Interactions with hikers and some of the views made things well worth it. But again, these were few and far between for me over the first two weeks. I started to dread the next day’s hike, and this isn’t good.

Success or Failure?

I would have to call this a draw. If you were to look at earlier posts on this site from other hikers, you would find many posts related to “Why Am I Hiking”. The majority of these posts do not state that their ultimate goal is to complete the trail and be considered a thru-hiker. Instead, hiker’s goals are enlightenment, soul searching, physical and mental health, etc. I can say that even after two weeks, I can start to see how these goals are the correct ones. After a week on the trail, my anxiety in the morning was gone. I lost weight and had forgotten entirely about work. However, I know that other issues would creep in from either physical health or mental health if I kept going. So I decided to pause my hike for now.


While I only accomplished a short section of the trail, I still completed it. To be out there is more than most of society can state. I made it past Neel Gap, where 50% of all those who get off drop from the trail. I lost approximately 15 pounds in two weeks and met some great people. I slept out in the woods, hiked in the rain, and my gear held up and did its job. Every single hiker I came across was friendly and willing to go out of their way to help other hikers. Would I do this again, or will I get back out on the trail? Only time will tell. I know that I need to be in a little better shape before tackling anything like this in the future.

Best of luck to those still on the trail or those who are just beginning. Hike your own hike and do what is best for you.

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Comments 18

  • Karen : Mar 29th

    Chris, I think it’s awesome you hiked a part of the AT! Hiking is far more challenging than it seems, which I am learning as a new hiker. I’m taking it slow, doing day hikes on the Batona Trail, because I really need to build up physical strength and stamina, not to mention mental! You may return to the AT one day, but if not, you will always know that you got out there, which is inspiring to me. Thank you for your posts!

    • Paul : Mar 30th

      Karen, you should hike some at Baldpate Mountain to get some elevation training in Central Jersey…then do Cushetunk Mtn and Musconetcong Gorge up by Frenchtown.

  • pearwood : Mar 29th

    Hang in there, Chris. You did what you could and kept your head. One can’t ask for more than that.
    Steve / pearwood

  • Faith Breads : Mar 29th

    Congrats on your journey, Chris! Right on for getting out there and doing what you could – wishing you a speedy recovery and a smooth transition off the trail.

  • Russ1663 : Mar 30th

    Chris, that was courageous. You faced the task head on, knew it was difficult and did what you could. You have the strength to call it when you were on need as opposed to pushing on to a potential disaster. You got that far, congratulations on that work. I truly hope you can continue at some point from where you stopped and get ot all done.

  • jack schrumpf : Mar 30th

    You gave it a shot and you are still young. If you decide to try again you’ve learned something. I admire anyone who tries.

  • Leaky Boots : Mar 30th

    Chris, no failure here. You made a commitment to give it your best and then took the risk. Going forward, maybe develop a plan with your doctor or a medical specialist for high risk activities for a nutrition and exercise regimen to prepare you for hiking distances. Then a week of AT slack packing, a week of rest, etc. Consider changing your mindset to section hiking, maybe a couple weeks at a time. It’s sort of like thru-hike training and you’re getting miles under your belt.

  • Morgan Ransom : Mar 30th

    Why do people like this blog about it? I would be ashamed of myself quitting after 2 weeks. Just slow down and hike at whatever pace you can until you get in shape. It’s a 6 month hike.

    ITS NOT LIKE YOUTUBE! Lol! Really?

    Slackpacking right out of the gate explains it all. The Appalachian Trail is so over supported that it shouldn’t be considered a thru hike.

    Thru hike.
    One end to the other.
    Carrying your own gear the whole way.
    Not skipping any sections for any reason!

    Flip flop skip hop slackpacking yellow blaze cheaters abound. I would bet 80% of everyone who claims to finish the AT cheated in some significant way.

    This attitude only exists on the East Coast. You won’t see that BS on the PCT unless its a former AT hiker looking for their next deli blaze.

    PCT 2014
    AT 2020

    • Chris Armstrong : Mar 30th

      Thank you for your comments. Instead of deleting them like the other negative ones, I figured I’d give the rest of the Trek community the opportunity to see what it means to be told to how to hike your own hike instead of trying to hike your own hike. To answer some of your questions:

      Why do people like this blog about it? Because there are people out on the trail, or those who are prepping to hike the trail to better themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually. It’s nice to hear from others who did not succeed. And yes, I did feel ashamed of “quitting” after two weeks. But it is something I am willing to live with as a life lesson. Also I am blogging about this b/c 95% of everything you see on the AT is roses and sunshine. There are reasons we don’ t see the terrible parts. People don’t film them and don’t want to talk about them.

      Slackpacking right out of the gate explains it all. – I did not slack pack right out of the gate. It was only after I started to have issues with my heart rate that this happened to help me move forward while building a base. Also when I did my check in at the Amicalola Falls, they covered a lot of rules. How far to poop from the trail, leave no trace, etc. None of them mentioned about slack packing, how much gear to carry or not, etc.

      Flip flop skip hop slackpacking yellow blaze cheaters abound – Flip Flopping is an approved method for Hiking the AT. Even on the ATC registration page they give you a NOBO, SOBO, for Flip Flop option. As long as you touch every part of the trail with your own feet in a given calendar year, then yes you can do all of that….except yellow blaze.

      Source AT 2020 – you state that you hiked the AT in 2020. I would argue that by your rules you didn’t. The ATC isn’t recognizing it. If we are going to argue some arbitrary set of rules, then I would guess the baseline rules set by the ATC should be the starting point. I would also argue that by violating federal and state law (some of the parks were closed by law), then those sections don’t count. I would recommend removing that from your signature line, Facebook page, or where ever you like to stand like Capt Morgan and proclaim you are a thru hiker while beating your chest.

      To everyone else out there….hike your own hike. Learn from others.

      • Rick Kenney : Mar 31st

        Chris – Excellent response to Morgan! Take care of yourself. Maybe we will meet on the trail someday.

        Rick Kenney (69 year old hiker in training)

  • Matt Cushing : Mar 30th

    This is your hike, man. You were smart to do what you did. Your health is so important, and you learned a lot and made it further than all of us who never even started.

    You’re inspiring men, man. Thank you. I can’t take all the time necessary to do it in one shot, but I’m going to do sections where I can!

  • Bill Yeadon : Mar 30th

    I think it may take more courage to write about your experiences than it would be to hike the whole trail. I doubt many of us would have lasted as long as you did considering the heart issues.

    Thanks once again for your story. If you decide to try again at least you know what to expect.

    Enjoy your retirement.

  • Shannon : Mar 31st

    Chris, first of all, I admire the way you responded to the negative and ignorant comment (looking at you Morgan, not cool!). Anyone who has the audacity to say such negative words to someone who made themselves so vulnerable is clearly unhappy in their own life otherwise they wouldn’t take the time to put down someone else so I truly hope you took absolutely nothing that they said to heart. You have a LOT to be proud of and should only hold your head high because guess what? So many people talk about their dreams or fantasize about what they want to do but don’t actually attempt them. You, however, DID try and that is an accomplishment in itself. The only failure would have been to have never tried and gotten out there at all because then how would you have known and learned the lessons you did from your time on the trail? I have more respect for you and than any negative Nancy or people who talk about their dreams but don’t ever have the courage to pursue them. You did have the courage and strength to go out there and attempt a remarkable feat and what you accomplished is still admirable and more than what MOST will ever try to attempt. Lastly, and I mentioned earlier, I really value and admire your vulnerability. I know talking about this isn’t easy especially when you’ve built it up and have your heart set on it but believe me, you deserve to hold your head high and should feel proud of your accomplishment and for getting out there and actually attempting to do the damn thing instead of just daydreaming. Best of luck to you in all of your future endeavors, I have no doubt your tenacity and courage will lead you to other epic adventures. 🙂

    • Bill Yeadon : Mar 31st

      Couldn’t agree more with your comments. Sounds like you may be a Brene Brown reader.

      Chris, you have a lot of people in your court.

    • Rick Kenney : Mar 31st

      Shannon – Excellent Post. I could not agree more!

      Rick Kenney

  • Taylor : Apr 1st

    Good job getting out there. The trail is hard. I vlogged the good and the ugly. I made it 700 miles, it was really hard because I wasn’t in shape. I went on to do other Thruhikes and I can tell you that getting in shape first is a game changer.

  • Rippy : Apr 1st

    I admire your guts.

    You did not quit. You undertook a massive challenge, one that you are not yet prepared to complete. You audaciously dared. Bravo!

    Your very high heart rate even going very slowly combined with nausea and high resting heart rate in the evening says it all. Lose the weight but more importantly build your lungs, heart, and vascular system up to handle the load of such an endeavor. I know you can do it. Don’t let the naysaying wankers get you down.

  • Anonymous : Apr 4th

    I can’t help but feel that people with opinions such as Morgan’s are missing the entire point of what hiking is all about. I thought you had a wonderful response to her and I enjoyed your entry. It’s so important that all types of experiences on the trail get shared!


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