How I Got My Family Onboard with My Thru-Hike
Finally, I’ve figured it out. After 30-years of being my parents’ daughter, I now know how to introduce my family to one of my crazy adventures without them freaking out.
When I graduated from a great undergrad university and decided to become an organic farmer; when I moved to a spiritual retreat center in the middle of nowhere; and when I backpacked through Costa Rica by myself, their responses where usually focused on the negatives. A never-ending, head aching producing, litany of all the bad things that could happen to me.
This time around, I wanted it to be different. I had a whole fantasy worked out: my parents would tell me how proud they are of my decision, they would exude excitement and not a hint of confrontation would be heard. While that exact fantasy didn’t fully play out, I am thrilled with how amazing my family has been with my decision to hike the AT. Here are the steps I’ve taken to successfully get my family onboard with my decision:
Bring the topic up slowly: When the seed to hike the AT first got planted in my heart last year, I casually mentioned it to my parents. “Hey Mom, I’m reading this awesome book about a guy who hiked from Georgia to Maine. Isn’t that crazy?!” “Dad, have you ever met anyone who hiked the AT? I’ve heard there is a great group of people out there.” I kept it super casual and by focusing on the positive points I slowly laid the groundwork for addressing their fears. (safety, Safety……SAFETY).
Find the best way to tell them: My family is loud, emotional and very involved in each other lives. I love them to pieces, but we tend to react when hit with big news. In the past, introducing my family to some of my crazy life plans ended in an argument (no conflict averse people in my house!). This time I tried a different approach, I wrote my family a thoughtful and sincere email outlining my reasons for going, my timeline and addressing their potential fears. I made sure to tell them things they wanted to hear, but also the things they did. I inserted links to blog posts on why it’s good for me to go alone, why I don’t need to bring gun, that I’m more in danger in a parking garage in NYC and how great the AT community is. I ended the email saying we could set up a time to talk in more depth about it all.
Share your honest reasons for going on this crazy adventure: My family only has my best interests at heart, so my job is to show my family how hiking the AT is very much in my best interest. While it doesn’t happen overnight my family is starting to understand that the challenge of walking 2200 miles is exactly what I need to get my mind, body, and spirit back in alignment. That this experience is about building confidence in myself, learning how to be present in the moment, and decompressing between two mentally taxing experience. The more honest and open I am, the more supportive they have become. They have already started giving me suggestions on things to bring and mentioned how beautiful the trail looks through each state. When I am tired, cold, wet and calling home looking for permission to leave the trail, I NEED my family to know my reasons so they will encourage me to stick with it.
Listen to their concerns: Despite my fantastic email, my family have a lot of questions and even more concerns. We have decided a family to set up time once a week to talk through their fears and thoughts. By carving out a regular time to discuss together, I am not fielding several calls a day by every time a new fear pops into their head.
Buy them a copy of AWOL’s book (the memoir, not the guide) and Appalachian Trials: AWOL’s book is a great way to introduce your family to the journey itself. Not only will they start to have their own experience of the trail but some of the major questions will be covered. Less phone calls for you! Appalachian Trials add a whole other dimension and lays the groundwork for how my family can be my support team. As they read Appalachian Trials we talk through what type of support I’m going to need and how I can make the experience easier on them. (Looks like I’m carrying a GPS tracker :/ )
Directly ask them for their support: While I know how much I’m going to need them, without asking for their support, how would they know? Some people can interpret heading out to the woods for 5 months by myself like I want to be left alone. When I directly asked for their help, our conversations took on a whole new tone. We are now a team going into this great adventure.
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