Hiking Is Hard. Hiking Is Worth It
In some ways, I feel like I have been preparing for the trail my entire life.
Living in the mountains, I fell in love with the outdoors at an early age. I have always been able to use my imagination to get me through rough points in my life, but I’m only now realizing how useful that is. Also, in smaller ways, I learned how to roll my feet in marching band: super useful when you are walking on endless roots and rocks. I have been addicted to ramen and pasta and food that is generally terrible for you my entire life, so adjusting to trail food was no issue. I have worked in restaurants for over a decade, working jobs that regularly require me to be on my feet and moving for long shifts. What does that sound like? I’ve been on backpacking trips before, so I came to the trail with some knowledge of what it takes to be “comfortable.”
None of that mattered. This is hard.
Yesterday, I crossed the border from New York into New Jersey.
New York was my favorite state since New Hampshire.
I was pleasantly surprised by the views, the many lakes, and the gorgeous state parks we passed near or through. There are few things better for aching ankles and knees than a long lunch complete with a soak and a swim. Even if the lake is called Nuclear Lake. Thru-hikers do not care. Will we start to glow at night? No more headlamp! Will we all of a sudden start hiking eight mph? Sign me up! The sweeping vistas of the Hudson River from atop Bear Mountain were especially noteworthy. It was interesting to walk through the zoo also, even if we did it in the rain. It is famously the lowest elevation of the Appalachian Trail. I also really enjoyed the exhibit on trail maintenance as we climbed Bear Mountain. We camped at a shelter that was .5 miles off trail for stellar views of the New York City skyline at night. It took up such a small part of the horizon from where we were, and really helped put our journey into perspective.
I was unpleasantly surprised by how damn hard New York was. The terrain was very draining. There were sections of the trail that we bounced barely above and below 1,000 feet elevation for hours at a time. None of the climbs were forever long, as in NH and ME, but there were a bunch of them. Add in the scary road crossings and the lack of water sources, and New York was definitely a challenge. Which brings me back to my earlier point.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is hard. Period.
I do not care if you are SOBO, NOBO (which are pretty much all past us now by the way), section hiking, flipping, day hiking, crawling, running, hopping, or even being carried. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sure, thru-hikers develop the almost super human manifestation of trail legs, which makes us a bit jaded. Massachusetts and Connecticut were undoubtedly less of a physical challenge for me and the crew I’m hiking with, but others may disagree. Uncle Sauce, another friend I have met on trail, was the person who pointed out that all these comparisons are pointless: every single day is hard.
Thankfully, there are people out there who make it easier.
Toes and Pale Ale, my trail family, are amazing hiking partners. The three of us complement each other incredibly well and I am lucky to have found them. Mange, Wizard, Sauce, Cranberry Mischief, Cookies, Joey Dabs, Attrition, and others have been important to my hike as well. Trail angels who set out water caches for hikers are so amazing. It takes a lot of time to fill up and cart gallons and gallons of water to these random road crossings, and they do it for no other reason than because they care. A liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds. When hiking through the summer heat, already carrying everything else you need to survive, having to add nearly ten pounds of water weight because of long, dry stretches of trail makes it even more of a challenge. These trail angels, who I unfortunately do not know, make this task bearable. Thank you.
Until now, I have not mentioned this because I did not know how to bring it up. I still do not, but it needs to be told. My Aunt Sharon passed away from cancer a bit over a year ago. She was a practical joker with a huge heart, a great sense of humor, and I loved her very much. It was an honor when her brother Lewis asked me to carry some of her memory and spread some of the ashes as I went along. Sometimes, I plan in advance specific places, but mostly I just get a feeling and know it’s somewhere that she would have enjoyed. It’s hard to explain, but I am thankful to be bringing her along with me. I have to tell this, because of an experience I had the other day.
Lewis lives in New York. There are not many easily accessible resources for hikers through the state either, so if not for him I would literally not have had any sort of break from the trail at all through his home state. He and his wife, Aly, graciously took me in, provided rides for my friends, bought me delicious food, and let me pet their dogs. I cannot thank them enough. Lewis and I hiked a day together, which was a great way for us to get to know each other better. In addition, I spread some of Sharon’s ashes at the gorgeous Stairway to Heaven. Sharon, just like she would have in life, said hello to New York in style. Just as the wind caught some of her ashes, a stranger happened to walk up on my right shoulder. I did not even look at him, because I knew I would not be able to control my laughter as he got a face full of Sharon. Spitting and coughing, he had no idea what had happened as he didn’t notice me carrying my little bag of ashes. I know, this shouldn’t be so funny, but it is and was. Lewis and I did not trust ourselves to even speak about it until we were far enough away for a good laugh. It felt like Sharon was reminding us not to take this too seriously. So, to this random day hiker, I am so sorry you were so rudely introduced to my aunt, and I am thankful you didn’t know what hit you in the face. May you always assume it was trail dust and be none the wiser. It’s probably for the best that way. Lewis, you are a gem to my friends and me. A trail angel, and also family. It has been great getting to know you.
Yes, this trail is hard. To be quite honest, it would be all too easy to update this blog daily on what sucks about hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Blisters, shin splints, budgets, slips and falls; this trail can be unforgiving. However, there truly are not proper words to describe the good parts, and for that I am thankful. Almost to the halfway mark and the Mason-Dixon Line. Damn, y’all, it’ll be good to be back down south.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.