Hiking the AT: There Is No “Perfect” Time

It’s hard to find the perfect time to go on a thru-hike. There’s really never a “perfect” time, and I get that comment from people a lot. But even if there’s no perfect time, there’s still a “better” time to attempt a thru, in my opinion. Graduating college seemed like the perfect time to thru. I’m graduating a year early, and I had the excess money as long as I planned it right. It seemed doable, and part of me is still trying to convince myself to hike the AT this year. I was very sure of myself even a month ago that thru-hiking the AT was something that I wanted to do this year.

Then Something Happened

I got a concussion trying to learn to snowboard, which I’m still recovering from, preventing me from exercising at all (and definitely did damage to my ability to do work as well). Having a concussion gave me a lot of time to think, since I’ve been trying to stay away from electronics and anything that would make my head worse. One day recently, I started to think about the reasons I hike, and how they’re contrary to the reasons why I’m trying to push myself into thru-hiking the AT this year.

I hike because it clears my mind, makes me less anxious, and allows me to go with the flow of the hike and life without worrying about much else. The concentration on just living in the woods and through harsh conditions allows me to just worry about the most basic essentials to living rather than the superficial drama of “the real world.” The simplicity of following trail markers as my only mission makes me happier than anything else. I’ll be clear that if I thought I would benefit from attempting the AT this year rather than the alternatives, I would. However, pushing myself to hike the AT this year, under the condition that it would actually benefit me, just isn’t going to happen.

I know myself, and I don’t enjoy camping consistently by myself for long periods of time. Some might say that’s the point of a thru-hike, but I’ll respectfully disagree. In some of the harshest, freezing, slippery, scary conditions I’ve been in, I’m not sure that I would’ve gotten through them myself. While some people find it liberating to not have any hiking partners, I find that hiking with someone allows me to have the solidarity at points, but also the help when needed. It’s also nice to have someone else to need me to keep them going, too. I also don’t know when my head’s going to get better, and it’s been pretty difficult to prepare to hike when even staying up all day and trying to get my basic work done has been a frustrating and difficult process. I just can’t expect myself to get better right away, and pushing myself to keep training to the same extent (both physically and mentally) would be harmful.

Then a Second Problem Occurred

My car broke down unexpectedly early (I was hoping it’d get through another few months), and that cost thousands to fix, which I had to put into it. I wouldn’t have as much backup cash if I needed it now, and it seems childish to assume that I won’t get hurt or have something else unexpected happen on the AT. Having an emergency fund is a smart move, and something that I wouldn’t be prepared for if I went this year now that I’ve had to spend money on my car.

The point of this whole thing is more or less a confession that I rushed into wanting to hike the AT. Without the financial setbacks, and the concussion, I may have still gone into hiking the AT (and who knows how it would’ve turned out, no one can really say if I’d finish or not). It may be difficult to do, but I’ve decided to wait another year to hike the AT. This way, I can try to ensure I have an emergency fund again, maybe drag along my boyfriend (since he also wants to start long-distance hiking), and have more time to get my head back to normal.

So What’s Next?

On a more positive note, I’m considering some other options that will take much less time and money this year. Some options are the Long Trail, Long Path, or the Northville-Placid Trail. All of these are relatively short compared to the AT, and would cost less money. They would also give me the chance to hike more near to where I live. The Long Trail is of course well known, but the other two options are much less well known. It would also be cool to start in Lake Placid, which is a very special place to me since it’s near many of the Adirondack 46ers. The Adirondack 46ers are what got me into hiking more seriously, and what got me thinking more about long-distance hiking and backpacking.

I’m of course disappointed to have come to this conclusion of putting off hiking the AT, but thankful that I’ve been able to apply my more “go with the flow” philosophy of hiking more generally to my life plans.

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