How preparing my thru-hike changed my attitude to people
I’ve never really been a pessimist. I mean, sure, I had my times in high school where I thought everything sucked, but I like to think I always kept some sort of childlike wonder and optimism. And still I never realized how much I distrusted other people, how much I thought I didn’t matter to others (thanks, social anxiety!), until I started preparing for my thru-hike.
It all started a little before I decided to hike, around this time last year. An artist I really admire, Amanda Palmer, was releasing her book The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. I didn’t have the money to buy it, though I really wanted to read it. In the spirit of asking, Amanda Palmer set up an exchange where people could ask, and others could give. And so someone I had never met and who lived in a country I had never been to ordered the book for me. It was amazing. I was incredibly moved. A stranger cares! She’s great! The book was an eye-opener. It talked about how asking for help is really about trusting others, about opening yourself up and letting people in, about being vulnerable. About accepting the doughnut if someone offers you one instead of feeling like you shouldn’t be taking it from them. I really like doughnuts, so that resonated with me. I’m really not doing the book justice by summarizing, so I suggest you listen to the Ted Talk it was based on. Anyway. I read the book. I loved it. I felt changed. It slowly drifted in to the background again, because that’s how it goes. But it never really left. It made me more confident to just ask for things I want, to apply for things I want to do – because why not? To share things I am enthusiastic about without being afraid of what others think, because it might mean a lot to someone else and sometimes you just have to trust in others not to crush your dreams when you open up about them.
And so when I felt like I really, really wanted to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I took the plunge and told people about it. First just a couple of close friends and family. Then I posted it on Facebook, because we all know nothing is official without Facebook. The responses were overwhelmingly positive. Friends I hadn’t spoken to in a long time sent me messages, told me how great they thought my plans were, how they wish they could do something like it. People were suddenly bringing me into contact with others who had hiked a lot, or who lived near the Trail, or who were also planning on doing some sort of long-distance hike at the same time as me. And all these people I was brought in contact with were happy to help, happy to offer advice or to open their homes to me if I find myself in need during my hike. I was offered help in many different forms, from foot massages to home-made dinners, and I hadn’t even left yet! When I shared with others that I was having a lot of trouble finding a job, they suggested I set up a way for people to donate money if they wanted to. And they did – all for the promise of postcards and a whole bunch of updates from the trail. All because I opened up about something I was really, really passionate about.
And so when Appalachian Trials opened up their applications for 2016 bloggers, I took the plunge and applied. I have to say, I was scared when I wrote my first blog post here. It wasn’t anything huge or special, but just the fact that people I didn’t know – a lot of them – could be reading what I wrote terrified me. But again, the responses were positive. A couple of people sent me messages on Facebook. My friends signed up for my posts. The world didn’t end.
And now here I am. There has been no grand apocalypse (knock on wood) because I shared something I was enthusiastic about or because I trusted in other people not to tear me down or because I asked for help. My attitude to others, strangers in particular, is forever changed. I smile at people on the streets and I talk more to people I don’t know. I compliment people more often. I have come to appreciate the beauty of shared interests and how great they are for meeting people. I have learned that people will help if you let them, and I’m not sure if I would have realized it if I hadn’t taken my first steps towards my thru-hike – if I hadn’t taken the plunge and both trusted in myself that I could do something great, and in others that they would be there for me.
My life has already changed for the better and I can’t wait to see what my hike brings me. Less than three months to go.
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