How to Coordinate with 7 Other Hikers While Still Doing Whatever You Please

(Days 60 to 78)

You can have it all!

Hike with your trail family.

Take breaks whenever you want.

See your “real life” friends and family at your leisure.

All you need is the ability to be in multiple places at once and never sleep!

Unfortunately, I am but a mere mortal.

Alas, I have not found the magic formula to accomplish this feat. In reality, you can’t actually “have it all” while on trail. A thru-hike is an open map world, which means you can do essentially whatever you please, but often choosing one path means forgoing another. There’s always a trade-off. Ultimately, “hiking your own hike” and coordinating schedules between a group of 8 hikers are mutually exclusive pursuits. 

I have friends; I definitely have friends.

I have had the great fortune of traveling with 7 other fantastic thru-hikers over the past month and a half. To be clear though, we are not a tramily. We just happen to coordinate where we will camp every night, have a group chat, wear matching nail polish and like to hike together… We may have commitment issues.

A special aspect of trail life, especially on a long trail like the AT, is the community and the social experience. It has been a treat to share the ups and downs and sideways of trail life with these folks for so long. I have travelled hundreds of miles with them, shared many meals and cohabitated in many a stinky hotel room. (It was like that when we got there, we swear). 

However, now that we are halfway through the trail (!!), it has become increasingly challenging to find alignment in our competing schedules. I enjoyed the stability of our core group for a while, but we’ve now fallen victim to the inevitable ebb and flow of the trail.

All of us have our own side quests pulling us off in different directions. I slowed down for a few days when my boyfriend joined me on trail (more on that later). Forklift got off for a few weeks to go on a family reunion trip. Gravedigger had weddings to attend out of state. Live Mas is just crazy fast and ridiculously ambitious (50 miles in a day, just for funsies). Picky went to DC for a few days. Brightside had his girlfriend visiting from Scotland. 

I was grateful to make it to Harper’s Ferry, a big AT milestone, with most of the group (Hitman, Picky, Live Mas and Forklift) and share in this accomplishment with them. But from there, with some emotional goodbyes, we scattered into the woods… for the time being anyways.

Thru-Hiking for Muggles

The side quest that altered my pace a bit was my boyfriend, CJ, joining me on trail for a week from Pittsburgh, PA. We planned for him to join me the first week of June, wherever I was by then. CJ is not a backpacker, but knowing that backpacking is really important to me, he was eager to learn and excited to spend time with me on trail. 

As it got closer, there was a moment I thought he would be getting into the trail for Shenandoah National Park which would have been a nice, gentle introduction to backpacking. However, fate would have it that instead, Plus One (the trail name I tried to give CJ) or PK (as he came to be known on trail) got on trail in Front Royal, VA right before the notorious “roller coaster”.

The roller coaster is a section of trail in Northern Virgina where you essentially hike up 500 ft and then immediately down 500 ft over and over and over again for 14 miles. Now all of the AT is an up and down extravaganza, but it’s not usually that concentrated. This is a section of the trail that even thru-hikers don’t enjoy, and here we were having PK hike it on his second day of backpacking. 

I thought I had planned a reasonable schedule for us. I knew PK wouldn’t be able to just jump on trail and hike 20 miles a day like I could. But surely 12 to 14 miles a day should be fine, right? What? Like walking up and down mountains is hard…

We quickly learned that the plan I mapped out was a bit too ambitious. I was initially quite frustrated. I had carefully crafted this schedule to balance spending time with PK while also trying not to sacrifice staying on pace with my trail people. Many of them took a zero day to go rafting which gave us a head start and the idea was we would reconnect right before Harper’s Ferry so we could all be together for that milestone. I could see PK was doing his absolute best, but not being able to keep up with the schedule meant falling behind my friends.

The poor guy was hobbling up and down mountains for me, and I was antsy that he wasn’t going fast enough. Thankfully, he’s quite patient. It’s not that I was trying to be hardcore – if it was just the two of us on an isolated backpacking trip, the schedule wouldn’t be such a big deal. But I was desperately trying to integrate our time together into the fabric of my trail life, and that’s quite challenging. 

We ultimately found a happy balance with PK yellow blazing (i.e. hitching or ubering through sections of the trail). This came about because we got off trail to have breakfast with a very nice Greek lady who knew my dad from high school. She lived right near a section of the trail and offered to feed me the moment she heard I was thru-hiking. We met up at a roadcrossing in the midst of the rollercoaster, and we realized I could get back on right where we got off, but PK could be dropped off 8 miles ahead and skip about 2000 ft of elevation gain. And that’s how PK got off the rollercoaster and the kindness of Greek strangers saved our relationship.

From there, we were able to plan the rest of the days similarly such that when PK couldn’t do the same mileage, he would go ahead and I could keep on my schedule. I’ve heard people say that it’s never a good idea to have friends or family join you on trail. We are so used to walking many miles day after day so it can be hard to adapt when a normie joins the trail and can’t keep up.

While it was difficult to balance at first, I found that it was well worth it. It was important to me to spend quality time with a loved one after months of being apart, and it was special to even share a small piece of my journey with PK. I loved getting to introduce him to my friends and teaching him all about my life on trail. It also gives a reference point for him when I’m back and telling endless stories about the hike. I wouldn’t change it. 

It’s been worth all of the logistical gymnastics and little trade-offs to spend time with my “off-trail” people as I pass through – whether it is slowing slightly for a few miles or a few days, scheduling road crossings to accomodate trail magic or being picked up and driven back 16 miles to do the Half-Gallon Challenge when my mom and dad could be there. 

It’s never really goodbye – it’s “bye for now”.

As I mentioned, my group of friends scattered from Harper’s Ferry. I planned to try to catch up with them again once PK went home. But on the last night that I was on trail with PK, we were sitting at a lookout at Annapolis Rock for dinner when a wild Picky appeared! The trail provides. 

For the last few weeks, it has been just Picky and me, stuck together like glue. We have braved the egregiously rocky terrain of Pennsylvania and the stifling heat of this never-ending heat wave. While I miss our group of 8, I do have to say that its been much easier to coordinate schedules between only two hikers. We have developed what I like to call the “Picky-Whisper” approach. 

This involves taking long breaks in the middle of the day for town food and AC and DoorDashing ourselves the occasional treat to random trailheads in the middle of nowhere. 

Over the last week, we picked our mileage up significantly (25’s every day, baby!) to catch up with Hitman. We successfully accomplished this at Delaware Water Gap, and now these two guys are probably stuck with me until Katahdin. In the midst of this, we also briefly found Live Mas, although he quickly got ahead once again. I am sure that we will be seeing him again down the trail. 

All in all, nothing is constant out here – the weather changes, the terrain changes, and the people you meet along the way change too. Change can be hard. But, the good thing about nothing being constant is that not even the change is constant. While things shift for a while, there is also a tendency for things to fall back together again. It’s teaching me that it’s okay to let go and just enjoy the flow of the journey. I don’t need to have it all if I appreciate what I have. 

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Comments 2

  • Tami : Jun 24th

    The trail has so many important life lessons! Love your blog, Dema.

  • Fabi : Jun 24th

    Another amazing post my friend! Love that you’re learning so much about yourself and life on the trail <3 I'm totally living vicariously through you. Before you wrote about your boyfriend hitching rides and ubering, I was like, "Oh no…this ain't looking good…" I would've totally lost my patience if I was in your shoes. I'm so glad that you figured out a way that worked for both of you =) Can't wait to read your next post!


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