I Don’t Love Thru Hiking (and that’s okay)

Spoiler alert: This not the post where I realize, three weeks out from finishing my thru hike, that my days are numbered on the trail and that I’m going to miss it dearly.

This is not where I talk about all the gorgeous mountain views, how I have transcended the ability to smell my hiker stench, and how I feel connected to the wilderness.

This is where I talk about the times thru hiking ****ing sucks, which has been a big chunk of my hike.

Expectations

Expectations (also reality)

Reality

Reality (more often than expected)

When I’ve spent all of August enduring temperatures in the Northeast with a heat index worse than death valley and a cashier says how glad she is that she isn’t outside when it’s a cool 89 degrees out.

When I encounter the Nth day walker hiker of the day asking when I started, where I started, how far I’m going, when I’ll be finished, and how much they would love or hate thru hiking.

When I have to force a smile in response and act like I’m having the time of my life because I don’t want to scare people off from this noble pursuit, right?

When my boyfriend is content hiking for the love of hiking, and for some inconceivable reason I just don’t find the same joy.

When I spend a third of my thru hike wondering what is wrong with me for not feeling the magic of the woods, not feeling the freedom of the hiker lifestyle, and feeling like an ungrateful jerk for the privilege of shitting into a hole I dug with a dull plastic shovel.

When it seems more logical that I need a therapist instead of allowing myself to admit

I. Don’t. Love. Thru hiking.

The relief that there is nothing wrong with me for not liking this.  The majority of aspiring thru hikers who had this realization quit hundreds (or 1800) miles ago. So why am I still going?

I only have 330 miles left, but I still have 330 miles left. I’ve hiked through freezing cold, snow, wind, rain, sleet, starvation, thirst, 2 AM storms, rock scrambles, bogs, arid ridges, heat, norovirus, constipation, chronic joint and muscle pain, blackflies, mosquito swarms, and more. I’ve been pushed to my physical and mental limits and then shoved past them with no relief in sight.

Fall weather is helping, but hasn’t restored the joy I experienced during the northbound section of my hike from Georgia to Damascus.  Hiking is not a relief from the world; it’s my entire world. I can’t go home at the end of the day to a hot shower and warm bed. I set up my hammock house and hope that wet wipes will stop new rashes from appearing. Instead of a restful night’s sleep, I toss and turn and have nightmares about bears attacking me, waking up feeling more tired than when I tried to sleep.

I’ve invested five months of my life to this trail. I find relief in abandoning the hope that it’s just the heat, or the bugs, or the rashes that are making me miserable and it’s going to get better eventually. I like hiking as something I do in moderation, not as a lifestyle.

There’s always something and it is what it is.  I’ve accepted that I cry when I see road cyclists because I miss my bike so much. I cuddle strangers’ dogs past the socially acceptable point because I miss my dog so much.  I cry because no matter how hard I pretend, instant mashed potatoes aren’t real potatoes.

Poor food choices, no matter how hungry you are.

Poor food choices, no matter how hungry you are.

I’ve accepted that I will still be a thru hiker regardless of if the emotion I feel at the end is joy, sadness, or immense relief.  My desire to be a 2000 miler and finish what I started outweighs the Appalachian Trials.

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Comments 7

  • Bob Rogers : Sep 28th

    Triple Crown in your future?

    Reply
  • Notebook : Sep 28th

    Slug, THANK YOU for your authenticity. Thru-hiking is brutal and is not for everyone. If you have read any of my posts, you know my experience was a lot like yours–except mercifully 2/3 shorter since I had to get off at Catawba due to a stress fracture, which healed so slowly I didn’t have–I mean GET–to go back. One of my biggest frustrations since coming home has been trying to convey to people just how hard it is. It’s. so. hard. And yet some people, like your boyfriend, apparently, do okay with it. Some of us don’t, and yes, that is OKAY!

    I hope the next 330 miles are kinder to you than the last 1800 have been. And I’m so excited for you to get back to your dog and your bike. Civilization’s here waiting for you, and it’s awesome.

    Reply
  • Rock Boat : Sep 30th

    We equated the trail to a prison during my thru. Between mile 1500 and 1800 we were all done and felt the only way we could leave is to get hurt or touch the sign (serve our sentence). A little over a year from summiting all I can think about is doing another long hike, even though my journal from that time clearly states that I never want to do it again.

    Reply
    • Putt-Putt : Oct 2nd

      So so true Rock Boat.

      Reply
  • Margaret : Sep 30th

    Hey Laurel it’s Margaret!
    Please don’t get discouraged! You have already gone through the rough part and you are in the home stretch!
    Now is the time to really dig deep and push through!!!
    This whole journey is a test and you’re winning!
    Keep going, one foot at a time… we are all rooting for you and are completely amazed and what you have done and been through already! Keep going!!! You can do it!!
    It’s almost over and you have a whole cheering section over here! GO LAUREL!!!!!

    Reply
  • Trillium 2014 : Oct 1st

    Sing it, Slug!! Yup, I am now officially 2 years from my summit (NOBO, summit 9/29/14) and you hit the nail cleanly on the head! After about 1000 miles, I hated thru-hiking, but could not stop either. Every road crossing was a decision… go left/right or cross back into the woods? Visited home a couple times and cried like a baby when I forced myself back. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with own sense of disappointment in myself, for not loving it the way I’d expected, hoped and should have. I actually harbored annoyance at those for whom it seemed so easy and joyous. It took me many months to “love the woods” again, but I do. I’ve been back out for 3-5-day stretches and love it, and also love going home to my bed, shower, good food, family, friends, pets, etc. Like me, I’m sure you will look back and realize just how much you learned about yourself out there, and that’s the real gift. Lastly, don’t keep going/finish or quit for ANYONE else but YOU, ’cause in the end, you only have YOU to answer to. Congrats on your personal journey!

    Reply
  • Vermont : Oct 4th

    Awesome article! Loved it!

    Reply

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