Worries Tug On A Mother As She Prepares For Thru-Hike

A job.


A warm bed.

A pet.

A spouse.

Material stuff

Everybody who hits the trails for an extended period of time has to make the decision to leave certain things and people behind.   Leaving these things behind may be precisely the reason for hitting the trail, or maybe having to leave them behind is a struggle and a source of doubt, guilt or uncertainty.

What I Am Leaving Behind

I am no exception. There is one person who I struggle over leaving behind.  He is Twin A, my firstborn, my 13-year-old charming and witty redhead whose stubbornness and quick temper are adequately suited to the color of his hair. His brother, Twin B, loves to hike and will be my companion on the AT this spring.  Twin A is not a hiker.

Having twins is a challenge, especially when they react together like oil and water (despite loving each other to death). Time apart may be just what they both need to aid their independence.  For this reason, I am looking forward to finding out how they both mature and grow while they are apart. However, as a mother, leaving one child behind for five months is difficult. It causes me a small measure of guilt, and at times it makes me uncertain.   Not only is he going to be away from his mother, but I am taking his best friend and closest companion away from him too.

 The Whole Picture

Long-distance hiking is a test of mental fortitude. If you only watch the bloggers and vloggers who show you the inspirational views, the blissful moments and the triumphant finish at the top of Katahdin, you’ll miss out on half of the story.   When they reveal their aches and their pains, and you can see that their throbbing muscles and exhausted feet are wresting against their determination to endure, then you will have seen more of the truth.  But it isn’t until they divulge that inner tug of war, those people or things that are both pulling them from the trail and pushing them toward it, that you will see the complete picture and know how truly difficult it is to both reach Katahdin and return from it.


Does leaving a child behind increase my chances of thru-hike failure?  Or worse, does it make me selfish and a bad mother?  I suppose there will be a wide variety of opinions on those two questions.  The best answer I can muster up is, “I sure hope not!”  However, what I do know for certain is this: My boys watch their mother just as I watch them.  As a family, we celebrate all of our individual and corporate successes and mourn all of our individual and corporate failures, together.  I have a strong desire for my sons to see me succeed and to celebrate with me.  This is what will carry me to Katahdin.

What About You?

Are you headed out on a long hike this year?  If so, what will be tugging at you from home, testing your mental resolve?  What is going to help you overcome this internal struggle and get through the next 100 miles…. and the next?

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Comments 3

  • Nanook : Jan 19th

    Hi Shelia,
    First, I think it’s great you son is going with you! Be aware, it may have some detrimental effects on his attitude towards hiking.
    Years ago, my wife(at the time) and I thought our 7 y/o son and 9y/o daughter would enjoy bicycling the whole length of The Mississippi Trail.
    Well to this day, my now 40 y/o daughter has never bicycled a single mile after that trip while my son still enjoys a good trip.
    Hope to see you and your son on the trail this year, I start my SOBO hike on July 15.
    Be safe!

    • Sheila Jackson-Taylor : Jan 19th

      Hi Nanook, Thank you for the feedback. Cole and I have hiked a lot together, including a seven day backpacking trip, but this trip will certainly be an entirely different challenge. We have discussed possible scenarios that could play out, and we do have a back up plan for him to be able to return home and me to carry on alone. I don’t want him to lose his joy for hiking and I don’t want to put him at risk of injury if he is finding it more than he can handle. We will play it by ear and take it one mile at a time. Hopefully our path will cross with yours, just look for a tall skinny teen towering over his mother. lol

  • Heidi : Jan 22nd

    Just wanted to say I love your writing style! Looking forward to following your journey and gaining insight into hiking the AT with your child. My husband and I dream of a thruhike but always figured it would be after our daughter went off to college.
    Curious about Cole’s attitude toward group needs before self… like tear down, packing, filtering water, and cooking??


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