My Five Biggest Fears for the AT
When you first tell people you plan on hiking the AT, and get past the basic premise that you have had a couple screws come loose and want to walk 2,200 miles, the conversation inevitably turns to fears. And not my own fears, but their own fears. Mostly this comes out as, “What about bears?”
Bears really strike fear into the average person. And I understand why. Bears are big, have sharp teeth, big claws, can outrun a human, and can climb trees (Really! Are you kidding me?). Thankfully, the entire range of the AT has only one bear species—the black bear. And to make my family, friends, and stunned random people in my life feel better, I always describe black bears as oversized, scared dogs. This may have a sliver of untruth, but black bears tend to be wary around humans unless certain circumstances exist,, such as a mom with cubs or a bear that has learned to dumpster dive.
So, if I’m not scared of bears (and not scared of snakes), obviously I have no fear in my life and should have no problem finishing a thru-hike of the AT.
False. Most of my fears stem from failure—and what things could cause me to voluntarily or involuntarily end my hike—so here are my five biggest fears for the AT.
You read that right. Big, bad, couple screws loose Isaac is scared of the rain. OK, that isn’t the whole truth. I am not scared of rain—or water. I am scared of my mental state on the fourth day of continuous rain. And in case you don’t know, the AT is known for being really, really, really wet.
Once you’re wet in the woods, it is hard to get completely dry. You are wet, your house (tent/hammock) is wet, clothes are wet, everything is wet. And most of us generally like being dry. So there lies my fear. One day of hiking in the rain—not the worst. Two days in the rain—acceptable. But I fear how I react on day three, day four, or day five of rain.
I’ll let y’all know how it goes.
2. Joint Injuries
Injuries can happen at any time during your five million steps on the trail—and I am nervous specifically about my ankles, and a little bit about my knees. A knee or ankle injury can take you off the trail for a couple of days, weeks, or end your hike. Thankfully, I have had a bunch of ankle injuries in my life for practice—oh, wait—that means my ankles suck. Damn you ankles.
And since my ankles suck, I am worried about them. Enough to hike in boots (this may change to trail runners, or sneakers to non-hikers) and do ankle exercises (yes, this is a real thing) for the past two months. Additionally, trekking poles help take lots of pressure off my knees and reduce the chance of falling due to a trip.
My brother and I tried to set a world record for how many ticks we could get on ourselves one year at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Georgia. We were both younger than ten, and my poor parents had to pull hundreds of the little blood-sucking, disease-spreading guys off us.
Turns out rolling around in the woods isn’t always the best plan—since we got those tiny deer ticks everywhere. No one wants details here, I promise. But if you’re a glutton for punishment, and ever meet my mom or dad, ask ’em.
Anyway, the tiniest of the animals on the trail scare me because they can carry different diseases—the most infamous being Lyme. My fear is not having good habits of checking myself every night for the little buggers. One missed tick can leave you with all sorts of different diseases, some which are incurable (like Lyme).
Recently, norovirus has been in the news because hundreds of passengers got sick on a cruise ship—and noro is a nasty mistress. Unfortunately, noro, along with many other diseases, can be spread between hikers. It’s almost the perfect storm—lack of clean people, not many great ways to get sanitized, and a bunch of people crammed into a shelter. Diseases can spread quickly and really slow you down for a couple weeks.
Additionally, it’s not just person-to-person diseases you need to worry about, but waterborne illnesses too. Thankfully, these can be combated with a good water filter, and I plan on carrying my trusty Sawyer Squeeze. Unfortunately, through of a combination of impatience and trusting of high-elevation water sources, I’m sure at some point I will feel the desire to not filter. But I am going to do my best to filter at every source—just for precaution.
I will just come out and say it. I am sensitive about my sensitive areas.
And the only time I have had chafing in my life was when I was a little kid and would wear my bathing suit all day at the beach while running around. All the salty water plus sand plus activity would inevitably lead to chafing. And I still remember the burn to this day.
As I started to prepare for this hike, I read and heard (shout-out to Backpacker Radio) a lot about chafing. It was something I never considered—but now I am nervous as hell about it. Ergo, why I have a much too large bottle of Body Glide in my pack (Body Glide looks like deodorant but helps reduce friction between your skin and clothing).
I am also sort of just praying I am one of those hikers that can claim that I never get chafing just because of some genetically superior skin (or whatever magic creates chafe-free hikers).
There are my five biggest fears, and hopefully a few you didn’t expect. And if I was to focus on the fears that are a little more abstract, I would talk about my fear of falling deeply in love with thru-hiking. And the only reason I fear falling in love with long-distant backpacking is never being able to go back to my comfortable life, in a comfortable job, with a consistent schedule/scenery. But that is for a post at the end of my hike, after six months of enjoying the trail while dealing with rain, the constant chance of misstep, ticks, potential for sickness, and chafing. I cannot wait!
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