The Thru-Hike Was Hard, But not Hiking Is Harder

The following is a guest post by Carolyn Walker

I finished my NOBO thru-hike a week ago today. It took 5½ months, which is very average, according to a chart I read somewhere awhile ago. I hiked with my husband; we started early, in the middle of February. This early start came with positives; plenty of water, moderate temps in the mid-Atlantic states, lack of crowds. The only real detriment was six weeks of snow and freezing weather early on.

Our hike was remarkable to me; unremarkable by other standards. We suffered only minor injuries; we didn’t run out of money; we are retired and did not have to rush back to a job or new career or school. We hiked slowly but steadily; usually up and out of camp by 5:30 to 6 a.m.; still hiking by dinnertime. We accomplished 20-mile days by putting in long hours and took zeros every two weeks or so.

My husband looking at (I think) Katadhin.

I had to push myself each day to get to our intended shelter or campsite. I didn’t listen to music or podcasts and we typically hiked alone; my thoughts centered on fantasizing about food or laundry in the next town; whether I would treat myself to some new clothes or gear if there was an outfitter (or a Goodwill). I would also fret about home, my adult sons, or the future. My mantra to get through difficult parts was to count one-two-three… to ten, and I would repeat again and again, measuring my steps. When climbs were particularly tough or the mud particularly deep, I would convince myself that my legs could operate on their own; they didn’t need my will to keep going. And sometimes I would pause and stare at the rocks and roots and snipe at the trail, “Well, I guess you won’t hike your own damn self!”

Trying not to slip off the trail crossing Pierce Pond dam.

I fantasized about reaching Katahdin; and we finally made it, on Friday, Aug. 3, at 9:30 a.m. We took the requisite pics, climbed back down and hitched a ride to Millinocket. Now we are at home in Florida. It’s hot, it’s boring, and I’m already restless.

Today I was walking on the sidewalk next to a terrible and busy road and a cricket jumped in front of me. Almost like the crickets on the rocky tops of mountains in Maine on sunny days. Apartment complex squirrels scamper up trees when they see me, but don’t fiercely chatter a warning to me to stay out of their territory. I listen for birds but hear only traffic. There are no toads sweetly and clumsily climbing out of my way. Occasionally when I pull something out of the closet I get a whiff of hiker stench from my yet unwashed down bag. It smells like perfume.

A month ago at this time I only wanted a shower and a beer. Now those luxuries mean almost nothing; I long for the loons and the owls. Please let me trade the ocean for a clear, cold spring. We will hike the PCT next year, but it’s a long time away.

Carolyn is an AT 2018 thru-hiker, and is planning on hiking the PCT in 2019

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Comments 7

  • Scott Brotherton : Aug 15th

    Congrats and mission accomplished I’d say ! I’m not sure what part of Fla. in which you reside but lots of great hiking down there albeit plenty hot at present…Was recently down at Ft. DeSoto for a week. I highly recommend it, and there is an ample supply of wild life there !

    Reply
  • Dave Mizelle : Aug 16th

    Great post, and congrats to you both! Have you considered doing the Florida Trail in the meantime?

    Reply
  • John Van Etten : Aug 16th

    Congrats you both!! I’m planning for next year for the AT! Where in Florida are you ? I’m in Daytona!

    Reply
  • mike : Aug 16th

    Great post! I suggest you get a plane ticket and fly to the Paciifc Northwest and start your PCT journey in the Fall this year. Great hiking for at least 6 weeks, you are in great shape and it seems like you are really missing the trail. Really respect hikers who complete distance trails in golden years! Congrats and hope you at least consider finishing up Long Trail this year-its in your Heart and you never know what 1 yr may bring. 2Spirits

    Reply
  • Daddy Longlegs : Aug 18th

    Congratulations…
    Keep chasing your dreams!

    Reply
  • Brewerbob : Aug 24th

    Congrats.

    I too hope to thru hike when I retire.I do have a question or 6 for you tho. You said “we are retired and did not have to rush back to a job or new career or school. We hiked slowly but steadily; usually up and out of camp by 5:30 to 6 a.m.; still hiking by dinnertime. We accomplished 20-mile days by putting in long hours and took zeros every two weeks or so. … I had to push myself each day to get to our intended shelter or campsite. ”

    I hope you HYOH but why? Sure there are going to be days when embracing the suck sucks but if retired, not in a hurry, etc. why were you up at 5:30 and hiking 20 miles a day? 5 1/2 months IS very average. A Feb start means LOTS of time to smell the roses. An Aug finish means there are two months left in the hiking season before Kat gets shut down for the winter. If you’re up by 6 just because you are morning people, fine and dandy. If 20 miles was comfortable, fine and dandy. If it was personal reasons because of outside life, fine and dandy.

    I’ll admit I’ve not read any of your posts except this one; something I’m going to remedy today. When I HMOH I want it to be +8 months. The only reason not longer is winter at 6,000 ft and Kat closing. I could get around that with a SOBO or a flip-flop but IMHO the first thru hike should be traditional. NOBO, start to finish in one go, and every white blaze. As part of that I believe “the last one to finish wins”. I’m struggling with 5 1/2 months fitting the “no rush” attitude. Maybe once I get more than 50 continuous miles under my belt, I’ll sing a different tune. While no stranger to backpacking to date, I don’t have more than 30 continuous miles much less a long section or thru hike.

    Off to bing read your posts!!! Hope to see a reply or another post about your time line.

    Reply
  • Samantha : Oct 29th

    Very nice! You have found your calling!!

    Reply

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