Pre-Trail “Zero” Days: Take Them

So, you’ve decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. At this point you’ve probably been reading up on the history and making of the AT and staying up until the wee hours of the morning researching gear. You’ve informed friends, family, and co-workers of this “insane” intention and listen to their jokes, answer their questions, and (hopefully) have won a few supporters who understand. You’re probably working two jobs or overtime to pay for a roughly 5-6 month long trip. In your free time, there are section hikes to plan and follow through with. In short, you’ve caught the trail fever and you’re BUSY. This article is to remind you that even though there is a hell of a lot to do, I promise the AT will come, and there’s still time. Don’t forget to pause and enjoy what you have around you NOW.

I’m here to make mistakes so you don’t have to.

In order to pay for all my current bills plus save for the trail I have been working two jobs as a server/bartender. This means I spend hours and hours, six days a week, on blistered feet having to smile through it all. A co-worker was curious how far we walk around in circles on a busy Saturday and used some sort of pedometer with her workout app to track our “mileage.” After a few weekends, this averaged to seven miles a day. GOING IN CIRCLES. So, if I work a lunch shift at one restaurant and dinner at another…that has the potential of a fourteen mile day, without the rewards of arriving to beautiful mountain summit. This is my mistake number one. Working so much has not only taken away valuable time I need to spend preparing for the hike, but has also distanced me from family and friends due to the restaurant industry’s peculiar non 9-5 hours.

In addition to both jobs, when I do manage to get some spare time, it is spent trying meet my goal of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Whether it be going to the gym, reading books about wilderness survival, or slowly getting rid of a lot of the possessions in my apartment…almost every moment is geared towards getting to that start date. A few months ago I met up with a current thru-hiker in PA (fuck those rocks) and something he said has really stuck with me, “Five or six months is a very long time. You really need to think about how much has happened to you and your loved ones these past few months…and just fully realize you’re going to be missing out on all of those things while you’re gone.” I should have taken those words to heart then, but I didn’t. My work hours combined with almost obsessively preparing for the hike caused me to put friends second, something which I already regret and I haven’t even set off yet, mistake number two.

The consequence of these mistakes led me to being curled up on my sofa in severe pain with stress migraines for two days.

The doctor pretty much ordered me to take it easy and if the headaches come back she highly recommended a hospital visit to really get things checked over. So, I took my days of rest and my head is better but I am still utterly exhausted, and have bruised friendships to (try to) repair.

Even though the Appalachian Trail is going to be an exciting endeavor, don’t forget about what and who is important around you now. The trail will be a temporary respite from “real life,” and it’s those who are closest to you who will be supportive of your journey and be there to congratulate you at the end. Let them know they’re appreciated and loved. Also, rest your body and mind, don’t wear yourself out before the starting line. So please, take a “zero” day. Go fishing, (I did) spend time doing other hobbies besides hiking, play with your dog, go out to dinner with friends, or simply lay around in the air-conditioning…you’ll miss it.



Fishing trip at the Pedlar Reservoir, in the George Washington National Forest. The AT wraps around it for a couple miles.



Only a few decent sized bass were caught, but was still rewarded with a beautiful sunset.

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Comments 1

  • Ruth Wilson : Sep 21st

    Ashley, this is so great! In this crazy world we live in you’ve hit the nail on the head! I find myself looking at how I spend my ‘home’ time. Thank you for a reminder that I need to evaluate my down time. Take care!!


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