Prepare for, and Learn from, the Unexpected

Hikers spend months to years planning their thru-hike.

When should I set my start date?
How much time should I take off from work?
What backpack should I use?
Should I tent or hammock?

These are all common questions thru-hikers have before embarking on their journeys.

However, most of my thru-hike I was unprepared for.

Despite the research, money, and time I put in preparing for the 2,190.9 mile journey, I still ran into the unexpected.

Below freezing temperatures in Georgia

Who knew hikers who started this past March would see snow and hail in Georgia?
Blood Mountain was iced over in certain spots, and it made it a difficult descent.

Due to the cold temps, I had to sleep with my Sawyer Squeeze filtration system so that it wouldn’t freeze. I didn’t expect that until reaching the northern states.

I’m glad to have learned that lesson early, and I am thankful for the hiker who screamed a few profanities at 7 in the morning when he discovered his Sawyer Squeeze had frozen the night before.

Ridiculously hot days and nights in Maine

September in Maine saw some high temperatures that even surprised the locals. I had warmer clothes mailed back to me to prepare for the cold in Maine; however, I ended up sending back a few warm layers because I wasn’t wearing them.

Several nights I had to sleep with my rain fly doors completely open because of how hot it was.

I couldn’t believe how much warmer the days were when I reached Maine vs. how cold I was in Georgia. I thought it would’ve been the other way around!

The relentless wind

During my thru-hike, I saw heavy rains, scorching hot days, and below freezing temperatures, but nothing prepared me for the unforgiving wind on a few stretches of the trail.

A few weeks in, I decided to stealth camp on top of Silers Bald in North Carolina.

The peak had 360-degree views of mountain ranges; it was gorgeous.

I checked the weather before leaving Franklin, NC, and I was excited to see clear skies. I had hoped to catch an amazing sunset that night, and the sunrise in the morning.

As the sun went down, it became extremely windy. Since I was camped on top of a bald, there wasn’t much protection from the elements. The wind blew so hard through my rain fly, I could feel it whoosh through my tent.

The loud roar of the wind, coupled with the fear rising within, it was no surprise when I woke up projectile vomiting across my tent.

I couldn’t get the zipper open in time and about 60% of my vomit ended up covering me, my semi-new down quilt, and tent.

Good times.

A new me

No one told me just how much I would grow and change from thru-hiking.

Since I finished my hike, I moved to another state and I’ve started a new life. New town, new job, new friends, new me.

Thru-hiking gave me the chance to think through many aspects of my life. I figured out I wasn’t happy with who I was and where I was in life.

My thru-hike gave me the courage to make a change.

I am a much happier person today than I was a year ago.

I am stronger. I am no longer (as big of) a pushover.

I’ve taken control over toxic relationships and I’ve made it known I will no longer be a scapegoat.

I find myself approaching people and situations that would have intimidated me prior to my hike.

It’s opened so many doors for me and life now presents me with new opportunities I was too afraid to chase before.

For years, I dreamed of competing in a full distance triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run) but I never had the courage to try. I’d always have an excuse to not do it: money, injuries, time.

My thru-hike taught me that money is not as important as I thought. I was able to make it from Georgia to Maine with what I had, and when money was tight I always found a way to keep going north.

I hiked from Tennessee to Maine with plantar fasciitis and sprained ankles, and I didn’t let that stop me.

I learned that when something is important to me, I’ll make the time for it.

Money, injuries, and time were just excuses, and my hike gave me self-awareness I didn’t have before.

I can now call myself out on my own BS.

So to solidify the courage I’ve gained, I have registered for a half-distance triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run) for 2019. It’s a start toward my goal of completing the full-distance triathlon one day.

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Comments 3

  • Josh Johnson : Nov 29th

    Heck yes, go get it! Also, your vomit story was so real I almost feel compelled to go wash my gear! ?

  • Ruth Morley : Nov 30th

    Good for you, on all counts. I’ve done several sprint and Olympic tris, as well as a half Ironman. I was registered for a full Ironman a few years back, but an injury derailed that plan. I feel I’ve lost my mojo for that now, but having recently completed the southern half of the AT (north: next year), and having read your inspiring post, I’m kinda rethinking an Ironman. Thanks for that boost!

  • TC : Dec 28th

    You go girl.

    I was in my 50’s when I did my first tri. I never learned to swim as a kid. No excuses, just plain idiocy on my part.

    I registered for the longer olympic distance one and my wife asked me if I was nuts. She completed many tris in her younger days and told me she didn’t think I could make it. Unbeknownst to her, that was the best motivation she could have ever given me.

    I ended up doing the backstroke the entire way as I still don’t do the front crawl. I knew I could finish since I was up to 2 miles nonstop in the pool. Then I moved to open water.

    You’ve got this Ashley. As for me, I’m stoked for starting the AT soon.


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