Quitting a Thru-Hike

Let me start off by saying, this is not something that I ever thought that I would address in this way. I fully intended on hiding behind the long line of hikers sidelined by the epidemic and act as if my hike ended just like theirs. But the truth is, it didn’t. I quit. I’ve been constantly inspired by the authenticity and honesty shared by so many members of the thru-hiking community on social media in making space for honest conversations about mental health, and I finally felt comfortable sharing my experience.

I spent months physically preparing my body through training hikes and daily workouts. I’d gone through mental preparation, aided in part by Appalachian Trials. I had my gear dialed in and my life packed away in neat little boxes. One thing all of this could not prepare me for was the throat tightening, lung clenching, hand trembling b*tch that is anxiety.

Long story “short,” I began my hike at Amicalola Falls riding the high of finally beginning the journey I lusted over for so long. The first few days were everything I hoped for and more. However, without noticing it, whenever I found myself hiking alone lost in my own sea of thoughts, my chest would tighten, I would stop and struggle to breath. Even after months of reflection, I still don’t know what brought this on. I’ve never had issues hiking alone before and all aspects of my hike were going smoothly. I pushed through.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to act as if the anxiety that has kept me from pursuing many dreams does not exist. If I don’t give it any power it doesn’t exist, right? Not quite. Ignoring the issue didn’t take away its power, it stayed gnawing away at me, tarnishing the experience I knew I could be having.

Every day would start out amazing and I would think I somehow woke up that day free of anxiety. By lunch I could barely keep a grip on my trekking poles. It wore me out more than the hiking did. I was mentally drained at the end of each day from struggling with my own mind to keep going, to keep breathing. What kept me going was the people. Even though I tried to hide how I was feeling, my tramily could tell something was off. Their support is was kept me on as long as I did.

When I decided to get off trail I told myself it was a break. I would go back to my parents’ house and regroup. Somehow I thought I could solve all of my problems by running away to my mom and dad and be back on the trail in a couple of weeks. When the reality of coronavirus hit, I knew that meant I would not be getting back on trail this year and I would end this phase of the adventure having quit.

Moving Forward

Quitting doesn’t mean the end, though. As a competitive person, I’ve always associated quitting with losing. But I didn’t lose. Even though I did not even come close to achieving the goal I set out for, I still gained something. I have taken this opportunity to reflect on not just my hike, but many aspects of my life. While the trail might not have “healed me” in the way I imagined, it still helped me in another way. It gave me a good kick in the ass and a reality check.

It’s not embarrassing to admit when something doesn’t feel right or you need help, and no one should be made to feel any other way. It was this fear of embarrassment that almost kept me from sharing this story until I felt I had some sort of redemption. I realized that’s not a healthy way to move forward from this experience. I’m not sharing my experience to garner any sympathy or to somehow justify what I did. I simply want to help make space for the imperfect experience.

That being said, with a lot of work, a different approach, and fewer expectations, I fully intend on restarting the trail in 2021.

Hoping everyone who reads this is happy and healthy 🙂

Goober

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Comments 5

  • Julie : Jul 15th

    I love your openness. I’m still in the dreaming stages of a thru hike….having to wait on retirement in 5 years. I thank you for sharing your experience and look forward to following your future adventures. Keep writing!

    Reply
  • Bain "Sherpa" Pollard : Jul 15th

    Thank you for sharing your story. Every time one pushes their personal comfort zone, I feel they grow as an individual. Talking about our failures sure takes a lot more guts than spouting on only about our successes. I’ll hope to meet you on the trail, perhaps next year, maybe in Maine! Your a brave person.

    Reply
  • Brian Klotz : Jul 15th

    Great story and thanks for sharing! Every new experience shared opens my eyes even further! Best of luck to you in 2021, but sounds like you won’t need luck 🙂 You’ll have your determination and some new awareness about yourself to guide you in your journey.

    Reply
  • Steve Thompson : Jul 16th

    This was not a failure. You followed your dream and gave this a shot. There are countless people who aren’t able to muster the courage to do that. I suspect your through-hiking career is not over.

    Reply
  • DavidM : Jul 17th

    Thanks for sharing. Don’t sweat it. I, too, ended up “failing” my thru-hike. After much preparation I began my thru-hike on April 1, 2018, just 3 weeks after retiring, with grand plans of completing a flip-flop thru-hike. It only took me 3 weeks to realize that I wasn’t wired for being away from my wife and daughter for 5 months. The days were great. I was hiking strong and loving being out there — but the evenings were a totally different story. I was homesick pretty much every night. I kept waiting for it to go away, but it never did. So…I turned my thru-hike dream into a long section hike and ended up spending 45 days on the AT that year, completing 700 miles. I planned to do another 700 miles this year, but COVID has kept me home. 🙁 Hopefully I’ll get out there next year for another 700 miles, and I’ll eventually do it all. Just not all at once!

    Reply

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