Reality Check – First Week on Trail and Advice to New Hikers

The Trail is New

Don’t be fooled by the idea that you’ve been prepping for this for years…you may have no idea what you’re in for! For me, the first few days on the trail hit me like a train. I was not in the headspace I’d thought I’d needed to be in to start hiking.

It’s one thing to say the trail will be hard, but to actually be there, to be dropped off at the trailhead and just…go? It’s a whole other feeling. Despite the hiking and shakedowns I’d done beforehand, this experience turned out to be very different than I’d expected. Diving headfirst into this hike almost felt like pursuing a full-time job, walking 8 hours a day, and learning to camp and backpack.

Instantly, my mind and body protested these changes with a hard, “no!” While I struggled up the first mountain, and then another, I was fighting thoughts like, “Why can’t we just go home and live like we did? Why isn’t the trail making me happy like I’d thought?”

One thought, though, persisted, and I forced myself to hang onto it: “The trail is new to you…”

This is what you wanted

With the immensity of the endeavor splayed out before you, this journey can seem impossible! The first few days on the trail, I’d completely abandoned my reasoning and reconsidered my hike altogether. Former thru-hikers had assured me that they’d also felt the same way at the beginning of their hike. I called some friends as well, and they encouraged me to just stick it out for a week, that it would all get better. Baby steps, right?

If I was going to complete this hike, I had to keep reminding myself, “this is what I wanted…” and I had to believe it with every step.

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

One thing my loving mom says to me is, “Take the smallest steps forward that you can. To eat an elephant, you just take one bite at a time.” You might have heard the phrase. It might seem silly or obvious (I’ve rolled my eyes a few times thinking about it) but the reality of it is that you truly have to keep moving forward, and everything will fall into place.

Reminding myself of these things has kept me going. I wanted this, prepared for it, and now, I can do it.

Three weeks later, I’m still here and I feel great! I got my trail legs, and although I still don’t have a trail name, I’m starting to feel at home out here. It was certainly a reality check, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It helped me to let go of any preconceived notions and expectations on the trail I’d had before.

So, if you find yourself feeling “upside-down” after starting your hike, keep this in mind. Sometimes it’s not as romantic as you’d imagined, or as fantastical as people on the Internet make it out to be. This is a huge task and it will be hard and ugly…but remember that it will get easier, and it will be worth it.

And if you do walk this trail and happen to discover that it isn’t for you, that the idea of it was more than enough, that’s okay too. No matter what, your experience on the trail will be your own, and you can make of it what you want. But you’ll never know what experience you’ll have unless you get out there and do it!

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Comments 18

  • Paul : Mar 17th

    Glad to read you’ve “stuck” it out…maybe there’s a trail name stuck in here somewhere

    • Amara Gardner : Mar 17th

      I like what you did there….will consider 😉

  • Faith Breads : Mar 17th

    So glad you’re sticking it out and gaining your trail legs. The elephant quote is so true! Rooting for you!

    • Taylor : Mar 20th

      The trail is 50/50 it’s as hard as it is rewarding. Stay on as long as you can and then leave when you’re done. It’s as simple as that. Quality over quantity. Remain true to your self and let growth happen on your own terms. I’ve literally never met anyone who wasn’t ready with every fiber of their being to be done with that trail when they got to Maine. It’s a hard trail. I’ve hiked 800 miles of it. I only did 2-3 miles some days. I spent a lot of time out there and less miles, and that’s what I wanted was time. Good luck to you. It’s a special time to be on the AT.

  • Darlene : Mar 17th

    I am so glad I got to read this today. I was supposed to start on the 13th, but pushed it to the 27th. I keep telling myself I ‘have to, have to, have to’ but I think that is putting way too much pressure on myself.
    Thank you so much for writing this piece! You’ve helped me so much.

    • Amara Gardner : Mar 17th

      I’m so happy to hear that 🙂

  • Babi : Mar 17th

    I have really been worried about being overwhelmed because I’m a big picture person not a detail person. I’m afraid once I get out there, all those little things that turn out to be a big things are going to sink to me. Thank you so much.

    • Amara Gardner : Mar 18th

      It was verrry hard at first not to picture the entire trail and how impossible it seemed. But I had to scale down. Take it one day at a time, one step at a time. You can do it 🙂

  • Brian : Mar 18th

    Great perspective. Watching Spring happen along the way with blossoms, blooms and new green growth will hopefully add another motivating dimension. Persistent brown landscape can be a mental drain at times, keep pushing!

    • Amara Gardner : Mar 18th

      I’m really looking forward to the coming of spring. I think it will definitely boost the energy, and I’ve already seen many days of great weather. It’s amazing the difference it brings.

  • Mustang : Mar 18th

    I think you are Ellie

  • Scott : Mar 18th

    I like the elephant eating quote!
    I could see a trail name of “Little Bites” or “Elephant Eater”. You are living the dream! Enjoy it!
    All the best, Scott

  • Carolina TaylorCan I w : Mar 18th

    I would give you the trail name of Perseverance.

  • thetentman : Mar 19th

    Good luck. My trail name for you would be Thoreau.

  • Linda B : Mar 19th

    Really good post. Thanks for being so honest and open. I hope to be on that trail one day and I will replay your words.

  • Brenda : Mar 20th

    I think a good trail name for you would be “Velcro”…. for sticking it out, & hanging in there! I’m going to follow your journey. 🙂

    • Amara Gardner : Mar 20th

      That’s cute haha I like it a lot…hm🤔

  • Christi : Mar 20th

    I vote for “ Velcro “ or maybe “pursuer “


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