Reflections on Quitting My Thru-Hike

After 105 days and 850 miles, I quit my AT thru-hike, which was my first long-distance hike and my first thru-hike attempt. The subject of quitting is surprisingly taboo for how common it is. For the Appalachian Trail, the ATC estimates that 75% of people quit their thru-hikes. Quitting sometimes comes up in conversations on the trail, but a lot of times it is a topic that feels off-limits. There is an unspoken pressure to keep going.

In a series of ten recent posts, I told my quitting story in full detail. I wanted to give one example of what it looks like to end a thru hike attempt. The only person who knows if it is the right choice to quit is the person hiking. Here, I share some reflections on my decision to quit.

The “why” grounded me

Why are you thru hiking? This question came up very often as I made my way up the trail. I felt that I knew why I was out there, but it was hard to articulate in words. Once I got what I needed from my hike, it was clear to me that I was done. I am glad that I was eventually able to explain my motivation for a thru hike attempt. Once I could do that, I could also explain how hiking the trail gave me what I was looking for before I reached the finish line. Before setting out, I didn’t know if I would get what I needed from my hike, let alone how long that might take. I wanted to give myself as much time as I could, so it made sense to embark with the intention of hiking every mile.

Just because it feels right doesn’t mean it’s happy

Even though I knew I was done, I was really sad that I didn’t want to keep going. My LASH (long ass section hike) was hundreds of miles long. I wouldn’t have gone that distance if I didn’t like taking a long walk in the mountains. It took time to process the fact that I had reached the end of my journey, which I thought would continue much longer. I grieved my sudden lack of interest in continuing on. I was so grateful for my experience, but I knew the transition would be hard. One of the things that most hikers appreciate about long-distance hiking is the simplicity. You wake up every day and go for a walk. That’s pretty much it! Real life is fraught with complexity. Even though I was ready to take on the process of re-entering society, I was sorry to lose the simple life of hiking. Just because it felt right to quit doesn’t mean I didn’t have mixed emotions about my decision.

My reason for quitting wasn’t “noble”

I feel that some reasons for quitting are viewed as more noble than others. If you got injured, that is a legitimate reason to quit. You cannot physically continue. If you ran out of money, well, you didn’t plan well but I guess it makes sense that you have to stop. But if you miss your real life? How could you possibly lose sight of how awesome the trail is? I doubt anyone would say that openly. But sometimes, this feels implied by how people talk about life on trail. People will often say that their worst day on trail is better than their best day at work. I am so grateful to say that this is absolutely false for me! I feel lucky that my real life isn’t something I deeply dread or find terribly unfulfilling. My pre-trail life wasn’t perfect, and that was part of my motivation for attempting a thru hike. Still, I was blessed to have good and happy times with great people before I started my hike. I can confidently say that I would rather have been having a great day at work than experiencing my worst day on trail, where I was outrunning a lightning storm above treeline on the Presidential range.

I believe that if there is something in your life that is good and draws you back, that is something to be happy about. There is more to your life than your hike. Celebrate it.

Did I quit on a bad day?

Everyone knows the #1 rule of quitting: you should not quit on a bad day. After I left the trail, I asked myself if I broke this rule. It is a little unclear to me. After my worst day on trail, I only hiked two partial days with zeros in town between them. I didn’t spend another night on trail after my worst day. Still, nearly a month later, I don’t have regrets. Honestly, I wonder if the bad day rule made much sense for me. Before setting foot on the trail, I seemed to be afraid of everything except actually scary things, like real dangers I might experience on my hike. I needed a horrible day to help rewire my lizard brain. The threat of a lightning storm above treeline gave me exactly what I needed. It helped me contextualize my fear, so I finally felt ready to get off the trail and start projects that I had previously been afraid of. I believe that every hiker needs to decide for themselves if the “rules” of quitting apply to their situation, because we all have different reasons for taking a long walk.

I doubted my decision

There is so much pressure to keep going. The trail buzzes with enthusiasm for the grand finish line. It is hugely motivating for so many hikers. And there are consequences for stopping. You lose your trail legs and would have to spend time regaining your fitness if you change your mind and return to the trail. You may not get the chance to hike again depending on life circumstances. You might regret your decision. In my case, I decided to allow myself to make this mistake. Sometimes the “right” decision (if there even is such a thing) is hard to know and hard to make. I accepted the fact that I might be doing the wrong thing, and I had doubts when I was getting off trail. Still, it felt better to me to trust my own evaluation of the situation than to heed the prevailing wisdom of the trail community and try to tough it out. As weeks have passed since I left the trail, I don’t have doubts anymore. I’m confident that I did what was best for me, and I’m grateful for that clarity.

The sacrifice wasn’t worth it anymore 

Something that isn’t discussed much on trail is how much we sacrifice to go on a long hike. I feel very fortunate to have been able to safely hike the trail without access to some of the resources from my pre-hike life, like my therapist and healthcare providers. But I am excited to have access to these things again. I hiked on a chronic foot injury that thankfully didn’t prevent me from making progress up the trail. But I still felt mild soreness every day. I look forward to addressing this issue with a professional now that I am off trail. This is just one example of how wellness isn’t always prioritized on the trail due to limited access to healthcare, limited time, and limited energy. I had grand visions of stretching daily on trail, and it didn’t happen. This might be different for other people, but in my experience, prioritizing self-care during a long hike was very difficult. Toward the end of my time on trail, I gained a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices I was making to be out there. When I got what I needed from my hike, I decided that those sacrifices weren’t worth it anymore.

Everyone is different

Not everyone embarks on a thru hike for the same reason. I am grateful that the community acknowledges the importance of hiking your own hike. The right hike for me was a LASH, not a thru. I have so much more respect for people who finish a thru hike now that I tried one for myself. It is very hard, and an amazing accomplishment! And any long-distance hike is something to celebrate. We got out there and took the good with the bad, and had a super unique life experience. Most people will never even attempt a thru hike, and it’s a privilege to have had the chance to try it. I am forever grateful that I took a long walk, and most of all, that I found what I was looking for while I was out there.

My hike is over but the adventure continues

To all who have followed my journey, thank you! I appreciate the time you took reading about my experiences. I will continue documenting my new adventures in a personal blog, Fresh Prints. If you’re interested in what’s next for me, feel free to follow along there!

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Comments 14

  • jen c : Sep 12th

    Nobody can judge you for this decision. It is amazing what you did accomplish and I’m sure you don’t regret a second of it. I could never do what you did. In awe and best to you!

  • Lion Tamer : Sep 12th

    There was a time, maybe a lifetime ago, back in Harpers Ferry, where I had heard of people who had left the Trail. And supposedly, they were OK with that. It boggled my mind. But since then, I understand and I’m so pleased that you were able to take the amount of the Trail that you needed, and are at peace. I have thoroughly enjoyed living vicariously through you and your blog. I look forward to your book. Please, shoot me a FB message when it’s out. Tim “Lion Tamer” Murphy

  • James N Hoffmaster : Sep 12th

    I’m considering attempting a through hike in a few years when I retire. I realize the odds will be against me because of my age, but I find your words reassuring. Maybe I’ll finish or maybe I’ll find the reason as to why I feel the need to try. Thank you for your honesty and for opening up and giving us all a glimpse inside.
    Best of luck in your off-trail adventures.
    You are an inspiration!

  • Flash : Sep 13th

    This was well written. You make excellent points about how and why you finished your LASH. Now you have all of those incredible memories to look back on for many years to come. Congratulations!

  • Linda : Sep 13th

    Nice job! I can imagine hiking 5 miles let alone 850!
    You sound like you accomplished your goals within you and should feel so proud through all the highs and lows
    My hats off to you and wish you safe journeys on the next endeavors
    Love you❤️

  • Linda : Sep 13th

    Edit to previous post😂
    “I CAN’T imagine “

  • niKoLs : Sep 13th

    Your honesty is a breath of fresh air, maybe something that thru hikers really need to hear. Instead of concentrating on making it to the finish line, thru hikers should concentrate on the what they can get out of the experience, finishing should not be a priority, enjoying the experience should be. When it becomes a priority, you lose the whole meaning of the hike. I am not a thru hiker, I section hike and red line the White Mountains of NH, my home. When hiking, you tend to find out who you really are, what’s important to you, and that you are your own best friend. Good luck to you, and it sounds like you got exactly what you needed out of this hike. You did not need to get to the physical finish line, You got to the “you” finish line, and that’s you winning all day long!

  • Mike : Sep 13th

    I’ve truly enjoyed reading about your journey and congratulate you on a tremendous accomplishment! I’m based in the white mountains and have tremendous respect for all through hikers who make it this far. I hope you have your head up very high because what you did is something only a small amount of people are capable of doing.

  • Ananda Lowe : Sep 13th

    These are amazing insights! Thank you for sharing them!!

  • Anna : Sep 13th

    FP, I have read from the comfort of my home, thousands of miles away, about how the trail provides. Those white, blue and yellow blazes are neutral–the trail provides choices. The ones you chose reflect your own unique narrative. When you ultimately followed a blaze out of the woods, you were staying faithful to your own story. That took courage, clarity and love.
    You are now walking a different trail. There are still gorgeous views, butterflies and the kindness of strangers. Woods and mountains are still there.
    Best to you on your new journey! What amazing memories! What amazing stories you will tell!
    Thank you for taking me along on your walk these past months.

  • marsh : Sep 13th

    One of the best summers in my life was spent cruising timber with Snag Yantis in the Coos Bay Bureau of Land Management. He had degrees in Electrical Engineering and Forest Engineering and had run a searchlight battalion in WWII. His number one rule in life was “If you ain’t having fun, you ain’t doing it right.”
    The corollary to Snag’s Rule is if you are not having fun, stop doing it.

  • Ruth Morley : Sep 13th

    Hurray for you for doing was what was right for you. Somewhere along the line, doing a nonstop through hike of one of the longer trails has become the Holy Grail. That was not the intent of the Appalachian trail when it was first envisioned and created. I ended up doing the AT in four sections over four summers because of injuries on three of them. I have no regrets because I am not going to hike with injuries and pain and make things worse and have terrible memories of the trail. No, I much prefer coming back with fresh feet, legs, hips and attitude and continuing on my way. You need never explain again why you chose to halt this present journey.

  • Richard : Sep 19th

    Loved your article. Addresses a key element of life. When is enough enough. An incredibly hard thing in our we must conquer all we see and dream mentality. Glad you stopped because you found, for the moment, what you needed. You can always start again should you need or desire a new challenge. I recommended your article to another publication. Doubt anything happens, but who knows.

    I’m gonna go through your more detailed posts. Thanks for tackling a “taboo” subject.

  • Ana : Sep 19th

    Definitely agree this needs to be talked about more. For something that is at its core non-conformist, thru hiking sure has developed a lot of unspoken “rules,” and while principals like LNT should be universally followed, I think we could do without a lot of the dogma about how best to do a long hike. Sounds like you took what you needed from this hike; kudos!


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