6 Things Family & Friends Should Probably Know Before I Start My Thru-hike
1. Sooner or later, I will think about quitting. Please don’t enable me.
Think of this as the hiker version of Odysseus and the Sirens. This is me tying myself to the mast and handing you earplugs. I know you love me, and I know that you want me to be comfortable and safe and happy. But, when I inevitably call you, crying, (and I know I probably will) because I just don’t want to hike anymore, don’t tell me I should quit. Don’t tell me you’ll come pick me up. Instead, ask me to really consider why I don’t want to hike. Why I feel like quitting at that moment. Hell, remind me to look at my List of Reasons. They say that you should never decide to quit on a rainy day, or on an uphill. Remind me that things will turn around. That the AT is a roller coaster, after all. Whatever the case, it’s important that you don’t indulge my self-pity too much, and let whether or not I continue onward be entirely my decision.
2. If you don’t hear from me for over a week, it’s because there’s no reception or my phone’s out of charge. Not because I’ve been eaten by a bear.
Yes, the AT does tend to hit a lot of towns and roads, and most of us young ‘uns practically live on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but bad cell reception is still a thing (especially on AT&T), and my phone may lose charge after a week or so in the woods. When I do finally resurrect my phone, though, I know I will appreciate not having to listen through ten messages in various flavors of panic asking me to call you back. Lest assured, I will check in in some way to tell you I’m ok.
3. Even though I may not have asked you yet, I’d love your help.
Sure, thru-hiking is a solitary (ish) affair, but there are a lot of logistical pieces that become way, way more straightforward with a support person at home. Mostly, it comes down to being what’s essentially a postmaster, sending and receiving gear and food drops. Thru-hikers typically switch from a winter sleeping bag to a summer one as the season progresses, might send a few mail drops to towns with limited resupply options, and typically wear through at least some of their gear over the course of the hike (like five billion pairs of shoes). And although I don’t expect it, if you send me a care package or letter, I will react the way that this man reacts to cheez doodles.
4. When you meet up with me on trail, or immediately after trail, I will smell really, really bad.
My roommate told me recently that a friend’s boyfriend had just finished the trail. The friend is a social worker who works primarily with the homeless, so pungent smell is not something she’s unfamiliar with. However, when she was reunited with her boyfriend, apparently she said outright that he smelled much, much worse that anything or anyone she’d ever smelled before. Washing my clothes is not going to help the stench factor either, so bring clothes with you if you want me to be “presentable” off trail. You’ve been warned.
5. There is only so far I can plan.
Even those crazy, driven people who plot out every single day and mile are probably going to jump the excel sheet bandwagon within the first few weeks. It’s just impossible to plan out something this long term. So, as much as I want to, unfortunately I can’t tell you with any real precision when I’ll be at a specific town more than a few weeks in advance, and I definitely can’t tell you when I’ll be done with my hike. But even if I could plan it all, it’s good to remember that a part of the journey is to live in the moment and take things as they come.
6. I’m really grateful for you.
Yes, I have just dropped everything to hike for six months. Yes, that makes me a little crazy, and makes the months leading up to my start date also kind of crazy, and in all my craziness I may just seem like a hot mess. Whatever is happening, I can’t stress enough that I am so, so grateful that you’re a part of this insane, amazing ride. Although I’m the one hiking, your patience, support and encouragement are a huge part of what will get me to Katahdin. Thank you!
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This article is very accurate. I hiked the AT in the 70’s so the major difference is the technology has changed such as pay phone vs cell phone, film camera vs. digital camera… The best support group for me was my immediate family. I had pre addressed food and supply packages ready to go and my parents would always deliver. My trail angel was mom who would fill a Charles Chips canister (approximately a 2 gallon canister) with homemade cookies layered with mini marshmallows so the cookies would not break. This is the support memory that’s still my favorite. The letters of encouragement kept me going during my low points of the adventure of a lifetime.
About a year before I stared my hike, I told the world of my plans. Most people thought I was crazy but I had friends who committed going with me. By the time I made it to Amicalola Falls, I was on my own because my friends backed out. Five months later, I was standing on top of Mt. Katahdin. When I went back home, I assured my friends and family that I wasn’t crazy but was a changed person… for the better.
To anyone who has the dream of hiking the entire length of the Appalachian trail, go for it. Do your homework, start preparing both mentally and physically, research the equipment that best fits your needs, calculate the cost of your hike, start saving the $$ needed and have a support person or group who can help you through those rough days on the trail. Be flexible on your plans because if you wait for the perfect time to start the trail or waiting for friends to hike with you, tomorrow may never come.
Traveling into the unknown can be a bit scary / intimidating at first, but you will adjust to your surroundings. I ended up meeting group of hikers on the trail and 38 years later I am still in contact with them. With regards to all of the perceived dangers on the trail, I never had a tick bite, saw one rattlesnake, and had an encounter with a bear… sort of. A bear walked into my campsite one evening and I was already in my sleeping bag. Some of the other campers were clanging pans to scare it away. I was so tired I never got out of my tent so I heard the bear but never saw it. I did experience a bad case of poison ivy and the mosquitos loved me.
The experience of the trail are memories of a lifetime and I think about of it daily. Best wishes on your Appalachian Trail adventure and don’t quit. GA – ME 79.