AT. SOBO. Thru-Hike. Nope.

If you’ve watched the 1989 thriller Dead Calm, specifically the scene where actor Billy Zane’s character desperately abandons his sinking schooner to clamber aboard the serene yacht Saracen, you’ll get a feel for how motivated I was to end my AT thru-hike. Except I’m not a psychopath.

Team Black Dog together at last near the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness

This photo was taken by my husband about two miles into the 100MW (from Monson) where he and our dogs hiked in to meet me. So tired, but so happy to see them.

Though not as dramatic, my drive for self-preservation while hiking SOBO was on-point to achieve one thing: get out of the 100-Mile Wilderness and off the AT for good. But how does one go from planning, preparing, and ultimately starting their thru-hike, to developing dream-killing feelings of dread? I quit my job for this, after all.

I now believe that for me to successfully complete an AT thru-hike, three things must be omnipresent: physicality, mentality, and luck. Yet on trail, I fumbled to keep all three within my grasp at any given moment. Finding that perfect state at one’s core is certainly achievable—yet rare—considering the relatively low success rate of completed AT thru-hikes. I’ll be right over here on the losing end of those statistics (probably taking dog pics).

Mostly, my state of mind was not unlike a coyote willing to gnaw off its own foot in order to escape confinement.

On trail, the significance of each element fluctuated, but for me, physicality was probably my best, most present attribute. I hiked 114+ miles—up and down Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park and through the entire 100MW—in just shy of a week. No blisters, no sprains, no broken bones. Just minor aches, scrapes, and bruises. I slipped and fell a number of times—twice in frigid streams—but never truly got hurt. I credit my trekking poles for taking most of the beating by giving me the balance and support to navigate those endless roots, rocks, boulders, and bogs. And mountains.

My whole world became this narrow, gnarly, angry path, with only white blazes and a GPS app to guide me to the comfort of familiarity.

Maybe it was my long legs. Maybe I was in good enough shape. Mostly, my state of mind was not unlike a coyote willing to gnaw off its own foot in order to escape confinement. Nobody wants to see that dog pic.

Which brings me to mentality. The word I use most frequently to describe my short time on trail is “terrifying.” But not in the jump-scare sense of the word—I was simply inspired by dread. My whole world became this narrow, gnarly, angry path, with only white blazes and a GPS app to guide me to the comfort of familiarity. It became less about the experience and more about direction, distance, and time.

I met up with my husband, Jeff, and two dogs on the afternoon of the second day (Sunday) of my thru-hike, AT mile 15.1 near the entrance to the 100MW at Abol Bridge. We made plans to meet again on Jo-Mary Road, a private logging road that crosses the AT at mile 56. These are the unedited notes I made on my iPhone before setting off. I sound like I’m trying to decide whether to get the tall, grande or venti latte, absolutely clueless about what I’m about to face:

Jo Mary Rd Goal! GPS 45.6515,-69.0317 logging rd: 45.708912,-69.011475 Wed. noon

Monday: Get to Rainbow Stream lean-to 11.5 mi. or 14 mi. to Pollywog stream campsite or Wadleigh Stream lean-to 19.6 mi.

Tuesday: Get to Potaywadjo lean-to at mi. 48.3 or Antlers campsite 17.8 mi do it

I made it to Jo-Mary Road at 6 on Tuesday evening, setting the stage for the rest of my 100MW hike: get in and get out, quick. If anything set me up for failure, it was this unreasonable drive to reach our next rendezvous. I dreaded being out there, away from Jeff and the dogs. When I started hiking early the next morning (Wednesday), I had every intention of allowing four days to complete the remaining 58.5 miles in the 100MW, telling Jeff I couldn’t do three nearly 20-mile days. Wrong. As I explained to someone I had passed the day before: my brain set a cadence that my feet couldn’t ignore.

I began each morning with a clear mind-set. It was pointless to concentrate on anything but putting one foot in front of the other—it was so rugged. But by midafternoon, I started struggling with whether to camp at the nearest shelter or push on to the next. I always chose to push, opening up the floodgates of dread, especially when dusk set in and I found myself at risk of being caught on trail in the dark. God. Yet the reward of having fewer miles to cover was always worth the fear.

Which brings me to luck. Or faith, or sorcery—whichever term you prefer. For the most part, luck was on my side. It only rained (sprinkled, really) for a minute. I saw two moose! I met just the right person at just the right time (Camo, who told me during a personal low point one late afternoon—you may have a head full of doubt, but there’s a road full of promise.)

Bugs weren’t a big deal for me, despite all the warnings. True, I was slathered in Permethrin, Picardin and DEET, but I’m one of the fortunate with blood that repulses mosquitoes. I didn’t get sick or contract any of the common trail maladies: hantavirus, norovirus, Lyme disease, oh my. My gear selection was perfect for me—nothing under or overkill. And perhaps luckiest of all—the 5mm kidney stone that was lodged in my ureter sat dormant until shortly after my decision to end my thru-hike.

Sure, I had moments of bad luck/poor decisions. I began my hike on 7/7 and ended on Friday the 13th—my best/worst day on trail. Best because I made it out of the 100MW unscathed. Worst because I made a navigational error near the end, causing me to hike an extra 2.6 miles and producing a feeling of self-loathing like no other.

But even so, my decision to end my thru-hike came from a place of absolute certainty. In fact, the only regret I have is calling myself a thru-hiker at all. Nope. I’m happy to be just a plain old hiker (if that).

I wonder if Danica Patrick needs a new logo.

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Comments 17

  • Zach : Aug 7th

    Not sure what’s up next for you, but I sure hope it involves paper and pen or a keyboard. Keep writing.

    • Christy Kintzel : Aug 11th

      Thank you, Zach. That means the world to me.

  • Carl Hoffman : Aug 8th

    Like Zach said, “….but I sure hope it involves paper and pen or a keyboard. Keep writing.”

    Pops and Moms ❤️❤️

    • Christy Kintzel : Aug 11th

      Thanks, Pops!

  • Ren Ramsey : Aug 8th

    I know how you feel. I section hike in the southern end preparing for my thru hike in 9 years. I too have this sickness of “get there itis” I just cant seem to stop at a reasonable distance. I set out to hike say 8 miles the first day off the couch because I usually have to travel to the trail and get started at noon. But then when I hit 8 miles I have too much daylight and then wind up pushing it to get to the next shelter or camp spot and wind up doing 12. This usually leads to an injury or just pain. Halfway into the 2nd day I am injuries and spend the next 1.5-2.5 days hurt dreading each downhill and just surviving rathr than actually enjoying it. For me reining back and just being there instead of trying to get there to my end of hike destination is my downfall.

    • Christy Kintzel : Aug 11th

      Thank you for your response—it completely resonates. I hope you find patience over the next 9 years as you prepare for your thru-hike. Beat wishes!

  • EarthTone : Aug 12th

    At least you went out there and hiked some miles. I always tell those who get “off trail” to not lament the miles you didn’t hike, but celebrate those that you have. I am happy that I’m a part of the crowd that hasn’t unlocked the “Thru Hiker Achievement Badge”. I have accepted it for now and am happy to continue to chip away at it when I can to complete my first traverse. I have learned that I’m really only good for about a month or so before the whispers in my mind reminding me of all that I’m missing becomes too loud to ignore. I have come to explain it as a lack of mental fortitude. Usually I do well with the physicality part, but I go under the knife in a few days to correct some torn tendons in my rotator cuff that I injured a week into a four week hike to finish up VA. I was supposed to jump up to VT to finish the last three states I need to complete a traverse, but decided to get this fixed first. I was totally ok with not doing that (at least not this year). Long distance hiking is definitely Type Two Fun. It sucks while you are doing it, but when you think back at it a few weeks later, it’s all sunshine and roses. My mind is already whispering at me that I need to get back out there, but I told my wife to slap me when I start suggesting that I return to the Trail. I will get back out there, but not for awhile. Take care.

    • Christy Kintzel : Aug 13th

      Thank you, EarthTone, for your kind words. Hope all goes well with your surgery.

  • Michael : Aug 12th

    As the saying goes hike your own hike. You knew when and why you were done. Nothing wrong with being a section or weekend hiker. You did the 100 mile wilderness Awesome!! Proud of you. Enjoy whatever new adventure you take on next. 🙂

    • Christy Kintzel : Aug 13th

      Thank you, Michael. I’m super proud of achieving the 100MW!

  • Mike : Aug 12th

    Take one day at a time and reach out and grab it for all it’s worth.Enjoy every sunrise and sunset that you are allotted with someone you love as life has a flavor the protected will never know. You did what you did and it is what it is.Good luck.


    • Christy Kintzel : Aug 13th

      Thank you, Poppi, for your wise and thoughtful words.

  • Terry : Aug 12th

    Congrats on giving it a go & knowing when you’ve had your fill. You are lucky to have had the guts to forge ahead on this adventure that so many of us only read about. And then tell us your story! You are amazing & brave! And although it might not be out in the wilderness, who knows what your next adventure will be? I hope you enjoy your journey ahead & I wish you well!

    • Christy Kintzel : Aug 13th

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Terry. I’m already living my next adventure as a true vagabond, living full-time in a van with my team 🙂

  • joelle whitman : Sep 6th

    Thank you so much for this honest rendition of what it’s like when you were out on trail by yourself. I always think that I can go do this and “I’ll be fine all by myself”… Sure. But my mind will start playing tricks on me, I think I can push on that extra 2 and 1/2 miles to the next shelter (just like you) and then wonder why I push myself so hard when there’s nobody pushing me. I absolutely love to height when I know I’m only doing 2 or 3 days max. I came off the 100MW at Mile 54. I was never so happy to see our guide drive up in his Subaru and give us a cold soda; because after seeing him I knew I would be home in 3 hours hugging my husband sleeping in my own bed. Being a section hiker has a lot of virtue in my mind. Congratulations on knowing your own mind. Peace ✌

    • Christy Kintzel : Sep 7th

      Thank you, Joelle. Though I’m a solitary person, having that tie to my dogs and husband, constantly tugging at my heart, proved too much for me to resist.

  • Chill Bill : Dec 16th

    >Finding that perfect state at one’s core is certainly achievable

    No, it isn’t. There is no perfect state. What you described here is just part and parcel of the experience but not the whole. Pushing for miles, weighing distances, and juggling time constraints are necessary and, sometimes, terrifying. But they were always outweighed by the good: the people, the sights, and there always seemed to be something cool around the next turn, at the next town, or in the next state.

    Never try to beat the Appalachian Trail or any trail, for that matter. The trail will always win. Good luck and have fun!


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