Sorry Isn’t the Hardest Word


I think I’m a little bit broken. Not in the physical sense, and maybe not entirely busted, but there’s certainly an empty feeling swirling around deep inside. I’ve felt it for a while now, but it’s picked up the pace over the past month or so, and I think I know why.

From the moment I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, it’s felt like a pipe dream, something to aim for, but something I never really expected to happen. There were too many obstacles between me and the trail buffering the reality.

Smiles and Tears

But I hurdled those obstacles one by one as the plan evolved. And with my start date creeping ever closer, reality’s hit me like a blast from the realization gun. I’m actually doing this thing, for real. And now I know it’s going to happen, it’s scary. But that’s not the broken part.

I’ll put my regular life on hold for six months while I’m on this mad adventure through torrential rain and blistering sun, through miles of smiles and tears, all the time trying to keep on just the right side of sanity to push me through. But it was my choice to walk, so any hardship will be mine to bear. My choice. And that’s not the broken part either.

Those I’m Leaving Behind

This is why I’m broken, and it’s tearing me up inside. It won’t stop me starting the trail, but will it stop me from finishing it? I’ve read the books and blogs about the mental game, and I’ve taken all that great advice on board. Putting the theory into practice, though, is a different ballgame, especially for those of us leaving young children behind.

And that’s the crux of the matter” ‘Sorry” is supposed to be the hardest word, but it’s not. For me it’s “goodbye.” And I hate it. Always have. I’m not talking about “I’ll see you next week” goodbyes. I’m talking about the “I don’t know when I’ll see you again” goodbyes that make the lump in my throat do star jumps, and make my eyes go misty. And the worst goodbyes are to family.

A happy day without goodbyes.

I Can’t Hug Them

It was my decision to hike, but those staying at home didn’t make the decision to stay at home. It’s just a consequence of the choice I made. I’m not hiding the fact this is my journey, but for those I’m leaving behind, their situation is all about them. Am I selfish for leaving my family for six months? Absolutely, and the guilt is eating me alive. But as many bloggers have said before, it’s only six months, it’s not forever. And everyone benefits if I come back a better version of me. It’s not as if I’m disappearing into the great unknown never to return.

But how do you say goodbye to your children? Is there a best way to tell them I can’t kiss them goodnight for the next six months? Or that I can’t hug them when they want a hug? My children are old enough to know that Daddy’s going away for a while, but young enough to not really comprehend what that means or how it may affect them. Whatever their understanding is, I don’t want to say goodbye to them. I will, of course, but there’ll be tears. So many tears.

Guilt Worms

Even writing this makes my heart sag and my eyes leak a little as it reminds me that my goodbyes are nearly here. I know that day will come, I just don’t want it to. And then there’s the emptiness rolling around in my chest fighting for dominance with the guilt worms wriggling around in my stomach. Just the thought of saying goodbye is killing me. Goodbyes are my Kryptonite.

I’ve tried getting my children involved in planning my trip, and an AT map is on the wall so they can follow along. But so far they seem rather nonplussed about the whole thing. That said, my little girl got upset when she asked who’d take her to the park when I’m gone. Breaks my heart. And she’s been tearful when talking to my other half about it as well, but she puts on a brave face when I’m in the room. Me too. But my son has just stepped over the teenage threshold, so he’s more interested in the PlayStation than my walk in the woods or his emotions. For now.

I Love Them

I’ve prepared my family the best I can, and made sure they know where to find me. GPS is a wonderful thing. I’ve made sure my children know I love them and that I’ll think of them every day (my other half too). And they know they can call me any time, and I’ll call them when I can. But what I can’t prepare for is how the wilds will affect me.

Will the trail change me? If so, for better or worse? Will I be the same person with a different outlook when I get home? Or a different person with the same outlook? Will my family miss me? Will they welcome me home with open arms? Will their opinion of me change while I’m away or when I get back? Will I have to sleep in the shed on my return? I’d like to think the trail will humble me and teach me to be a better person, but how will I know? Is it something I’ll recognize in myself, or something others will notice and call me on? Only time will tell.

Now it’s time for me to go and dry my eyes.

And as much as I hate to say it, adios. Au Revoir. Ciao. Sayonara. Auf Wiedersehen. Goodbye.


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Comments 12

  • Suzanne Griffiths : Mar 7th

    That’s a very honest and heart wrenching write up this time Toby. It is gonna be a tough time for all of you involved but I’m sure it will be worth it. I feel your pain believe me but kids are resilient and get through most things and mummy is there to love and remind them why this is all happening and that you will be back. Keep your chin up x

    • Stu : Mar 7th

      I always believed that one day you’d have to tell the kids ‘daddy’s going away for a while’, just never thought it would be for hiking! At least with the other way they’d have visitors rights a couple of times a month. No easy way around it x

      • Toby : Mar 7th

        Hi Stu, You’re making me laugh again. But Daddy will be back at some point, and all will be right with the world.

    • Toby : Mar 7th

      Hi Suzanne, Hopefully I’ll be as resilient as the children. Keeping my chin up.

  • Marcia Powers : Mar 7th

    There is also the possibility of shortening your trip by taking fewer zero days (also saves money) or hiking more hours per day (getting really, really physically fit) lightening your pack (lighter load, less work, faster pace). However your trek works out, I wish you a grand adventure!

    • Toby : Mar 7th

      Hi Marcia, Thanks for your advice. Not really sure which way to play things at the moment, but I may end up using all of your ideas at some point or other. But as you said … GottaWalk.

  • Jacob Woods : Mar 7th

    Hi Toby!
    I really related to this post. As a kid, I get so homesick when doing long hikes- it becomes all I can think about. The best advise I can give is to enjoy the trail for you and your family, think about them lots, use your experience to entertain and share with your family when you get home! Inspire your kids with your bravery!!

    • Toby : Mar 7th

      Thanks for your comments, Jacob. Definitely hoping to enjoy the trail once I’m out there, and would love to become a master story-teller and inspiration to my family when I get home. Once upon a time ……

  • pat walker : Mar 9th

    Hi Toby,

    Alas! You have summed it up quite well for the folks at home. A thru hike is head first dive into the unknown…I can’t quite imagine what it is like to leaving family behind, however, I was able to feel love and positivity from people out in nature while pushing through some of the most difficult times posed by the trail. You’ll be sending them love everyday too…Good luck friend

    • Toby : Mar 11th

      Hi Pat, Thank you for your kind words. Looking forward to the positivity on trail.

  • DavidM : Mar 10th

    I realized after only three weeks of my 2018 thru-hike that there was no way I could be away from my wife and daughter for 5 months. Homesickness turned my thru-hike into a long section hike. I ended up doing 700 miles in two sections in 2018 and I’m looking forward to another 700 miles this year. Much better plan for me. I really respect those who thru-hike — definitely BA! But also those who do it on their own timing. 😊

    • Toby : Mar 11th

      Hi David, Thanks for your comments. I suspect there are a few of us out there who feel the same, but we each deal with it in our own way. And 700 miles is no mean feat – good luck for the next 700.


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