Stages of Grief Leading Up to your Thru-Hike

Planning a thru-hike is a daunting, and seemingly endless, task. At least in the beginning it is. Which, if you’re like me, is probably about two years prior to the day you actually begin your 2,200 mile journey. But as years turn to months, and months turn to weeks, and weeks turn to days, and your wall calendar starts to look like a bad game of tic-tac-toe…it finally starts to sink in. You’re actually doing it. And that is precisely when the following stages of grief leading up to your thru-hike hit.

The “Physically Unable to Shut Up About Your Thru-Hike” Stage

Seeing as how you will think about the Appalachian Trail almost every waking (and let’s be honest, non-waking) second after you decide to drink the thru-hiking Kool-Aid, it is inevitably ALL you will talk about. You’ll tell your parents. You’ll tell your coworkers. You’ll tell the bagger at your local grocery store. Everyone. Must. Know. Because somehow the more people that know, the more real it becomes.

The “I Still Have No Idea What I’m Doing” Stage

Here’s where the “daunting and seemingly endless” part comes in. In the months leading up to your departure, you will undoubtedly be researching and scrutinizing everything possible to assist in your thru-hike. As the final days are fast approaching, you begin to realize that all the analysis and all the planning in the world could never prepare you for what could possibly go wrong on the trail. Which means long nights and many lunch breaks reasoning with yourself that your deep, philosophical discussions with REI employees were all worthwhile.

The “Complete and Utter Denial” Stage

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right? In the final few weeks before your thru-hike, you almost completely begin to deny the reality of it all. The flight is booked, the gear is complete and sitting piled in the corner of your room…the tangible items are all there, and you’re sure you’re going to do it. It just hadn’t clicked yet. You’ve just been waiting for so long that the reality of actually leaving still seems so far away, even though it’s staring you in the face.

The “How the F*ck am I Going to Tell my Boss About This?” Stage

This is a crucial stage, mostly because there are a number of ways to tackle it. You could try the honest method. Not only does that make your life easier and your coworkers’ lives more miserable (see The “Physically Unable to Shut Up About Your Thru-Hike” Stage), but it also opens up the floor to options post-trail. I will tell you that I have had great success with this method. But I also like my job. Which leads me to what I call the bravado method, which would be telling your employer to stick it where the sun don’t shine. I wish you all the best in this endeavor.

The “Whoa, Wait. How Many Days Left? Slow Down!” Stage

At first you start counting down the days to departure and it seems like a lifetime away. Five-hundred days might as well be five-hundred years. And then, all of a sudden, one day it doesn’t seem so far away anymore. You start declining future event invitations because you’ll be long gone by the time they come around. Coworkers talk about ongoing projects and you sit happily knowing your involvement is nonexistent. But with limited time comes the surfacing panic of having to get your crap together. Moving, packing, planning, prepping…”daunting and seemingly endless” remember?

The “Well, Here Goes Nothing” Stage

Eventually, like everyone, you realize that all the planning in the world won’t prepare you for the impossible shit-storm that is about to be your thru-hike. You accept the fact that there’s really nothing left to do but take a back seat and hold on for dear life.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 3

  • Jen : Mar 1st

    Loving your blog already Kendra or aka “girl in the big yellow hat!”

  • Bob Rogers : Mar 2nd

    One more day!!!

  • Court : Mar 2nd

    I’m excited for you and hope we can connect on the PA portion of the trail! You guys will be great. Love ya, Cuz!!! <3


What Do You Think?