Be Stubborn: Advice from a Two-Time Thru-Hiker

“Be stubborn,” said the two-time AT thru-hiker I ran into at Cloudland Canyon’s south rim during my final shakedown hike. It felt like strange advice coming from the owner of a small outfitter in Nashville. He said his pack weighed 50-plus pounds on his first thru in ’96. He asked what I was most worried about. I said my base weight, which was sitting at 24 pounds. He seemed bored as he fingered through a few of my things, asking the rote questions. He said my gear, the gear I’ve spend months toiling over, seemed “alright.”

My insides whimpered at his disinterest. Wasn’t he a professional gear nerd? Watching him peer into the canyon I resigned myself to acknowledging that he wasn’t at work. Following his gaze, I saw myself from his perspective – I was failing to absorb one of Georgia’s greatest sights because I was too focused on the contents I carried to be present.

Although I am nowhere close to being a gear geek, months of trolling online forums and reading reviews had clearly taken its toll. It wasn’t long ago that  one of my good friends dubbed me “cotton queen of the backcountry.” How had I gotten lost in the gear garb so easily? I wondered.

Appropriately humbled, the man and I talked through a few more minutes, but this time our eyes were locked on the swooping canyon walls. He rattled through the usual advice: take it slow, listen to your body, appreciate everything the trail offers. We shook hands and I watched him turn the bend, but he doubled back and shouted, “Be stubborn. That’s it. That’s your piece of advice. Just be stubborn out there.”

I couldn’t hold my laughter. Stubbornness isn’t something I lack. Nobody has ever encouraged me to be stubborn. In fact, most of my childhood and into my early 20s I was chastised for my strong-willed nature. Working as a team never came easy for me and for a lot of years I was so steadfast that once my family refused to play board games with me, saying I was too competitive, too stuck on the rules, too bent on winning.

To be fair, they were right. Even though I have since mellowed and learned to play nice, my stubbornness remains a family joke. So initially I laughed at the advice, thinking of my mother recoiling at the thought of someone encouraging me to be stubborn.

But then I thought of the well-known trail adage: don’t quit on a bad day. I had liked that one for a while, but this felt so much more appropriate. “Be stubborn” alludes that even the most prepared and hardy hiker will consider packing for home at some point or other, yet “be stubborn” doesn’t whisper consent to quit.

Every hiker who summits Springer and points their boots north knows the deck is stacked against them in terms of finding themselves atop Katahdin in the fall. So why even mention quitting when a huge percent inevitably will anyway?

Instead “be stubborn” tells me to dig my heels in deep, to embrace the torrents of rain and cold and bugs. “Be stubborn” tells me to listen to and trust myself. “Be stubborn” tells me to be true to my spirit and fight. “Be stubborn” tells me the number of miles walked are irrelevant as long as I do them in a way that is true to me whether I climb Katahdin or not.

So, sorry, Mom. This summer I’m going to be stubborn as heck.

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