The Archenemy: Doubt

I woke up at 5:00 this morning with the thought in my head that maybe I don’t understand the magnitude of an AT thru-hike, that maybe I will get on the trail and hate it but force myself to endure it because I’ve spent so much time and money on the endeavor.

At 5:00 this morning I woke up in my comfy bed with my familiar blanket and pictured myself waking up in my tent, my back sore from sleeping on my narrow sleeping pad, my bladder painfully full because I didn’t want to get up and go out in the cold to a privy or the woods.  I pictured myself lonely, fatigued, unmotivated, purposeless, lost and generally over it. I saw an image of me trying to break down my tent in the rain, putting on soggy boots and smelly clothes. Why on earth would I do this?

My brain chastised me because I’ve spent $2000 on gear and tons of time on research, saved money and quit my job, and simply amazed so many people who will disdain me if I don’t reach Katahdin solely because I just wanted to stop hiking.

I have started to see posts on this site from aspiring thru-hikers whose anxiety level seems to be rising, especially regarding gear.  I know I’m not alone, but then again I am, aren’t I?

I’ve been busy returning and exchanging pieces of gear because I see more clearly that what I need will not necessarily be what’s on my spreadsheet (yes, I’m one of those obsessive over-planners). I have exchanged my tent, a shirt and a puffy jacket. I ordered a long-handled spoon and took a Toaks pot off my gear list. I’m starting to get it. I’m also starting to panic.

In my introductory post here I shared my list of reasons to do the thru hike. Here are the reasons I identified as the outcome of quitting. Whereas most of the reasons reflect my own goals and perspective, the list of outcomes if I quit mostly has to do with other people’s opinions.

How do I stay strong? Will I know when there’s a valid reason to end my thru-hike? Will I know when I’m cheating myself because of doubt and fright?

The list of disappointment and shame (repetition intended).


  • Be ashamed
  • Have to explain myself over and over
  • Be embarrassed
  • Feel like a failure
  • Continue the cycle of conceiving ideas and not following through; it will be just another half-hearted try at reinventing myself
  • Have wasted a lot of money
  • Possibly have lost a job for no good reason
  • Open myself to endless criticism
  • Lose an easy opportunity to stop being afraid of things like bugs or heights
  • Possibly stay fat and not fit
  • Have to explain myself over and over
  • Have a good reason to be depressed
  • Be forced to go back to the crappy emotional place I was at
  • Have to explain myself over and over
  • Have avoided being strengthened through pain
  • Have wasted a lot of money
  • Go back to being a faker without even trying not to
  • Demonstrate weakness
  • Be branded a loser and feel like a loser
  • Have to explain myself over and over
  • Have wasted a lot of money and possibly a lot of time

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Comments 8

  • joanne : Nov 12th

    Just trying makes you a winner!

    • Ruth Nasrullah : Nov 12th

      Aw, thanks!

  • stealthblew : Nov 13th

    Taking things one day at a time or better yet living in the moment is the key to overcoming this anxiety. Do not worry about the daily mileage but rather enjoying every day spent on the trail. If you are able to rise every mornng and head out in earnest Katahdin is within reach. Smiles not miles are the way to go. Have fun.

    Warning – pushing too hard or hauling too heavy a pack can suck the joy out of the experience.

    • Ruth Nasrullah : Nov 13th

      Copy that. Thanks so much for your advice.

      To be honest, I have to do more actual hiking and less time in front of the computer; I think just sleeping overnight in my backyard will help me feel more confident.

  • Cheryl Galli : Nov 15th

    Ruth, oh Ruth – embrace the journey! Embrace the experience! Not matter how many steps, no matter how many miles. Failure? What is failure? Are you not learning something from this experience, even before you’ve set foot on the trail? Then there is no failure. That sign on top of Mt Katahdin is no guarantee that you won’t still be in a “crappy emotional place”. Begin the journey and see where it leads. Happy trails!

    • Ruth Nasrullah : Nov 28th

      Thank you! Failure is certainly relative. That’s probably a whole blog post in itself.

  • Isabelle Saint-Pierre : Nov 20th

    Doubt is our archenemy regardless of what we decide to do in life. Shoot, even after decades of backpacking, more gear changes than I can count, doubt still seeps in…

    “Can I do this?” “Is this the right tent to take?” “I heard XYZ filter is better, should I get that?” “Oh look! They’ve got a tent that weighs 1.5 ounces lighter than mine! Why didn’t I get that one?” On and on it CAN go…if you let it. When you find that inner critic taking over, just tell them to shut up!

    You wrote, “I pictured myself lonely, fatigued, unmotivated, purposeless, lost and generally over it. I saw an image of me trying to break down my tent in the rain, putting on soggy boots and smelly clothes. Why on earth would I do this?”

    First, the AT is perhaps the most social trail on the planet and you’ll rarely be lonely. The shelters are full of people, hostels brimming with other hikers, and you basically can’t go a day without seeing, talking, or interacting with others. Yes, you can go off on your own, sleep along the trail and avoid the crowds if you want, but if you are lonely, simply seek out others on the trail…there’s a lot of people out there.

    Yes, you are going to be fatigued; that’s a given on any long-distance hike. Feel like your getting overly worn out? Take a zero and recharge. One of the great things about a long-distance hike is that if you don’t feel like hiking for a day, just don’t! Feel like you need a nap in the middle of that? Take one! You are the master of yourself on the trail and while you need to reach the end of the trail before winter sets in, you are not a slave to the clock. That is perhaps one of the hardest things for people to get used to on the trail.

    As for purpose, your sole purpose is to reach the end of the hike. Okay, you have other purposes like enjoying the hike, enjoying nature, enjoying the other hikers, enjoying that all you can eat buffet when you reach a town, savoring that nice ice-cold half-gallon of ice cream at the halfway point, and many more. These things can also help keep one motivated too. Just knowing a hostel, hot shower, and food is only, say, 12 miles away can be motivation enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other to reach that trophy.

    It is close to impossible to get physically lost on the AT; emotionally lost is a different matter. Many people who hike the AT are doing it BECAUSE they are lost, at a crossroads in their life and the like. Use the months spent on the trail to help with that feeling of being lost. A thru-hike gives you LOTS of time to spend lost in thought…

    Ops, sorry, seems my response is longer than your post! You’ve got this and you’ve already articulated why you’re doing this. Quiet that inner critic, put one foot in front of the other, and don’t stop till you’ve reached the end of the trail.

    • Ruth Nasrullah : Nov 28th

      Don’t apologize for the length of your post – I greatly appreciate you taking the time to reply.

      It’s interesting; when you described being the master of how I spend my time it reminded me of when I went to a writers retreat. The rules were that we had to be quiet and give the other writers a comfortable space in which to work. We each had our own apartments and really didn’t socialize except when we got together for dinner. I loved having the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted no matter what it was. Sounds like the AT will be like that.


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