The Space Between

I’m now just a few weeks out from my AT NOBO thru hike I’ve been planning for years and things have gotten…well…weird. I am inhabiting this liminal space that, even with all my reading and preparing, I’ve never run across any detailed reference to. So, per my usual motivation, I’ll share with you here as a way to process it and possibly help anyone in the same boat (or boot?).

All of the lasts and none of the firsts

With less than a month to go, my ‘normal’ life is quickly winding down. I’m participating in many of the ‘lasts’ before I go: last appointments at the chiropractor, massage therapist, hair stylist, and therapist. It’s strange when I leave these spaces, since I usually schedule my next appointment but now there’s nothing to schedule. I’m having last meet-up with friends, going to favorite restaurants one last time, and soaking in every opportunity to see my son play hockey (knowing how many games I’m going to miss while I’m gone). I lay in my comfy bed a little extra time each morning, perhaps trying to soak up the warmth and somehow bank it for the cold, outdoor mornings in my near future.

While I’m having all these ‘lasts’, I’m not yet celebrating any of the ‘firsts’ of my thru hike: first day on the trail, first resupply, first hitch into town, or first time falling down (first of many, let me assure you) so it’s kind of a purgatorial existence. I try to be patient and mindful, but I’m just so ready.

Panic of tasks

Or am I so ready? Yes, I’ve been thinking about this thru for years, and made it official a year ago. I have the gear I need, I have experience backpacking (including section hikes on the AT), I have a group of friends to support my hike, I’ve made connections with people along the trail in case I need help, I am good to go. Well, mostly. It seems I’ve put off a few of the less fun tasks and now, usually at around 4 in the morning awakening from a deep sleep, I break out in a panic that I won’t be able to get everything done and ready in time. How can I be so ready to be on the trail and yet I haven’t worked out any resupply at all! Gah! I’m not sure if I’m procrastinating because it’s math or if I’m savoring these last few tasks because when they’re done I’ve got to face the reality that there’s nothing left to do but walk 2,200 miles.


I also have two-way FOMO (fear of missing out). On one side, I’m seeing all the March NOBOs launching and stopping at one of the hostels I plan to stay at, passing trail landmarks, or having a blast with Miss Janet (a renowned trail angel). On the other side, I see all the things I’ll be missing at home when I go to the trail, like the babies hatching in the nest that sparrows built just outside my bedroom window, the solar eclipse, and all the posts from friends on social media about fun events and concerts that will happen while I’m gone. I’m not here but I’m not there. I’m MOing on everything right now.

A male and female house sparrow build a nest in a tree

They’re well camouflaged for early spring, but you can see a male and female house sparrow building a nest in the tree just outside my bedroom window

Guilt trip

I may not have left for Amicalola Falls yet, but I am already well into my trip…of guilt. To be clear, literally no one in my life is hoisting this upon me. In the full spirit of independence that will serve me well on the trail, I’m entirely organizing and shouldering this pack of guilt on my own. Beyond the FOMO of missing out on sparrow babies, I think about the hummingbirds I feed each year. Will they find other food in the neighborhood? What about my poor cat? I’m his favorite and the only one that cleans out his eye boogers. WILL HE HAVE 6 MONTHS OF EYE BOOGERS WHEN I RETURN? But what if he doesn’t miss me? What if my kids don’t miss me? I’ll spare you the complete transcript of the rest of the spiral which happens at random moments throughout the day (and the aforementioned 4am panic wake up).

Just go already!

Okay, no one has explicitly said this to me, but I get the feeling from many in my life that this liminal space isn’t exactly fun for them, either. I’ve been talking about this for so long that maybe it seems like I should already be gone? I’m getting a lot of ‘when are you leaving?’ texts and I’m terrified to run into someone with whom I’ve already shared the official goodbye hugs and blessings. I’m doing the longest ever version of the ‘Midwestern goodbye’, you know, the one where you slap the top of your thighs and say “Whelp, better get going” and then not go anywhere for the next hour. I feel like I’ve been slapping my thighs about this hike forever.

But when will I be back?

This is the singularly hardest thing for me as I prepare to leave for my hike. The not knowing when I’ll be back is miserable. Not, mind you, the overall length of a successful thru hike. I keep telling people 5-6 months to leave plenty of room in my journey for side trails, found adventures, and zeros (a zero is a day where you don’t hike any miles on the trail, often staying in town to rest and catch up on laundry and FOOD), and I recognize that I could be faster than I think I’ll be and will be done in 4.5 months. That’s not the not knowing when I’ll be back I’m talking about. I’m talking about what if I hurt myself a week into Georgia? What if get too sick or too weak to continue a month or two in? Then, all this talk and grand plans of mine will just be…over. I’ll have to call up those professionals I mentioned above and make appointments, and they’ll know that I didn’t do what I said I was going to do. I’ll have to post here and tell you that I’m home and no where near Katahdin. I know everyone else will understand, but I will still feel like hell. I know an accident or incident that forces me off trail won’t make me a failure, but I’m investing all my mental power into success, I don’t have a script for anything but going all the way.

There are no answers

I don’t have a solution for this ‘in between’ feeling I’m wallowing in right now, so I can only handle it like I handle things on the trail. My mantra is ‘the way out is through’. No matter how cold the rain, thick the mud, or steep the ascent, the only way to get past it is to go through it. And that’s all I can do with these last few weeks before I head out to start my thru hike, be patient and know this is part of the journey. Oh, and maybe enjoy one more ‘last’ visit to my favorite restaurant?

Purple Lotus is a NOBO hiker in the AT class of 2024. Read her first post, an introduction of herself, here.


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Comments 4

  • Tom : Mar 12th

    Good luck on your upcoming AT hike Traci. You had me at pizza and ice cold Coke. Good luck and I hope you son’s a Boston Bruins fan !!!

    • Traci 'Purple Lotus' Withani : Mar 12th

      Thank you!

  • Keri Mason : Mar 22nd

    Stranger in the Woods here! Following along – so excited for your adventure.

    • Traci 'Purple Lotus' Withani : Apr 1st

      Thanks so much!


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