The Times I Almost Quit but Didn’t
The beginning was easy. It’s new, it’s exciting, it’s a novelty. There are times you have to work out different ways to use gear and how to hike, yet this trail and a life outdoors is still so new, that it wasn’t until halfway through I considered giving up.
Harpers Ferry is the spiritual halfway point–the town closest to halfway between Georgia and Maine on the trail. There’s another bubble of excitement where you get a Polaroid as proof of your trekking nearly 1,100 miles. Up until Harpers, the motto was, “Your feet are going to hurt. Everyone’s feet hurt.” (Thank you, Walter, an REI coworker, for putting that in my head.) There wasn’t anything that couldn’t be fixed with a day off and a good food restock. It was leaving the short states of West Virginia and Maryland that brought me back to the reality of having to hike everything I hiked previously all over again.
“It’s the death of the honeymoon,” says Zach Davis (author of Appalachian Trials).
Feelings of doubt and whether I wanted to keep hiking began when the challenge of higher-mile days in Virginia would lead to a strict schedule of getting up at 5:30 for a day of hiking, eating dinner, and being too exhausted to even read. Reading has consistently been something I can have to myself, relaxing in my tent in solitude. Whenever the day would exhaust me to the point of falling asleep directly after dinner, or even not having the energy to want to cook dinner, I’d miss out on reading. It seems like something insignificant, but to me I could be just fine with not showering or sleeping inside for nine days at a time, while I needed reading to feel human again.
The second instance of feeling as close to quitting the trail as I’ve gotten was one week I found myself sweating profusely simply lying down in my tent. A stretch of five days when temps were in the 90s day after day and didn’t cool off lower than mid 70s at night in Pennsylvania. There was no amount of motion that I could muster that wouldn’t make me sweat once I was in my tiny tent. The only thought I had with sweat beading off my face was that I didn’t want to be there.
The next most prominent instance of a low on the trail was the bugs that only go for the middle of your eyes. In the heat of the day, heading upward on a tough climb, these gnats hover in front of your face and then fly right into your eyes if you don’t swat them or hike faster. If you stop to drink or catch your breath you’ll be enveloped in hoards of insects. Again, in that situation at its absolute worst, I’ve wished to be elsewhere.
Solutions (Other than Quitting)
1. I’ve gotten more used to 20-mile days and can get them done sometimes before 4 or 5 with spare time to write or read.
2. Weather has looked up, cooling down at night and in the early morning, allowing for some reprieve from the oppressive heat.
3. The bugs haven’t changed too much but I’ve started taking deep breaths when I’m mad at the gnats and using more bug spray.
4. Whenever the terrain is muddy, and my clothing and feet are wet for days on end, I think of one of my favorite cliché AT sayings: “You can be miserable and wet, or you can just be wet.”
Professor (NOBO ’18) sums up that quitting feeling: “It’s crossed my mind but never consumed my mind.”
I’m not ashamed to admit I have cried a lot over the course of this hike, but never have I tossed my shoes off and decided it’s over. Fun fact: the first real pages of Awol’s AT Guide have every airport close to the trail mapped out–bailing options abound.
Speaking with other thru-hikers past and present, the main advice is to take a day off, and think about why you started hiking. Quitting seems to be a common thought among thru-hikers at one point of their hike or another. Above all, the consensus of motivation stemmed from how much people gave up to make this trek. Followed by the looming office job they’d be back into once the hike was said and done. And then there’s always the pull to start it all over again. Rhys/Chongo (NOBO ’17) covers the post trail feels: “Of course, as much as I was happy to be done with the thing after Katahdin, I now long to thru the PCT.”
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