Spooky Season on the AT: My Top 10 Thru-Hiking Fears

It’s spooky szn! What better time to think about which Appalachian Trail haunts scare me the most? Because I’ll admit, I can be a bit of a wuss sometimes. I always thought thru-hikers were the toughest of the tough, that nothing could scare them. How else could you manage such an endeavor? But that can’t always be true. The reality is, you have to be scared in order to be courageous. Being brave isn’t being fearless, it’s choosing to work through something despite the fear. Bearing that in mind, here is a list of my biggest trepidations regarding my AT thru-hike. Reader, beware: truly frightening content ahead.

1. Ticks and Lyme disease

These bloodsuckers are related to spiders and are a truly frightening feature of the backcountry.

\arachnids–that’s right, arachnids–are? They look like specs of dirt! They’ll blend right in! And I have to pluck them off me myself? Like, I have to look at them super closely or else I might pop their bodies off their heads and their heads could just, like, stay attached to me. And the terror doesn’t stop there. Next I have to worry that I might come down with flu-like symptoms, which could progress to memory loss and a host of other terrifying things. NOPE. No thanks. Give me alllll the permethrin and DEET please.

2. Losing my mind over mosquitoes, black flies, and spiderwebs

You may notice a theme here, but I’m nervous about the creepy crawlies. You may wonder, Why, Becca, would you live in the woods for months if you’re so scared of bugs? And I would say that’s a fair question. In reality, I can deal with insects in the wild. It’s their home, after all, and I’m just visiting. Nonetheless, black flies buzzing around my head and chewing chunks of my skin have been known to reduce me to tears in the not-so-distant past. Mosquitoes don’t scare me, but I don’t love them remotely as much as they seem to love me. I’ve always said I’d probably die by some mosquito-borne illness, so I sometimes think that might happen while I’m on the AT. Spiderwebs also don’t scare me per se, but continuously strolling through them will put me on edge. More terrifying to me are the big-ass wolf spiders I’ve heard hang around shelters, crawling on people’s faces as they try to sleep. If you want to put yourself on edge, google “spiders on the Appalachian Trail” and click “images.” I’m so sorry.

3. Creeps

Creepy crawlies aren’t the only bugs on the trail. I’ve heard stories of locals in certain spots along the AT that don’t particularly like thru-hikers, and I’ve heard stories of women feeling immensely uncomfortable around some men on the trail. Not that this is much different than what we often experience EVERY DAY outside the trail, but still. It seems spookier in the woods. Away from civilization and cell service. Alllll alone.

4. Struck by lightning

I have a minor in geography and I’m a bit of a weather nerd. I have a solid, albeit fairly basic, understanding of weather systems, which most of the time serves to keep me more at ease than others. I understand weather safety, I understand the low likelihood of being struck by lightning in general. HOWEVER, many circumstances both within and out of my control on the AT certainly increase my chances of being struck. This isn’t something I live in constant fear about, but it’s, ya know, on my mind.

5. Blood

My own blood. You know, “that time of the month.” Aunt Flo. Surfing the crimson wave. MY PERIOD, OK. I’m just a little uncomfortable and inexperienced in dealing with this in the backcountry. I’m not scared. Just anxious, I suppose.

6. Rat poop

I already know it’s all up in those shelters. I don’t want it on me. I don’t want nasty rat diseases. Stay away!

7. My poop

Oh, come on. I know I’m not the only person a little anxious about pooping in a small hole I dug in the woods. What if a tick latches on to me during this process? THEN LYME DISEASE! Ugh. 

 

8. Not noticing a rattlesnake or copperhead, and then it jumps out at you out of nowhere, and then you scream and cry and maybe even pee your pants a little

This is self-explanatory.

Can you spot the copperhead?

9. Missing my husband

Sorry, but I gotta get cheesy here. I married my dream man in September and it’s with his encouragement and loving support that I’m finally venturing off to accomplish my thru-hiking goal. We spent two months apart last spring while he moved to California for his new job and I finished out teaching through the end of the school year, and that was hard enough. I cried more than I’d like to admit. There’s no way this won’t be harder. Change is scary.

 

Featuring: my husband, my bear tattoo, and my love for being among the trees.

10. Not wanting this adventure to end

Look, despite my list of things I’m nervous about, this is going to be an epic journey offering incredible insight, opportunities, and scenic views. I know I’m going to love so much of this journey. I’m confident the moments of awe and pride will outweigh the times of fear and anxiety. If not, well, I can’t say I didn’t warn myself.

 

 

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Comments 9

  • Cheri : Oct 17th

    I attempted a thru but had to come off trail due to an injury.

    Missing my husband was the hardest part of the trail. Pooping in a hole? Much easier than you think. Because when you have to go, you have to go.

    Reply
    • Becca Downs : Oct 17th

      I’m sorry about the injury. I almost included that on this list, especially since I’m coming back from serious bouts of plantar fasciitis and that seem to be a common hiker injury too. I hope you are able to recover and give it another go!

      Reply
  • Louisburke : Oct 18th

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    Reply
  • Nick : Oct 19th

    Your husband looks like he has experience pooping outside. I bet he can show you how it’s done.

    Reply
    • Becca : Oct 20th

      You know, you’re not wrong. I hear his friend Nick has some experience in that arena as well. Neither of them follow proper protocol though…

      Reply
      • Not His Friend Nick : Oct 30th

        What an unfortunate coincidence that a “Nick” would be implicated in a comment by a “Nick”.

        Reply
        • Becca : Oct 30th

          Ugh, Alex’s friend Nick *would* make multiple accounts to leave me extra messages. 🙂

          Reply
  • Bobby : Oct 23rd

    I enjoy reading your posts – well done and looking forward to more. My wife Mitzi and I, and friends, are not so creepy locals that enjoy helping the hikers coming thru our slice of North Georgia. You might run into us sometime around day 3 – 5 depending on your NOBO pace, weather, etc. We’ve been doing so since 2014; usually around Tesnatee, Hogpen, or Indian Grave. BUT – there are some creepy, scary, and mean people out there – both locals and some hikers. It’s a very, very small number and usually all that happens (if it happens at all) is a story about how someone made you feel uncomfortable. Common sense in being aware of your surroundings, hiking with your “tramily” if you’re so inclined, and being careful not to linger when you feel a situation may be heading into trouble or weirdness helps. Keep in touch with your family each day, pay attention to what the other hikers are saying and share your stories with others, and don’t be afraid to call for help if you need too. Hope to see you out there! BB

    Reply
    • Becca : Oct 23rd

      Thank you for reading along! For every story I’ve heard about a creep, I’ve heard about a thousand more about the kindness and hospitality of people along the trail. I hope we get the chance to meet!

      Reply

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