Unpacking Failure After An Early Exit

My 65-liter Ariel Osprey has been leaning against the dining room table since last Wednesday night. I don’t know what finally convinced me to call my dad, whether it was the incessant, taunting buzz of the flies above the mesh in my tent, the thought of shoving my destroyed feet into unforgiving boots again, or the fact that I couldn’t sleep horizontally because the pollen stuffed my nose up so much that it was painful and disgusting to lay my head down.

It isn’t easy to admit that I failed, that I won’t be summiting Katahdin this year, that the dream I once held so dearly is over, at least in part. My decision came down to a simple choice: continue hiking, likely despising one of my most beloved pastimes by the time I made it to Maine, or dissolve a dream that has served as the cornerstone to my identity for three years. And seeing as I have another (hopefully) 60 years to hike the remaining 1,300 miles of the trail, it seemed like a no-brainer.

I keep telling myself this, in the hopes that it will make me happy, or at least content with my choice. I’ve spent the better part of the last week wallowing. I’ve cried and I’ve stared down that red bag in the dining room. I’ve willed it to disappear or perhaps convince me that I didn’t really want to quit. I’ve watched as people I follow on Instagram rack up the miles, passing milestone after milestone, while I sit at home and watch reruns of “Jersey Shore.” (Side note: watching 23-year-olds get super plastered and act extremely foolish can be cathartic at this particular juncture in life.)

From the outside looking in, I have had a lot of success in my life. I graduated from college early with a great GPA and job prospects, I have family and friends that love me dearly, and I was taught the importance of self-reliance and determination by the strong women who surround me. But the trail was supposed to be a different kind of success. It was supposed to show me how strong I am, how brave, and how the skills on my resume are only a part of my whole package.

It’s hard to say that my experience did all of that, because I’m not sure that it did. I know that I can climb mountains for days (two months and four days to be exact), that I can survive in temperatures that don’t average above freezing, that I love listening to full albums, that hearing a creek while waking up can be a healing sound, and that I will probably laugh at the absurdity of being a human-sized prune in a thunderstorm. Do I include strength, bravery, and confidence in that personal reflection? It’s hard to say in this moment.

But one thing that I have learned, without a doubt, is that I know who I am and what I want. I may not be able to hike 2,200 miles in one go, but I know that I was bold and audacious enough to try. I put too much stock in what others thought before I started this trip, but by making the decision to stop hiking, I found that I threw away any idea of what people might say or think. There may be people that are disappointed in me or think less of me for this failure, but honestly, when did they ever hike 800 miles? I am proud of how far I came. I am proud of my determination and guts. I am proud to have failed, and that I get the opportunity to fail again at something else soon, because at least I will know that I tried.

I did not achieve everything I set out to do, not even a fraction of it. But what I found out there, among the trees, turned out to be just what I needed. 

Until next time,

Weeble

And with all the money I saved up for the trip that I didn’t use, I just booked a trip to Mexico. I’m sure I’ll get over my melancholy while I’m scuba diving with sea turtles and drinking margaritas by the pool.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 15

  • Kamakazee : May 17th

    You have nothing to feel bad about, in fact, going as far as you did is an accomplishment to be very proud of. It reminded me of being in the Army and wanting to become a Green Beret. I made it through Army Basic training, Infintry Advanced training, Airborne training, but when it came to Ranger School, I didn’t make it, nor did I get selected for Special Forces school. I didn’t reach my goals but I did more than most, of that I’m proud. You know you gave it your best and that’s all that counts. I doubt many could/can hike the distance you did. Never fear as your be doing great things in the future.

    Reply
  • Vince Piquet : May 18th

    Did ME,NH and VT last year. Going back in June to continue SOBO. Reason I say this is, hike it any way like, at your pace. No apologies necessary my dear. Enjoy South of the border. Fair winds and following seas.
    Vince aka The Dude, SOBO, ’17/’18

    Reply
  • Tammy : May 18th

    Just remember that 80 percent of thru-
    hikers drop out so you are not alone.

    Reply
  • Aunt Val : May 18th

    You did EXCELLENT. You did not fail; you succeeded. You knew when to stop – that counts as success!
    Many don’t know when to stop. When you don’t stop and finish something just to finish it, It doesn’t feel like success. So then it is not success in your mind and you always wonder why you didn’t stop.
    Trust, you did the right thing! The successful thing!

    Reply
  • Alyssa : May 20th

    My husband and I attempted a SOBO thru-hike last summer, and we stopped short of our goal, too. Your beautiful words have exactly captured our emotional experience. We hiked several hundred miles, attempted to change our hike to a flip-flop to see if that would work for us, and ultimately ended up quitting. Every single thing you wrote, I related with. We’ve learned that few people understand how much it hurts to quit a hike for which we dreamed, planned, and sacrificed for three long years. We have gotten endless well-meaning, “just focus on what you were able to accomplish!” pep talks. That definitely has its place in the grieving process, as does gratitude, pride, and learning to dream again, but sometimes my husband and I just needed to acknowledge the pain of a broken dream. Thank you for writing honestly, from a place of raw vulnerability. My husband sent me this post, and it brought me to tears. It is truly encouraging to have someone understand what it feels like to unpack a failed thru-hike attempt. Here’s to dreaming again!

    Reply
  • Bladesoulclasses : May 20th

    Thanks Emily! I am happy to share 🙂https://kompyuteran.com/

    Reply
  • Grandma Bellamy : May 22nd

    Painful though it may be, with every experience like this you learn more about your strengths and weaknesses. That’s a very valuable thing. You have very strong, capable women in your family. Welcome to the ranks!

    The very proud grandmother of an 800 mile hiker

    Reply
  • Dave Michel : May 24th

    Do the AT in two LASHes? Still badass.

    Reply
  • Mary Faith ( Snoopy ) : May 25th

    Perhaps you did exactly what you were supposed to do …this time……….I only completed around 340 miles my first time. It’s will be there for both of us when we are ready again !

    Reply
  • Jim : May 25th

    From someone that dreams of even beginning what you have accomplished, how impressive!!! Just the thoughts of quitting my job, saving enough money to take care of everything while I’m gone, putting a relationship on hold, planning and purchasing the equipment to survive. Just dreaming of what you did is amazing!!

    Reply
  • Carrie Hart : May 26th

    The AT will be waiting if and when you decided to want to try it again. She isn’t going anywhere. You didn’t fail. You followed through with starting your hike. That, in and of itself, is a success. You hiked an impressive number of miles and states. Be proud of yourself! Hike your own hike, they say.

    Reply
  • SOLACE : May 26th

    HATS OFF WEEBLE!! whether it be you did 22 or 2200 miles… HATS… you should be SO PROUD! as we all ARE of you!!!
    ~SOLACE

    Reply
  • Grammyhobbit : May 28th

    Awesome post! We need to hear about the through hikers who didn’t make it through, too. It took courage just to post this AND courage to leave the trail. Keep recuperating, getting back into ‘normal’ life. I’m sure you will make it to Maine sometime. In the meantime, enjoy your vacation and the joys of day-hiking and smaller excursions than months at a time!

    Reply
  • Michaela Clarkson : Jun 19th

    Hey weeble! I’m Toasty Toes; idk if you remember me, I believe we met in Erwin at Uncle Johnny’s hostel. Thanks for writing this with so much honesty – I just got off the trail too and you put my feelings exactly into words. I realized the only thing that kept me on the trail was just to say I did it, not because I was truly enjoying it anymore. Anyways, super proud of your accomplishment and I hope you got what you needed out of the trail 🙂 It will always be there to finish if you wish to do so

    Reply
    • Paige Bellamy : Jul 9th

      Hey Toasty Toes! Of course I remember you! Who could forget your daring rescue of my tent! I’m glad I could provide a little bit of solace. I know I for sure needed some. It’s so difficult to explain to others who haven’t experienced it, but I’m happy you think I did it justice 🙂 I’d love to stay connected, if you want to friend me on facebook!

      Reply

What Do You Think?