Welcome to the 80%

Okay, so you set out on a thru hike, didn’t finish, and you are now part of the statistics.

Welcome to the 80% my friend.

While it’s true that only a shocking 20% of people who set out on a thru hike actually finish the entire journey, you didn’t start your hike planning to become part of the larger amount of hikers who get off the trail earlier than planned. In fact, you started because you thought you were better than that – that you could defeat the odds and summit Katahdin (or Springer) despite whatever challenges the trail may bring.

Turning your thru hike into a section hike can definitely be heartbreaking. There’s a good chance that you feel as if so much time, energy, money, and planning (sometimes starting years before you even left) is seemingly wasted on your failed attempt. Given the circumstances, it’s pretty easily to get caught up in a large array of sad emotions upon returning home and having to break the news to every single person you know that you didn’t finish what you set out to accomplish.

You can’t let these emotions stop you though.

Of course it’s okay to be sad for a little bit, but you can’t dwell on what you didn’t complete. Rather, celebrate the accomplishment of getting on the trail in the first place. Use the positive and excited energy you had for your hike and use it to do good!

After getting off the trail just shy of 600 miles due to some pretty bad inner ear issues, I suffered through a lot of these emotions. I constantly replayed my day to day on the trail thinking of anything and everything I could have done differently to prevent myself from having to head home (even though the inner ear problems had a solid chance of happening regardless). The constant replaying, regret, and watching all of my trail friends finish their hikes via social media was driving me insane until I decided to do something about it, and after some trial and error I have come up with a handy little list to beat those 80% blues:

1. Join Your Local Appalachian Trail Club

Stay involved with the trail community!! Not only is there a pretty good chance that you will get to meet a ton of like minded people in your area, but you can directly make a difference to our beloved trail. Many trail clubs do trail maintenance, help maintain shelters, give out trail magic, and organize group hikes so it’s a great way to help bring your hike into your “post trail” life.

2. Inspire Others To Get Outside

This can be done by doing everything from dragging a “non hiker” friend on a hike with you, giving hike suggestions to your friends, or sharing your trail stories and experiences to inspire the next generation of thru hikers!

3. Get Out and Hike As Much As You Can

Personally, I am working on completing the entire state of New Jersey on the Appalachian Trail, but hiking doesn’t always have to be done on the AT. Create a list of local places you want to see and make it happen. Don’t let life simply get in the way of getting outdoors. Purposely chalk out space each week for a really good hike.

4. Learn Some New Outdoor Skills

If you’re an REI member, you probably have access to a seemingly unlimited amount of classes that cover everything from reading a map and compass to certifications in Wilderness First Aid. Go to classes, get certifications, and learn new things!

5. Stay Busy!

The very best way to beat the 80% blues? Stay very, very busy. The more you stay idle, the more time you have to dwell on outcome of your hike. Write a book, start a blog, tell everyone you meet about your experiences and inspire them to get outside more – do anything and everything to not let your spirit and passion for the trail die!


During my first week on the AT in Georgia, a trail angel said to me that “It doesn’t matter if you fail before you reach the first 100 miles because by taking the first steps of your thru hike you have the courage to start something that most people wouldn’t even dream of doing, and that is something to be very proud of.”

This conversation got buried in my memory and didn’t really start to become relevant until after I got off the trail just shy of 600 miles. Yes, I was upset that I set out to achieve my dream and I failed, but I hiked 600 miles!

I kept looking at 600 as only 1/4 of the trail, but SIX HUNDRED MILES is a big deal. I hiked in five states, and over bigger mountains, harder rain, and hotter weather than I ever thought I could have handled. I learned so much more about nature, other people, and myself in such a short amount of time, and gained skills and confidence that I truly believe will help me in all aspects for the rest of my life.

Celebrate your accomplishment regardless if you hiked 600, 10, or 2,000 miles. If it helped you grow as a person (which I would argue that almost any amount of time on the trail will do) then it is an accomplishment worth being proud of.

So, welcome to the 80%. You fell short of your goal, but you did the opposite of fail. You are now stronger, braver, and way more badass than before you started, and that is something to be very proud of.

Happy hiking!

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Comments 6

  • Mischa Egolf : Nov 25th

    Great post and advice. 600 miles is amazing!

  • Aly : Nov 25th

    Not article related but is the photo at the top taken along the Susquehanna?

  • plodalong : Dec 5th

    Great article. Having been sectioning for a few years my wife and I have set our eye on ’18 to hike the trail. We will both be in our 60’s and have the usual litany of pesky physical issues and recently went through a sobering experience of having dealt with a fall on the AT on the MA/CT border that resulted in my wife breaking her leg. Having sectioned various places from Front Royal to the North Woods of Maine we are under have no illusions that our inclusion in the “20%” will be a sure thing. The only thing we can be sure of and control is that we will be part of the 100% who set out to try. We are attempting to prepare ourselves for every possible eventuality including failure. In doing so we have come to this conclusion. We will not have our hike destroyed by the single syllable word, “thru”. If we can not make it in one year we will look to finishing the trail over time. Hiking and experiencing the trail is the objective for us far more than the 12 month completion deadline or the rather obscure difference between one who “thru hikes” or “sections”. I have often chaffed at the idea that failure is judged so harshly by so many. Failure is like soil, it is the product of decomposition, rot and death yet from it are all the elements that feed new growth and life.

    • Jeff Man : Dec 29th

      Thanks for the advice. I plan on starting my hike in March. I would love to through hike but time will only get me to 600 miles. It would be great to be a quarter hiker!

  • Jill Knox (Straps) : Oct 24th

    I only made it 378 miles when coming off Roan Mt I slipped in a PARKING LOT and messed up my knee real bad.
    I cannot wait until April 1st 2018. I’ll get on trail at Carver Gap exactly where I got off (avoiding that parking lot).
    Since recovering from my injury I’ve done a lot of hiking and kept up with the blogs and thru hike journals of other hikers but nothing will satisfy my need to finish the hike except finishing the hike…. even if in sections (though I hope to get to from mile TN to ME )
    That being said I AM proud of what I did do and if circumstances change and I can’t get back on in April I’ll still feel like I belong to a very very special club.

  • Kate Gewehr : Nov 26th

    Cheers from another 80%er. I hiked 567 miles of the AT this year, and I’ll probably never have a chance to attempt a thru-hike again, but I can still continue the rest in sections over time. I’m focusing on appreciating the experience I had and the lessons I learned.


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