Why are you thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail?
The question is the one I ask myself. “Why *are* you planning to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail??”
Pretty much everyone I talk to who has actually complete a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail tells me the same thing: Barring injury and illness, anyone in reasonably-good physical condition can thru-hike hike the AT. The biggest challenge isn’t the physical, it’s the mental.
From the perspective of seventy years, I can tell you that’s true of most of the physical challenges I have faced. It’s about the focus and determination to keep at it long after the initial excitement has worn off.
Enter Appalachian Trials
I have been reading books about thru-hiking to help wrap my head around all this. I read the description of Zach Davis’ “Appalachian Trials” and decided I needed to read it. Zach insists that we make three lists.
- I am hiking the Appalachian Trail because…
- When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…
- If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…
I made the three lists and wrote down my answers. I figured out a few things in the process.
I am hiking the Appalachian Trail because…
- It has been far too long since I have done anything really outrageous. This is my official tongue-in-cheek reason, but it’s not far from the truth.
- I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. I’m 70 and in good health but I don’t have forever. If I don’t do it now I never will.
- I want to spend six months with God in the Abbey of the Appalachians. (I told this to the previous abbot at the Abbey of the Genesee in upstate New York. He said, “I envy you.”
- I want to prove to myself that I can keep my pants zipped for six months around all sorts of strong, intelligent, and attractive women. ‘Nuff said.
- I want to prove to myself that I can keep at it and do the whole thing.
- For Mom and Dad, who believed in me.
- I want to do a show at Image City Photography Gallery in Rochester entitled, “2192 miles”.
- I want to take the photographs.
- I want to be part of something much bigger than myself.
- I’ve been computer geek most of my life (blame my parents). It’s time to do something different.
- I’m not finished yet. (If you aren’t following Anubis and Winnie on Instagram, do so. https://www.instagram.com/a_walk_with_winnie/)
- I’m tired of being a wimp.
- It’s time to revisit my love of being outdoors (again, blame my parents).
- I could not do this before due to family obligations. This is my chance.
- I want to prove to myself that I can get off my ass and actually do this.
- I am desperately lonely. I am looking forward to the people I will meet on the trail.
- For my grandson, Wesley, to demonstrate to him that hard things are doable.
When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…
- …be different.
I know the Appalachian Trail will change me. How? I really don’t know. I will wait and see. Another good bit of advice I have read is to leave my expectations at the trailhead. And I’ve lived long enough that sometimes it’s best just to let it happen. Keep your eyes open. Accept the gift.
If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…
- Have to admit failure to myself. I’m not stranger to failure but I’m no stranger either to success. I much prefer the latter.
- Have to admit failure to far too many others.
- Let down the people who have believed in me.
- Still be an Ok person. (Whatever happens, never forget this one.)
As I looked at my reasons for wanting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I realized they are also reasons I want to hike it in on one shot. If I start NOBO in June I cannot finish in one continuous hike. A few options came to mind.
- Go southbound (SOBO)?
- Try to start in April and finish before Katahdin closes down in mid October?
- Delay until 2022? (That would make it 22 for 72.)
I do not want to start my thru-hike with Katahdin, the Hundred Mile Wilderness, and the Whites. I want to have the preparation of the rest of the trail behind me before hitting these closing challenges. I want to be able to enjoy them rather than suffer through them.
If we make reasonable progress against the pandemic during the first quarter, an April start might be feasible. But social distancing and avoiding shelters will certainly still be in effect. As I think back over the thru-hike books I have read and descriptions I have heard, it impresses me that one of the most beautiful parts of a thru-hike is the people you meet on the way. Thru-hiking with COVID-19 precautions in place sounds like a lot more effort for half the hike. That’s not the hike I want to hike.
But I’ve already pushed back one year. I really don’t want to push my thru-hike back yet another year. What to do?
What to do?
I explained this all to my wife. She’s not a hiker but she knows me pretty well after forty-eight years of marriage. She listened quietly, then said, “Wait a year. Do something else this year.” Realistically, I have to agree that makes the most sense given all I laid out here. We shall see.
“Appalachian Trials” is a most helpful book.
The header image and the rest are from a hike I took a couple months ago in Stonybrook State Park, a bit southeast of Letchworth. Trails are for people.
Steve / pearwood
Soli Deo Gloria
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