Breaking Through Mental Barriers on the AT

The Appalachian Trail can be an incredibly challenging endeavor. There may be times when you forget why you’re going it (but hopefully not, if you’ve read Appalachian Trials) and moments you can’t believe you ever thought you could do it in the first place. There may be days of doubt and dread, snow, sleet, rain, unbearable heat, black flies, loneliness, fear, shin splints, blisters, soggy socks, sore feet, a whole host of ailments like giardia or norovirus, even allergies. The world may be out to get you and you just want to QUIT!


Just remember, you are not alone. All the thru-hikers with you and those who came before you have dealt with many of the same issues. Many times during my hike I had moments of doubt. I have a terrible fear of heights and it has not been easy to overcome but I didn’t want to let it hold me back. The first time I came across rebar attached to a wall of stone, I looked up at it in disbelief. My heart began to pound so hard I could feel it in my ears, tears pooled in my eyes. I couldn’t believe I had gotten all the way to New York and that was it, I had to quit.

All of a sudden, I was climbing. I kept my eyes at the handholds, not daring for a second to look down. I couldn’t give up. The idea of defeat was not something I could accept. Of all the things I have gone through on the trail and in my life, the idea of succumbing to that rock wall seemed preposterous! “DO NOT QUIT! Not here, not like this”, I told myself. I knew I could do it, I was just afraid to. I had to ask myself, “when are you going to learn to trust yourself?”

Fear has it’s purpose as a means of self preservation, but I was by no means in danger, this was something I could do so long as I allowed myself to try. The AT has really helped me find the balance in dealing with my fear of heights. Is it rational to be afraid when you’re staring up a granite rock slab? Absolutely. Is it something that can be ascended safely if you focus and take your time? Absolutely.

You can overcome many obstacles if you believe in yourself. Nothing worthy comes easily, thats half the reward. To see the view from the top, you’re going to have to climb. The endorphins of reaching a summit, the revelry of a perfect view, the heart pounding adrenaline of being caught in a thunderstorm, feelings unobtainable from the confines of fear and insecurity.

I’ve heard many times people quit when it “wasn’t fun anymore” and I have to say that if I had had that attitude I wouldn’t have made it very far. It wasn’t fun to be tired and hungry. It wasn’t fun being swarmed by mosquitoes but I kept moving forward and persevered because I knew it would get better and when it did, I looked back and smiled at the hell I went through and the victory was mine.

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Comments 1

  • Dylan Emad Zitawi : Jan 26th

    “when are you going to learn to trust yourself?”
    my main reason for thru-hiking this year. very inspirational article, thanks!


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