Dear Future Thru-Hiker

Dear Future Thru-Hiker,

At this point, you’re looking at minor details like “where do I stop for my first resupply?” or “will I really have to hitchhike??”. You’ve either told your employer that you’re going for a walk and will be out of cell-phone range for 6 months…. or you’re about to tell them. You’re probably giving up a “great” job for reasons that your boss can’t begin to understand.

At the same time, you’re turning down the volume on the negative chatter from your loved ones. Perhaps you’ve never done anything like this before in your life, and you’re hearing speculation about your fast-approaching death in the wilderness. I can see the headline now: “Hobo Eats His Way to Death on the Appalachian Trail”. Truly terrifying.

If you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back. You’re having a staring contest with your own conviction. And you’re winning. It’s terrifying, I know. You’re uprooting yourself from a life of “comfort” that you probably don’t find all that comfortable. You’re about to embark on one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of your life, no matter how far you end up going.

It’s here, on the AT, where you’ll come face to face with a community that’s worthy of it’s own episode on Planet Earth. And yet it’s with these hairy creatures that you’ll re-invent yourself. 7 days of relentless rain will turn you into blubbering lunatics. But you’ll be amid a bunch of other lunatics the whole time.

Cigarettes will become currency. Strangers will become tramily.  Soon, you’ll be able to spot thru-hikers you’ve never met as they stand trying to decide between nutella and peanut butter in the grocery store. And you’ll both light up like light bulbs, knowing that your struggles are shared.

Unless you’ve been psychologically preparing yourself by wearing your trail runners in the shower or by carrying a child around for days at a time, you won’t be prepared for what you’re about to encounter. But that’s alright because you’ll adapt. And it is the challenge that transforms you.

You might witness a comrade fall 60ft down a waterfall. You’ll probably start giggling relentlessly as hypothermia sets in somewhere in the Smokies. You might get chased by a bear in the Shenendoa. You’ll definitely see two cuddling rattlesnakes somewhere in New York. But rattlesnakes are actually nicer than you’d think. Embrace the good, bad, and the ugly. Whatever happens, just keep walking.

I’m going to let you in on a secret. I stumbled upon this concept right before my own thru-hike, and it gave me just a little extra ammunition on the tough days: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ” ― Pema Chödrön If you can relate, you’re doing something right. Live it. Love it. Laugh. Crush it, ya’ll.

With all of my love,


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Comments 11

  • Claudia : Feb 10th

    Thank you so much for writing me this letter! I am a NOBO 2016 hiker, also writing for Appalachian Trials. What you said about the staring contest is so true… I am so excited yet freaking out at the same time. I love my job, my house, my current life but I know thru-hiking is something I have to do to feel complete. Thanks for the encouragement!!! Looking forward to starting the trail 3/22/16!

    • Mary Beth : Feb 10th

      You’re so welcome, Claudia!! I recall those sensations well 🙂 One thru-hiker to another, I get it. I’m so excited for everything you’re going to experience. Don’t ever hesitate to give me a shout if there’s anything I can do to help you out.

    • Bonnie : Mar 5th

      Good Luck to you Claudia. My son completed his thru hike SOBO in December 2015. It took 4 1/2 months. I was his support person. We are very close and I am grateful to have been a part of this experience.

  • Taylor Ciambra : Feb 11th

    Thanks Mouse! I agree with Claudia, the staring contest is so real and so difficult, I think because I didn’t expect it. “To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ” that is blowing my mind right now. It describes exactly how I am feeling about my life! Thank you for writing this!

  • Mark Wimberly : Feb 11th

    Great advice. One of the obstacles I’ve encountered is the constant comparison to other hikers’ preparations. Comparison will steal the joy of the hike. Let them hike their trail as I hike mine.

  • Mary Beth : Feb 12th

    You guys are welcome! Just keep doing what you’re doing. You’re going to run into tons of people with different strategies. Some are going to work and some aren’t but it’s not ultimately about the gear. Or even the preparation for the most part.It’s about your grit.

  • Shaboom : Feb 12th

    16 days and counting…

  • Joel Leonhardt : Feb 13th

    I am doing a 2016 SOBO in late June. All the articles on your page have been very helpful info for me. I am fundraising from Louisville, Ky. I have been a volunteer for The Forgotten Louisville for over a year now. I am the leader of the Wed night street outreach team. Where we go out the underpasses and alleys, and feed the homeless, love on the homeless, and give them supplies to keep warm in the winter months. I am raising money for our volunteer group that has been serving the homeless/less fortunate in Louisville for over 9 years now. I really appreciate the info that you put out. I can not wait to take on my life altering journey, and enjoy some breath-taking sights and wildlife. My facebook page is (Hike the Appalachians 4 the homeless), if anybody wants to check it out.

    • Mary Beth : Feb 13th

      Thanks Joel!

  • Rock Boat : Feb 14th

    Want to be a successful thru-hiker? This says it all:

    Whatever happens, just keep walking.

  • John : Oct 3rd

    Just dropped under 150 days to the start of my flip flop. 149! Live, from Bagan, Myanmar. I have a WHOLE FREEZER full of dried fruits, veggies and meats from this summer, back at home in Ga. Will turn 66 on the trail. Never done anything like a thru-hike before, but have done so many “I’ve never done anything like _____ before”, I have hope. Anyhow, sweating in SE Asia hauling a 9 week pack the thought of WVA in March cold sounds… almost nice.


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