The Emotional Roller Coaster of Hiking the Appalachian Trail
I knew hiking the Appalachian Trail would be hard. I also knew I would probably cry once in a while. What I didn’t expect was how often I would find myself in tears, and that many other people felt the exact same way.
In Appalachian Trials, Zach warns aspiring thru-hikers of the struggle they should expect when the trail stops being fun. While I knew this would happen, I had no idea how my body would react to it. My body chose to cry. All the time.
It all started north of Harpers Ferry. I had just stopped at home in northern Virginia for a short break and was back on the trail. I soon found myself in tears sitting on a log on the side of the trail, questioning my decision to keep hiking and missing my family. This feeling continued until central Pennsylvania, knowing that every time I crossed a road (and there are a lot in that section), my friends or family could pick me up in an hour or two.
Beautiful southern Pennsylvania helped to get my head back in the game, but as soon as I started to feel better the notorious Pennsylvania rocks came. This was the first time I felt just plain exhausted. I found myself unable to cope with the tough terrain, and would cry simply because I didn’t feel like hiking on the rocks anymore. I found myself not being able to control my emotions, often not even knowing why I was crying.
I was confused and frustrated with myself for being such a baby, but it wasn’t something I could control. Before the hike, I rarely cried about anything. Maybe a sad movie, but almost never about real-life problems.
Talk It Out
I mentioned my struggles to a fellow hiker, who told me she had cried in the afternoon every day since she started the trail. That’s when I realized something: I was not alone. I was not the only person experiencing such crazy emotions. I also found sleeping at shelters or around other people at the end of the day was helpful. I don’t like to complain, but sometimes you just have to bitch about the hard stuff, and odds are that most people are feeling the same way.
I still struggled after this realization, but understanding everyone was just as tired and frustrated as I was—and that exhaustion wasn’t letting me see the situation clearly—kept me from giving up. The number one piece of advice I would give to an aspiring thru-hiker is to prepare for an emotional roller coaster, and talk to other hikers when things get tough. Knowing other people have similar struggles, even if it isn’t crying every day, can keep you going.
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I'm a 2014 thru hiker trying to figure out how to navigate the real world from a fresh pair of eyes. I only planned on hiking from Springer Mountain to Harpers Ferry, but was still having a blast and decided to keep hiking. I learned what it meant to be a thru hiker on the fly and it was the best choice I ever made. I live very close to Harpers Ferry and am lucky to have the trail right in my backyard.