I Wanted to Quit My Thru-Hike, So I Did.

For six months, I planned a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. I gave up my plan after a week.

“I just don’t care,” I complained over the phone to my partner. “I don’t give a shit about finishing the trail.”

I paced back and forth across the Riverside Inn parking lot in Fairplay, at mile 70, fending off mosquitos. Thinking. Thinking. Drinking a can of Yerba Mate tea.

I was only 7 days into my hike, but already something felt off, felt wrong. I didn’t want to be hiking. I’ve led enough multi-week trips to be familiar with the calibration period of going outside, that rollercoaster of anxiety, excitement, fear, and dread — and then as the novelty wears off, escapism. It wasn’t the mileage. It wasn’t because of the pain of hiking with a 35 lb. bag, or wiping my chaffed, bloody ass with toilet paper, or running out of snacks on day 3 and hitching to Bailey on a whim so I could feast on fried chicken at Smiley’s BBQ. It wasn’t even the flies.

Something about my goal of thru-hiking felt wrong.

I don’t know how to explain it. For now, all I can say is that in the 70 miles we’d hiked so far, each place felt more like a place to get through, a box to cross off, rather than a place to experience. But more on that later.

So, privately, I gave up the goal of finishing the CT. I gave it up in favor of the thing I had really come there to do: to explore these mountains, and my relationship with them, for a month.

My old plan: Hike the CT in 5 weeks, with two friends for 10 days, alone for 25, resupplying in Fairplay, Leadville, Twin Lakes, Lake City, Silverton.

My new plan: walk wherever I want for however long I want with whoever I want.

Why give up on “someone else’s dream?”

A hiker walking down a highway, looking nervous

Here’s me living “someone else’s dream,” as one Redditor put it – walking 2 miles on the berm of Highway 50, at dusk, after walking 20 miles that day. (The real dream was eating three Nutter-butters and a spicy chicken sandwich in the apocalyptic-themed Monarch Lodge, later that night.)

On day 8, I passed a bench outside of Breckenridge. I wanted to hang out, sun off, and read for a while. But I hesitated. I needed to get to camp by 6 so I could go to bed by 8:30 then get up early, around 6, so I could leave Frisco by 4pm tomorrow and camp with Laura at mile 109, yes, not 107, then hike 14 miles the next day, a lighter day, to get to Leadville by Friday, and then Twin Lakes by Monday.

I sat down. If I won’t even stop to read on a bench with a good view and enjoy the sun, then what am I here for?

What a great bench! Minutes later, two separate thru-hikers passed me and kindly asked, “Is everything okay?” because I’d stopped, which was super sweet – and was kind of like when your follower in Skyrim asks, “We’ve stopped. What is it?” even though you’re just hanging out for a second.

It hit me then — and not for the first time — that prioritizing the challenge of finishing “on time” might actually interfere with experiencing these places, presently, in what felt right for me.

What I mean is that the goal of getting There reduced the experience of being Here to just miles to do before I could finish. Like hurrying through foreplay to achieve an orgasm. Every detail of the day centered around finishing. The summit. The end. I’d never gone into nature for the challenge, to test myself, or to compete. Never hurried to get through with it. And I didn’t want to start now.

All I can say for sure is this: thru-hiking the CT in the time I had wasn’t how I wanted to interact with this place at this time in my life.

Hiking as a cash-slinging, destination-freeing LASH-er

“I figure I’ve got five more weeks off work, and I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy every single one of them.” –  egg woman

After leaving Fairplay, when other hikers would ask, “Are you going all the way to Durango?” I would say, “I’m walking in that direction, and I’ll see where I end up.”

I didn’t plan to get to the end. But I didn’t plan not to get there either. What did that make me? If you’d asked Salt, a triple crowner going NOBO with whom I shared a camp one night on Collegiate East, I was not even close to being a thru-hiker.

I told him, loosely, about my lack of plan. “That’s great,” he said. “That’s nice. Just don’t call yourself a thru-hiker.”

By the end, I became what is known in the thru-hiking community as a “LASH-er” (Long Ass Section Hiker).

People not steeped in the terminology of outdoor culture might ask: Who cares?

I did. And so did a few others, like Salt. For all his abrasive charm, I couldn’t help but feel like he embodied the fringe of thru-hiking purity, where there is definitely a right and wrong way to hike, and where HYOH is tossed up at the end of a statement like, “You need to limit anything that might slow you down, including side trips,” which another self-proclaimed thru-hiker told me after I shared my plan to hike Mt. Massive.

There seems to be an agreed-upon way to thru-hike that prioritizes getting to the end as quickly as possible and at almost any cost — at the cost of boiling a second cup of coffee in the morning, or carrying real, physical books.

I shouldn’t have been comparing myself to anyone else. But I couldn’t stop. It felt like I was doing something wrong, like I was cheating. I guess what I’m getting at is that I often felt lonely hiking as an aimless LASH-er.


I did meet one woman who was hiking in a similar way — and owned it. She had narrative tattoos scrawled all over her arms, and wore black, fingerless gloves. I saw her cooking an egg – yes, an egg – on top of a small mountain in Collegiate East, just south of Mt. Princeton.

If you could pan to the right of this photo, you’d see the lady scrambling the egg.

“I was on the CDT for a while,” she told me, scrambling her egg with a stick. “After New Mexico, I was like, what if I hiked the CT instead? Or the Collegiate Loop? Or just like, hiked around?

“I dunno. I figure I’ve got five more weeks off of work, and I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy every single one of them.”

Hiking so aimlessly has its advantages

The best thing about hiking as an aimless LASH-er is that it allowed me to follow my intuition (even at the cost of progress). This allowed me, around mile 145, to find something of a flow.

I decided to take a third zero in Leadville and explore the public library. That evening, I ate a cheese-less pizza from High Mountain Pies at the “hidden bench,” located on a hill outside of town. I hiked back into town in the dark. Drank three gin and tonics at a dive bar. Fell in love with the live music playing in the basically empty Golden Burro cafe.

“Jamie and The Dreamers” playing with a dude who just happened to be walking down the street with a trumpet. Whether it was the gin, or the fact that I hadn’t heard live music in months, or because it was like a private concert, I came away thinking I’d just heard the best music in the universe.

I hitched out of town the next day with Kelly, a woman from Denver. In three days, I hiked a whopping 3o miles, stopping to explore every footpath, every creek, that drew me in.

Meeting good people

When I arrived in Twin Lakes, I met a woman named Hamburger. She introduced me to her friends outside of the General Store, and I pounded several Coors Light tallboys. These other thru-hikers were fun, around my age, and genuinely good to be around.

I ended up sharing a room that night with three strangers, Laura, Karl, and Michael, in Winmar Cabins. They became some of my favorite people on the trail. At the Winmar living space, we watched Deal or No Deal with Cody, a local boating guide. The next morning, after we cooked an egg and bacon breakfast, and after he ripped two long dabs, he looked at us and asked, “Wanna ride to the trail?”

Skipping a few road miles in the bed of “Cody’s” truck, because why not?

I then decided to hike Collegiate East, not West, with these new trail friends – opting for desert company over the solo, alpine challenge I first planned for. That day, we swam in a creek. The next, I swam in Harvard Lake, all, all alone. I slept well. Woke early. The next day, I drank 4 IPAs in a hot Spring, then unknowingly paid $30 for a gold-flaked hamburger at Mt. Princeton. Moving. Moving. 23 miles to Butterfly Hostel. Hitch to Salida with a family of four. Hitch back with a woman from New Mexico catching a flight from London but who stopped “Cause you didn’t look like a killer.”

Amid the hunger, and the lonesomeness, I had several days of genuine, unhindered fun.

Deciding to Leave

Salida. Day 25 (?).

In Salida, I laid down on a couch in the public library for a couple hours. I decided that I was ready to leave the trail.

Why? I wasn’t injured. I wasn’t going (that) crazy. Wasn’t going (that) broke. Sure, I was hungry enough to regularly erupt into tears after lunch (I never learned how to buy food at rural grocery stores that was both light, healthy, and somewhat cheap, while requiring 3x the amount of food I usually need on expeditions). And yes, my pack, built more for backpacking, was heavy. Like, way, way too heavy, especially if you asked Hamburger, who, in Twin Lakes, heaved my freshly resupplied Osprey Atmos 65L pack onto her leg and cried out, “Oh my god, dude. What is in this thing!”

I decided to leave the trail because, well, I wanted to.

I wanted to take care of my body. I wanted another week to prepare before my 3rd semester of grad school started, and I wanted to see my girlfriend, who I’d been away from for most of the summer. I wanted these things more than I wanted to get to the San Juan Mountains — though I wanted to do that too.

The calculation to leave isn’t straightforward. I don’t have advice for anyone else thinking about leaving the trail, except to first answer these questions before doing your own internal calculus.


I left on a good day.

One last stint above treeline near the summit of Mt. Ouray, three days before leaving.

Day 27. Mile 300.

After two mellow days tromping up and down Sergeant’s Mesa, I arrived Lujan Creek Trailhead. I would camp there for the night. And leave tomorrow.

There was a sign at the junction. It read: “Trail Magic this way,” with an arrow pointing right. I stared at it, unsure what to do. I was so hungry. But I would leave the trail the next day. Should I still accept trail magic? Is that ethical?

“Yo, dude,” a voice (Pantry) called. “Come eat a hotdog.”

My body carried me over to his van and tent. Spoonless was there! I hadn’t seen him since Breckenridge. His friend, Pantry, who’d set all this up, prepared over a hundred hot dogs, two hundred rice crispies, forty-eight cokes, sixty-four oranges, and forty bags of chips. It was the first trail magic I’d seen so far.

“I’ll be in Gunnison tomorrow,” I croaked. “Other hikers need this more than me.”

I realized that I hadn’t said a word in two days to anybody, because I hadn’t seen anybody.

“Chill dude. I got a hundred dogs right here, and only ten people have shown up today. Eat as much as you want.”

I downed eight hot dogs in less than two hours.

I could only moan, “Thank you,” over and over, to Pantry, while I shoveled more jalapeno-cheddar Cheetos into my mouth. Behind my sunglasses, I was crying. I cried because I was so fucking grateful for these hot dogs, and so, so ashamed for eating them before I left. Pantry assured me there was enough. And there was. There were enough leftovers to feed a whole 5th grade soccer team. But I couldn’t see past my shame, couldn’t tell Pantry, Spoonless, and the other guys that I was leaving for good the next day.

The last mile marker I’d pass.

The next morning, Pantry dropped me off in Gunnison. And that was it.

I’ve been off trail for a month now. And I’d be full of shit if I said I didn’t question my decision to leave – especially when I see pictures from the San Juans posted by thru-hiker friends. But I’m glad that I did what I did, that I hiked the hike I wanted. Next time, I want to embrace it.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 24

  • JinHTown : Sep 9th

    Lol. 🤣 “… I was so $&)(@%#* grateful for these hotdogs”! I know that feeling!!!

  • Susan Wolcott : Sep 9th

    I think you’re maturing. Gaining true wisdom.
    Bragging rights are worthless for your soul. You’ve learned to feed your soul instead of your ego.
    Many people don’t gain your wisdom until much later in life.
    I’m a 73 year old woman who figured out that my ego is not my friend.

    • Liz Wojcicki : Sep 15th

      This was a well written piece but I just don’t know. I thru-hiked the CT in 2022 and I’m 62. Overall it was quite enjoyable and really…not that hard. Maybe you just weren’t mentally, in the right place.

  • Remmie Arnold : Sep 9th

    Sounds like a great hike to me. Remember the good times and you will have many more.

  • Amanda Greenpoetdog : Sep 9th

    As a woman about to turn 60 yrs old, I say to you, young’un:
    You have arrived at wisdom. Walk your own path, go your own pace. Eff someone else’s schedule. Live.

  • Al : Sep 10th

    Living and appreciating the NOW is never a bad thing! Enjoy and best of luck!!

    • Sam : Sep 13th

      Thanks Al!

  • Wanda Hale : Sep 10th

    I am so happy for you. I truly enjoyed reading this and your gumption to do what was best for you. We don’t have to answer to anyone except ourselves and God. It is good to enjoy ourselves. Plans change. Enjoy life. Happy for you.

  • Kathy Anderson : Sep 10th

    Sam, thanks for sharing. I decided to leave the trail as well (after 140 mm, missin home and not feeling well) and beat myself up a bit about doing so. So you sound much wiser than me, at 67. Plan to go back next year to finish another 120+ miles. I’ve now accepted that I miss home way too much to be gone more than 2-4 weeks at a time and that’s ok. I need to concentrate on enjoying the trail no matter how far I go.

    • Sam : Sep 13th

      Kathy – I understand the feeling. Thanks for sharing your experience too. Let’s enjoy our hikes!

  • Pastelholic : Sep 10th

    You are my new hero. Thank you for writing so honestly about your experience. I admire the commitment and courage to take on a big project as you did, and then pivot to a different decision when you needed to do it.
    It was nice to read about how your decision allowed you to enjoy it, as long as it made sense. Right on!

  • Holly Giesen : Sep 10th

    I 😘 VED reading this this morning. Thank you for sharing it. All the best in graduate school. So glad you decided to enjoy moments, beauty, people, breathing, and hot dogs, instead of a senseless brag.

  • Katie Walsh : Sep 10th

    Thank you so much for your vulnerable share. I’m a thru myself. And there is so much internal as well as external pressure to finish the hike. But wisdom and being humble, tells me Hike your own hike.. and you did and you should be proud

  • nephi : Sep 11th

    Glad to read your entry. I follow PCTers and by the end of their journey I just wonder how they keep up with the pace. The monotony. I’ll still follow their blogs in the future but I know it’s not for me. I like your style.

  • Drew Boswell : Sep 12th

    Now THAT is a hike! Well done.

  • Earl Anema : Sep 14th

    Beautifully put Sam.

  • Doubletalk & Scat : Sep 15th

    Something in this article really resonated with me. My wife and I have been referred to by the thru hikers as “weekend warriors”. We do short section hikes and have hundreds of miles of the AT under our belts. We will likely never finish the whole AT, nor do we want to. We dont have the lightest gear. We take stools with us, lashed to our huge, discount packs that we bought on sale, to the absolute horror of the thru hikers. We mainly hike in the off season, with the other “weekend warriors” as our work and family life allow. We will never achieve the “purity” mentioned above – but we have wonderful, rich, and hilarious stories that could fill a book, countless nights in the woods and under the stars, and a collection of wonderful people we’ve met on our trips. We relish our time on the trail, wrapped in the solace of nature, and we don’t give a rat’s patoot about what people think of us. It’s our trail as much as it is anyone else’s. It’s your hike, Sam. At the end of the day, all that really matters was that it was worth it.

  • Will Fleming : Sep 15th

    Great post and as a Lasher, (who has done many hundred mile + sections on the PCT and sever 20+ mile days, and plans to hike many of the worlds long trail after I retire) I want to say Hurray for you to for having the constitution to decide what you want and do it. It can be so easy to go with the pack, or feel like you are not cool because you don’t have the latest hyperlite pack, but it isnt anyone elses hike, Its Yours. I don’t like day hiking, love section hiking, but have absolutely no desire to end to end any of the major long trails.

    In six years, when I retire, I will sell my all my shit, sell my house, and travel the world, spending at least half of the year hiking on long trails, but I don’t want to have to rush, or put in 30 mile days to get to someplace by a certain date, or freak out about skipping a 5 mile stretch because I took an alternate. And I may never hike a single trail terminus to terminus, and that is OK. Don’t get sucked into the “Hype”rlite and hike your own hike.

    *** NOTE***. I do want to say that I have met many through hikers from many countries during my miles on the PCT. I always openly introduced myself as a Lasher or Section hiker and while a small few of them have been less than friendly, most of them have been super Fu&^ing cool, and some of them I am still friends with years later.

  • Ryan Lawrence : Sep 15th

    A few years ago, after months of planning a 160 mile backpacking trip through the Sierra Nevada, my wife and I decided to quit on day 7 of 16 on a trip. Everything you could imagine went wrong. We faced washed out trails with scary drops to navigate, extreme heat, terrifying thunderstorms, backpacks ripped from edging down a cliff (and put together with backpacking), feet developing trench foot, my wife caught a cough that would worsen each night, and a day of dehydration after a section took us longer than expected in the exposed sun. Not to mention we were falling behind schedule due to all of this.

    We got to a point where we could hike 16 miles downhill across a cut-through path back to our car, or continue 27 more miles over two more passes to our resupply in town, which we could then decide the best next steps. We debated and talked pros and cons for about an hour, before deciding to leave the trail, which would still take another day since it was getting dark. Immediately we felt relief without the pressure and despite it being hard, it was the right decision. The kicker on the trip was about 3 miles before the car, a storm rolled in and there was flash flooding. We drove out of the parking lot as debris began to spill down the mountain and block roads.

    Two years later, we finished the trip, entering the 16 miles we left backwards, and then completing the loop. This second trip was 106 miles over 12 days (we built in a very short rest day) and it was the most incredible trip I’ve ever experienced.

    Sometimes the stars don’t align and if things feel off, or actually are, best to bail. It was a humbling experience and made me remember that not all adventures go as planned, but that’s okay, too.

    Follow my IG for photos: @ryanjl10

    Cheers ya’ll!

  • Mix Tape : Sep 15th

    You are my new hiking hero, truly embodying the HYOH sentiment! It’s hard not to get swept up in that thru-hiking mentality of churning out miles and getting to the end. When I feel myself getting caught in that particular undertow (and the comparison and competition that go along with it), I remind myself of something Kolby “Condor” Kirk said in a book about sketching: “I don’t hike to GET somewhere. I hike to BE somewhere.”

  • Pale Rider : Sep 16th

    I really enjoyed your article. I met Salt at a trailhead in the early miles of my AT NOBO thru-hike this year. Not only a triple-crowner, but he’s hiked those trails multiple times. Hard core dude. Stephan Crane’s poem “In the Desert” reminds me not only of him but of all the soul-searching LASHERS and thru-hikers out there and why we do or don’t do what we do or don’t do.

  • Pharmacist : Sep 17th

    Thanks for sharing your story Sam. I too got off the trail at mile 300.6 (followed by a 4-hour wait to hitch into town, boo) but arrived there in the opposite way, stopping to enjoy just about… nothing. I only had 14 days to be on trail, and set out with the goal of finishing at (almost) all costs. I stopped on day 10 due to injury, go figure. The quote, “If I won’t even stop to read on a bench with a good view and enjoy the sun, then what am I here for?” really hit me. I love reading, especially outdoors, and doing the trail at such a breakneck pace stripped me of the ability to do so. I don’t regret my pace but I’m planning to follow your lead and finish the remaining 180 miles at a pace I enjoy. I hope you find the time to do so as well. Happy hiking.

    • Sam : Sep 20th

      Pharmacist – I got very lucky with the hitch out of Gunnison. Tough spot! Anyways, it’s truly insane, and amazing, that you arrived to mi. 300 in 10 days. My legs are shaking just thinking of it. Thanks for sharing your story. It feels incredibly validating to feel understood, and to know other folks want to read books outside. Enjoy those last 180 miles! Happy hiking.

  • Ken T : Sep 17th

    In 2018 I bicycled coast to coast. At some point, several weeks in, I found myself starting each day thinking only of getting to camp, getting set up, getting a burger & a beer, etc. My thoughts were, for the entire day, focused on what was to come when I finished my riding for the day. And I found my enjoyment of the trip diminishing. One day I realized that, in that mental space, I was missing the fact that, every day, I was getting to do a 50 – 60 mile bike ride through some of the most glorious settings in the country. Basically realizing (though you’ve heard it a million times) that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, instantly changed everything.


What Do You Think?