Has anyone ever…? (Talking through the pre-hike jitters)

During the weeks and months preceding the start of hiking season, forums everywhere buzz to life, like the bees in spring. Wide eyed first timers descend upon the internet, sometimes more like locusts than bees, clicking out the same repetitive call: “Shoes or boots?” “Has anyone ever brought a guitar?” “Poles or no?” “Shoes or boots?”

I love reading these questions! It takes me back to my planning days, a time when everything felt like Christmas Eve, except for a whole year. Looking back on the questions I asked, I’m surprised by how many of the answers I’d give myself now such as, “it doesn’t matter,” or “of course,” or, “you’ll figure it out; just go!”

Of course, phrasing it exactly like that just sounds mean, even if it’s true. I wanted to find a way to just tell everyone, “Relax, you’ve got this,” but without being a jerk about it.

Giant's Thumb

Green Giant’s Thumb says “You can do it!”

Well, now it’s time again and the next swell is rising. People are even beginning to talk about 2019 and even 2020, so I think it might be time to say it again. Here’s my answer to every version of the question:

Has anyone ever…?

Yes. Yes they have.

Whatever your end of this question is, the answer is probably yes. A sixty-something woman with an army blanket and sneakers did it. A blind guy did it. Multiple double-amputees have done it. Diabetes, cancer, hemophilia, dementia, mania and depression have all finished the trail. You can too.

So bring your dog, bring your colored pencils, bring your significant other, or don’t. Wear shoes or boots. Or sandals. Or nothing. It’s all been done, which means you can do it.

Can I bring a musical instrument? Of course. What about a xylophone? I suppose. If you really try, sure. I’m pretty sure someone carried a tuba the whole way once. Go for it.

Keep the following in mind, and you’ll be fine: Your plan WILL CHANGE. That doesn’t mean it will fail, just that whatever you’re picturing the trail to be like is not what will actually happen. The good news is that you have literally hundreds of opportunities to change your plan along the way. Wrong footwear? Tough it out for 3-5 days and adjust. Wrong sleeping pad? Tough it out for 3-5 days and adjust. Regretting your decision to carry a pool table the whole way? Just around the bend is a post office, send it home.

As long as you wake up every day and can still walk, you’ll make it. All the rest is details, and as long as you’re okay with change and the unknown, you’ll make it. Unless you’re making an actual attempt at a world record, there are no rules to this. (Other than LNT and HYOH, of course!) Remember, this is YOUR hike. YOU get to define the terms of your own success. Some of the side trails are more beautiful than the AT. Take them, but only if you want to.

Just by deciding to even try this, you’re already ahead of 99.9% of the population. You will lose count of how many times day hikers and bartenders will tell you, “I wish I could do something like this…” They’ll trail off and you’ll lose count of how many times you resist telling them, “but you can! You really can!” You are living proof of this.

Be smart. Check for ticks, get lots of protein and take care of your feet. Listen to your body and you will be surprised by how quickly the miles pile up behind you. When you get to the thousand mile point, you’ll look back at how excited you were to make a hundred and smile so hard that the top half of your head might fall off. You’ll carry that level of joy and euphoria for the next thousand. Or, more accurately, it will carry you. You won’t even have to try anymore. You’ll tear it up.

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Comments 8

  • Bob Rogers : Jun 23rd

    Thx for the post. I’m aspiring to be one of those ’16 that you’re speaking of and I’m asking a lot of those questions both to myself and to thru-hikers present and former. I’m ok with change. I adapt and manage to get thru most things with little to no stress. I’m a spontaneous procrastinator (meaning I’ll sit around just talking about an idea, not really doing much, then all of a sudden jump in both feet first).

    While I’ve hiked before, I’ve certainly never done anything like a thru hike before. Hell, I haven’t done a full week before. I’m just starting the research for all of this; mail drop locations, what foods to pack, etc. I don’t even know if I have the money to do it yet but I’m often putting the cart in front of the horse. It’s good to keep those horses on their hooves tho.

    So, please forgive the freshmen as we start to post. No, I didn’t take ANY offense whatsoever from your write up. That said, … take a deep breath.

    You mentioned proteins and I get that but I thought a bigger part of it was fats? Fats don’t dehydrate well nor preserve well. I guess as your advice states I’ll figure it out. I just want to survive the first month or so (whatever the major drop out point is).

  • Nichole : Jun 24th

    Post gave me chills! THANKS!!

  • Pamela Smith : Jun 24th

    2017 prospect here!! And….im researching like crazy!! So if anyone else out there has mortons neuroma, please tell me what footwear you are using! 🙂

    • Gary Sizer : Jun 25th

      I developed MN during the 2nd half of the hike and I’m still treating it. I started buying my shoes 1/2 a size larger to accommodate the addition of insoles for arch support and metatarsal pads. This was at the recommendation of a podiatrist. If you haven’t already consulted a pro, you should; I’m just some guy on the internet.

  • Tyler Girardello : Nov 23rd

    Love the part about the bartenders and what not say “I wish I could do something like that” or as I know you’re well aware of being former military, people are always like “I wish I would have” or “I tried but….” You can do it, it is just about if you do.

  • Retired firefighter Tim Andrew : Feb 13th

    Wow, Gary, so well said, leaving March 5th, for Make A wish….if I make it, my book title will be: “I had my doubts” I have written 3 other fiction books… Tim Andrew Ossipee, NH

    • Gary Sizer : Feb 13th

      Thanks, Hoser! If you’re planning to be there a little early, that weekend is the Kickoff, a pretty special event. Less crazy then Trail Days by an order of magnitude. I’ll be there and would love to shake you hand and see you off!


  • Mike Carbonneau (Strummystick) : Feb 14th

    Yes! It’s late winter and the internet is indeed buzzing away! It is tempting for experienced hikers to make light of these posts, but they are the conduits of true hopes and dreams. They are often poorly phrased and easily twisted in order to make the writer look and feel crushed. Fragile ears are in the room! Save your arguments about fine tuning your feather-light pack until summertime. One thoughtless comment can give somebody another sleepless night!


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