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.
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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