How to Deal With Those Who Don’t Support Your Thru-Hike
You have decided to hike a long trail, spend months in the woods, mile after mile, living your dream. You made a commitment to yourself to start and set a date as you begin to prepare. Now you are ready to tell people of your dream that is closely becoming a goal. But don’t think it will be all smiles and support from those you share your idea with. In fact in some cases, as I did, you may encounter outright damnation.
It is important to understand that people may react differently to your news and therefore being prepared for the various responses may help you cope with their reactions. These reactions can come from friends and family and knowing how to deal with each type may help you cope with the planning and subsequent hike. I divided the types of personalities I encountered into four categories and had coping strategies for each.
The four types of personalities I term:
- Passive Negative
- Aggressive Negative
- Passive Positive
These are purely terms I use to allow me to sort out who I want to engage in my plan and who also may be of support at times during the hike.
This is someone who really just doesn’t care, or appears not to care. When you announce to them that you intend to hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety over a six-month period, their response is “nice, have you tried that new sandwich shop in the mall?” Or they continue texting on their phone with an “ummm good” but never look up. There is no real acknowledgement of your goal and immediately the subject is changed to never be discussed again.
I had one person in particular react this way and later found out (post-hike) the reason was that he always wanted to hike the trail but never could; he was jealous! So, instead of engaging in a discussion about the adventure he changed the subject and never wanted to speak about it.
A person may be passive negative for another reason of course, they genuinely may have absolutely no interest in your life or plans and just don’t want any conversations outside of their own world. Although passive negative is rather disheartening, after all you just shared the plans for the most amazing adventure of your life, they are easy to cope with, as you just never talk to them about the hike again.
I did encounter one person who reacted aggressively to my announcement. Shouting, cussing, telling me I am mad and what a “waste of time” such a hike was. He totally exploded at my plan and was very angry. This was a work colleague who felt work was more important than some foolhardy adventure that will achieve nothing.
Although it’s hard to cope with someone that’s both angry and belittling your great plan, it’s best just to ignore him or her. Clearly they have sufficient issues already; in fact they are probably prime candidates for hiking the trail themselves. Once the explosion is over then they are easy to cope with, just stay way. I found that snide comments would be thrown around prior to leaving for the trail but the person would not activity have any involvement and just forgetting them was the best coping strategy.
While on the trail I never heard from the individual nor post trail.
These were the people I told and they gave a “supportive” response but I could tell they really didn’t mean it. The ones that said “need anything then call” but you know if you try you will be sent to voicemail. They are not against your hike nor negative but just not actively supportive. I encountered quite a few more of these people than any other type of personality. I felt that they viewed my plan as a folly and it would never start or if it did it would be short lived. They would smile and engage in small talk about the hike but had no real supportive role. They were the hardest to deal with because the offer of support would be important during the trail and trying to reach out to them would result in wasted energy. In many cases promises of support, care packages and “I’ll follow your blog” were just empty statements and I was forgotten the moment I set a foot onto the trail.
As long as you can see the person as passive positive then you can know that it’s pointless trying to reach out to them for assistance when needed. One thing I did find was post-hike they were very quick to give reasons why they couldn’t answer your calls, text, emails or the care packages didn’t get mailed.
Finally, the positive people: the sincere people that offer support and you know if you reach out to them you will get it, or at least they will do their best to help. The people that wanted to hear more, who were genuinely interested and excited for you. These types of people are small in number but huge in value. They will send random messages while hiking to give you support, wishing you well, commenting on your social media posts and pages, mailing care packages etc. They are just there for you in many varied ways but as a group form a strong support package.
Within this group try to select a couple of them who could be your “venting” go-to. That is a person you can contact and just moan how wet it is, how hard the mountains are, how your feet hurt and you smell; and there response is to listen to your vent and then offer support. You will get support from other hikers on the trail but it’s nice to have someone that doesn’t “confirm” what a bitch climbing Albert Mountain in the rain was, rather someone that has no clue but let’s you moan about it and get it off your chest.
Telling those people prior to starting the trail that no matter how fed up and close to quitting you say you are, they must never agree and instead tell you to “push on”. That’s why I feel the venting person may not be a role for a significant partner; they may want you home so agreeing to you quitting the trail will support their needs. Use your significant partner to discuss trail life in general terms, to learn about life in the real world, it maybe that they need to vent at you so be prepared for that.
Then there are the positive support team, the people, that sent cookies, favorite foods, letters, emails, text, even drove to meet you on the trail. The ones that genuinely wanted to be part of the journey even from the outside. The ones you called from a payphone at 10pm and asked them to mail you spare socks priority mail first thing in the morning and they happily obliged. I needed a variety of help such as locating podiatrists my insurance covered and getting boots replaced by manufacturers. Having someone that can get online and get the information then arrange things is a lot easier than trying to look on your smart phone with one bar of signal in the rain.
This is your adventure, your dream, your challenge; other people may be a part of the hike or have no involvement what’s so ever. As long as you have a small group of people you can rely on for support, then you will have a strong team to hike with. I appreciate every one of my positive supporters, from the ones that text supportive messages randomly to the ones that drove miles to meet me on the trail. I hope you can get the same level of support from your friends and family.
The feature photo is of Chris “HBAS Blues” and myself after summiting Katahdin. HBAS was a great source of support; he mailed us care packages, drove to meet us on the trail, offered advice by phone as I needed it and even hiked up Katahdin so he could film us on my GoPro. In the photo HBAS is presenting me a check as he donated a considerable sum to our chosen charity. He was one of several people that offered this level of support and we are extremely grateful they did.
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I think it’s wonderful and I am jealous….. I didn’t start hiking (didn’t even know people did that) until I was in my 50’s, have done small portions of the PCT only and other week long backpacking trips with a couple of friends. Now being 80, I’m hoping to do a couple small trips this coming summer but can see the end in sight….anway, congratulations and have a wonderful time for all of us who can’t do it but love to live vicariously through you.