How to Prepare for a Thru-Hike from the Comfort of Your Own Home!
Thru-hiking can be really awesome, but it’s not for everyone. How do you know if you’re fully prepared to hit the trail for 4-6 months of rugged terrain, hiking the ~2189 miles between Georgia and Maine (or for that matter, section hike longer than a weekend)?
You need to do a mini thru-hike experience first, of course, and duplicate as many of the exciting thru-hiker experiences as possible!
Just follow this easy, 21-step guide for a mini-thru-hike experience, from the (dis)comfort of your very own home!
1. First things first! Fill a pack with 30 pounds of rocks and a minimum of 5 pounds of water. Carry this with you at all times.
2. You must carry all the water you’re going to drink each the day or filter it from the toilet of your local McDonald’s (Or don’t filter it! Don’t let anyone tell you how to live! Hike your own hike!)
3. Wear the same pair of shoes at all times, no matter how dirty or disintegrated. Yes, your feet will start to smell awful. No, you’re not allowed to shower.
4. Walk up and down the stairs of a nearby tall building for 8-10 hours a day, 7 days a week, wearing only wool or synthetics. If you find this clothing itchy, feel free to scratch in public; hikers are allowed to do this.
5. After the climbing, when you’re sweaty and tired, go outside and roll in the dirt. Let it stick to your skin and clothes. You’re still not allowed to shower. Embrace the odd stares and quiet muttering of bystanders.
6. Go to the zoo and mock the animals (especially deer, bears, moose, and fowl). It’s the last chance you’ll have to feel superior.
7. Every night, stand outside at dusk, covered in honey. Embrace the bugs that descend upon your human flesh-feast as part of your daily routine (and be thankful they’re smaller than the bugs you’ll find in Maine). You’re STILL not allowed to shower, though you’re welcome to try and wash up in the mud puddle around back.
8. Go to the laundromat and jump into a pile of freshly laundered cotton. Revel in the touch of soft cotton on your skin and the delicate smell of clean clothes. Run away quickly, rocks clinking and water sloshing in your pack, when people start screaming at you for ruining their clothes with dirt, body odor, and honey.
9. You’re not allowed to go to the grocery store. While you’ll have this opportunity in many places during your hike, no need to set your expectations that high right from the get-go. Begin shopping only at your local gas station. Anything they don’t have, you don’t need. Buy only pasta/rice sides and eat those for dinner for a week; do the same with peanut butter, protein bars, and trail mix. Accept you’ll never look at those foods the same way again.
10. Relatedly, realize pooping is a privilege. Feel free to fart loudly in public as needed; you’re a hiker now and as such, are not restricted by paltry social norms.
11. You’re finally allowed to shower. Go to the nearest truck stop, rent a towel, and take a shower. Don’t mind that itchy feeling; it’s only the foot fungus you just acquired. Don’t forget to wash your socks and underwear while you shower. Sure, some places on the trail have laundry facilities but often, you’ll go 4-5 days without washing your clothes. Take advantage of soap and water while you have it!
12. When not wearing your muddy, filthy shoes, wear only Crocs or flip flops, preferably of some gaudy color.
13. Practice for answering to a trail name by responding to names that aren’t yours at the local park. Realize this is a bad idea and leave before someone calls the cops about a dirty, stinky person with a backpack harassing local denizens.
14. Go to the nearest AYCE (all you can eat) buffet. Haughty ignore the stares and muttering of the general public. Be proud of how they seat you away from all other paying customers. Dig in! Compete with yourself to eat ALL THE PLATES! , preferably stopping before throwing up. Waddle out of the restaurant before being kicked out. Feel the burn of regret deep in your gut… or is that the heartburn?
15. Begin introducing yourself by a practice trail name, like Meat Stick. If you’re of a religious persuasion, consider something catchy like Son Driven.
16. Practice digging cat holes in your neighbors yard late at night by red headlamp. Tell no one. When your neighbor talks to you about the groundhog problem, nod serenely and offer suggestions.
17. Alternate your lodging’s climate control between too cold to do daily activities without gloves and too hot to sleep. Or better still, forgo all forms of climate control and just open your windows for the year prior to your hike; let your body sweat, shiver, and generally learn how to suffer while desperately trying to regulate its own temperature. Try to be excited about how much you’re going to sweat during the summer. If where you live isn’t humid enough to make breathing challenging, consider installing a humidifier in your living space. Once the water is dripping off the ceiling and each full breath is an effort, you’ll get a better appreciation for the most likely weather on many parts of the trail, particularly the more southerly portions. It might be enough to make you consider hiking SOBO or flip-flop. It’s always a good time to change your plans.
18. Begin making food choices entirely by their caloric value. Fat and salt are important too. Remember – those food labels and the “proper percentages” are for the townies and don’t apply to people burning 5,000 calories a day and sweating enough each day to drown small animals. Honeybuns, Oreos, and candy are all valid meal choices.
19. If you should experience dehydration from your excessive sweating and perhaps not stopping at enough McDonald’s for water, rebalance your electrolytes like a true thru hiker: ramen.
20. If your knees have begun to ache, try to smile and know it will only get worse. Briefly contemplate how light you can make your pack, whether you truly need any form of shelter or sleeping gear. Consider trying to find some form of knee brace that doesn’t chafe your skin raw and actually reduces your pain; eventually give up as you realize the only thing that will work is to stop hiking. And that is not an option!
21. In all social exchanges, bring conversation back to the condition of the sidewalk, squirrels you’ve seen, the weather for the next few days, what you’re eating the next time you go to the gas station, and backpacking gear. See how long it takes for all your friends to stop engaging in conversation with you.
If, at the end of this 21-step, multi-week experiment, you’re still interested in thru-hiking, then congratulations! You have the makings of excellent hiker trash!
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