I Quit Four Days into My Thru-Hike

I hate the word quit, because it didn’t feel like I quit anything. It feels like I simply shifted course. That I got what I needed to get out of my thru-hike attempt of the Long Trail in less than four days on trail. I know there will be haters, that people will pass judgment on me for dropping out of the race so early on, but I don’t care. It’s my time not theirs, it’s my life not theirs, and I won’t let their opinions stop me from living my life how I want to.

I didn’t follow all of the “rules” of quitting on a thru-hike because I did quit on an uphill. But, it had been a good day prior to deciding to get off-trail. So what lead to my decision to quit on only the fourth day of my thru-hike? Well, there were many reasons but the main one was that I realized as I was ascending the trail out of Devil’s Gulch that everything I was really excited to do this summer happened after I finished my thru-hike. I realized my hike had become something standing in the way of what I really wanted to do.

Day One

I finished work on Monday and started my thru-hike Friday, excited to simply get into the woods. It wasn’t necessarily that I was excited about doing a thru-hike, I was just excited to be out alone in the woods. In fact, the entire first day on trail was perfect. I didn’t see a single person, I stayed in my tent, and even got to fall into a mud pit trying to get my water.

The Northern Terminus. (And I even got to witness a border patrol helicopter fly over!)

This is nothing compared to the mud I encountered on day two.

Day Two

The following day was, in a word, miserable. I’m talking I actually cried on-trail. There were relentless ups and downs over six named peaks and never-ending mud pits. What would normally take me eight hours to complete ended up taking me ten. I stumbled into camp after a nonstop, ten-hour day, completing only 14.5 miles of trail. It felt defeating. It made me realize that either the mileage on the map was off or I was slower than normal on this trail. I’m still convinced the map is off.  There were a few people at camp and we talked a bit about how tough the past few miles had been. Then, I went to bed.

Views from Jay Peak.

The camp I stayed at on night two.

Day Three

It was inevitable and I made the decision that no matter what my original plan was I had to slow down or I wouldn’t finish the trail. Day three, I resolved to do just that. I took my time. I only did 8.5 miles and I rolled into camp at 12:30 to end my day. It was awesome. I wrote in my trail journal, I sat and just absorbed my surroundings, I spent hours in the quiet with nothing but the sound of the breeze through the trees. It felt like I wanted the trail to feel the whole time. But I knew that at this pace, I wouldn’t be able to complete the trail in even close to 21 days. Regardless, I went to bed that night fully intending on pushing on the next day.

The camp my final night on trail was awesome.

Devil’s Gulch, which is apparently the “trail.”

Day Four

I woke up early, 5 a.m. early, and got up to start the day. There were other people in the shelter so I went out to the picnic bench to get ready. The weather felt warmer than the day before and the breeze was gone, but it was sunny and a perfect day for hiking. But I just felt off. I ate my Pop-Tart and sighed as I threw on my pack to start my day. I knew there would be an uphill right out of camp but it was a steep uphill. A sucky uphill. And the whole time, I just kept thinking about my ultimate goal was to get to town. My mind had shifted from day one so entirely in the opposite direction from wanting to be alone in the wilderness to wanting to get back to people.

Back through Devil’s Gulch the next morning.

The Moment I Quit

It was in that moment when I realized that this was not what I wanted my thru-hike to be like. In fact, I realized I don’t even want to be a thru-hiker at all if this is what it’s like. What I love most about spending time in nature is that I want to be out there. I’m not forcing myself to stay out there because I feel obligated to be in the woods, as though it’s my job. I go out there, spend as long as I want in the woods, and then come home. In fact, on many occasions as I’m heading back home I wish I could’ve spent more time in the woods. On day four of my hike, this was not the case. My entire mind-set had shifted and I didn’t like it.

Going to the woods has never been a job for me before. I’ve never felt obligated to continue on a hike when I wanted to turn around, and I’ve turned around on probably a dozen hikes because it just didn’t feel right to continue. So it just felt right, natural, and completely OK to me to turn around on day four when I realized I had got what I needed to get out of this hike. Originally I didn’t set out to do this hike because I felt like I needed to prove myself to anyone; I set out to spend as much time as I needed in nature and to be completely immersed in the wilderness. I set off on this hike to break from all of the noise and get away from everything for as long as I needed to. When I originally planned the hike, it felt like I needed a month away to clear my mind. I guess I only needed a few days.

What Makes Quitting Hard

I believe the hardest part for many thru-hikers about quitting is feeling like you’ve let everyone around you down by not making it to the finish line. You spend months or even years planning for this thing and then to not make it to the end, especially if it’s not because of an injury/illness, seems like a failure.

I don’t feel like I have quit or failed because I didn’t make it to the end. In fact, I believe that if I had kept going I would’ve been more unhappy and less proud of myself than I feel having called it quits. To say that I did a full thru-hike would have been for everyone else but me. It’s hard not to get wrapped in the idea of needing to finish, though, even when you’re miserable.

The Green Mountains are green.

Looking Back on Pre-Trail Decisions

When I set out to do this hike, in the first post I composed announcing my thru-hike intentions, I never compiled a “why I’m hiking” list. Instead, I simply stated the following:

“I’d go because that’s where I belong, that’s where I need to be. That’s where I feel most at peace now, where I go when I need to reset and reflect, when I need to get away from everything and everybody. To grow spiritually and emotionally, to dig deeper into my psyche, to get closer than I’ve ever been with nature and learn what it has to teach me.”

In the subsequent posts going over gear and reflecting on pre-trail injuries I realize that my reason for hiking shifted. It was no longer about getting out there and being in nature, it had become about proving myself, yet again, to everyone else that I can thru-hike too. I realize now that I got so wrapped up in the idea of being a thru-hiker I lost sight of the fact that even as a weekend warrior I do some pretty epic stuff. That being a thru-hiker isn’t the only option and there are many, many people I look up to that are not thru-hikers but do some incredible things in the mountains every weekend (or weekday after work).

The last night on trail, and just complete silence and beauty.

Where I Go From Here

As I made my descent, when I made my decision to quit my thru-hike, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. It felt like a million opportunities opened up to me with that one text message saying I was done. It felt awesome to just walk for the sake of walking again. To be able to take the trail that didn’t have white blazes on it back to Route 118 for my ride home. I wasn’t being funneled down a path that I didn’t feel fit me, I wasn’t conforming to what was expected, instead I was blazing my own path.

So what’s next now that I have three more weeks of free time in my summer? Everything and anything. There are so many options open to me now that I’m not hiking the Long Trail that I almost don’t even know where to start. I think I may head south and check out the Southern Terminus of the Long Trail, just to see what it’s like, among other things. What I do know is that I’m completely and utterly happy with my decision to get off-trail. It was probably the best decision I’ve made in all the years I’ve spent hiking. So here’s to all the other quitters out there, all the other people who made the tough decision to stop following the blazes because that wasn’t your path. What I am finally starting to learn is the path is made in the walking, not in the following.

 

 

 

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Comments 42

  • Smokebeard : Jun 25th

    To quote Ben & Jerry, “If it’s not fun, why do it?”
    Good for you for listening to yourself.

    Reply
    • Blake : Jun 26th

      I hate the fact that there’s this big social presence on YouTube and social media of making thru hikers some kind of all star. It’s a bunch of money hungry folks who have figured out how to make a dollar on mother nature. They take all this expensive equipment into their hikes and never actually stop and look around them to enjoy the view. They’re phonies. Hike your own hike. People forget that simple truth. It doesn’t matter if you hike 1 mile or 2600 miles. What matters is that you get what you need out of it. It’s none of my business, or any other Persons Business whether or not someone finishes or does not finish a trail. Just do you.

      Reply
      • Janine Walton : Jun 26th

        Agree 100

        Reply
      • Garrett : Jun 26th

        The irony of your post is that it’s on the Trek. An organization that profits off of exploiting other peoples social media content, pretense, and efforts. All while controlling a posting schedule and content release schedule if you want to be featured.

        Reply
      • SeanKoby : Jun 27th

        Right on…..👍😎

        Reply
      • Socked In : Jun 28th

        Blake, I am terrible when it comes to YouTube. I actually don’t even go on there because I would rather read someone’s information on gear than watch a video of it. And I do agree about it is all about the hike, regardless of miles 🙂

        Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      Thank you 🙂 And I love Ben & Jerry ice cream 🙂

      Reply
  • Mike : Jun 26th

    Setting expectations, in my opinion, damages the true and natural experience of what will happen. Your expectations were not genuine. They were based on ego and had to do with the power you have given to others. That power you gave away is that others have given the ability to make you feel good or bad about yourself. Trying to prove to others what you can or can’t do is a waste of your life.

    Easy, fun, hard, long, tiring,….those words are irrelevant to the experiences in our lives. The trail is neither easy nor hard. The trail is the trail. It is us, and our attitudes, determination, and hopefully our lack of expectations, that allow a time such as this to unfold in its own way, its own manner, and at its own pace.

    Reply
    • Herman Wells : Jun 28th

      This is a very enlightened comment. Many will not understand how well and concise this comment describes not only the hiking experience, but our own experiences in life. Yes, the trail is the trail. It will always be the trail. You decide in your mind what your experience on the trail means. And by all means, if you are not having a good experience on the trail, move on to something else.

      Reply
      • Socked In : Jun 28th

        Herman, I agree and thank you for your kind words 🙂

        Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      I love that you say, “the trail is neither easy nor hard. The trail is the trail.” What a beautiful statement. 🙂

      Reply
      • Frances : Jun 29th

        Being a realist, at 80, I know that physically (when I section hiked) that the trail can be easy. But don’t be misled—the trail can also be physically difficult. It’s your mental approach to “your hike” that determines how enjoyable or miserable your days on the trail will be. Weather and time constraints also play a part in this. You have to hike your own hike, setting your own pace, and disregard the competitive questions like “how many miles did you hike today?”

        Reply
  • Scot.N : Jun 26th

    I’ve been dreaming about going out on the AT for years. I’m 68 now and finally got to it.
    Well that first day was tough. My pack was too heavy. Mosquitos were deadly, I ran out of water. Got lost. Tripped and smashed my face into a rock. Couldn’t find the shelter. Lost my food).
    As I said all on my first day.

    Your post really made me think about why am I doing this? I’m off the trail now but will be going back out soon with another (better) plan. And most importantly (with the assist from your thoughts) another and better mindset.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Yappy : Jun 26th

      Thru hiking is work ! I have done a lot of trails and they gave never been a stroll thru the woods whistling Bob Dillon . I know one thing I’m so so glad I never got off …always worth it and actually I got off twice on the AT at the 1600 mile mark once for my mom and the other money . It broke my heart . Embrace the struggle there is beauty in it.

      Reply
      • Socked In : Jun 28th

        Yappy, I agree it is most definitely not a “walk in the woods” to hike, period. I actually am not a big Bob Dillon fan. I’ve continued on many hikes when I wanted to quit and am so glad I did in the end. However, for this particular hike it felt wrong to keep going if my whole goal was to keep going just to get back to civilization.

        Reply
    • DD : Jun 26th

      I have a different opinion that I know is biased by my background in SOF, but I have a feeling if I could view your life history, their would be a trend of quitting things when they get hard. With that said, if you are good with you, then own it. But you wrote this article for someone, and I would argue it was written to validate the part of you that bails when things get rocky. Just remember this, happiness and growth are rarely found in things that are easy and comfortable. Good luck in the next adventure you take on.

      Reply
      • Socked In : Jun 28th

        DD, I suppose we are all entitled to our own opinions and if you could view my life history I can greatly assure you I don’t quit when things get hard, but thanks for your well wishes.

        Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      You’re welcome and I fell in a mud pit trying to filter water the first night so I feel you about stumbling LOL.

      Reply
  • Diane Marinkov : Jun 26th

    I loved your story and your reasons for leaving the trail. In life many people don’t follow what makes them happy and regret it years later. I am so happy that you listened to your heart and made a great decision. You are a gifted writer and should think about writing a book. Love, Aunt Diane

    Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      Thanks Aunt Diane! Writing a book is SO HARD!

      Reply
  • Vince P : Jun 26th

    Started at Katahdin in ’16. Thru hike turned into a section hike. Last year stopped in Wind Gap, PA. Will pick it up when I get the chance. The journey itself is much more important than the start or finish. Enjoy every bite of the sandwich chick! Go back when and if you feel like. You’ll know when the time is right. Good luck in your future journey’s.
    Vince aka The Dude, SOBO, ’16-’19

    Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      The Dude, I love your trail name first of all, is it from The Big Lebowski? Second, thank you for your encouraging words 🙂

      Reply
  • Andiamo : Jun 26th

    No pressure, enjoy whatever you do. The woods are beautiful.

    Almost everyone is in a rush, for no reason.

    Section hiking is a great way to get away when u get ‘the calling’.

    Thanks for being honest.

    Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      You’re welcome and I agree it’s tough to not feel like even on the trail it’s somewhat of a rat race sometimes.

      Reply
  • Dr. David Galloway : Jun 26th

    I appreciate your struggle and honesty in writing it down. I just wrote a blog post about deciding on my site South of God http://www.southofgod.com , You might find the article helpful.
    I live near the southern terminus, in Ellijay. The Amicalola State lodge is a wonderful place where northbound hikers begin. It is gorgeous and would be a great place to relax, Just north is Walesi-Yi, an outfitter where the actual Trail passes through. It’s about four days out from the beginning. I used to hang out there in April, watching and interviewing folks as to why they are deciding to continue or deciding to stop.. Through this, I have met some very interesting folks, many who were amazingly unprepared with heavy packs and ill-fitting shoes. I know your future is fluid, which is exciting and daunting.
    I hope you have a good community around you to support you. Be kind to yourself. It is your path that no one else can walk. Good for you in making your own way.
    Blessings,
    David

    Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      Thanks, David 🙂

      Reply
  • Traci : Jun 26th

    This is my favorite article ever written on this site. Not everybody wants to “embrace the suck.” I mean… why would I do something that’s not fun just to say I did it, when I could quit and do something I like better? I quit my thru hike and went on a road trip with my dog. Both were epic adventures, but one of them I got to shower frequently and not get eaten by mosquitos. You’re made to feel like you should be embarassed by quitting of your own volition (i.e. not injury, money, etc.), which is ridiculous. Live your best life, even if it doesn’t include a thru hike.

    Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      I am so glad you liked the post 🙂 I do enjoy showering every couple of days or so 🙂 And it is tough to not feel like you have to embrace the suck all the time.

      Reply
  • Brad : Jun 26th

    People confuse hiking with the ease of walking on a local bike path. Add to that the ample number of YouTube videos glorifying the highs and overlooking the lows. The reality is a 2 m.p.h. hike for 10+ hours a day while carrying 20lbs (or more) on your back up mountainsides that don’t look like mountainsides on YouTube due to the limitations of cellphone cameras. Your food won’t be that great, your sleep will suck because you’re all sweaty and sticky and your feet will feel like someone ran them over with a car. Failure is part of the journey. You’re human and your brain will tell you to quit. It will say this sucks. Push through. Get back out there and learn how powerful your mind can be when your train it to overcome negative feedback.

    Reply
    • George : Jun 26th

      Why?

      Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      I agree that I think social media paints a very unrealistic picture of what hiking is about. That being said, I think that it does that with many sports. The hours athletes spend training before dawn or the injuries they power through, all of it should be brought to light because it’s all part of the process. Not just the few minutes the media shows where everyone is happy and winning. 🙂

      Reply
  • MB : Jun 26th

    Socked In

    Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I suspect many of us have shared this very experience and for any number of reasons don’t share.

    Your story is especially timely for me as I too recently left the trail after 4 days. There is a level of anxiety and anticipation around planning, conditioning, tweaking gear, logistics…just getting ready to go. I love that part…the anticipation.

    Just 2 weeks ago I was in New Mexico on a 12 day trek. After the first night I was wondering to myself “what am I doing here?” That same question played out in my mind until I was injured and had to leave the trail. The irony is that I never expected to leave because I couldn’t do it physically…it was supposed to be a metal exercise. I was emotionally crushed and all I wanted to do was get back out there.

    As a result I was embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone what had happened, I was ashamed to admit my failure.

    I’m chalking it up to altitude and heat now. I chose to view it as failure but now appreciate all of the experiences I had both on and off trail as just another step on the journey. I’ll go back when I’m able and hope to be strong enough to finish as much as I want to and appreciate it for what it is.

    Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      I’m glad that I could help! The first few times I turned around on hikes I was mortified. I didn’t want anyone to know and I didn’t want to even document them as attempted hikes because it felt so embarrassing to “quit” before hitting the summit. Now, especially hiking in winter in NH, I turn around without hesitation if I feel unsafe or out of my comfort zone and am not ashamed at all. I would rather turn around than end up getting injured and have to put other people’s lives at risk to come rescue me. 🙂

      Reply
  • Tyler G : Jun 26th

    Thanks for this article! I quit less than 2 days and 30 miles into my attempt of the Benton MacKye trail. Holy crap was that the most difficult trail I have ever hiked on. It still gives me nightmares. The hills we’re incredibly steep, the lack of potable water, and the quick realization of how secluded the trail was shut me done instantly. My trail dog and friend who drove me to the trailhead and backpacked the first day with me have since forgiven me for giving up so fast. But thankfully I meet my future wife a few months later and we ended up backpacking half of the superior hiking trail to make up for it. Happy trails!

    Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      Thank you for your comment 🙂 Everything works out in the end, and maybe you wouldn’t have met your wife if you had continued!

      Reply
  • Hobbit : Jun 27th

    I respect this so much, it is definitely easy to get stuck in a rat race on trail, especially a long distance trail. Hearing that certain people did x amount of miles while you only did y amount. That’s not what it’s about, it’s about being out in the wilderness and being present. The woods are a place to get away and enjoy yourself. I’m getting off the PCT in the next few weeks because I am simply not enjoying myself anymore. Made it about 750 miles and I am done. I got what I wanted out of it! Everybody’s journey is a different amount of miles:) proud of you internet stranger!

    Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 28th

      Thank you for your kind words 🙂 It is definitely easy to get sucked into the whole miles game. I’ve heard the PCT is pretty intense when it comes to the whole “what date did you start” question to see how many miles you’re cranking out in a day. I’m glad you’re doing you though 🙂

      Reply
  • Really? : Jun 29th

    Respectfully, I think you went in unprepared and with completely unreasonable expectations. Where did you get it into your head that you’d be able to thru hike the AT in 21 days? The world record is 41 days, and the world record by a woman is 57 days. Did you honestly expect to complete it in nearly 1/3rd the time? Did you do any research before starting your attempt?

    Reply
    • Socked In : Jun 29th

      I was on the Long Trail. It’s 273 miles

      Reply
  • Strummystick : Jun 30th

    An End To End of the Vermont Long Trail was my first long distance hike, and it took me pretty much a full month. Like me, you seemed pretty comfortable, as long as you were only doing about 8 miles or so. Although many people do so, I wouldn’t want to tackle the LT in 21 days.

    Reply
  • Redbird : Jun 30th

    Good for you! Thru hiking isn’t for everybody. I applaud your decision. Hopefully others will see the wisdom in your post and reconsider their decision to thru hike.

    Reply
  • Mike "Turtle" B : Jul 1st

    I very much liked the line “…I lost sight of the fact that even as a weekend warrior I do some pretty epic stuff.” Right on.
    Five days of agonizing back pain and an x-ray cemented my decision that I’m done backpacking. If I’m going to get another twenty years of hiking in I have to avoid carrying weight. That’s really put a damper on plans over the next 5 years and has likely ticked off a few friends and hiker buds, but… I’m a day hiker and that’s that. Like you – when I look back on some of my day hikes – some pretty cool jaunts.

    Up in the Cloud Peak Wilderness a couple years ago. We’d been in the back country for two days and mid-way through the third day I’m thinking to myself that I’m finally warming up to this solitude and really starting to dig the quiet (despite the previous nights ice storm). Meanwhile my good friend is searching in vain for any cell signal. He turns to me and says, “Mike, I think I need my peeps.”

    Glad you’ve found your hitching post. You’ll know where to go from there.

    Congratulations on a great finish to your thru-hike. In my book that’s what it is.

    Reply

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