Loved Ones of Thru Hikers: 5 Things To Know

For all those who have a loved one planning to walk for a long time on the Appalachian Trail, the below is based on my own experience and will hopefully offer comfort for your concerns.

1.  Creepiness can be subjective.  Chances are your loved one has started the Appalachian Trail sometime between March and May.  This means a ton of hikers will be out there, which means your loved one will have plenty of opportunity to hike with others.  The vast majority of people will be friendly and well-intentioned.  A few will give them goose bumps.  But before you begin to fret, keep in mind that creepiness is subjective.

There were plenty of hikers I encountered early on last year during my hike who made me uncomfortable.  This is because seeing someone hiking alone used to creep me out (even though I too was hiking alone at times.)   There’s no logic to it – It’s just how I felt.  I might have seen your loved one walking alone down the trail and thought:  How creepy!

Of course, you might be thinking as you read this, Well that’s silly, my dad is not creepy.  I might have even caused hikers to keep their distance due to concern of why I was dressed more like I was going skiing rather than backpacking.

The point is, everyone has their own idea of qualifying traits and behaviors which make them feel uncomfortable.  So in a way, we’re all kind of creepy.

2. Fear is Okay.  It’s normal to be fearful of the unknown, to have worrisome thoughts about what might happen, what might not happen. There is a difference between acknowledging fear and acting out of fear.

Accepting this is key.

3. Pain will be a pendulum.  One day you might get a call from the loved one saying how bad their blisters are, but a week later they are feeling so strong they could hike all the way to Katahdin by tomorrow!  The next day you might have the conversation of whether or not they leave the trail.

The pain process, both physical and mental, will go back and forth.   Overcoming sore feet in the beginning of the journey does not mean sore feet will never occur again.

Sometimes the pendulum will swing quickly, sometimes slowly, but it will constantly swing.

4. Animals are our friends. Most of the time. Kind of. Animals in nature are very different than those in children’s books. They don’t want hugs and cuddles. They most likely want nothing to do with us, unless maybe we have food. But even then, they prefer we leave the food and take ourselves (along with our packs and trash) out of their site and sight. Actually, black bears might prefer the trash.

5. Difficulty and the Appalachian Trail might be two different things.  I regularly used to say how difficult the AT is when I was hiking it those first several months.   There were days where I felt the world knew I was coming and intentionally tossed rocks across my path on a steep incline in the pouring rain.   

The AT is steep.  It is rocky.  It exposes you to relentless heat, cold, wind, rain, and sometimes snow.

But maybe the Trail itself is not where the true difficulty lies.

Many of us insist on hiking a specific number of miles each day, with our life on our backs.  We sometimes insist on filling our free-flowing schedule with constraints. We pack out our worries and our fears and our concerns and our stresses. And then we say how difficult the trail is—how challenging those climbs were.

We eventually reach the point of leaving our minds behind. Up, over the mountains, down to the valleys, out of the towns, and past the trees—we begin to use our feet to carry us, souls to guide us, and hearts to encourage us.

But until we reach that point, maybe it’s us, the thru hikers of the loved ones, who bring the difficulty to the trail.

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