Nervous About Your Upcoming Thru-Hike? Good.

You’ve done it.

You’ve publicly committed to this seemingly insane goal of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. To spending a half year in the woods. To carry yourself plus the weight of a chubby toddler up and down mountains for an unfathomable distance. To stick with your goal through thick and thin, good and bad, and you’re well aware that there will be Costco-sized servings of each.

You’ve made your lists.  You’ve prepared your future self against making a regrettable decision at the whim of unstable emotions. You’ve set the course for the direction of your life from here on out. The AT is a joyous adventure, but part of the reason for your setting foot on trail is to build confidence in yourself- to prove that no challenge is above you.  Once achieved, this momentum will propel you toward a better life far beyond Katahdin.

You’ve accrued most, if not all, of your gear, measured it down to the nearest gram, packed and unpacked your pack dozens of times, to the point where you now feel confident doing so blind-folded.  You’ve dedicated hours days to comparing the differences between alcohol vs. isobutane fuel stoves, foam vs. inflatable sleeping pads, freestanding vs. non-freestanding tents, and the several water purification options.

You’ve gone on shakedown hikes.  You’ve tested your gear across a variety of weather conditions and terrains.  You’ve been dealt some wildcards and consequently, learned some valuable lessons.  You’ve gone through your early lumps, only building more confidence in your ability to thrive in your new life as a mountain(wo)man.

You’ve done everything in your power to prepare.  And yet, you’re still nervous beyond reason.  

“What’s wrong with me?  What if I’m not cut out for this?  What if goes wrong?  What if I’m not cut out to thru-hike?”

These negative thoughts start playing on repeat in your mind, rendering yourself unsure of your decision.  Excuses not to thru-hike, like a lack of money, lingering job offers, the temptation of higher education, or not wanting to separate from your significant other, start seeming like worthwhile outs.  “Maybe now just is not the right time,” you tell yourself.

What you’re experiencing, my friend, is called pre-trail anxiety…  

The bad news is that you’re probably going to lose sleep.  You might even gain (or lose) a few unwanted pounds.  There’ll be times where you’ll feel like a hollow version of yourself, not fully present amongst your surroundings- saturated in your own nervous energy.

But here’s the good news.

What you’re going through is completely normal. You are definitely NOT alone, far from it.  These nerves don’t mean that you’re not cut out for the trail.  It’s not a sign that you’re unprepared.  And most importantly, it doesn’t mean that you’re making the wrong decision.

“Anything that gets your blood racing is probably worth doing.” – Hunter S Thompson

In fact, this pre-trail anxiety is a sign that you’re adequately preparing for your thru-hike.  You’re imagining yourself in your future life.  These uncomfortable emotions are effectively lessening the shock you’ll receive once actually stepping foot onto the trail, as opposed to absorbing it all at once, something that pushes many off the trail in the first weeks, if not days.

So what should you do? How do you make it stop?

Instead of reinventing the wheel, allow me to quote a passage from Appalachian Trials:

“Instead of trying to fight these feelings, allow them to occur freely, and more importantly, don’t let them dissuade you from the trail. Not only is this perfectly normal, it’s healthy. Nervous energy is a common precursor to positive change. You’ve probably already experienced similar emotions during another transitional phase in your life, whether it be going away to college, moving to a new city, taking a new job or changing career paths and so on. I’m guessing the change was necessary to your life, and ultimately had a positive outcome. The trail is no different. You have good reasons for hiking the Appalachian Trail. If you don’t believe me, consult your lists.”

In other words, accept these nerves. Embrace them. For this time will serve as a powerful emotional snapshot of a transitory period in your life. A necessary, beneficial phase.

And if you want even more support, connect with fellow 2016 thru-hikers (and here).  Reach out to former thru-hikers (and here), or connect with me.

But whatever you do, don’t let these feelings dissuade you out of attempting your thru-hike.  It’ll be the best thing you ever do.

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Comments 2

  • Chris Lee : Dec 23rd

    Nervous about my upcoming thru hike? Hell yeah… Thanks for this post. I’ve been planing my thru hike for about a year and a year ago there was no way i wasn’t making it to Katahdin but now less than 3 months out all the above thoughts have been going through my head and i have let it screw with my confidence a little bit…I did just finish your book… Thanks… reading post like this really do help… Wish me luck. I’ll be starting 2/29/16…

  • Terry Gandy : Mar 4th

    Exactly what I’ve been going through, but I’ve coined it PTFS; Pre Trail Fatigue Syndrome. My antidote is to reread Appalachian Trials.


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