13 Lessons Learned in 13 Months of Planning

I’m 3 weeks away from starting the most exciting adventure of my life and I’ve already learned so much. Who knew you could acquire so much information about a journey you have yet to begin?! Here are 13 lessons I’ve learned over the past 13 months (in no particular order)

  1. You’ve decided to walk from Mexico to Canada in one fowl swoop. Awesome. You’ve spent years preparing and purchasing gear. Good for you! But know this now: If you’re not mentally prepared, if you are going to want to bail at the first sight of hardships on the trail, you, my friend, are in for a rude awakening. Putting one foot in front of the other for over 2,660 miles is the easy part. 
  2. Yes, you can indeed spend a significant amount of time planning to thru hike a long distance trail and still not ever feel completely prepared. From what I can tell, that’s normal.
  3. You will spend thousands of dollars on some of the best equipment that the outdoor community has conjured up and there will always be people that are far too willing to tell you you’ve purchased the wrong gear. Ignore them.
  4. Why have you spent so much money? So you can be virtually homeless & eat Ramen in the woods… For 5 months. Yep, that’s basically thru hiking in a nutshell.
  5. The online community is far too willing to offer their opinions and judgement on EVERYTHING. Regardless of your history, knowledge, and background, someone will tell you you’re doing it wrong. These, my friends, are internet trolls. Block them. (Facebook is by far the worse offender.)
  6. There is a lot of information out there on thru hiking, in my opinion maybe even verging on too much. Utilize your resources to the best of your abilities, but take what they say with a grain of salt. Find what works best for YOU and go with it.
  7. Go to REI but don’t buy from REI. There’s a 90% chance that you can find what you’re looking for elsewhere for a much better price.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; my family is the primary reason my PCT journey is happening this year instead of next year. Don’t forget to ask your supervisor if you can work a few extra hours, too. Those OT rates can add up.
  9. Sponsorships. (Thank you, Thru Hike Syndicate! Seriously, the other huge reason I’m hiking in 2016 instead of 2017) People will tell you being a brand ambassador is stupid and accepting sponsorships are a quick way to ruin your hike because you have to ‘act’ a certain way. If you’re a semi-civilized person with general knowledge of hiking and the desire to NOT ruin the world, apply for them if you want to/are able to. They will make planning that much easier.
  10. Ask for advice. Don’t take the offered advice. Ask family and friends what their thoughts are, look into what some professionals have done. In the end, the decision has to be based on what is best for you, not what’s best for everyone around you.
  11. Learn from other people’s mistakes. I cannot stress this enough. If you can learn from what other people have done wrong, DO IT. There’s absolutely no reason to make the same mistakes everyone else has. Take what they did initially into account, listed to what they changed, and know what the outcome was and run with it. There’s a reason leuko tape is a staple in hiker’s first aid kits.
  12. Everyone you meet will have an opinion on something regarding YOUR hike. Politely calm their worries as you’ve probably come to your own conclusions about whatever they’re about to bring up.
    • “You need to take a gun!”
    • “You need to be sure your sleeping bad is at least X degrees otherwise you’ll freeze”
    • “Your pack is too big/small/light/heavy.”
    • “You’re taking (enter item here) with you, right?” A GPS. Your phone. A camera. Bear Spray. A Life Alert button. A machete. All of the food you will need for the entire excursion. A full size computer. A television and stereo system. A Hollywood size film crew to document every moment. The list goes on and on.
  13. You’re the one that’s decided to walk from Mexico to Canada, so you have to do what’s best for you which isn’t necessarily going to be what your mom/dad/grandma/long-lost-second-cousin thinks is best for you. So what?! HIKE YOUR OWN GODDAMN HIKE.

Bottom Line: This is your hike and your experience. You have to come to the realization that you are the one doing this and you have to do whatever works best for YOU and never feel you have to apologize for that. People worry, it’s what we as a species do. Be selfish. You’re the one that is going to be on the trail for 5 months and you’re the only one that will have to live with the decisions you make before you leave; make sure they’re choices that won’t distract you from your hike.

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Comments 4

  • TBR : Mar 30th

    Yes, this is true — great advice. Everyone is not only a critic … but an expert!

    I like REI, though, and I’ve gotten plenty of gear from that source, without regret.

    • Lydia Armstrong : Mar 30th

      Oh gosh, I love REI too! All I’m trying to get across is that, depending on what you’re looking for, there’s a really good chance you can find the same thing (you might have to settle on a different color) somewhere else at a lower price. Not always, but in my opinion taking the time to look around a little before you buy can save you more than a few bucks. But what I have purchased from REI, also, has been without regret. 🙂

  • Randy T : Mar 30th

    Brava, and well said! Not only hike your own hike, but plan your own plan.

    I’ll be doing a PCT SOBO through all of my home state of Oregon & into NoCal in July and August. Hope to wave to you as we cross on the trail. I’ll be the guy with the white beard and the hiking kilt. You’ll be the one with the Hollywood film crew 😉

    Have a great hike!

    • Lydia Armstrong : Mar 30th

      Your own plan as well, absolutely!! I will keep an eye out for you and hope to see you out there; Happy Hiking! 🙂


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