A Belly Full of Nerves
After spending a full year dreaming about this hike, my start date is now exactly one month away. You’d think that after such a long time I would be buzzing with excitement, but to be honest, as it draws nearer and nearer, mostly I only feel fear.
I’ve done enough hiking to know it’s the sort of fear that will dissipate within the first 24 hours on trail. As soon as I’m there it will be simple: after all, it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other and taking decisions one at a time. But despite knowing this, I can’t seem to shake the nerves right now.
I think mostly, it’s because this dream is shifting from a hypothetical to reality. My brain is suddenly processing that I will actually have to go do this. I can’t just talk about it anymore. It is happening, really, really soon.
Aside from the general dread created by this realisation, there are also more specific things that are making me nervous. Again, they are mostly things that I know will figure themselves out as soon as I’m there, but in the interest of being totally honest, and therefore more relatable for other aspiring thru-hikers, here is a (definitely not exhaustive) list of the things I’m currently nervous about.
Thinking about what food I’m going to eat on trail for five months fills me with stress. Mostly that’s because I have no idea what I’m going to be eating.
If I lived in the States, I could at least mentally plan for this a little bit: try out certain foods and figure out what I like. But instead I am across the Atlantic, watching ridiculously long videos on trail nutrition and desperately wishing I was a bit more familiar with American grocery stores.
It also doesn’t help that every few days someone posts in one of the PCT Facebook groups mentioning their extensive resupply strategy and ready-to-go resupply boxes. It’s hard not to read these posts and panic when my resupply strategy is totally non-existent. But then, I go back to all the other posts/articles for reassurance that pre-planning resupply boxes isn’t necessary, take a deep breath and tell myself I will figure it out. I know the first few places I will be getting food, and that is enough.
Every time someone asks me if I’m doing this hike alone, I tell them that I am, but I won’t really be alone because I’ll meet other people along the way. I know this is true. But there’s something terrifying about not knowing who I will be taking this adventure on with.
All the past thru-hikers I see online have their trail families: groups that seem so tight-knit and like they really found each other. I see them and my main thought is, ‘What if I don’t find anyone I like?’ or really, deep down, ‘What if no one likes me?’ This is probably an irrational thought process considering that I have a lifetime of proof that I am actually capable of making friends. But still, I know those early days are going to have “first day of school” vibes. No way around that one really.
The thing about dreaming about things, is that you put an awful lot of pressure on them being great. I’ve spent so much time wanting this and planning for it. I think it’s going to be the most amazing thing I have ever done. All accounts from people who have done it seem to suggest that it will be the most amazing thing I have ever done.
But if my past hikes have taught me anything, it’s that sometimes walking all day every day isn’t amazing. Sometimes it is really, really hard. Worse: sometimes it is mind numbingly boring. So one of my biggest fears is that instead of it being this transformative, incredible experience, it will just be long and hard and not much else.
Every time I say that fear out loud to someone they tell me it’s ridiculous and it will definitely be amazing despite the hard parts, and they’re right. And actually, the fact that I’m even aware of how difficult and boring it might be at times, is probably a sign that I have a decent idea of what I’m getting myself into, rather than stumbling in naively.
You can’t control everything in life. I could trip and injure myself. My body could just say “no” to doing such long miles every day. I could get covid and struggle with fatigue. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is ever one hundred percent guaranteed in this life. As much as I want to do this whole hike, as much as I am determined and desperate to get to the end, it might not always be my choice.
This final fear is a bit different from the others, because it might not go away after 24 hours on trail. Even at mile 2,645 something could happen that would stop me from reaching the finish line at the Canadian border. There is always the possibility that something will rip this dream away from me, even after everything I’ve done to prepare.
But that is just the reality of living in this world. So I can’t let it stop me from trying.
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Im Right here with you. You are not aline. I’m literally nervous about every single thing you mentioned. But we got this. Will see you on trail!
While I have not done a thru-hike, I have a lot of experience in life and adventure.
As for resupply, think of it this way. All those people who put all that time into planning and sending out resupply boxes; you will have your pick of their hard work at the hiker boxes. When I climbed Denali, everyone was trying to get rid of food. I truly believe you could climb that mountain brining only 2-days of food. As for the grocery stores, just remember that the U.S. is made up of consumers who like to eat. You won’t have many issues.
There are enough people on the trail, that you won’t have any trouble making friends. Most will be in the same situation as you.
Yes there will likely be days you hate being on the trail. If 40+ years in the workforce has taught me anything, it is that people have a tremendous capacity to endure things they hate, for years on end even.
Injury is a real concern. Don’t start too fast, and take good care of yourself for the first month, and things should go well.
Don’t fret about stuff once you are out there. If you are worried about something, just face it as soon as you can. There is nothing scarier than the unknown, and how our minds blow it out of proportion, until we have an understanding of it.
I start Apr 20, solo, and also from outside USA. Feeling excited and overwhelmed right now. US grocery store are awesome compared to mine at home for resupply.
See you on the trail. We’ve got this.
Spot on, feeling pretty much everything you’re mentioning. Starting april 16th. 3 more weeks…
I’m not a PCT hiker per se but I’ve hiked and snowshoed bits of it as a resident of the Pacific Northwest. Folks up here may be reserved in the urban setting but open up and love to share when on the trail. I’m looking forward to reading about your journey!