Get Inside the Mind of a Thru-Hiker: Why Are We Out Here?

In one way, hiking 2653 miles is unlike anything I have ever done before, but on the other hand, it has so many similarities to my travels over the last 5 years.

Both lifestyles are very alternative. You’re going against the grain and doing something different. Why is it, when you do something different, so many people perceive that to mean something is wrong? You want to hike 2653 miles, you must have trauma you’re trying to heal? You must be running away from something? You must not be happy with your life at home?

Can’t I be happy with my life and just want to enhance it further with a mind-blowing adventure?

Don’t get me wrong, like with Cheryl Strayed in Wild, there are people out here who are processing trauma and using this time to heal, but in my experience, the more common story is this is a community of adults who just want a little more out of life.

We’re All Just Big Kids

Honestly, nothing resonates more with me than comparing us to a bunch of kids.

Why DO children feel drawn to play?

  • Because that’s where connections happen that often lead to lasting friendships (we all remember making friends at the park right?)
  • It offers a safe space to take risks and in turn, they grow in confidence (climbing to the top of the play structure was scary the first time around)
  • It provides a space to take on new challenges, which in turn when they master they feel stronger and boosts their self-esteem (learning to do the monkey bars made you feel badass right?)
  • It’s a space in which they have freedom with their imagination to be creative (no play park is complete without an imaginary friend)
  • They’re moving and using their body which releases healthy endorphins (climbing, jumping, running, hopping, swinging, etc. develop abilities and improve physical health)

The trail is like one big playground. We meet cool, like-minded people, we take risks and push ourselves, we challenge ourselves, we have space to think and be creative and we’re moving and releasing happy endorphins.

My Why BEFORE I Started Hiking

Twenty-nine years into this thing called life and I still can not figure out the balance of taking on enough to feel fulfilled and accomplished without feeling overwhelmed. I LOVE to achieve, but I’m tired of the cycle of taking on too much and burning out. My hope was the trail would provide this unique situation to live a simple life while still achieving something big.

I am fascinated with the human brain and the science behind human behavior, so Zach Davis’s book Pacific Crest Trials was right up my alley and was the first and only book I purchased during my prep.

Zach believes the key to the success of a thru-hike is knowing your purpose, so the book suggests you write down your ‘why.’

My list read as follows:

  • Good scenery is my ‘medicine.’ Beautiful views bring pure happiness and significantly improve my mental health
  • I want more time for my thoughts and more time to write
  • ‘Normal’ bores me and this sure as heck seems out of the norm
  • I don’t feel very in control of my emotions, in particular anger. I’d like to see if I learn anything about myself and anger while on trail.
  • Simply because I can – I feel incredibly fortunate to have my health and I want to make the most of that
  • I don’t often believe in myself mentally, I want to see if I have the mental stamina to undergo the full 2653 miles

My Why AFTER Starting to Hike

At the time of writing this, I am 900+ miles into my hike and it’s interesting to look back at my why and see what resonates. Before starting, I predicted that improving my mental health by being immersed in beautiful scenery would be the most valuable outcome from this experience. Now that I am out here, I am discovering more layers than that.

The happiness in the moment, although amazing, is not actually what I find making changes within myself. It’s the empowerment and confidence I am feeling internally about what I am achieving. I would say I am confident, but I struggle to feel confidence in myself. It is hard for me to vocalize pride in my own achievements. Is it because I’m British and we’re too ‘polite’ to be proud? Is it my anxiety trying to undermine my achievements? Can it relate as far back as female oppression in our ancestors subconsciously causing me, as a woman, to be humbled out of fear of being disliked if I come across as ‘too much?’

I honestly don’t know, but it has taken weeks of accumulating small achievements to start feeling a stronger sense of pride. It started with just stepping foot on trail; so much had to come together for that moment to finally happen, and I made it happen. It is the realization that my legs can hike hundreds of miles without discomfort and that my body is stronger than I imagined. It is climbing up towards Wrightwood, looking back to a peak in the distance and realizing that it is San Jacinto, the mountain WE stood on, and our own two legs carried us that distance. One by one these moments add up, then before I know it I am stood on top of Mt Whitney, experiencing one of the best mornings of my life. At that moment, I still don’t process my emotions. It’s the days following after summiting Whitney, then summiting Forester Pass and truly being immersed in the entirety of the Sierra Nevadas that I realize I am more than I give myself credit for. I deserve to be proud of myself and I deserve to feel like I am enough (and more). I start to realize I love the human that I am right now, and for someone with a history of not liking myself, it’s possibly the most powerful self-development I could have wished for.

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