How I Got Into Thru-Hiking And Why

Hi there, I’m Annika from Germany, and I’m 10 days away from starting my adventure on the PCT. 2,650 miles lie ahead of me along with all the untold experiences I will make. Let me introduce myself a little further and get into the reason I’m doing something like this.

I always had a big bucket list of stuff I want to do in my life and somehow I get to fulfill my dreams one after another and create new ones. I think that’s all life is about. Chasing your dreams and living the life you want to live, collecting memories and not things.

Thru-Hiking – A Crazy Idea

It must have been around 2010 when I heard about thru-hiking for the first time. I was reading Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods,” which is about the 2,200-mile-long Appalachian Trail. Back then, this seemed absolutely crazy to me. Yes, I like hiking and I did quite a few overnight trips by then, but the longest of them was just 100 miles – the Scottish West Highland Way. It took me full nine days to cover the trail. It was unimaginable to walk 22 times as much as that one. Continuous hiking for such a long time exceeded my horizon. Still, it was fascinating to read about the learning curve and the experiences of Bill Bryson on the AT.

The Beginning of My Hiking Career

I fell in love with hiking quite late. It was 2007 when I did a semester abroad in New Zealand. I started to discover the natural beauty of this wonderful country. Waterfalls, mountains, or lakes: There were a lot of nice hikes of various lengths out there. In the beginning, I didn’t have any clue about what I was doing and lacked the proper gear. I just started walking. In Chucks, cotton clothes, lifestyle backpack, and without any rain gear.

I also started to sleep in a tent, first on camping grounds, then it got wilder. Camping wasn’t for me in the first place. I was cursing a lot. It just seemed uncomfortable. But then the magic happened: I was learning to enjoy being that close to nature and I didn’t have any problems with camping anymore. I actually started loving it! When I’m watching the sunset over a beautiful mountain lake in front of my tent I couldn’t be happier.

My first overnight hike was the 20 miles long Routeburn Track through the mountains of the South Island of New Zealand. Meanwhile, I purchased some hiking boots, hiking pants, a fleece jacket as well as a rain jacket. I just rented the backpack. This was a tough experience, but so beautiful at the same time. A new world opened up in front of me and a passion was born.

On my first overnight hike on the Routeburn Track in New Zealand

On my first overnight hike on the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.

The Crazy Idea Gets Real

In 2011, the Te Araroa Trail, which covers the entire length of New Zealand in 1,860 miles, opened. I got that crazy idea that I might walk it one day. It would be my first real thru-hike, and it would be in a country where it all started. A circle would close. It was a big idea, but it was still far away. I couldn’t imagine this at the time and it was more of a loose idea that popped into my head. I wasn’t actually thinking that I would do it.

As the times flew by, I got a lot of long-distance hikes under my belt. I did the West Highland Way in Scotland, Laugavegur in Iceland, Kungsleden in Sweden, Jotunheimen round in Norway, Frolikha Adventure Coastline Track in Russia, Everest Base Camp Trek and Annapurna Basecamp Trek, Abel Tasman Coastal Track in New Zealand, W-Circuit in Chile and Ausangate Trek in Peru.

Then my biggest adventure so far started. In 2018, I finally went on the Te Araroa Trail as I was dreaming about back in 2011. I was so excited and was reading everything about the trail I could lay my hands on. I spent months planning and gathering the right gear.

And then I was on the trail. Just like that, I was in Bluff, at the southernmost tip of New Zealand, and at the start of my 1,860 miles hike. I went 22 miles on the first day. I never walked that much on a single day before. This was the opening to a great journey. In the end, I was “just” able to do 870 miles of it. I covered the South Island and a tiny bit of the North Island before winter hit. With a heavy heart, I decided to stop and come back another time for the rest of it. And I did. I finished the trail in 2020. I came a long way since the beginning of my hiking career.

After that, I hiked Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, two Caminos de Santiago in Spain, the GR 20 in Corsica, a Transalp in Germany, and many more day hikes in the Alps.

The Next Big Thing: PCT

I started thinking about what could be the next big thing. I was hooked and wanted to do a really long-distance trail again. As I have never been to North America before, my last missing one of the seven continents, I decided the PCT would be a great choice. It has everything I love about hiking: wilderness, stunning nature, and a great trail community. I just loved the idea of discovering a country by walking it. I decided on doing that in November and got my permit right away. Again, I was soaking up all the information there is about the trail (and there is a lot) and weighing every ounce of my gear to cut my pack weight.

I was so nervous that something might go wrong before I could start this new adventure. But finally, I packed my entire flat into 20 boxes and some trash compactor bags and went ahead with a backpack packed with everything I would need for the next five months. It always amazes me how much stuff we are owning (or does it own us?) and how much less we actually need.

I’m on the plane to the US as I am writing this. I will spend some days exploring the Western USA on a road trip before I set out on my hike on the 7th of April. I’m still nervous. And as always, I’m starting to ask myself if this is for real. What the hell I am doing here? It’s not the first thru-hike for me but I’m still excited as it would be the first. I might not worry about the same things, but I still worry. But that’s part of the deal, right?

At the same time, it makes me so happy that I’m about to embark on this amazing journey. It will be my biggest challenge so far, walking as far as I never did before.

Me and all the stuff for the next five months on the PCT

Me and all the stuff for the next five months on the PCT.

Why all the hiking?

Hiking became a big part of my life, especially since I moved close to the German Alps where I’m out hiking, climbing, and ski touring as much as I possibly can. Everything else just revolves around hiking. I love to be outdoors and immerse myself in nature. I like it when it comes down to the simple things in life: hiking, eating, sleeping. Not much else to worry about. It’s all about the trail, the experiences, and the memories you are collecting. I always have a feeling of freedom while on a trail. Just doing what I love the most at my own pace.

For me, thru-hiking is the supreme discipline of hiking, because it’s not just about having fun, it’s also about getting over physical and psychological difficulties, which makes you grow stronger as a person.

For the last few years, I was struggling a lot with my mental health. Recently, I started to feel a lot better. Along with therapy and finding the right medication, there is something that helps me a lot to overcome these challenges. It’s hiking and enjoying being outdoors.

Planning and getting ready for the PCT became part of my daily life and it felt so good to have something to look forward to. I have such strong feelings I haven’t felt in quite a long time.

After getting through these dark times, it feels like a big reward to set out on this adventure, which at the same time is a break from my daily worries and hurries.

So, I’m excited to start this journey with you. Let’s see what it has in store for me. I’m so ready to do this!

Hiking in the Bavarian Alps

Hiking in the Bavarian Alps.

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