Why Thru-Hiking Sometimes Sucks

Let me start by saying I love thru-hikes. I’ve walked many different long-distance routes around the world, from one week to six months. However, even if I’m happy as a clam getting lost in nature for ages at a time, there are some things about thru-hiking for the long haul of multiple months that can get to me.

Like everything in life, there’s a light and a dark side to thru-hiking.

Thru-hiking is often glorified as this epic, wondrous journey of discovery and adventure. And it is; if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t keep doing it. But let me say it here: It’s hard work, y’all. The day in and day out of it can be intense and exhausting on multiple levels at times. So my intention with writing these three examples is to lay it out on the table, to present why thru-hiking sometimes sucks, so you know all sides of what could be in store.

You Don’t Really Get to Savor It

Imagine coming upon an emerald green lake on a perfectly clear summer day. It’s hot outside and you’ve been sweating up a storm. There’s nothing you’d like more than to strip down and swim in the lake, to set up camp early, and just kick it for the rest of the day.

So many stunning lakes in Washington and Oregon!

But you don’t. You feel you can’t. Miles don’t walk themselves and you’re feeling the pressure to finish before cold weather sets in.

This is how I feel on the PCT very often. Sure, I make time for breaks and playtime; however, I often have a lingering sense of guilt or internal pressure to keep going. The PCT has a shorter weather window than the AT has, and I felt so much more leisurely with taking my time on that thru-hike. So this is a bit of a battle for me: the need to go versus taking time to slow down and pause. I sometimes dream of day hikes I had the whole day to savor, to relish in the splendor and chill out. The fight between having discipline to push on and relaxing is a real thing in a thru-hike, if you want to complete a trail.

You Rarely Rest

Honestly, the only time of day that I really exhale is when I lie down in the tent at night. On this hike more than any other I’ve been on, I feel I’m constantly going. Even on town days there are often many chores to get done, like resupply, laundry, showering (quite a bit of work when getting so filthy on trail), making phone calls, online stuff, etc. Today as I write this, I am sitting in an armchair on a trail angel’s deck in Ashland, OR, after realizing my body and mind needed a zero day. A morning of breakfast and coffee while admiring a view. An afternoon of good, healthy food and kombucha. A hot tub to soak my bones in.

Doesn’t this spot look so inviting to rest?

Some days on trail are downright exhausting. There  may not even be a particular reason as to why some days feel harder than others; it just sucks. I’ve had days on super flat terrain when I ended up dragging my ass to get anywhere, and then had days when I cruised effortlessly up mountains. I’ve never hiked a long-distance trail when I found myself wishing miles away because I simply wanted to rest, and I’m a bit sad to say I feel that way sometimes on thru-hiking the PCT. Maybe I’m a bit older now, but this body needs rest. When you have your goal of finishing a thru-hike, it can be tough to get enough of it to rejuvenate and restore.

The Diet

The bottom line is the diet of eating on trail sucks. I’m a very healthy eater (well, except for that chocolate addiction), and eating on trail can be quite a shock to the system. I was that crazy person carrying produce when I hiked the AT because I couldn’t imagine life without veggies. It was way too heavy, though, and I’m not doing it my PCT hike. Thankfully, even your non-Whole Foods grocery store usually has a naturals/health department these days with better choices, so I do pretty well when I resupply. However, my body definitely feels it is missing fruits and vegetables while on trail. Diet also plays a huge factor in mood, which is something I noticed on my AT thru-hike when talking with other hikers. The Virginia Blues don’t just come from the infamous green tunnel; if going northbound, a poor diet can cause depression or mood imbalances by that point. I have to say that the diet on a long thru-hike is one of my least favorite parts about trail living.

Some of the better food choices, yet still ramen!

With all of this said, please be sure to note I said, “sometimes sucks.” This means not all the time! I certainly wouldn’t be out here still with less than 1,000 miles left if I was miserable. Because of my background with yoga, I look at these challenges as opportunities to practice being present with my feelings. To practice taking in all I see even if I’m walking and not sitting, and savoring that. To practice being honest with myself whenever I need to slow down and rest. To practice having gratitude for any food before me, as a means for strength to continue hiking

With a journey as long as a multi-month thru-hike, I think it’s normal and alright to have sentiments like these come up from time to time. Feelings come and go just like hunger pangs, a crappy long climb, and a steep descent. For me, it’s about being authentic and true to myself through it all, both the tough and the terrific.

Interestingly I don’t care one bit about being dirty!

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Comments 1

  • Beckie : Aug 24th

    I’ve heard of sprouting on trail, haven’t tried it. Carry the seeds in their soaking container, when they sprout you keep them outside your pack while they green. That’s the theory .
    If you were on the AT passing thru NH and ME there are blueberries right now.

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