Trials and Titillation: The Ups and Downs of Planning a Thru-Hike
Trial: A test of the performance, qualities, or suitability of someone or something
Titillation: The act of pleasantly exciting or arousing the senses, emotions, or imagination
To begin a thru-hike is to undergo a non-stop cycle of trials and titillation.
First comes a profound sense of interest and excitement when one starts to learn of the long-distance trails. The idea of a continuous footpath from one side of the nation to the other grabs your attention and wrestles it into a stranglehold. This is ground zero, the initial case of titillation. As you learn more of the long-distance trails your curiosity and sense of adventure take hold over you. You begin to power through all that YouTube and Instagram have to offer to curb your curiosity. Then, a hard stop, “Wait, I can’t just quit my job and live in the woods for five months.” A hard dose of reality sets in as you ponder the possibility of obtaining the ultimate freedom you have been dreaming of.
The Trials have Begun.
The pragmatic half of your brain begins to churn out the logistic hurdles before you. The time away from family comes to thought, the financial burden of your intentional homelessness sinks in, and a million other clerical tasks begin to swirl around you. This is not alleviated until you find “Your WHY.”
There are a host of etiologies of your “Why,” a death or sickness that exposes the fragility of life, a changing of seasons as nests are left empty of children, the transition from student to employee, or the heartbreak that makes one question if you are still whole. This is what fuels you to put one foot in front of the other until you reach your goals.
Revenge of the Titillation.
As your newfound love for the places you’ve never been takes a hold of you, you begin to see clearly through the chaos. The idea of freedom and living life on your own accord cuts down every sensible argument to continue with “normal” life. You begin to plan out your escape and how to hit the pause button on the life you are soon to put on hold. The trail still feels distant as you lay down the blueprint for your hike. You get lost in the never-ending heap in information and gear reviews. The research becomes cathartic as you watch the 7th video confirming your selection of the perfect tent stake. Finances are addressed as you cash out your stagnant 401k or add ridesharing to the monthly income. Once you have all of these considerations mapped then the crippling fear sets back in, “What if I do all this work just to get hurt in the first 100 miles, or get lost, or hate my life out there?” Visions of grand success or spectacular failure battle it out in your mind. Then you remember you still have to draw a permit; holy shit I still have to draw a permit!
Permit day is looked upon with the greatest elation or the deepest of resentment as you incessantly stare a hole through your computer monitor. You have come prepared with a range of dates in mind and flexibility that would make Gumby jealous. Things may not all roll in your favor but you are determined to pass this trial with whatever is left of your sanity. Wait, what is this? The perfect date for which to set off on my adventure? Yes! You may now start to breathe again as you still need to fill out the application. Sent, whew… permit filed, and just like that you are well on your way to the epic that awaits you. Now for one dress rehearsal before the big show, the shakedown.
The Shakedown Hike, the Final Trail
The money is saved, the gear is purchased, the permit is approved, and the 10 lbs of quarantine weight you set out to lose before the trail are hanging out longer than welcomed. It is now time for the final shakedown. The art of a shakedown hike is for the trip to be long enough to find out what gear won’t work for you but also short enough so you’re not miserable in the process of learning the tent stakes you spent hours researching are junk and you definitely need the super ultralight ones that cost more than your water filter. This is the final litmus test to see if you and your gear are dialed in for the long haul. Tough cuts will be made as you reluctantly turn in your camp chair for a 1 oz panel of foam. Upon return, notes are made, gear swaps are completed, and final additions are added since the weight doesn’t count if you never log the item into your LighterPack page right? One last gear photo on your kitchen floor for The ‘Gram and you are off.
You made it!
All that is left is the crippling anxiety that can only be alleviated by stepping off the terminus towards Canada.
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Sure beats being on trial for murder ?