When Life F*cks with Your Thru-Hiking Plans

In what now seems like a lifetime ago but actually was just several weeks ago, I gleefully wrote about my bicoastal backpacking plans for 2021.  Five weeks on the AT starting on March 7th (lucky 7), a trip back home, and then off to start a thru-hike attempt on the PCT in April.  Life was beautiful.  I was ready to go.  My gear list was reworked and reworked until I was decidedly an UL backpacker rather than a lightweight one.  I was totally stoked.  All systems go!

Then I developed pain, and I mean bending over and pacing in circles levels of pain while on a trip far out in Tonto National Forest.  I wrote about this in a former post.  My pain was so bad that I went to the emergency room convinced that I had either a kidney store or there was something wrong with my gallbladder.  The CT done in the ER showed a pancreatic cyst.  A few days later, the pancreatic specialist was not entirely convinced that it was just a cyst.

Now I am scheduled for all kinds of scopes, ultrasounds, and an MRI to determine if this cyst is early pancreatic cancer or if my pain, which continues, is from some unknown and to be determined source.  Waiting sucks.

So why share this on a backpacking site?   Year One of COVID, 2020, ruined my AT flip-flop plans.  Having received both COVID immunizations earlier this year (I am a nurse practitioner) and being a person who faithfully follows masking and social distancing, I decided that I could safely return to backpacking in Year Two of COVID.  I know there are people who have opinions all over the board on this, but this was my decision.  The point of this is not about backpacking in COVID.  Zach Davis recently posted a great article on this topic.  The point is about seizing the moment.

So getting back to the question of why write about the for The Trek from the last paragraph, I feel very moved to share the following.  Actually, there is a very easy answer.  If you have the opportunity to attempt a thru-hike and can get away from daily life for 4 to 6 months, do it when you can.  It is a luxury that is rare in life.  Few people can just up and check out of “normal life” for a trip on the PCT or AT or CDT or any of the many other hiking trails.  Most people ware tied down with credit card debt, student loads, careers, spouses who are hostile to having an missing spouse, etc.  Even when we find the freedom, life has the ability to stomp on our best plans, so do not second guess things. Do not hesitate. Do not try to make everyone happy as it is impossible.  Step out and step onto the trail.

JUST SAY YES! It is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Here is to hoping that I can be on the PCT in April.

Photo:  Sunrise from the top of Blood Mountain, Georgia on February 28, 2016, after a night of hiking in very cold weather – a night when I said yes to what, at that time, seemed like a crazy plan to hike over Blood Mountain at night, temperatures well below freezing, and arrive at Neel Gap early in the day.  

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Comments 7

  • Slinky : Feb 19th


    I feel for you. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in Aug., 2016 prior to a mid March Hike of the AZT. I had surgery in Jan., Hiked the AZT in March, had radiation therapy in May, June, and July, then hiked the CT in Aug. I stayed committed to my hiking goals which gave me something to look forward to. I kept telling myself that it would all work out no matter what happened and I would be ok.

    Don’t give up hope. Stay strong and committed to what you really want. I’m pulling for you!

  • leaky boots : Feb 19th

    Wazo, my thoughts are with you as you look forward to positive news from your doctor! At age 77, recently retired, I am lucky to have the freedom to plan several section hikes to continue to put AT miles under my belt. Like you, am weighing the COVID challenge. Gotta get my shots first!

  • Daddy Longlegs : Feb 19th

    That last paragraph is SO very spot on. Thanks for sharing the words of wisdom and good luck in your 2021 endeavors.
    Happy Trails!

  • Harry Campbell : Feb 20th

    I hope that all the scans and scopes reveal nothing but benign. I hope you’ll be able to “seize the moment” very soon. I am in that category you mention at the end, and your posts and honest reflections give me more determination to “step out and step onto the trail”. My Flip Flop hopefully starts in April from Rockfish Gap.
    Honestly hope you’re tests are all clear and that if you’ve got something to deal with it will still allow you to get back to the trail.

    To Dave: I’m in that boat. Prostate surgery in 2013, several various treatments since and on going. So I’m hoping to soon take Wazo’s advice to seize the moment.

  • Lance A Goehring : Feb 20th

    “do not hesitate” — completely agree. I’m 51 and not getting any younger. I’m in as good a shape as ever, but you never know what life will present to you. I’m starting the PCT in April and hope to see you there, my friend. Get well soon!

  • Ann Strauss : Feb 21st

    So sorry to hear this. You are in my prayer-thoughts. Please keep us updated. One day at a time.

  • Carrie Thompson : Mar 1st

    Totally agree with you. I hope everything turns out OK for you!! Perhaps you can still get away and do some hiking this year, even if its not exactly what you planned.


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