Notes on Hikes Gone Bad: It Really Is About the Journey

I am Amanda (trail name: Coldilawks) and I am very bad at hiking, but I will be attempting the Florida Trail very very soon.  I started hiking in college – my dad took me on a few days in Glacier and then after I graduated invited me to do the PCT with him… you know… just a quick stroll for my second hike.  This initiated a cascading world of attempting thru-hikes and also failing to complete them.

Failed Thru-Hikes Breed Intense Section Hikers

I have set foot on six national scenic trails, I have attempted to complete four of them end to end, and have not completed any.  On the PCT, it was tendonitis; the AT, malnourishment and maybe Lyme; NET, dehydration; the Natchez Trace, trail conditions.  Yes, every incomplete hike is a hit to my ego.  Walking off the trail each time always feels devastating and I always weigh reckless decisions to continue before finally calling it. But as I gear up to attempt the Florida Trail end to end, I know that when I am meant to finish a thru-hike I will.  With that, I have managed to aggressively section hike the NET, Maine, part of New Hampshire, the first 400 miles of the PCT, and nearly all of the Natchez Trace.  I am pretty proud of my section hiker accomplishments. If you failed to finish a thru-hike you should be proud of your epic section hiker status as well.

Learning Through Major Failure

I know I am really hard on myself for every hike I don’t complete the way I wanted to complete it, but as a serial attempted thru-hiker I have learned it really is about the journey (I know… aggressive eye roll).  My SOBO AT was the hardest hit.  I got extremely ill on the summit of Madison, which was near the end of the hardest part (so I have heard) for southbounders.  Turning around or hiking off  your current trail onto a side trail feels like lead in your whole body and every step is like moving through waist-high mud.  I called my friend and cried while hiking the whole way down.  No matter how terrible I feel (and I have hiked after throwing up the night before just to stay on trail), I don’t think there is a worse feeling than hiking off the trail because you just cannot continue.

As of now, I have experienced:

–The beginning of starvation when I ran out of food in the 100-Mile Wilderness on the AT.

–The beginning of hypothermia. Thank goodness it was a day hike on the Natchez Trace, but freezing rain and failed rain gear is not the best.

–Pretty bad dehydration during a heat wave when I attempted the NET.

–Altitude sickness.

All of which got me off trail and none of those made it as hard to leave as carrying the weight in my heart knowing I might not come back.

Keep Hiking

Because that is what we, as hikers, do right?  We just keep walking!  I start the Florida Trail in about a week (which I will blog for here) and that trail, on the best day, is not a joke.  Urban hiking, dogs, gators, road walks, dry spells, controlled burns… plus I am starting three to four  months late (Florida hiking season is in winter), but I think it sounds like the best fit for me… a trail that is a mess for a human hiker who is… not even arguably (my AT friends had a joke that I couldn’t even set up my tent) a mess.

The biggest difference between this trail and others is that I don’t even care if I finish (OK, total lie, I do but it isn’t the most important focus).  I get to talk up LNT principles as a Granite Gear Grounds Keeper (they and Altra are also sponsoring me with the program – totally check out Grounds Keepers and Packing It Out), spend time in the woods, and in the end, I have never had a hike when I didn’t leave the trail a better human, stronger mentally, and with at least one person in my life who I never realized I wouldn’t want to be without.

So wish me luck.  It will be a mess… but it’ll be a fun mess. Oh, and I totally can set up my tent, though I did almost light my sleeping bag on fire once.


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Comments 4

  • Smokebeard : Mar 2nd

    Good post. What I took away is that you’re someone who never stops trying.

    “For when the One Great Scorer comes
    To mark against your name,
    He writes – not that you won or lost –
    But how you played the Game.”

  • Nanook : Mar 3rd

    Hi Amanda,
    Sounds like you already have it figured out.Hiking is suppose to be, wait for it, FUN! It is not a march till you drop. It is the journey not the destination.
    However, just in case, a great place to drop out of hiking the Florida trail is at ………. LOL.
    Have fun and be safe!

  • Reg Billington : Mar 18th

    Remember, its not a race. Pace yourself, void injuries and snakes, enjoy the outdoors and have a great time. Bring extra bars to eat. I find sometimes just packing up on cold mornings and start walking to warm up way better than trying to cook a hot breakfast, have a great time 🙂

  • Eric : Mar 18th

    Go Amanda!!!
    Thank you for the insights–I’m 58 and beginning some attempts, so I’ll be more ready thanks to you.
    Keep Enjoying the journey!


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