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.
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.
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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