The 75%

You can’t miss a hitch.

I’m not talking about a predetermined pickup by an angelic hostel owner who comes to your rescue at the drop of a hat (looking at you *Lucky).

I’m talking about the good old-fashioned stand on the side of the road with your thumb in the air hitch. The hitch that saves a zero-mile day from a trek into town.

Don’t get it twisted— I’ve missed a lot of things. From financial aid deadlines to an entire vacation (ask more in the comments) I’ve missed many things, but never a hitch.

I’d argue a hiker can’t miss a hitch, even if they’re like me, because of one simple fact:

It was never theirs to miss.
Tennessee Pickle

Not my car, not my monkeys. Is that how the saying goes?

I’ve never filled out an application to receive a ride from a stranger, nor have I pre-registered my spot in the bed of a pickup. Trail angels don’t often swipe my card before offering assistance.

When a hiker stumbles out of the woods ISO a ride to the nearest shower they don’t know if anybody will be there. They aren’t entitled to assistance. They chose to walk.

Rides are like trail magic— best when not expected. When I do have expectations (cue Diet Coke daydreamin’) the magic is rarely there.

Let’s cut to the chase—

I hopped off the Appalachian Trail.

You saw the X-rays. If you didn’t, you’re a blog post behind.

All ten toes are fine, but I discovered the repercussions that come with overcompensation.

I’m not referring to “he bought a big truck” overcompensation. I’m referring to “somebody is jabbing a fork above my kneecap with every step I take” overcompensation.

Angry Quadricep Tendon
I tried to ignore my body.

I turned my trek poles into crutches. I was gifted KT tape and arthritis cream by my sheltermates. I walked backward in the rain. I prayed. I stretched. I sent my knee *positive vibes.* No dice.

I thought a few days off trail would do the trick, but my magician’s hat is seemingly void of rabbits. If we’re being honest, I can’t even locate the hat.

Hot. Girl. Bummer.

I’m cracking jokes, while simultaneously experiencing the world’s most intense hiker FOMO. (To save you a trip to the Urban Dictionary, that means Fear of Missing Out.)

Honesty Hour:

  • I didn’t think I’d succeed on my first AT attempt.
  • I hoped I would.
  • I thought I’d hike further than I did.
  • I waited to write this due to my bruised ego, shame, embarrassment, and fear of being labeled as a failure.
Waiting for Lucky / The Hike Out

If I couldn’t catch a ride into town it would simply be a bump in the trail. So what? I’d hike a few extra miles amongst thousands.

On the Colorado Trail, I slept through alarms, got caught in poorly timed thunderstorms, and had to rely on my tramily to drink my dirty noodle water (#LNT queen). None of these “bumps” came with shame.

Why is it then, that I don’t apply the same logic that governs the majority of my time on the trail to the very act of thru-hiking?

The first night on the AT, a hiker’s value was diminished because he failed his Pacific Crest Trail attempt.

Another hiker by the name of Rhetoric jumped in. He. Shut. That. Sh*t. Down.

He launched into an important discussion of how detrimental comments that assign “failure” to hikers can be.

Rhetoric is a comeback kid. He had to leave the AT last year mid-hike. His experience is not uncommon.

Most hikers I met on the AT were attempting their hike again.

Common knowledge stats claim that less than 25% of those who attempt the Appalachian Trail make it to Mount Katahdin.

This group deserves recognition for achieving the unimaginable. Hell, most of my personality is built around the completion of my 500-mile thru-hike.

Anticlimactic & Life Affirming
So, what happens to the 75% of us that are labeled with a capital “F” for failure?

Who didn’t finish their hike? Who missed their shot? Who quit? Who hiked out?

Does the shame placed on the 75% lead to inclusivity in hiking communities?

Do negative mindsets around setbacks dissuade those already scared to step outdoors?

Does the residue from our “Hello, My Name Is Quitter” name tags stick to the clothes of all who read our names?

I am a self-proclaimed outdoorsy girl with a stubborn all-or-nothing mindset. Typically a setback like this would fill me with self-loathing, or I’d still be on the trail pushing myself to the point of severe injury.

My first day in civilization sucked the most. I stopped introducing myself by trail name. I was just Molly. The girl who couldn’t even make it to Neel’s Gap.

Thankfully, after a full week of intense reflection, I reached a realization.

I didn’t miss my shot. The Appalachian Trail was never mine to miss.

The thing is… the trail doesn’t belong to me. It doesn’t belong to anybody. That doesn’t change whether I’ve seen a single white blaze, or touched every tree from Georgia to Maine.

The trail doesn’t care about my StartDateTM, my tight budget, or my need to be with like-minded humans. It isn’t phased that I keep opening FarOut Guides, only to stare at my last check-in.

I didn’t pay a deposit to hold my seat. I wasn’t given the option to add cancelation insurance.

I didn’t purchase a single inch of this 2,198.4-mile-long wilderness.

I did the thing. I left my life. I tried to walk in the woods. And now, I’m in the 75%.

I dreamed of an ice-cold Fanta at Cooper Gap, only to hike miles without water. I metaphorically stood on the side of the road waving my thumb in the air, but a hitch didn’t show.

I don’t know what recovery will hold. I don’t know that my next start will lead to an end at Katahdin.

I do know that I will follow in the footsteps of Rhetoric and Bounce and countless other comeback kids. I too will crumple the label of “quitter.” My name tag still reads Tenday.

How’s that for an outdoorsy girl persona?

Say it with me:
I didn’t fail.
I didn’t quit.
The hike was never mine to miss.
I Left My Watch & Brought My “YOU HAVE TIME” Bracelet. I Still Do.

Happy Trails,


*Lucky runs Above the Clouds Hostel. I can’t express enough gratitude to him and his crew. It was there that I realized I didn’t need ten pounds worth of items in my pack. And it was there I was reminded: “Don’t get your journey too wack.”


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Comments 25

  • Papa Dump ‘22 : Feb 25th

    Congrats for getting back out there. That’s MOST of the battle. Now just chill, start out slowly, and absorb the good vibes. They’re out there for all of us to experience.

    • Tenday : Feb 25th

      Thank you (:

      • John : Feb 28th

        There is no such thing as hiking failure. You planned it, you went there, you hiked… Maybe not as far as you hoped but you still got WAY further than most do..

        • Molly : Feb 28th

          Thank you so much John. I truly appreciate it. Truly starting IS a step so many people don’t ever take!

      • Cruiserr : Mar 2nd

        I’m not sure why but your story has me sitting here with tears streaming down my face.m quite a bit older than you are, but I, too: Still.Have.Time.
        Thank you for this beautiful, beautiful reminder.

        • Molly : Mar 2nd

          Cruiserr— I can’t tell you how much this comment means. I’m giving you a big hug through the screen. You do have time. Thanks for sharing that this slice of writing impacted you. Xo

  • Crossword : Feb 25th

    I think it’s “not my circus, not my monkey”! You got this! I look forward to following your journey.

    • Molly : Feb 25th

      Ahhh— Somebody caught it! Thank you so much Crossword (:

      • Maddy : Feb 28th

        Leave your shames and ego both in the city and hike, you will definitely get succeed.

        • Molly : Feb 28th

          Thank you Maddy! (: With all of those full packs, there’s definitely no space for shame or ego.

          • Maddy : Mar 1st

            Once I have tried to climb the mountain (Island Peak 6189) in Everest region. I quit at 6000 meters and came down. If I had shame to came down or ego to finished the summit, I might have nothing left except pain and sorrows.

            • Tenday : Mar 1st

              It’s really such a skill to know when to come off of the mountain— be it literal, or metaphorical. Thanks for sharing this!

              • Steve Lewis : Mar 12th

                Hi..I hope to try the AT one day.
                Best of luck to you!

  • Alan Lalli : Feb 28th

    Hello, I am also part of the 75% club, I attempted a through hike last year but only completed 600 miles.
    Your story brought a tear to my eye. Thank you so much.
    I am planning to get back out there this spring maybe I’ll see you out there. Happy trails.

    • Molly : Feb 28th

      What a massive accomplishment that was to have completed 600 miles!! You are so welcome. Thank you for taking time to reach out and share that this meant something to you. I too plan to attempt later in the spring, wouldn’t it be funny if the trail crossed our paths? Happy Trails (:

  • Calzone : Feb 28th

    I hiked almost the entire PCT in 2019 and ended up ending the season 2300 miles in because it was too damn cold and I was ready to be done, even heading back to finish the epic Sierras as a flip flop. I had a lot of the same thoughts of failure at first, but not finishing meant that I could hike the Sierras as a victory lap trail family reunion in the perfect weather. And it was awesome. Wouldn’t change a thing now. Reframing is important 🙂

    • Molly : Feb 28th

      I totally agree with you on the concept of the reframe. It sounds like your reframe wasn’t just a mental success, but led you to the experience you were meant to have. Good for you for making that call.

  • Barking Spider 2007 : Feb 28th

    I hiked the AT in 2007. Having finished leaves me temporarily “off trail”. In my memory visiting the trail makes me happy to have done it and longing to return. Finishing up won’t seem nearly as important when you are done. The experience is what stays with you. Best of luck and thanks for sharing your journey. : )

    • Molly : Mar 1st

      “Finishing up won’t seem nearly as important when you are done” left me with chills. Thank you for the wishes, your comment, and for following my journey!

  • Felicity : Mar 1st

    Failure is only when you don’t get up from being knocked down. Fearing failure stagnates us. Remember, our scientific discoveries and accomplishments were the result of multiple “failures” – until we “got it right”. If it is still your goal, asses your first attempt. Then plan accordingly.
    I am confident you will be successful – no matter how many attempts or adjustments you make.

    • Molly : Mar 1st

      Thank you, Felicity. I completely agree. Reading your comment helps affirm this important reminder. I’ve been in the process of assessing my first attempt— the amount I learned from my few days is incredibly insightful. While recovering, I’m actively becoming a more knowledgeable thru-hiker. Thank you so much for the vote of confidence and for taking the time to read my words. ❤️

  • Jeff Loflin : Mar 2nd

    Your writing style is so fun! Why ever pick a manageable goal. The finish line isn’t the prize, it’s everything leading up to it. You don’t get better at something by nailing the first go round. Pray a little deeper, enjoy the silliness that abounds and tie your shoes( unless you have salomons then you pull the thingy)

    • Molly : Mar 2nd

      Thanks Jeff, I appreciate it. I never pick manageable goals… way more fun if the gamble factor is high. Thank you for all of the advice (no Salomon’s here!)

  • Bunchie : Mar 3rd

    I saw this poster titled the 7 rules of life. I remember the first rule; LET IT GO and it read underneath it ; Never ruin a good day by thinking about a bad yesterday. I just suffered a mild stroke and the baffling part is they do not know what caused it. I was according to all the doctors not a candidate for stroke. Stroke makes you stronger, and your first AT trek made you stronger. After reading your story you inspired me. Thank you and Good luck with your journey.

  • Erik Michaelsen : Mar 4th

    You’ll get back on the trail, so no worries. A broken toe will stop the largest, strongest hiker, but the next trail awaits after healing. You’re not a quitter, you’re a recycler. ?


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