The Waiting on Spring Series: Losses and Gains of Thru Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The Waiting on Spring Series is a three-part series preparing aspiring thru-hikers for their 2,185 mile journey along the Appalachian Trail.  This is part 1.  Be sure to check out part 2 (What You Should Know for the First Few Days) and part 3 (The Final Check List) as well.

It is but a few weeks before the departure date of most northbound thru hikers of the 2014 season. A few weeks before 1,000+ adventurous souls break out of their regular lives and head for the hills and, more specifically, Katahdin. I remember that feeling. That feeling of realizing that I was about to give up every comfort I have as I set out to chase this dream and complete this goal. When I added them up, I felt as if I should be more concerned. From where I was standing, knowing full well what I was loosing and yet only speculating on what I was gaining, I should be second guessing my decisions. But there must be something in the soul of 21st century a human; a tiny voice reminding us that we lived simply so long ago and what we can do it again if we choose. Everything will be all right.

For any soon-to-be-thru hikers who may be mourning the casualty of regular life in any way, here is my breakdown of your losses vs. gains as I see them now that I have been on both sides.

Family and Friends:

This is a photograph of my mom and I on Mother's Day during the thru hike. It made it the MOST special Mother's Day to date to have her come visit me in Virginia!

This is a photograph of my mom and I on Mother’s Day during my thru hike. It made for the MOST special Mother’s Day to date to have her come visit me in Virginia!

Loss: This was my first concern. I had stellar friends and I feared how much I would miss them. We had a cuddle puddle and a sleep over the night before I left and it lasted me ten days worth of hugs but the AT is far longer than that. I am also really close to my mother and have always lived near by. I felt guilty to leave her on her own.

Gain: The AT has a way of thinning out some people in your life but really building up the relationships that you learn really, really matter to you. You’ll come home and those friends that are waiting for you are going to be the ones that will listen to you talk about nothing but your hike and still love you at the end of the conversation. They will work with you as you transition back into your life as you once knew it. As for my family, I now have incredible memories of the times my mom (my southern support team) and my brother and sister-in-law (my northern support team) came to visit me along the trail. Seeing how much my entire family got behind me was incredible and I really learned the value of a short phone call while hiking. Lastly, you will meet people on the trail who will become your flesh and blood. You may never again experience humans the way you will while thru hiking. There will be no lack of love and camaraderie! I guarantee you this, or your (monopoly) money back!



Loss: Okay, yeah, you’re going to take a hit on this one but you won’t be sorry for it in the end. You will scarcely have a bed. Toilets will become optional, if not fully unnecessary. Showers are a luxury. Food becomes a constant dream.

Gains: You will see a new side of life that most thru hikers haven’t had to see until they hike. It is a life of simple necessities. It will show you how easy it is to be happy and how little it takes. The things that those of us in the modernized nations take for granted are special pleasures for many in other parts of the world. We, as humans, didn’t used to take seven showers a week. We didn’t always have more food at our finger tips than we could handle. We weren’t always so sedentary that we had to carve out time in our schedules to exercise. You and your body, mind and soul will fully enjoy going back to the way things used to (dare I say should) be.



Loss: You are totally going to miss an entire season of Madmen, The Walking Dead AND Modern Family. You’re going to be so behind and you may never care to catch up. You won’t get tweets and Facebook notifications and you won’t be able to check in or post on Instagram. Movies will come out and you won’t even know they exist. New pop stars with some how materialize and bands will release new albums that you will discover five months late.

Gain: Nothing is funnier than sitting by a stream eating lunch with other hikers and roasting on a poor little Welsh corgi just because he’s short and long. Nothing passes the time like playing 20 Questions. Nothing is as jovial as singing Disney tunes with a pack of people in their twenties. Nothing is an enlightening as learning a stranger cares. Nothing is as mind bending as debating the legal status of prostitution with the same people, over and over, for waaaay to long.  What I am saying is, you won’t be bored. You won’t feel like you missed anything. You will occasionally sit in a tiny hotel room with five people and eat fish and chips out of a to-go box as you drink wine and watch movie after movie, but this will feel like heaven instead of a typical night in America.

Life (and Time):


Loss: Approximately six months of your life will pass. Six months in your town, at your job. Six months in the lives of your friends and family. That’s substantial. Things will change. And after six months spent living trail life, you will change a lot as well.

Gain: The six months (give or take) you spend on the trail will change you exponentially and for the better. It will build you into a stronger and more beautiful and understanding person, no matter what you think of yourself at this time. It will open you up to new things, new places and new people and that is the heart of knowledge, wisdom and experience.

For those of you who have no reservations about it and are just aching to be out there already doing it, stay tuned. The next one will give a sense of the first few days and what to expect.

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