Trail Fail

What do you do when your first backpacking trip doesn’t go as planned? You, like me, may have grand dreams of hiking long trails, seeing different states from the top of mountains, and maybe even a far-off dream of hiking the AT. These big dreams keep us motivated in our small goals. But what do you do when the first step towards your dream feels more like a fumble?

The Foothills Trail in South Carolina is a well maintained, 77-mile trail, nearly identical to parts of the Appalachian Trail (we are told). It was recommended to us as a great introduction to the world of thru-hiking and we couldn’t wait to tackle it. However, even after months of planning, not every trip works out the way you want.

A week ago, Keanan and I left for our hike of the Foothills. I haven’t wanted to write about it because, well, we didn’t make it. After completing 1/3rd of the trail, I got sick, leading us to pull off the trail. I was unable to get food down and we were unable to hike the miles we needed in order to finish the trail by our deadline.

So often, pulling off a trail can be viewed as a bad thing, but I think we need to do away with that mentality. While we were both disappointed to have to pull off the trail, it was the best decision we could have made. I needed a doctor, and nothing was going to change that. There is a fine line between perseverance and knowing your limits. This is a line all thu-hikers should acquaint themselves with before leaving for a trail.

We don’t feel like quitters for getting off trail. We feel like we made the best decision we could have made in our circumstances, and already have plans to revisit the Foothills this fall. In the meantime, we will spend the remainder of this summer continuing to work towards our goals with as many local backpacking trips we can cram into our weekends.

Despite our unideal end to this trip, we still learned a lot during the first 1/3rd of the trail so here is the knowledge we will be taking with us on all upcoming trips.

  1. You can’t plan your miles

We have both hiked long mile days in the past, so we made some bold assumptions about the miles we would be able to hike each day. We became more focused on completing our miles than we were on the state of our bodies. If you don’t know the terrain you’re hiking, don’t plan your miles. Leave yourself plenty of time to hike the trail at the pace your body needs.

  1. Things WILL go wrong.

More specifically, A LOT of things will go wrong. We expected a couple of bumps in the road, but should have been more prepared for things to go very wrong. My Therm-a-Rest popped on day one. I threw up on day two. We had no phone service in spots we expected to have service. I didn’t realize my toothpaste tube was empty. A lot goes wrong, and that’s okay. It’s all part of the learning experience. When we finish the trail, we’ll be more prepared for mishaps. But we will also be more intentional about celebrating the things that go right.

  1. Your food will suck

I don’t care how good your meals were when you tried them at home, almost nothing tastes good on the trail. Tuna packs are warm. Prepackages meals are heavy on your stomach. Your water always tastes a little bit like the Gatorade you just drank. I may be biased against food seeing as I was sick while eating it, but I am convinced thru-hiking food only has two categories: bearable and unbearable. When a hiker tells you they like their food, they really just mean its bearable, and after eating unbearable food it can be easy to confuse bearable with gourmet.

  1. You will sweat

You know that feeling you have when you jump in the pool and come back out drenched? That’s what it feels like to hike in South Carolina in June. Nothing says “I love you” more than sharing a tent with your fiancé after sweating double your body weight.

  1. You will have the best time of your life

Even when things go wrong, even when the food sucks, and you sweat right through your backpack, you will have an awesome time. Even when you practically crawl off trail, throwing up, you’ll look back and say “wow, I did that.” You are pushing your body to its limits and getting to experience the outdoors in a whole new way. It’s a unique experience, and one you’ll look back on and smile.

Even though we didn’t finish the trail, we learned a lot and we cannot wait to tackle some more trails. We don’t see this as the end, but rather as the perfect start to uur thru-hiking journeys.

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Comments 3

  • SugarRush : Jul 20th

    Keep experimenting with your food! I promise you will find things you like that are more than bearable. I found that I simply cannot eat tuna packets, Clif bars, or almonds – so I don’t even try to bring them on trips anymore.

  • T. : Jul 25th

    Love this….one day I will venture out and overnight it!

  • T. : Jul 25th

    Love this….one day I will venture out and overnight it!


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