The plans are set, the pack is stuffed and your shoes have been worn in just enough. As you start in on the hike and you have countless hours to think about how many more miles you need to go, it gets overwhelming and the enormity of it can almost make you stop in your tracks. Occasionally to the dismay of my hiking partners, this is how I’ve dealt with making a huge goal seem approachable.
1) Don’t count miles
Yes, you have to make sure you have enough food to get you to the next town. That requires a miles-per-day estimation, of course. While I’m walking, though, I try not to think of where we are in the day. I don’t want to know how far the gap we just passed is from our final destination. If I had the chance, I’d probably go nuts checking Guthook for how far I’d gone in the 10 minutes since I last looked. I’m not trying to make myself crazier than I already am.
2) Get excited for town
With lots of hard work being pushed into each day and mountain summit, it’s sometimes hard to feel like you’ve kicked back. The thru is obviously fun and challenging, but even the most serious hiker needs a break and time to over-eat food that isn’t ramen or Snickers. Town days help you to collect yourself, rest and balance the tough with the easy. I may or may have not used this time to eat full pizzas and take multiple naps in a day.
3) Collect conversations
The trail takes on a whole new meaning when you start focusing on the amazing people you meet. There are a huge range of people who are stupid enough to walk 2,000+ miles with nothing but a tent and some jerky. We’ve met people from many different countries, veterans with wild stories of their pasts, individuals using the trail to heal themselves and some who are just using it as a placeholder before starting another chapter of life. Nearly everyone on the trail has been friendly and fun to meet. At the shelter each night, we gather around the picnic table with our Pocket Rockets and JetBoils to swap stories over camp food.
4) Embrace the struggles
When we hiked 13 miles in a foot of snow then realized we had to hike 13 more miles on the closed road into town to resupply, we were feeling rough. The road was snow mixed with sections of complete sheets of black ice. All of a sudden, one of us would flail our arms, wipe out and slide down the road. Through the wind, snow and pain, I couldn’t help but laugh at how we looked ridiculous when we fell.
5) Don’t plan ahead
If I wake up every morning on the trail planning the final day when I hike up Katahdin, I’ll go nuts. Each day is (here comes the cheese) its own journey, and only looking at the end result is going to diminish the weird, hard and crazy times between Springer and Katahdin.
It still feels like we’re babies on the trail with having only made it what looks like just an inch on the big map. But now that we’ve made it to Hot Springs, NC and conquered the Smokies, it’s nice to know we have some miles and stories under our hipbelts. The stat that keeps getting thrown around is that 50% of hikers drop out of the AT at Hot Springs. Luckily, we’re some of the crew that’s carrying on.
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