I read a lot before my thru hike and did everything I could to be as ready as I could be. I trained, I reflected, I got my mind and body ready. I had good equipment and prior experience in the woods. But I still couldn’t quite get my mind around how my thru hike would actually go. Here are ten things I realized during my hike – I hope they help you too!
1. There’s no need to over plan. You don’t need to know where you’re going to be in a month or two months or even in two weeks. Take your hike 5 or 6 days at a time. That’s all you need to know. If people are coming to hike with you, they can join you wherever you are. They have cars.
2. Mail drops and town stops are not as logistically challenging as they seem. And you don’t need to hitchhike at all, if you don’t want to. There are a multitude of options, and many towns you straight-up walk through!
3. About ¼ of the money you spend will be on ice cream, pie, pancakes and candy bars. Well, maybe not that much, but I can’t believe how many of my purchases were ice cream! I’m glad I had plenty of money saved to eat what I wanted, when I wanted. I’d heard of “hiker appetite” but didn’t really believe it would happen to me. It did.
4. The community of people who support AT hikers is vast, wide, and super-caring. I had no idea how many people would help me on my journey, with a ride, a yummy treat, a kind word, some advice, a cookout, and much more. I was forever grateful for all the help.
5. Hike in the magic hours just before sunset and just at dawn. When I became more confident and less worried about finding the right spot to camp each night, I enjoyed some of the most sublime evening hiking, especially in good weather in the summer. And rising before sunrise to be on the trail at sunup? Breathtaking. I saw 13 bears on my hike and several were during these magical hours.
6. It’s easier to rest in the woods than in town. There’s so much to do in town! Laundry! Eating, eating, eating! Calling friends and family! Blogging! TV! Bathing! I found that a morning or afternoon nap in the woods was a great way to restore – or a half-day staying in camp and resting and catching up my journal.
7.It never gets boring. The trail is endlessly changing. From fern covered woodlands to wildflower meadows, to rocky summits, to swampy bogs, to cow pastures, to suburban back yards, there’s always something new around the bend. I never had to worry about “green tunnel syndrome”.
8. Your body can do way more than you realize. Take care of it, feed it well, keep it hydrated. You’ll get more sleep in the woods than you ever got in “real life”. You’ll get stronger. You’ll amaze yourself. You’ll crave walking. Yes, you’ll hurt, you’ll want to stop, you’ll wonder if every ache or pain is going to develop into something that could take you off the trail for good, but if you’re lucky, your body will surprise you with its fortitude and will carry you every single one of those 2000+ miles.
9. Trail magic really happens, not just in the form of spontaneous cookouts and food in coolers on the trail. It comes in the form of someone willing to drive you an hour for new shoes, and giving you free socks to boot. It comes in the form of a sweet retired man who drives you to the post office saving you a half mile walk with a heavy box. It comes in the form of butterflies dancing all over the trail at a moment you don’t think you can walk any further. Or a stand of hemlocks to take cover under during a downpour. Or a hiker you never thought you’d see again hiking a southbound section so your paths miraculously cross, at just the moment you were thinking of him or her.
10. You will treasure the life-long friendships you make during your time on the trail, even if you hike solo most of the time. Your thru-hike class is like a giant family. You don’t need to know a fellow hiker (thru, section or other) for more than one night to form a bond. Shared experiences with rain, mud, mosquitoes, back-breaking climbs, spectacular views, sunny meadows and ice cream stops are enough. Take tons of photos of the people you meet. Get their info. You’ll want to be in touch! You’ll want to reminisce. You’ll want to meet up again.
My thru hike was one of the most amazing experiences and while I love my current life, I miss that time on the trail nearly every day. One of the things I enjoy most is supporting other women to live their dreams of thru hiking.
If you’re a woman currently planning a thru hike, I would love to invite you to join Wild and White Blazing, a “virtual campfire” where successful women thru hikers share their stories and answer all of your questions! We offer tips, mentoring, oodles of live calls, video how-tos, helpful documents, and most of all, camaraderie and moral support while you plan your hike. Yes it’s 2015 and yes, Wild and White Blazing still exists! Let us support you in planning your thru! Click the link above to learn more!