View Full Version : I must be insane to think about trying this again.

02-28-2015, 23:40
I have talked to friends and family about this and I feel like they aren't giving me a straight answer because they are friends and family. So who better to talk this through than the Appalachian Trail community.

So a little back story:

In 2014 the girlfriend and I at the time quit jobs, stored belongings and started the trail on March 10th. We made it just over 150 miles (quit near a highway just south of the Smokies) and went home. We subsequently broke up and now I think about the trail almost every other day.

To do justice to the gf, lets call her Jill, we quit because of me. I wasn't ready for the cold temps and I got a new tent just before we left, the Big Agnes Super Scout if you're considering it don't. Temps during the day were around 50 and nights varied from 10s to 20s and the tent let in way to much wind. About half the nights I would give my down jacket to Jill so she could be warm and I would sleep on and off.

After we quit I thought I had made the right decision, even had a few nights were I woke up thinking I was still on the trail and I dreaded it, basically a fear. Nearly a year later and I'm having all sorts of doubts and regrets.

There are 2 things I wish I knew when I started. One I heard all the time but didn't understand until it was too late and thats hike your own hike. Jill and I never got caught up other hikers besides pleasantries but we tailored our hikes to each other. I convinced her to leave the trail for town stays once a week and she would hate it. She convinced me to push more miles in the day and it wore me out. That coupled with the poor sleep and I was done at mile 100. This was never overt 'pressure' like I was expecting but it was felt none the less.

I also had the support of loads of people, hell we even had relatives dehydrating food for drops. And there in lies my worry. It felt like I had everything going for me, family, friends, support, and gear (wasn't spectacular but everything minus the tent was field tested and familiar).

So why am I dogged by this doubt? I feel like I have more in me than 150 miles but is this just hindsight? Should I stick to shorter camping trips and save the time and energy of planning another thru-hike?

02-28-2015, 23:52
be hard for me to tell someone else if they are ready to thruhike or not
but i vote thruhike, i wish you luck

Lone Wolf
02-28-2015, 23:53
just go. no mail drops. don't tell family ****.

03-01-2015, 00:01
Perhaps plan on starting a little later on like early-mid April which puts you smack in the big bubble it but gives you a better chance at warmer weather. At this time last year I was still just trying to figure out if I should give it a try or not, and I hadn't been backpack camping in about 25 years! Take it easy in the beginning, use the first couple hundred miles to get in shape and get your feet underneath you, don't kill yourself with high miles early, you will have plenty of time for that later on, trust me! Also early on try and stay in shelters as much as possible, I know you have to deal with mice and loud snorers and it's colder but it's so easy to get going quick in the morning and not have to deal with a wet tent.
You only live once, keep your head down and keep moving forward...never give an inch!!!

03-01-2015, 01:03
I would venture that most people that enjoy hiking don't want to thru-hike - not really anyway. That probably even includes most people here on WB. That's not to say don't give it another try. You might want to start later as suggested, without a hiking partner, take a slower pace, take more zeros, town meals, hot showers, etc., whatever it takes to enjoy it. But be prepared to discover that long distance hiking just may not be the experience you want it to be. Most people don't finish for a variety of reasons, but the single biggest is that they just don't enjoy it after the initial thrill wears off. Many years ago, I was wet, cold, bored with it, and done after 450 miles. There's the romantic notion of thru-hiking, and then the reality of it.
You're young, and unless you would be sabotaging a meaningful career or relationship, give it another shot and figure it out. Either way you'll wind up back to your civilized life within six months - or less.

03-01-2015, 01:04
"Should I stick to shorter camping trips and save the time and energy of planning another thru-hike?"

It should not require as much effort this time to prepare yourself for a long distance AT hike, if you decide do that. Except perhaps for your tent, you apparently already have good pre-tested gear. You probably still have maps, guidebooks and related knowledge that you acquired last year. And, unless you require a special diet, you could do a long hike without having supporters dehydrate food and send you mail drops. Its possible to do the trail without that support, resupplying yourself as you move along. And, if don't do this now ,other considerations (relationships, marriage, children, education, and/or career) might limit your ability to take long hikes during future decades.

Thru hikers do not necessarily enjoy the trail more than section hikers do, nor are they inherently more successful. You accomplished a great deal by backpacking 150 miles and enduring the rigors of late winter camping for several weeks. And, perhaps if your relationship with your former girlfriend had been different last year, or if the two of you had instead started your hike a month later,you might have walked together much further. Your post could serve as a cautionary tale for people who attempt 'early start' AT thru hikes without having previously done extensive winter camping in mountain environments. And, your experience might also be instructive for people planning to walk long distances with partners whose hiking styles do not necessarily match their own.

Some people thrive while doing winter camping but many others do not. Even with ideal equipment winter backpacking is not always pleasant. So, even if you had taken a better tent, starting from Springer on March 10 might have been too early for you.

Why not do a long section hike/potential thru hike this year, starting no earlier than mid-April at "that highway just south of the Smokies" and continuing north "as far as the spirit moves you?" With luck (and sufficient money in the bank) you ought to be able to cover hundred of more miles. And, if by chance you don't quite reach Katahdin this year, it will probably still be there in 2016.

03-01-2015, 01:38
My advice is try some extended backpacking trips out west first to see if you are really up for long distance hikes. If you still feel up for it, then definitely go for it while you are young. My other advice is don't start in March. Some do it and make it. But I think there's a higher dropout rate with early starters. Weather is cold, wet and miserable. Starting after mid April and you will enjoy the hike 10x more, and still be amongst other NoBo hikers for the social experience. You'll meetup with other hikers on the trail and make new friends. That BA Super Scout tent is a POS, I've heard that from many others who tried it. A thru hike is hard work, yeah there's a lot of fun and enjoyment, but there's also a lot of wet, cold and hot miserable days. Start in mid April and you'll have easier weather, can carry less clothing, and more daylight hours.

03-01-2015, 01:47
just go. no mail drops. don't tell family ****.

What he said.

ny breakfast
03-01-2015, 01:50
get a plane ticket for a warmer weather start, start off were you left off. don't plan the mail drops and go if you can. HYOH, if you need to get off, repeat above at later date

03-01-2015, 02:28
I will never through hike. Few people do. I enjoy hiking too much to ruin it by a 5 month run at a thru hike. I might go 40-70 mi a couple tomes a year. Never once entered my head to try more

03-01-2015, 02:33
The cold, wet, miserable days you write about remind me of the army. Oh how I wish I'd joined the Navy or Air Force. With that, I'm going to push my way through this hike at my own pace. I ant to feel that sense of accomplishment which feels a thousand times better than defeat. I'm scheduled to hit the trail March 17th but after reading some journal entries on Trail Journals I'm going to push my travels a week. The cold, snow, ice, winds, blisters are forcing some off the trail for short periods. I don't want that "pain" getting in my head. I know how to take care of my feet and slopping around in wet shoes is the beginning of disaster. Anyway.... Go, do it, be proud, and overcome your fear. Oh, and send Jill a card while you're on the trail.....

03-01-2015, 07:30
Yep, the trail will get a hold on you, for some it's a daily thang!
We are all different so it's hard to give advice but personally, hiking with a friend or lover would be tough!
Unrelenting to say the least!
And on top of the sheer physical demands and mental perseverance, you were out there trying to please your girl!
Perhaps try it solo and tend to yourself. Then you can go at your own pace, slow down when YOU want to and not worry about anyone else.
Good equipment makes a huge difference, I am on my fourth tent and keep tweaking my gear for better quality and lighter weight.
Take another stab at it, on your own time, not someone else's.
Good luck!
P.S. This post was written by a hermit!

03-01-2015, 07:54
The only failure is in not trying.

03-01-2015, 07:59
First and foremost, a thru hike is a mental and emotional challenge. Why is a thru hike something you think about every day? Is it regret? Desire to complete it at all costs? Just want to go hiking? Figure out why you want to hike so you are aware of the real reason. Be aware of the true reasons because that is how growth starts.

And then just hike. However it turns out, you will learn a lot about yourself. Look at how much you learned last year.

03-01-2015, 10:02
The cold, wet, miserable days you write about remind me of the army. Oh how I wish I'd joined the Navy or Air Force.

I had the same thoughts many times in the Army - they were cured when I spent some time aboard a carrier in bad weather. :)

Your post could serve as a cautionary tale for people who attempt 'early start' AT thru hikes without having previously done extensive winter camping in mountain environments. And, your experience might also be instructive for people planning to walk long distances with partners whose hiking styles do not necessarily match their own.

This is very well said. I think the thing that struck me most from Russ' original post was the mismatch in hiking styles. That's a recipe for unhappiness and it's hard to cure. My wife and I don't hike at the same pace (she's faster and can hike farther between town stops), but we've been married a long time and can work it out.

For me, long solo hikes aren't the answer. I just enjoy my wife's company too much and miss her when I'm on the trail. So we take the hikes we can get and plan for longer ones in retirement.

For you, though, it sounds like a solo hike might be just the ticket. I like Lone Wolf's suggestion - just pack up and go. Tell your family you are trying again, but don't make a big production out of it. Make sure you have a lot of money in the bank, both for the hike and when you get back. Just take it one day at a time and go. (And never quit after a bad day. Seriously. You'll have plenty of bad days when you want to quit. You know it's time to go home when you want to quit after a couple of great days on the trail.)

Finally, I would do a flip flop hike from Harper's Ferry starting in mid-May. Hike north to Katahdin, flip to Harper's, and then hike south to Springer. Much better weather overall.

03-01-2015, 10:59
I wonder if thru hiking is your gig. You have rationalized that you left due to a HYOH issue but that occurred after only 150 miles, the excitement of the trail should have lasted longer than this. I know many here automatically say do it and they could be right, is there any downside? But I suspect that you had a romantic notion of what a thru hike would be and reality didn't match those expectations. yes, you started early and had cold but there will always be something from heat to snow, bugs, blisters etc that will test you mentally. If I am correct don't despair, you will be like the majority of all the hikers that attempt the AT every year.

if you decide not to attempt again, there are plenty of opportunities to get out on day, weekend, section hikes. While there this mystic of a thru hike, the vast majority of hikers are not thru hikers. Good luck whichever way you choose.

Rocket Jones
03-01-2015, 11:22
Since a thru is basically a bunch of shorter hikes interspersed with town stops for resupply, why not just plan on doing two to three weeks. If you're enjoying yourself, then keep going. If you're not, then stop. It doesn't matter whether or not you thru hike, what matters is whether or not you have a positive experience. Learning the lessons for you, like maybe that you don't like long distance hiking, is a positive.

03-01-2015, 11:28
... Should I stick to shorter camping trips and save the time and energy of planning another thru-hike?

You are the only person who can answer that question.

I see no mention that you enjoyed any aspect of your first attempt. If you go out there full of doubt and hating the whole experience, you are highly unlikely to complete a thru-hike.

If you will enjoy the experience overall, if you are getting something worthwhile out of the struggles as well as the fun times, if completing a thru-hike means a lot to you, you will likely succeed.

03-01-2015, 14:04
There's only one way to find out...

It also seems that your putting a lot of emphasis on "planning" a thru hike. Everyone seems to always be burdened by the thought that a thru hike requires a ton of planning. It does not. Get your stuff at home squared away. Pay your rent for the year/moveout and make sure your bills are set.

Then..Pack your gear, get to springer, start walking north. Unless you have specific needs, forget mail drops. Just go with the flow.

Thru-hikes are miserable at times. You need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The ones that thru hike just suck it up and keep hiking, pushing that little demon telling you to go home to the wayyyy back of your head. Every thru hiker hits a serious low point during their hike. Then all of a sudden, after a few days, maybe even weeks, something amazing happens, and your in love with the trail again.

Sack up. Confidence in yourself is king. A didn't fail at a thru-hike, you WERE successful at a section hike. Whether it sucked or not ;)

03-01-2015, 14:14
Thru-hikes are miserable at times. You need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The ones that thru hike just suck it up and keep hiking, pushing that little demon telling you to go home to the wayyyy back of your head. Every thru hiker hits a serious low point during their hike. Then all of a sudden, after a few days, maybe even weeks, something amazing happens, and your in love with the trail again.

Sack up.

I've been looking everywhere for some type of motivational sentence or paragraph to take with me for when I start feeling down out there. I just found it.

Don H
03-01-2015, 14:17
I figure there's two types of successful thru-hikers. The first are the ones that love the trail, love hiking and know there's no place else they'd rather be. The other's, well they're just too stubborn to quit.

I would be the second type.

03-01-2015, 14:19
"Failure provides the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently." Henry Ford. Obviously, Russ... You've learned. You will continue to learn... We all do.

"Nobody hits the trail for the first time, brilliant." McPick. (Yeah, I just made that up!)

Seems to me that you've got a built-in opportunity to answer your own questions. Why not hike sections of the CT? If you're in Denver, it's right there. If you've got family/friends near-by, arrange for shuttles to and from sections. One major difference between the CT and AT is that the AT, to me, was MUCH more rugged a hike. The CT doesn't have nearly the boulder/root climbs, etc, that the AT has. Plus, those of us hiking the CT from elsewhere have to become acclimated. You're ready to go.

"The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail." Edwin Land

What have you got to lose?

Funny... The nights I wake up and think I'm on the trail, I'm thrilled... Even relieved! Then bummed...

Good luck!

kayak karl
03-01-2015, 14:27
i have never used a shelter to stay warm, just to stay dry. are you sure your other gear was warm enough. many times in the winter it's the pad!

03-01-2015, 14:28
Now that you have some experience, you'll have a somewhat better shot at it. Going solo allows you to partner with others along the way with similar hiking styles. Starting a bit a latter like mid April as has been suggested puts you into a better weather window so you don't have the added burden of bad weather to deal with. You don't have to do any planning, just go. It's pretty useless to plan any farther then the next town you want to buy food at.

If you still have the time, money and desire to try again, you might as well.

03-02-2015, 14:05
The question I have is are you attracted to hiking, or the idea of hiking? The reality is very much different as you discovered. I left the trail in 2009 at Franklin due to a long term illness, I never should have tried. But in Aug. 2010 I got healthy and went from Franklin to Harpers Ferry which was my goal. Truth be told I wanted to quit virtually every other day, and then I would have some experience that made it all worth it. I have had a major relapse with my illness and may never hike again. Finishing 1,000+ miles of the AT was a highlight in my life and I have trekked and climbed on three continents.

Having the right gear was critical and expensive but I was always able to get safe, dry and warm. My experience of returning and acheiving my goal was well worth it, even though no one I know understands why I went. Whatever you choose, good luck. I wanted what I considered a genuine AT experience and at 1,000 miles felt I achieved my goal.

Spirit Walker
03-02-2015, 18:57
Sometimes you aren't prepared for the reality of the trail, and sometimes the trail just isn't the right one for you.

I know someone who attempted an AT thruhike, didn't like it and went home. A few years later he went out to the PCT and easily completed a thruhike. Was the difference in him or in the trail?

All of us have visions of what the hike will be like before we go. Some of us are able to adapt to reality when we discover that our imagination was way off base. Some people can't adapt, or don't want to. Which are you?

There is also the question of why you want the hike? Do you enjoy hiking, camping, being in nature? Many people like one but not the others. I've known more than one thruhiker who hated hiking, but loved the social aspects of the trail. I've known others who love hiking and camping, but hate the social aspects of the trail. For them, another trail might be the answer.

Another Kevin
03-02-2015, 19:52
i have never used a shelter to stay warm, just to stay dry. are you sure your other gear was warm enough. many times in the winter it's the pad!

I've surely used my tent to keep out of the wind, which is part of staying warm! But yeah. In the winter I bring two pads - my usual Prolite and a cheap blue foam. That way I'm nice and toasty if everything goes well, and still unfrozen if God forbid the Prolite springs a leak.

Trail Ponderer
03-03-2015, 01:13
1. You will never know unless you go. If you have the time and funds, give it another try. At least, you will have settled that doubt or regret.
2. Suggestion - read Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis. It will help you to mentally prepare.
3. It is hard hiking with a partner. Different speeds, different needs. Hike your own hike and you may find people that match yours.
4. Wait til later in season to start for nicer weather.
5. Giving your jacket to your girlfriend was nice at night but you both should have had your own gear. You admitted not getting much sleep. Sleeping at night might make all the difference.
6. Get another tent (possibly) and test it out with your pad and sleeping bag in different temperatures so you are comfortable.
7. You don't need the support. There are alot of hikers who hike without help. Be prepared to do it on your own. This is your goal or dream. Hopefully, family and friends will be there if you need them.
Good luck with your decision.

03-03-2015, 08:12
if you're stubborn enough to make the sacrifices to be there a second time, you will very likely be successful.

03-03-2015, 09:10
One of the more common definitions of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly expecting a different result. Perhaps take a few long hikes to determine your aptitude to it, along with your mental determination and make your decision from there. Moderation has been the salvation of many and the point of success for even more.

03-05-2015, 21:19
Wow, lot of posts, I'll try to respond chronologically

Lone Wolf - Dont tempt me Frodo. It's embarrassing how many people knew about our hike and how much we told them. For God's sake we were featured in a small town South Dakota paper because my relatives thought it was a great story, complete with links to blogs and all. No one overtly says its (and maybe they dont think it) but there has to be more disappointment than has been voiced.

I resolved therefore, that if I should try a thru-hike again, I'd tell the need-to-knows.

Siestita - Spot on. I do feel like a 2nd time round requires much less planning and prep. Where Jill and I differed was prepping. I wanted gear, the best for me, not the most expensive. And I wanted to exercise, I was walking everywhere I could leading up to the hike. She planned mentally. She read Appalachian Trials, a book I didn't read until a couple months ago. So while the physicalness of the hike didn't bother me that much the mental part did. And while the physical stuff bothered her, mentally she could push past it. She came out the winner since I forced her off the trail, something I still feel terrible about.

While I dont want to be preachy (cautionary tale and all that) don't slack on the mental aspect. Easiest way to handicap yourself. Town stays started with bad weather, that just seemed logical to me. "What? Freezing rain and temps down to 10, lets head to Suches." It soon became just a need for sleep or a creeping nag of "you're not the outdoorsman you thought you were, you can't do this" that I needed a break from. (thank goodness for Neil DeGrasse Tyson's cosmos on Sunday night)

Hoofit - While I may have painted Jill as unhelpful she was quite the opposite. We relied on each other heavily, even for simple crap like getting our packs on and off, grabbing something from an outer pocket, or camp chores. Thats why I would certainly solo hike if I did it again. Nothing wrong with hiking with another person, but that pressure creeps in so slyly, hardly notice it until its too late.

Meriodoc - I think about it everyday because its something I believe I have in me to do. I enjoy hiking, I enjoy camping, seems to reason that a thru-hike is in my wheel house. (See all comments about most hikers not being thru-hikers). Therein lies the doubt. Since I'm back in school to become a nurse it'll be a while before I can attempt it again.

Malto - This has occurred to me and it worries me more than I think it should. So what if Iím not cut out for it right? Something inside me deeply wants to know if I can do it though, perhaps I already have the answer and Iím just wasting my time. Worst case, I hike for a while and leave.

Rocket Jones - That should be everybodyís approach. It feels like theres much less pressure if you phrase it that way.

Colter - I enjoyed it, even rainy days. I would rather have spent the 20 degree days in town but I knew there would be downer days. What ground me down was trying to live up to what Jill wanted.

Fastfoxengineering - The planning really didn't bother me. I knew I was going overboard on gear/plans but I just enjoyed it. Didn't feel like I had to plan, it was like I GOT to. Dorky I know.

McPick - In reality section hiking the CT should have been our first move. Would have saved both of us a lot of frustration and lessen the learning curve.

Kayak Karl - No. I had the thermarest neo air. Rated for 3 season, I forget the R rating but it was never my backside that got cold. The problem was certainly my sleeping bag, rated for 30 degrees so really only good till 40. I had a liner and long johns (down jacket went to the gf). I think if I had gotten a bag rated for 20 I would have been much happier. Cheap me didn't wanna drop the 400-500 dollars at the NOC.

Q Tip - I very much like hiking. Admittedly I romanticized the AT, I pictured much more green and broader paths. Obviously going later would be the ticket if I wanted anything green. Us northerners don't think the south goes through any kind of winter.

Spirit Walker - I always liked hiking, couldnít my finger on why but while on the trail my favorite part shifted. At the beginning I didnít like the social camp sight, probably because we were on the edge and didn't feel like socializing. Some days I hated the hiking because the days hike felt desolate. But the next day weíd get a view or waterfall.

Trail Ponderer - Read Appalachian Trials, wish I had read it sooner. Got a Marmot Aura tent but Iíve been looking heavily into hammocks. If I start later I donít have to worry about cold, sleep more comfortably than on the air pad, and save the weight. Now its just a matter of saving the money.

AT Traveler - God willing thats my plan. I wonít be able to attempt the AT or anything of that length for many years (curses nursing school) but some section hikes (PTO allowing) seem like a good way to test waters before I think of another long distance hike. Say at the end a 3 week section hike Iím wishing for more, then Iíll know trying the AT again isn't foolish.

Sorry for any typos

03-05-2015, 23:26
All gods aside, thru-hiking is not for everyone, needless to say. I'm in the stubborn group. Everyone who knows me knows that I will finish my thru, regardless of the hardships. Balance is the rule. Beauty is balanced with misery. Euphoria with drudgery. Hot with cold. Wet with dry...well, really more wet. Hunger. Fulfillment. Thirst. Satiation. Elation. Misery. Pleasure and pain. We will find it all in plentiful quantity.

Me? I can't wait!

All The Way
03-06-2015, 01:22
I wish you well in whatever decision YOU make.

03-06-2015, 10:53
Russ979, Us northerners don't think the south goes through any kind of winter.

I have lived in Michigan, Washington State, California, Montana. I worked in New York City and San Francisco.

In spite of this experience, I thought the southern states enjoyed a semi-tropical paradise. Hah!

All I hear on the weather app, for southern states, is single digits and snow. I had no idea.

The photos by Tipi Walter help: you have snow.

It seems to me, if you aren't too hard on yourself, solo hiking is the way to hike.

Take a zero. Don't take a zero. Do hike at your own pace.

03-06-2015, 13:12
Great advice given here Russ.

I've never thru-hiked so I have nothing of real value to offer; I'd just say it seems to me that you have unfinished business with the trail and you DO have the sack to get it done. It's just a matter of all the necessary moving parts coming together at the right time and HYOH. Go solo, meet people like yourself, and start later!! Do what logistical things you can to maximize your chances of finishing.

Also I'm in Denver as well if you ever want to hike or talk the trail. Feel free to PM me.

full conditions
03-06-2015, 15:11
I don't know if this will help or not. I hope so. I did my thru many, many years (decades) ago but I clearly remember suffering a bunch early on - blisters in Georgia, sore knees in the Nantahalas, and extreme exhaustion pretty much every day until I got to Damascus. That's where things started to noticeably for me. I should emphasize for me. From there on out I got stronger and stronger until by the time I got to New England I felt practically invincible - good thing too because it gets pretty serious up there. Until I started north out of Damascus I regularly told people I was just section hiking (first to Fontana then Hot Springs and finally Damascus).
I mention all this because I think its easy to become discouraged and believe that this is how its going to be the entire way. But it does get better - at least for most people and if you can find a way to remember that it will help. There will still be plenty of challenges ahead - rocks in PA; springs that require long round trips off the trail; summer heat and humidity; etc, but you will get stronger. I think.

03-06-2015, 15:52
Common story, sadly.
Section hiking is underrated. You might still be together if you section hiked.

Thru hiking has been artificially built up into the be-all end-all, but look at the statistics. It doesn't work for 90% of the people who try it.

03-07-2015, 10:19
You're welcome to join our flip flop bubble in Harpers Ferry May 1. I like what someone above said just start hiking and leave the expectations at home.
The other is never quite on a bad day.