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TwoRoads
12-15-2017, 17:02
To thru hikers and others who've backpacked for significantly long distances, what was your biggest surprise, your most unanticipated difficulty, or your highest learning curve on your long-distance hike? I've hiked about 500 miles total in sections from 20-90 miles at a time. I'm planning on a thru-hike starting in April. Your responses will help me anticipate things I need to pay attention to. Thanks!

Slo-go'en
12-15-2017, 17:23
Hunger.....

Emerson Bigills
12-15-2017, 23:25
Honestly, I expected that at some point, probably in VA, I would fall in love with being in the woods and just enjoy walking each day. I just thought that if you could stay out there that long, you had to eventually just think it was great fun. I enjoyed my trip, but it was the challenge and commitment that kept me going. By the time I got to NY, it was about finishing and avoiding injury. In my discussions with other NOBO's, my attitude was very common. There are not many easy days on the AT.

Once I hit the White Mtns and Maine, it was about just surviving what the trail was dishing out each day. The challenge was almost personal. By then, we were all too invested in the hike to quit and just couldn't wait to summit Katahdin and go home for a while. I have no regrets and look at the hike as a great adventure and something I am very happy I did.

TwoRoads
12-18-2017, 11:04
On the hunger front, I have yet to experience that, since my longest hike was about 90 miles (about 1 week), and I've heard other hikers say it takes about 2-3 weeks for that to kick in, full scale. I'm sure that will be something I'll have to re-evaluate about 2-3 weeks in, how my appetite will increase and will have to anticipate that.

On the falling in love with being in the woods, I know that it will take a couple of weeks to get my trail legs under me before the physical stress starts to get easier. But I honestly thought it would work the other way than how you describe. I thought that the enjoyment would be early on, and that by Virginia or Pennsylvania, it will become a bit of a struggle a bit of a struggle. Like most hikers (I'm sure), I have a little trouble communicating my reasons for wanting to do this. I do love being in the woods, immersed in nature, and that is probably my main motivation. I also like walking; it's so de-stressing and pleasantly rhythmical. The challenge, is, of course, a factor also. Socially, I enjoy meeting people along the way, but have no desire to party in groups (or party at all). But all those reasons still fail to capture that essence of why I want to do this.

On my short hikes, the things that have been my greatest learning curves have been obviously the weight (I've never stopped learning to balance weight with comfort); managing food and food prep; walking the proper way (easy on the downhills; knees say thank you); water and camp routines (I've tried about a half-dozen purification methods, and have come to regard time-saving as an important consideration -- I am now trying a gravity-feed system so I can be doing other things while my water filters itself); layering (I hate being cold, but hate to layer up when starting my morning hike only to have to stop 300 yards up the trail to strip layers off - uggh!). I don't know if this fits in with learning curve, but the one wild creature I have no idea how to react to is the wild boars -- or even if they are that dangerous.

I know that the whole thing about challenge and commitment is irrelevant on short hikes, and 6 months away from home and my wife will be long. Anyway, those are some of my lessons learned, but I feel like my short hikes have limited lessons to teach.

Gambit McCrae
12-18-2017, 12:00
Carrying too much, or not enough..Water, Insulation, food...Its a personal/everybody is different curve

Dogwood
12-19-2017, 17:11
To thru hikers and others who've backpacked for significantly long distances, what was your biggest surprise, your most unanticipated difficulty, or your highest learning curve on your long-distance hike? I've hiked about 500 miles total in sections from 20-90 miles at a time. I'm planning on a thru-hike starting in April. Your responses will help me anticipate things I need to pay attention to. Thanks!Directing thoughts with intention is #1.

Second is proficient off trail navigation in tough conditions ie; deep snow in a winter wonderland, flat featureless deserts, canyon country, deep jungles, etc. Can't rely or wouldn't be prudent attempting to solely rely on electronics in some of these situations.

Still developing both and always will.

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Malto
12-19-2017, 17:24
In reality a thru hike is just stringing together a bunch of shorter hikes, it not any more glorious than that. Likely the biggest things that will be different is food intake and managing your resupply schedule and daily mileage on those legs.

Goingforalittlewalk
12-20-2017, 04:29
I'm with most of the answers above... longer the walk better I feel!
This year I hike 520 miles in Scotland in one go which was 3 coastal path and 2 coast too coast...
Learned at how important keeping clothes dry...after days of rain..

How the weather changes quickly and need to make different plans.

And at that low point, miles from no where, piss wet thru..cold..etc how you CAN keep going if you tell yourself..and in the morning the sun rise will be worth it.

Highland Goat
12-20-2017, 06:53
I got really cranky about two months in to my 2012 AT hike – a combination of too much time by myself, and regulations that did not actually relate to trail conditions. I kept going, but I just walked and did not see much. It mood passed by the time I got to Georgia and I enjoyed the last miles.

fiddlehead
12-20-2017, 09:10
Number of people on the trail.
And comparing it to my first hike in '77
Don't think I could enjoy it at today's numbers.
I'd go SOBO for sure, and then try to go off season.
Best of luck to you.

peakbagger
12-20-2017, 09:41
There have been observations over the years that the "Virginia blues" is a pretty significant hurdle that could be a combination of physical and psychological. I am sectioner and have not experienced it directly but ran into multiple folks who were attempting a thru hike who have talked about it. Most thru hikers have a nebulous goal of making it to Katahdin and obsess on it during the planning stage but once they hit the trail most are overwhelmed with day to day distractions of life on the trail and usually start picking shorter range goals. One in particular is Trail Days and it becomes a group goal where "everyone" is all heading there. When they get there its real big party and everyone in theory has a good time, but reality kick in soon after they leave town that there is no real next big group goal. Folks start spreading out again and it switches back to more of an individual goal and realistically Virginia is pretty much a series of slogs, inevitably many days in the rain in the spring. It becomes a job at that point. There is no big party to look forward to, its just 3 or 4 more months of self motivation. Physically there has been speculation that dietary issues kick in by VA. Folks start the trail with reserves but at some point the typically poor thru hiker diet is nutritionally lacking in nutrients. The body is asking for "fuel" and low cost fats and carbs supply the fuel but not a lot of vitamins make it into the diet. That can catch up with many folks, effectively they could be on the edge of getting scurvy which is vitamin C deficiency that usually kicks in 2 of 3 months. I have met many a thru hiker up north with minimal gear but a ziplock full of multivitamins along with ibuprofen.

backtrack213
12-20-2017, 11:14
Don't plan too much. Sticking to a plan isn't always easy and can be very frustrating if you can't stick to "your schedule". Take each day as it goes and enjoy yourself. If you plan things out just keep in mind they wont always go as planned and accept that it may change.

dudeijuststarted
12-20-2017, 12:06
I think the most difficult for me was getting proper nutrition, which I didn't. If I do it again I'll definitely get a full workup before I go, and probably stop somewhere for another mid-hike. The rest was just rambling about in the woods, which I love, unless its on the Long Trail, which I don't love.

The Solemates
12-20-2017, 13:40
Enough to eat..

Tipi Walter
12-20-2017, 13:57
For people living outdoors all the time, one of the biggest hurdles is a suffocating Loneliness which permeates the forest and the mountaintops. Nature feels aloof and indifferent. If a person can "conquer" this loneliness and the need for frequent social interaction---he/she has it made. That "40 days in the wilderness" mindset is a real learning curve.

garlic08
12-20-2017, 14:30
For me it was also learning not to carry too much, to conquer the fears that lead to over-packing clothing, food, and water.

It's amazing how liberating a few days of hunger and a few hours of thirst can be, when you realize you won't blow up if you run a little short.

Christoph
12-20-2017, 15:20
For me, the biggest learning curve was how to eat (somewhat) properly so I didn't loose too much weight/without carrying too much weight. Another was the logistics of meeting up with family members at certain points. Some spots looked easier on paper than they were in actuality, so I had to push it a few times, but nothing too crazy.

Dogwood
12-20-2017, 21:48
To thru hikers and others who've backpacked for significantly long distances, what was your biggest surprise, your most unanticipated difficulty, or your highest learning curve on your long-distance hike? I've hiked about 500 miles total in sections from 20-90 miles at a time. I'm planning on a thru-hike starting in April. Your responses will help me anticipate things I need to pay attention to. Thanks!The highest steepest longest learning curve for first time really LD hikers is going to depend on what the individual brings to that first hike. For example, I brought to that first hike a very good base understanding of nutrition/generally clean eating, an excellent grasp of managing hunger and thirst, and questioning Materialism and rampant wasteful consumption(this translated well to aspects like not bringing too much, not overly relying on copious amts of gear, and a willingness to wisely reduce such.

There were many other categories that have been less steep though and continue to be areas of development. I try to stay humbled, apprecative, always observing, and always considering knowing these learning curves are always a never ending journey a path not an end destination. This mindset keeps me present engaged enjoying each hike from hr to hr day to day wk to wk and month after month.

One great approach that works supremely for myself in reaching these goals is being moment by moment acutely aware a LD hike can be/IS ABOUT SO MUCH MORE THAN HIKING. This translates for me in not getting bored, staying engaged, having wider life experiences, and defining a LD hike as a way to build character in not only myself but others. A LD hike DOES NOT have to be defined as a selfish endeavor.

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TwoRoads
12-20-2017, 22:18
Some of these I have experienced on my shorter hikes as well, although not to the Nth degree like I might on a longer hike. Loneliness usually hits me about the 2nd or 3rd day in, just mostly missing my wife. At the same time, I am realizing that I'm having a great time, so it hasn't been too hard to fight off; I've come to regard it as just a characteristic of trail life.

Getting the right kind of food, and particularly how that affects the old bowel movements was an issue on my last hike. So I'm looking into the Harmony House veggie/soup meals hoping to help that situation.

Being flexible with my schedule is something I've managed pretty well on past short hikes. On one of my first hikes, I messed up a knee from clomping downhill and had to take a zero day and another couple of short days hiking after that. On two of my last three hikes, I got chased off the mountain by hurricanes coming in from the south. Unfortunately, in both cases, it caused me to have to get off the trail; however, I know that on my thru-hike, I won't have the time constraints to get back to work (I'm retired now). On other times, I hiked on past a shelter counting on finding a site to pitch my tent, and those were some of my favorite nights spent on the trail. And ultimately, while I want to make it all the way to Katahdin, I really want to enjoy this hike, and stop and smell the roses instead of making a chore of always pressing for some destination to keep making the miles.

In any case, I'm looking forward to the enjoyment of the trail, at the same time knowing it won't be easy.

Dogwood
12-21-2017, 01:52
You're demonstrating consideration. That's awesome.

So what might you do?

Schedule time to meet your wife on trail.
Get her somehow involved in the hike.
Like mailing out resupply boxes, sending her pics and sweetheart notes from the trail. Letting her know how much you love each other. Have her come out and do a section with you keeping in mind that its about the two of you being together. Go home for a wk;many successfully do this to enjoy time with loved ones coming back to enjoyably finish their anticipated hikes.

Don't go out too fast or too hard. Don't try to do anyone else's hike. Do your own. You don't have to race or get into a competition - unless you want to. Even after prepping work your way into your hike. It can take a wk or more to settle into being a hiker. It can take 3-4 wks or so to settle into thru-hiker life. I find it best to regularly monitor my ego to keep it in check. I actually hike to lose the ego.

Develop your hiking technique. This I make in context of your downhill(and possibly uphill) experience with the injury. Take smaller shorter gait steps with surer footing ascending and descending the hills rather than larger more fatiguing more apt to injury larger steps. Stretch out the gait on the flats and when your pack is lightest. Aim to reduce the riser heights(height to which you step up or down) with possibly two or even three smaller step heights rather than one larger one...very important. You determine your pace and don't be afraid to alter based on conditions.

rickb
12-21-2017, 05:32
Foot care.

Specifically, good blister prevention and management on a very wet trail.

Dogwood
12-21-2017, 14:03
Foot care.

Specifically, good blister prevention and management on a very wet trail.


This is one of those many other vital categories. Let's face it if a hiker's feet aren't happy and it's ignored it takes many off their hikes.

Hand in hand with this is learning about your individual feet and stride characteristics and matching footwear with these specific characteristics and trail conditions.

LittleRock
12-21-2017, 16:11
Setting up camp in the pouring rain.

HooKooDooKu
12-21-2017, 17:43
I would have to agree with the comments on loneliness... or simply expand it to sheer boredom.

I have not done an AT thru, but a few years ago I did a JMT thru. Every single day was filled with spectacular scenery. But somewhere around day 10 to day 14, my mind started to develop the attitude of "same scene, different mountain". It would occasionally take extreme breathtaking views to shake my head out of that attitude.

So if I can develop that attitude on a trail filled with daily spectacular scenery, I can only begin to imagine the mental challenge an AT thru can become considering its often called "the green tunnel".

4shot
12-22-2017, 10:11
Nobody has mentioned this but one of the biggest adjustments imo was getting used to no showers/being dirty/putting on stinking, wet, dirty clothing every day. My former self was the type who would shower every day before work and sometimes again in the evening if I had cut grass, worked out, etc. So, I started with too many clothes thinking I would change more often than I did.

What was really unusual was how desensitized our nose gets to all the smells from laundry soap, shampoo, deoderants, etc. I could smell a day hiker or person in town from quite a bit aways. And, I'm sure the opposite was true as well. My wife met me on 3 occasions and we shuttled some hikers into town each time. She still tells others about how bad a car full of people who have been hiking the trail for weeks or months can smell.

jj dont play
12-22-2017, 10:44
Hunger/Food
Never could get it right but I lived haha. Towards the end I ate so much I couldn't keep up. Even planning 5,000 calories + a day towards the end was not enough.
Best balance was just to have it in the budget to eat a huge meal every time I hit town.


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Dogwood
12-22-2017, 14:14
I would have to agree with the comments on loneliness... or simply expand it to sheer boredom.

I have not done an AT thru, but a few years ago I did a JMT thru. Every single day was filled with spectacular scenery. But somewhere around day 10 to day 14, my mind started to develop the attitude of "same scene, different mountain". It would occasionally take extreme breathtaking views to shake my head out of that attitude.

So if I can develop that attitude on a trail filled with daily spectacular scenery, I can only begin to imagine the mental challenge an AT thru can become considering its often called "the green tunnel".


I'd like to offer how some handle the scenario of boredom and lonliness.

First, I've never been on a LD hike - on trail - with endless spectacular scenery although this is a matter of perspective. Boredom is really a matter of perspective. What helps keep me engaged, present, and mindful is to not look at backpacking only as hiking. For me, curiosity is encouraged always picked by what's at or beyond the next bend or rise or in the next grove, what tree, wildflower, plant, animal, animal track, history of ruins, sounds, geology, scrounged natural edibles/medicinals, scenic overlooks, waterfalls, bluffs, knowledge and wisdom exist, weather might prevail, and whom I might meet. Keeping a journal and rereading about the 27 different Nationalities of hikers from around the world met on one AT thru-hike and inspiring quotes and what I've learned help. I want to soak it all in. I try to keep that alive. I try to stay appreciative. When in an attitude of gratitude we're not given to complaining.


Lastly, and this is huge, expand the hike's width of interest beyond that 30" wide path, lean-to's, elevation profiles, and on trail experiences to include experiencing music festivals, museums, botanical gardens, historical sites, trains, off trail family and loved one visits, being open to romance, and how one(you) are expanding while leaving good vibes wherever LIFE takes you.

Can we see how considering and engaging in these behaviors also addresses loneliness?



Don't allow to get deep into thoughts of boredom. Those thoughts tend to lead to choosing to be somewhere else doing something else.

rickb
12-22-2017, 19:01
That was a good post.

And the part about meeting people from 27 different countries, that is just wild.

Dogwood
12-22-2017, 21:29
Appreciate the comment Rick.

twilightzone
02-19-2018, 21:49
Finishing the thru-hike, walking back down Katahdin and then re-adjusting after the hike.

During the hike it's a lot of what you would already expect if you've been backpacking before.

George
02-19-2018, 22:30
for me, it is walking into a store and leaving with the right amount of food - food obsecion is especially bad the last day before a town stop, the food bag is picked over and not too appealing - so everything in the store looks good

one thing that helps is only using the child seat part of the cart - but I usually still buy too much

if I prepare shipped boxes beforehand the amount and weight of the food is always good

Martzy13
02-19-2018, 23:39
It took me a long time on my thru last year to learn how to walk out of a grocery store (resupply point) without anxiety. Too many years of Discovery Channel "What-If" disaster shows to be super confident in my food planning ability. Took me until New England to be able to walk out with what I felt was sufficient resupply food and NOT worry about "what if it's not enough?"
A couple of times on the hike, I found myself nearly without food and miles to go before town, so standing at the checkout counter stopped being such a worry. I knew if I DID run out before the next stop, it wouldn't be the end of the world, I'd been there, got the t-shirt.

Pony
02-20-2018, 01:46
The mental aspect. Not talking about general loneliness and whatnot, but your mind takes you to weird places when you spend a lot of time by yourself. It's especially strange when you are out of touch with the "real world" for days at a time. In 2010 BP had that rig spewing oil into the gulf. I assumed they would have it under control in a few days, yet every time I went into town I would hear about it again. This went on for over a month I think. It didn't even seem like something that was really happening to me. On a thru hike you live life in a bubble for the most part.

Singto
02-20-2018, 08:56
How to handle the after...now what? All the planning, trudging and work to finish, then what? Scary for me.

nsherry61
02-20-2018, 09:34
Foot care.

Specifically, good blister prevention and management on a very wet trail.
I'd second this as my steepest learning curve. I've spent my life playing in the mountains and backpacking. I'm pretty comfortable with hunger, thirst, walking, climbing, most of the various skills from cooking to pitching camp to navigating, etc. BUT, I still get stuck fighting with blisters and other overuse injuries at times. I've got my techniques and tools and I manage them pretty well, but damn, it takes discipline to slow down, say goodbye to your friends as needed, and give your body the opportunity to catch up with your expectations. . . or adjust your expectations to slow down to your bodies demands.

Puddlefish
02-20-2018, 10:35
Carrying too much food for the first few days, not much of a learning curve. I just stopped doing it right away.

For me, although I'd day hiked a lot, I'd never camped before. That was the biggest thing I needed to learn. I learned most of it pre-hike, right here. All sorts of great advice on where to set your tent to deal with wind, with cold, elevation, settling cold overnight, away from likely water channels if rain was expected, etc. Then it was just a matter of putting it into practice and trying to remember it all.

I remember feeling a bit annoyed one night when a guy who was bragging about his $700 tent, and all his gear that was far lighter than mine. I then noticed that he set the tent up, on a cold afternoon, like a wind scoop, with the head facing directly into a strong wind. Remembering how totally clueless I was, and how much help I got here, I asked if he might be more comfortable setting the foot into the wind.

The other learning curve for me, was just deciding to legally stealth camp more often, instead of whining to myself about the noise at the tent sites. Some nights I felt like socializing, and other nights I was sick of inconsiderate people, or even nice people.

evyck da fleet
02-20-2018, 10:49
1) sleeping on my back on the ground- should have practiced that before I started.
2) not doing too much- I get bored sitting around camp. I had a couple of overuse injuries. Thankfully I’m independent and don’t feel the need to keep up with a trail family.
3) not to stay in shelters- too many days where I stopped to eat dinner at the shelter because of rain, had all my stuff out, decided to stay and then got little sleep due to snorers. Also not being able to identify widow makers before the leaves are out chaser me to the shelter two nights.
4) adjusting back to the real world after 4+ months in the woods.

Wyoming
02-20-2018, 18:13
To thru hikers and others who've backpacked for significantly long distances, what was your biggest surprise, your most unanticipated difficulty, or your highest learning curve on your long-distance hike? I've hiked about 500 miles total in sections from 20-90 miles at a time. I'm planning on a thru-hike starting in April. Your responses will help me anticipate things I need to pay attention to. Thanks!

Folks have hit on pretty much all of the little mechanical things which are frequent issues when hiking. But most of them seem secondary issues to me. Some you will encounter and others not all based upon what you bring to the table and what the peculiarities of your way of hiking are.

To me there is one universal critical component of medium to long duration hiking which is applicable to everyone.

The state of your mind.

The thru hiker who literally lives to be out on the trail and finds any other life situation confining and limiting is extremely rare. Most of them are well known in the hiking community and held in some awe by hiking community.

The rest of us to varying degrees have to deal with an endless cavalcade of mental adjustments. Loneliness is a big one. Mid hike blues when the beginning has faded and the end is not in sight. The magnetic pull to rush onward (or deliberately dawdle along) as one nears the end of the trail. Are you neglecting your 'real' life and your family. Conversely are you wishing you did not have the guilt of neglecting your family and your real life as they are not all that attractive to you. Do you really 'love' nature or is hiking an extended form of conquering it and overcoming its difficulties. Hiking with others or without others are very different kinds of hiking and require very different mind sets. And going from one to the other during a hike can be really difficult on one's mental peace. Some hikers thrive on the good days and suffer through the tough ones. Others just love the challenging days and don't seem to pay much attention to the really nice ones. Some love towns and others hate towns. Some 'need' their music like they are hooked on drugs and others find that kind of noise in the wilderness somewhat obscene.

There are endless variations on the above and similar issues which you will have to deal with in your own way. This is where the true meaning of HYOH is found I think. A large percentage of new thru hikers find that they cannot settle into a internal mental rhythm which carries them forward in a reasonably comfortable frame of mind. And they leave the trail to return to a place which seems more suited to them. And some very experienced hikers sometimes go out and things just do not go well for that trip and they return home. We see both all the time as what works for us one day for some reason does not necessarily work the next. The ability to recognize when your mental place is not where it needs to be and to adjust yourself is to me the hardest and most important issue to have a handle upon.

And no one can do all that much to help you as the key to that is found inside you.

Bubblehead
02-20-2018, 22:48
I hiked 635 miles in 2016, Springer to Pearisburg, Va. I hiked 806 miles last year, Pearisburg to Pawling, NY. Hiking 747 miles this year, Pawling to Katahdin. The 2 biggest issues for me was keeping the weight on, and missing my wife. I loved hiking the trail, and the daily challenges. But 2 months for me on the trail is enough. Physically, I could do a thru hike; no physical problems other than general soreness. But mentally, I'm ready to get off the trail after 2 months; that's why I've divided my "thru" hike into thirds. It's what works for me...

jj dont play
02-21-2018, 01:54
Food.
I couldnít control the hiker hunger (I donít think you can actually control it on a they but still) and had trouble fueling for bigger miles towards the end.


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Slugg
02-21-2018, 13:27
Loneliness and setting/packing up your sleeping system in the rain.

Grampie
02-21-2018, 16:39
How hard it was to keep up the daily grind of being hungry, dirty and tired.

Lone Wolf
02-21-2018, 17:00
how it wasn't nearly as physically tough as i thought it would be

Zed
02-22-2018, 00:16
Food. Never have got the "hiker hunger." Hungry, yes, but not a bottomless pit like others. Getting enough calories every day to keep weight on is tough.

sarac
02-24-2018, 13:23
Food for me. Also a little homesickness for standard creature comforts