View Full Version : Trail Expectations Vs Trail Reality

03-02-2003, 11:41
I just read a post where someone asked if it were possible to create a forum for current trail conditions. The response was that this forum already exists and that there are other websites out there covering the same topic. That started me thinking...

My first thruhike was an exercise in ignorance for the most part. On 3 days notice (to the world) and preparation (for myself), I headed south and started walking north. I simply dealt with what I found around each bend. Now, however, it is possible to hike the most remote sections of the trail while talking to friends at home, see your exact position on a moving map ala gps, or ask what the conditions of any given section of the trail are like BEFORE you ever set foot on it. Yes, it is amazing. It is also a bit frightening and worrysome. But the +/- of various technologies available is not my driving concern here.

To whit: The lessons I learned on my first Thruhike were unimpeded by prior expectation. My own complete ignorance of life on the trail meant I had no "Unlearning" to do. I wonder if people are actually helped or hindered by all the information now available to them. Are more people sticking with their thruhike because of "lessons learned" from others or are more people severely disappointed because of expectations they developed based on the experiences of others?

For example: On several occasions I witnessed thruhikers bemoaning a lack of trail magic or lost trail magic. One woman actually shouted, "Where's MY trail magic? They said there would be trail magic here!" Another quit the trail at Neel's Gap because no one told her the climb DOWN from Blood Mountain was so long and steep; "They only ever talked about the climb UP!"

I agree, these are rediculous episodes and are probably symptomatic of people ready to quit their hikes. Evenso, I can't help but wonder at the teenager-like disappointment and angst they exhibit when they find life on the trail is not the fairy tale they were told it was.

03-02-2003, 12:57
Aubrey, my expectations were wildly off base before my hike. For some reason I never thought about how difficult (physically) the hike might actually be. DUH! Georgia sure was an eye-opener.

I did alot of my pre-hike planning on Trailplace. I wanted to know EVERYTHING, and of course, you can't nor (IMO) should you know everything about a thru-hike beforehand.

That's one of the things about Wingfoot that I appreciate. When I met him in Hot Springs, I asked some questions about the trail to the north, and he wouldn't answer them. He said "I'm not gonna tell you. You'll have to find that out for yourself. " That sense of wonder about what was around each bend never left me during my hike. For that, I am grateful.

03-02-2003, 15:19
The MUDs are what I didn't expect.
I expected there'd be more hiking between
the hills. I didn't expect to see the top of EVERY
mountain in Appalachia, but I got used to
it after a while.


03-02-2003, 16:03
Life is Short and information ENDLESS!!! aldous huxley

03-02-2003, 22:02
A thru-hiker told me June 27th in Duncannon that he didn't read about the AT because he didn't want to have any preconceived ideas. He didn't want to inherit his prejudices.

03-02-2003, 23:19
I'm actually glad to hear all of this. :)

It has also made me think some more (I do quite a lot of thinking it seems...) Despite my own existing knowledge of the trail, I still feel drawn to hike it over again and again. On my second thruhike I was very worried that I would be bored. You see, on my '96 hike, I asked a guy by the name of Bungalo Bill (a repeat hiker at the time) if the hiking seemed slower. He said, "yes, a little. I keep remembering things that are still 500 miles in the future. It's almost as if I've already hiked it this year and then I wake up in the morning realizing I still have to climb Roan."

Happily, for my second hike, this was not the case. So now I set out for my third hike full of the same sense of wonderment I had on my first. What will it be like? Who will I meet? How will I feel when I summit Springer and know that I'm on a THRUHIKE! Very cool.

I'm also happy for the first-timers: it seems they don't "miss out" or "get the wrong idea" as much as I thought possible. Good for them.

03-05-2003, 01:21
I think a big problem on the AT is the amount of information on the trail. In this day and age the trail in terms of planning is absolutely simple...and not even necessary in many ways. I think people look at the guide books and say..."this is a cruise" then realize that no matter how easy the trail is logistically, they still have to walk every day with a pack. I think some people think the trail will be as easy as the logistics haha.

Blue Jay
03-05-2003, 08:39
The fact is, on the trail you spend a lot of time being cold, wet, tired and hungrey. Sitting here warm, dry, wearing clean clothes and having access to all the food I could ever want, why would anyone want to expose themselves to the opposite? It's quite simply a masochistic pleasure that some people find they hate and get off the Trail before Virginia and others find themselves sitting here wishing they were cold, wet, tired and hungery.

03-05-2003, 10:34
I have found the internet community helpful for opinions on gear planning, etc. However, some opinions stressed on the internet gave me a misrepresentation of typical thru-hikers. Just remember to take everything on these forums with a grain of salt and remember you have to develop your personal hiking style to be a happy hiker.

03-05-2003, 11:28
I would say that Presto's observations are very similar to what I have noticed. The impressions I got from people on the AT-L were, I think, significantly different that the reality I found on Springer. By the end of the first week, though, I was happily trudging along in a style that made me happy. That is, I found my own hike.