Happy New Year! It is officially 2017. This New Year brings new adventures for many of you. This could be the year you have planned to thru hike, or it could be the year you decide you want to in the future. Either way, at Mountain Crossings, we love thru hikers and we love to help them in any way we can. All of us are experienced AT thru hikers and we are here to give advice, and encouragement for you this year. This blog is going to talk about some of the stages of deciding to thru hike, and beginning to plan. In the weeks to follow, we will also feature blogs related to what you might need on your thru hike, and what you will encounter out there.
Deciding to thru hike
This might be the biggest step to planning your hike. For some, they’ve wanted to do it all their lives and have been planning for it for years. Others may just not have anything going on so they decide to hit the trail, and others may be recovering from past traumas. Whatever your reason, it can be a tough decision with many sacrifices.
For me, I had always wanted to hike the AT. It wasn’t until I was living and working in the corporate world in the city that I really decided I wanted to pursue my dreams. I quit my job, moved out of my apartment, and hit the trail! The decision was super tough because I was comfortable in my current situation. I just knew if I didn’t decide to hike the trail now, then in ten years or so I would look back and regret it. That is the advice I give to anyone considering a thru hike, how will you look upon this time in your life, will you regret not exploring? Six months really isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things. A lot of people do have obligations such as family, career, or house. If you don’t feel you could leave these things behind, don’t go. But if you know they will be waiting for you when you get back, then don’t use them as excuses not to pursue a thru hike. Try to weigh the positives and negatives of this six month journey.
Telling family and friends
This part can be easy, or difficult, depending on who are your loved ones. People will think you are crazy, or awesome, or maybe both. The important thing is, try not to let what anyone else thinks affect your decision. It helps to have some support back home, in case you need someone to send you different gear you already have. Having the encouragement from home also helps. If you know that whoever might be waiting for you is proud of you, and wants you to finish, it can make the hike better. When others are missing you and telling you to finish up and come home, it can make you anxious. Try to let others know that all you want is support and understanding.
Be sure to tell your work, or whoever you may have obligations with about your hike. I told my work a few months in advance so I could help hire a replacement. They were appreciative and excited for me. Not everyone is in the best work situation, but still try to think about how leaving may effect the business. If you are paying bills, living with others, etc, then let them know and figure things out before you leave. This may seem like a given, but when you’re anxious, you can make rash decisions.
Of course, you want to make sure you have all the right gear, but we aren’t going to get in to that right now. You need to prepare yourself mentally more than anything. The first thing you need to do is go out for an overnight test hike. Even if you don’t have the best gear yet, make sure you at least like to backpack. I’ve met many people who start thru hiking without any previous experience and they quit early on. Some of these people end up loving it and go the whole way but why risk it? Get yourself out there one weekend and make sure you’re into it before you try to hike 2000 plus miles.
Know that the trail is not going to be easy. You will have aches and sores, it will be sunny and cold, it will rain, you will be tired. You may not know ahead of time whether or not these things will wear you down. Mentally prepare for this and try to have the mindset that it isn’t going to just be fun and games. You are able to stop in town as often as you want to recharge yourself.
Keep your motivation in mind while preparing for your hike. If you decided to thru hike because you are unhappy in your current situation, keep reminding yourself that. You will constantly have to remind yourself on trail of your purpose out there as well. Once you lose your reason to be out there, you will find yourself wanting to quit.
This is probably the biggest way people are preparing nowadays. Reading this blog could be one way you are prepping for your hike. There are numerous other blogs to read and watch and they can be super helpful. Try not to get too involved with reading things online. Everyone is going to have their own opinion about gear, about the trail, yada yada yada. You really need to get out there and experience it for yourself. It helps to read reviews and experiences, but don’t take them all to heart.
I found myself on a hiker forum called White Blaze. This can be very informative and fun to read! But, it stressed me out. People would sometimes get in arguments, there were conflicting views on everything, I didn’t know what to believe! I definitely found some information helpful, but I also decided to just go with what I knew and I would figure some things out along the way.
There are some great books we recommend. Read our previous blog post on books to get you inspired, and prepare you for the trail!
Getting out on the trail for one or more shakedown hikes is important. You can see what it’s like, and how your body responds. Of course it is really hard to prepare your body to hike over 2000 miles, but being in some kind of shape helps. More importantly, making sure your shoes are right, and knowing some basic, pre-workout stretches. You wouldn’t believe how much stretching while on the trail helps your body. Your feet are very important. Blisters are no fun and you do not want to get them. Whatever shoes you decide to get, make sure they fit right, and they are broken in. You should be wearing them fairly frequently before the trail to make sure they are right for your feet.
Even though you are living in the woods, you still need money. To hike the trail comfortably, I would say having $1,000 a month is good. Of course you can swing it either way. You can save more and be able to stay in town more, or you can get by with a lot less. It all depends on how often you want to stay in a hotel/hostel, and go out to eat. I will say, it is fairly easy to go into town. Even if you planned to stay on trail more and not spend money on town stops, it can be tempting. Have yourself a little extra for just in case stops and possible emergencies.
Resupply food is a must always, and you might need to spend some money on more gear such as shoes, or new water filter. Just be sure you know what kind of hike you want to have and save accordingly!
Check back next week! We will be discussing some important gear choices that you will need and other experiences you might have on the trail.