Discouragement. Disappointment. Physical pain. Exasperation. Dreadful weather. Slick trails. Mail-drops that aren’t at the post office when you get there. Blisters. Humidity and heat w
hich sap your hardiness and hinder your hiking until the cooler part of the day. Mobbed shelters. Difficult people.
These are some of the dynamics you will (yes, I said will) meet when backpacking the Appalachian Trail. Even so take heart, and know this before you set about your journey; there will be joy. Days of elation and striking beauty. Nights of amazement under the stars. Spectacular moments that are lifetime blessings. Look for them. Trust that they will come.
Here are some techniques you may find useful to adopt before you strike out for the Appalachian Trail:
Perfection does not exist on the Appalachian (or any other) Trail. Hardship is part of the price paid for the glorious experience of hiking it. If you’re susceptible to black-and-white thinking, realize that each mile and each day will bring a combination of arduousness and delight, and regardless of the difficulties, when you finally complete your hike it will be with a deep sense of attainment and reward.
Release the following expectation: hiking a specific number of miles per day. A wise backpacker has said, “begin slowly…the 20-mile days will come.” In my case, there were just two high-mileage days and both were triggered by necessity. One was a 17 mile push to retrieve a Saturday mail drop in Maine; the other was simply because I missed some trail blazes in Pennsylvania. By the end of that day I had walked 23 fatiguing miles! Even if you’re in the best of shape you can expect about 7 to 10 mile days in the southern Appalachians. As you reach the 10-percent trail grades in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, doing a 20-mile day is easier. Even so, who says you have to? Who is looking over your shoulder? What person has hitched a pedometer to your pack belt? This trip is for enjoyment and personal growth. “Hike your hike” cannot be repeated enough.
Remember, during despondent moments, that you can do this. A setback does not have to become something which derails your hike. I once heard “if you’re sick and tired of hiking, go into town and get a motel room for a few days. Kick back, rest, decompress. If you’re not missing the trail in two or three days maybe you need to set your sights on another goal.” There is no shame in this. Besides, the Appalachian Trail is not going anywhere. Never abandon your desire to hike it while the fire still burns inside you.