Forget what Bill Bryson said in his book “A Walk in the Woods” about hiking and backpacking the Appalachian Trail. Abandon the notion that your hike will be a thrill packed adventure. Get the thought out of your head that the journey will unfold a certain way. That’s a guarantee of disappointment. When you leave your expectations at liberty, you’ll be prepared to experience the trail on its terms.
Despite its popularity, frequent foot traffic, and common road crossings make no mistake — most of the Appalachian Trail runs through remote land. In some places, such as the Great Smoky Mountains, and upper reaches of Maine, you’ll be hiking some of the last genuine wilderness east of the Mississippi. This is unbroken nature and, as trail philosopher Ricky Ruiz has said, “Nature don’t care who you are!”
Ricky is right. To sign on the hike the Appalachian Trail is to enlist for hardship. Weather and trail conditions will be unpredictable and at times bring you blessings or take a toll on you. Springs will gush with abundance or be near waterless. Backpackers who are flexible and adaptable will thrive the challenges; those lacking self-reliance had best stay home. Because it will get hot and cold. The sun will shine and warm you, then wind will rip your body heat from you with shocking speed. Lightning will thread the skies with warning. Those who are mindful of risks and take them into account when making decisions will prevail. The reckless will pay for it. Solitude will teach you life-lessons. Loneliness will cause your soul turmoil. You’ll be happy and you’ll grieve. You’ll experience uncertainty and be tempted to turn around, and you’ll be emboldened to take chances. Inconveniences will plague you. You’ll be fed up with food, feel miserable due to days without a decent bath. You’ll get blisters and suffer stinging nettles and bugs will drive you mad.
But, if you persevere, if you commit, if you begin again each new day, you’ll one day find yourself standing in the shadow of Katahdin, looking up at the final goal of your voyage. You’ll be a new person; someone different. And you won’t have to worry about what comes next, because in undertaking this journey to completion, you’ll find everything else will fall into place.