While thumbing through my Appalachian Trail journals, I jotted down some lessons I gleaned from my time hiking and backpacking.
The trail will teach you about self-reliance. Though you will meet other backpackers, you will have times when it’s up to you to manage starting a fire, negotiating a stream crossing, or thumbing a ride. Trust your gut and take the risk.
Trust your instincts when it comes to dealing with others. Over time you will develop an awareness of who will be a reliable hiking partner or friend, and which drivers are OK to hitch rides with.
When in doubt — don’t! This applies to hitching rides, drinking from questionable springs, dealing with other hikers and townspeople, etc.
For the most part, the people you meet will be good and helpful souls who are ready to lend you a hand in difficulty.
You will be surprised to learn just how little equipment you need and what you can do without. Try shedding unused gear and shipping it ahead in a “bounce box” to your next mail drop. Chances are you’ll end up mailing things home.
Your sense of self-trust and self confidence will increase as you hike. It starts by overcoming the small challenges, such as getting up the next hill; it results in the ability to make wise choices, deal with logistics, and negotiate major peaks.
You never, ever conquer the natural world you are in, nor should you try. Let it teach you, awe you, and humble you.
Be a turtle; forget the jackrabbits. There are those who will rush and strut past you whose agenda is to break some personal record. Let them go. The oldest and most reliable adage of the trail is: “Hike your own hike.”