Welcome pain. Welcome suffering. Welcome hiking and backpacking the Appalachian Trail. Welcome achievement. Welcome personal reward and satisfaction. Welcome to hiking and backpacking the Appalachian Trail.
Get fit as you like beforehand; you’ll still experience exhaustion and exertion will sit on your shoulder and cackle in your ear. Road crossings will pull at you with terrific magnetism, drawing you with the lure of comfortable beds, hot tubs, restaurants clogged with food choices time spent on the trial will have you dreaming of.
Plan. Inventory. Stock up. Choose gear carefully. Pack, unpack. Repack. Got those pounds and ounces down just right? By the time you’re passing the town of Suches, Gerogia a mere two miles west of the trail you’ll be mailing things home or ahead of you in a bounce box. I remember being completely, utter convinced I had all the essentials and not one thing more. Nothing has been unaccounted for, nothing over-purchased or packed. I sent home ten pounds of gear in Suches and forwarded the rest for later use. The postage I spent was well worth it. And my trip was lighter. Had I not shed the excess gear I would never have crossed the North Carolina/Georgia line.
By the first 100 miles, around the ascent of Mount Albert, I had lost quite a few pounds of personal weight; down to 175 from 238. I stepped on a scale at the Nolichucky Outdoor Center in Erwin, Tennessee and the truth sank in. I was giddy, to be honest, and stronger.
Yet…there was always the mental exertion and demands of the trail. I was physically fit and carried a lighter pack. Still, my emotional and mental state was always in flux, always challenging me. That’s what I’ve always believed to be the most important determiner of success for a hiker or backpacker on the Appalachian Trail — mental toughness.
If you’re planning on setting out on the Appalachian Trail this year, be prepared to handle setback, frustration, anxiety, some fear, disappointment, elation, despair, and a range of other feelings. Be ready to make them your friends, because they will be your companions, whether you’ve invited them or not. (See my article from 2008 by following the link below)