No doubt about it: you will have days during your thru-hike when nothing will be as tempting as the notion of bailing out. I first met hikers who quit the trail well before the NC/GA border. Some discontinued their hike because of injury, others were homesick. One hiker said, “It just wasn’t what I thought it would be.” He caught a bus home the next day.
Within the first ten days of my trip I “enjoyed” nearly overpowering Georgia heat and humidity (and I’m from North Carolina!), discovering springs filled with brackish, un-potable water. Fifty-cent-sized blisters plagued both heels. The stinging nettles went on for miles, and drove some hikers nearly mad. One hiker made the habit of screaming aloud at the top of his voice as he plunged through them. Muscles and joints screamed for relief; moving gingerly first thing in the morning took persistent effort and ibuprofen became known as the “hiker vitamin.”
So, how can an aspiring long-distance Appalachian Trail backpacker up the odds of finishing atop Katahdin in autumn? There are as many answers to this questions as there are summits along the trail. But I recall in an old 1989 edition of the “Philosopher’s Guide,” some genuine advice. It suggested that if one feels like cashing in the trip they get off the trail and hold up in a motel for two or three days. If they find they aren’t missing what’s happening on the trail within that span of time, perhaps the hike is not for them and it’s time to set sights on a new goal.
I would add a simple suggestion; a “note to yourself.” Before you set out from Springer Mountain, jot down on a slip of paper the “why” which brought you to hike the Appalachian Trail. Make your reason as honest as possible, and retrieve it from your pocket to read during “those moments” — because you will have them, and that note to self may be the anchor and powerful motivation which keeps you hiking along the trail.