To: An Aspiring Thru Hiker

Words by Annie MacWilliams // Photos by Brian Threlkeld

With Love, from a Triple Crowner

First off, right now, you’re an “Aspiring Thru Hiker.” Until you finish your trail, you’re not yet a Thru-Hiker. You are certainly “thru-hiking”, but stay humble, the trail is hard for more than a few reasons, and you may not finish what you intended to start. Enjoy the journey with it’s challenges, and should you finish, enjoy your new title. You earned it. In the meantime, I’ve compiled a few insights that I found helpful throughout my quest to earning my own title, and that of a Triple Crowner.

 

Share your stoke.

You are doing something amazing, and I guarantee you made sacrifices and compromises to be here. But hot damn, you’re here you lucky sonofabitch. I wish I was in your shoes. Or at least some cleaner ones. Make new friends, and listen to how they got here. Be kind and friendly to strangers. Day hikers have shared my summits, their snacks, and fueled me with so much stoke. Pass that on. When you walk on trails for months you have highs and lows – this is normal – but absorb the good you can, and when you are on a high, make sure you lift up those around you. After all, you’re all walking the same steps.

Stay flexible.

This applies to gear and plans. I swapped out so much gear when I learned about better options from other hikers. Very little of my kit was the same on the CDT as the AT, and midtrail, I would modify my kit to my new needs. The right gear is out there, and you shouldn’t be in pain and discomfort. Allow pride a backseat to learning, ask questions, and absorb. Just because hiking is recreational doesn’t mean it can’t be educational too.

Eat Healthy(ish).

I can’t emphasize this enough; while thru-hiking, your body turns into a highly efficient machine. The fuel you feed it needs to be high octane. Read labels so you know exactly what is going in your body. Fat is a friend, and sodium can be foe, but keep in mind that if you don’t enjoy it, you’re going to dread one of your three primary activities out here; walking, sleeping, and eating. I honestly love fat while hiking, and find my body does well on heavy doses of freezer section cheesecake in a Ziploc bag; I still fantasize about it. Learn how to resupply from a gas station, and consider mailing food drops from earlier trail towns to those up trail when you know a food desert is ahead. You are going to be hungry a lot, but don’t let your body fall apart. This also goes for hygiene, and body health. Take good care of injuries, and don’t overexert yourself to maintain hiking expectations.

It’s just walking. Simplify it.

So are you having fun? Yes? Awesome, carry on.

No? Okay, what do you need? Better gear? A change in hiking partners, or solo status? Do you need to go home for loved ones or anxiety? It’s okay to go home. The trail is staying there. But leave on a high note. Allow this story to be open ended. Take care of your business, and if it’s something to return to, well, come back. If not, pursue a different passion. The trail can teach a lot of lessons, and that applies to both “Thru Hikers,” and “Aspiring Thru Hikers.”

As a trail angel on the PCT said to us “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.”

Do good. You’ll become an ambassador of the AT, or PCT, or CDT. Or any other number of other trails of widely varying length. Leave the trail in better shape. Carry out your trash, even other people’s if you can. Pack out every damn “It’s a Girl!” mylar balloon lost to helium and wind. I loved hiking my long trails, and I wish everyone that wants to experience them gets a chance. This is largely dependent on these trails being loved, maintained, and improved. Always thank the trail crews. And firefighters. And every user of the trail that is also an ambassador and member of the community. We need to be in this together; for our long trails, and for the bigger public land battles we have today.

And finally, Enjoy without limits. Once again, I wish I was in your frozen, smelly, or busted out the toe, shoes. Be a lost boy. Go feral. Live purely. Drink (treated) water from the ground. Make new friends from all over the world. See things that will bring tears to your eyes and lumps to your throat. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, and watch your body transform from just the act of walking. You’ve been doing that since you were a year old, but never like this before. Go forth and see the world, you are the lucky one.


Annie MacWilliams saw the world at 3.5 mph on the Appalachian Trail (’09), Pacific Crest Trail (’11), and Continental Divide Trail (’13). She considers the days of Tarzan-swinging kudzu vines, sunburn-soothing snow angels in the Sierra, gruff-ranchers-turned-hosts in the West, and intimately knowing the cycles of the natural world to be some of the best days spent of her life. She now spends her time in Park City, Utah walking slowly over short distances with a goofy dog, and up snowy mountains to slide down them. But every April she dreams of trail markers.

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