For many, the Appalachian Trail can truly be described as an “emotional roller coaster” consisting of many ups and downs along the way. While everyone handles experiences and emotions differently, there are several points or stages along the way that are known for causing emotional highs or lows. During my 2015 thru-hike, I found these points to elicit more intense emotions:
1) The first step.
Even before the first actual step I was extremely nervous and anxious. Like for several months before. So, if you’re setting out on your thru-hike soon, no worries, this is normal. I had never been on an overnight backpacking trip or tested my gear. I certainly had not been without a job for 6 months (since I was 14 years old, anyway). As I took my first step, crossing the line into many unknowns, I was very unsure of myself.
The point is, though, no matter what exact emotions you are feeling when you take that first step–you are THERE! You have defied the odds, ignored the friends and family who think you are crazy, and rearranged your life to make time for what likely is the most exciting journey you’ve ever experienced!
2) First long stretch of bad weather.
Because it was a new experience, hiking and setting up my tent on the first rainy day of my thru-hike was kind of exciting. I would’ve rather had sunshine, but I had to test out my new rain gear at some point, right? Well, it was all fun and games until it had been raining and/or hailing consistently for several days, my socks were soggy, my tent was carrying extra water weight and my body was like a walking raisin. For me, this first extended stretch of inclement weather that really began to test my sanity took place in the Smoky Mountain National Park. I learned that cold rain truly is my kryptonite.
The thing to remember if bad weather starts to get you down is that the sun WILL shine again (even if you start to doubt it). It’s really easy to want to throw in the towel on a crappy day, so wait and see how you feel during the next sunny day! Just remember: No Rain. No Pain. No Maine.
For more tips about dealing with rain on the trail–check out this video.
3) First selfless act of kindness (aka Trail Magic).
The first time I received some fairly epic trail magic I was in disbelief. Why would anyone, let alone a complete STRANGER, be so kind to me? I couldn’t believe there were people who were so selfless that they would willingly feed, give rides to, or welcome into their homes a bunch of stinky hikers! I received all of these things multiple times throughout my 2,189.2 mile journey and honestly never got over the surprise of how giving people are along the Appalachian Trail. Some of magic came at times in which I couldn’t have needed it more. All I can say is the trail provides when you need it to most and serendipity is alive and well. You’ll know what I mean when it happens to you!
4) The Virginia Blues
Before ever stepping foot on the trail, I had heard all about the Virginia Blues and how drones of hikers go home each year after catching the dreaded condition. I indeed saw one after another “bite the dust” and sometimes wondered if I was next. It just seemed that one minute they were fine and next they had vanished. Some would recall sitting by the fire, “I tried to talk him out of it, but he just said he was done.” Although I never felt “the blues” in Virginia, they did finally catch up with me in Pennsylvania for a short spurt of time. I think the blues potentially occur for several reasons:
- The Old Hat – Maybe the trail has lost its luster due to most of the “firsts” having already taken place. By Virginia most have seen a snake, been in a legit thunderstorm, night hiked, hitch-hiked, etc. The trail becomes somewhat bland. It may seem especially bland after looking forward to Trail Days in Damascus for weeks and then suddenly realizing it’s done and over and there is no set “celebration” in the near future.
- Virginia goes on and on – Chances are when you think back on a memory of your thru-hike there’s a 25% chance that it happened in Virginia. Know why? About 1/4 of the trail is in Virginia. Hikers get used to crossing state lines frequently and Virginia never seems to end.
- Virginia is NOT flat – or is it? NOBO’s hear each year that the trail “flattens out” in Virginia. Honestly, it still feels pretty tough when you’re there. I seriously considered that they pay people to lie to NOBO’s about this as some sort of a cruel joke. Looking back now, I realized the people who say the terrain is “easy” are ones who have experienced the White Mountains in New Hampshire. So, relatively speaking, the hills are “flatter” and “easier,” but Virginia is no breeze.
- Weather and Bugs – Once the weather warms and the bugs emerge your sanity can be tested. Hiking for hours while being sticky and hot with endless swarms of bugs dancing in your ears is somewhat trying. The bug situation does get better, though…or maybe you just get used to it?
During the times when I felt down and out, I tried creating new challenges to keep my mind distracted like beating my mileage from the previous day. To help alleviate my annoyance with bugs and heat, I did more night hiking. If you focus on all of the negative aspects of your hike that’s all you will see. Try to make it fun, and you will have fun.
5) 1,000 Mile Marker
After a while, the 100-mile markers don’t mean as much to you as they once did. When I crossed over the 1,000-mile marker, though, it felt kind of surreal. I was somewhat sad that my trip was
6) The White Mountains
half your mileage
rough days here
7)Maine state line
excitement hiking from GA to ME realize sets in 200+ miles left
8)LONG stretches alone
for me in SO maine, worst day, worried about falling down, rainy weather
9)Mile 2100 and first sighting of KATAHDIN
could see the end in sight and the thing I had been working toward for 6 months, but relief knowing an end exists
still hanging on seen so many fall by the wayside
10) Summit Day
when you finally touch the sign, relief, excitement, worried for the future, ive had this goal and now i need a new one as soon as i touch this sign, how can i ever top this…and begins PCT obsession
bad days will be followed by good.
knowing what to expect is half the challenge, right–so now get out there!
I try to tell myself a bad day on the trail is better than a good day at work, sure climate controlled box may sound good at times, if you need a zero take it, wonderful opportunity ahead of you, most gratifying thing was hiking the AT, but nothing can describe it you just have to get out there and see how it feels.
feeling like your emotionss are on a roller coaster is normal. don’t be surprised
Would love to hear about your most emotional experiences or concerns abbout emotions.