An open letter to all prospective 2017 (and future) AT thru-hikers:
It’s natural to get pre-hike jitters or fears, or doubts. But don’t let them scare you away. There is such a thing as too much planning. It’s very easy to overthink, and over-stress, and over-worry. Sure, bad stuff could happen on the trail. But worrying about it now won’t help, or stop it from happening. You’ll just have to deal with setbacks if and when they arise.
You are about to embark on an absolutely amazing journey, that (relatively) few people have started, let alone successfully completed. Between fellow hikers, trail angels, trail maintenance clubs, and all the local communities and trail towns, the AT has an absolutely wonderful community surrounding it. Everyone wants you to succeed, and everyone will help you along the way.
I started my thru-hike last year on March 21. While doing a thru-hike was something I’d vaguely entertained for five years, it wasn’t until literally six weeks before I was on the trail that I actually seriously considered, and then decided, that I was going to do a thru-hike.
In those 42 days, I researched and bought all my gear, did two half-loaded-pack test day-hikes, failed to actually do a multi-day hike, and got myself to the trail. Excluding “camping” in a tent in someone’s backyard when I was a kid, the first time I ever slept outdoors was Day #1, at Stover Creek Shelter. The first time I ever slept in a tent was Day #3, at Neel Gap.
Any reasonable person knowing that would have suggested that perhaps I should spend more time preparing.
I almost pushed my start date back a week or two, so that I could “do more planning” and “be better prepared” and do a multi-day test hike, because of a general “what am I getting myself into?” panic, exacerbated by being overwhelmed by an unrelated, and unnecessary, commitment I agreed to for a week and a half before I left that took away from “planning time”.
Fortunately, I didn’t push my start date back. I started at a great time, and finished on an absolutely weather-perfect day, and met a lot of amazing people along the way that I’d never have met if I’d delayed my start date. (Sure, I’d have met other people, but that’s besides the point.)
Presumably, you’ve had a bit more time to plan and prepare for your thru-hike than I did. Once you have a start date, and once you get mentally to the point where you feel you can succeed, hold on to that feeling. That feeling of “I know I can do this” is what’s going to let you actually succeed. Beyond that, don’t worry too much. Just know that you’ve prepared as much as you need to, and know that whatever problems arise, you’ll find a solution. Have a plan, but don’t over-plan. Once you’re on the trail, your plans will change. Nothing can prepare you for the AT quite like actually hiking the AT.
On the trail, be smart. Push yourself, but listen to your body. Stop when your body says stop. Ask for help if you need it. Take the advice of those around, especially anyone who’s hiked the trail previously. And above all else: make sure to take in the scenery. There’s amazing views all over the AT, and you’ll miss ’em if you don’t take the time to enjoy it.
You can do it! Good Luck, and Happy Trails!