My Worries & Fears of Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

I have many fears about my thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) starting this coming March. I am worried about the physical and mental strength needed to undertake such an endeavor, but I don’t fear them. I could get lost somewhere along the trail, although this is highly unlikely on such a well-marked trail as the AT, so I don’t fear getting lost. There are bears, ticks, snakes, mice, and other wildlife I can come across on the AT, but I don’t fear those either.

I do worry about the weather conditions I will encounter on my journey through 14 states and 2,190 miles of trail. But the rain, snow, heat, etc. are part of the experience of a thru-hike. With proper planning and carrying the right gear, these are merely inconveniences you must hike through to get to the other end of the trail. While I may curse the rain after 5-days of nonstop rain, the weather is temporary and will eventually change. I find cursing the rain or wind under my breath helps me more than anything; I know full well it won’t change the weather. There is a quote about thru-hiking the AT that I am reminded of:

No pain, no rain, no Maine

I worry some piece of gear might fail along my journey. My inflatable mattress could develop a leak, leaving me sleeping on the ground. Yes, I carry a patch kit for just such an event, but it is only a temporary inconvenience. I’ll be able to patch the leak or replace the defunct mattress someplace down the trail. A tent pole breaks? I have a pole repair sleeve. Rip my down jacket? That’s what duct tape is for. I, personally, don’t see a piece of gear failing as putting me off the trail. Inconvenience me, yes; slow me down some, possibly; but put me off the trail, not likely.

Thinking about it there is only one thing as a hiker that scares me. Okay, maybe two, but they are closely intertwined, and I tend to think of them as one.

One of those two things I fear is falling. Falls are one of the most common causes of death in the backcountry. If I fall off a cliff and die, I guess I don’t really have anything else to worry about. If I slip on a rock fording a stream and fall, I might suffer embarrassment, but I’ll survive. Now, a fall that causes injury is another matter.

When you get down to it, there is only one thing I fear about my thru-hike; injury on the trail.

Last week the worst thing that can happen to a hiker happened. I injured my foot while urban hiking. While not a major injury, it has kept me off my feet for the past four days. If there is any one thing that could stop my thru-hike, it’s an injury. While a simple sprain caused by worn out hiking boots and a missed step off a curb, it has caused me alarm. My brain instantly going to, “what if this had happened on the trail?”

On the AT you are typically never more than a day or two from either a town or a road leading to a city, so help is never that far away. The AT is also highly trafficked, so you’ll run across others who might be able to help if you can’t walk due to an injury. Some sections of the trail have trail runners, something like 80% of the path has cellular service available (although one should never rely on a cell phone in a backcountry emergency), someone in your tramily[i] might have an inReach or SPOT and can call for help. In short, while injury on the trail is bad, I don’t see it as life-threatening.

Thinking about it, I don’t fear injury on the trail. I am worried about it, but I don’t fear it. What I fear is what an injury could mean to my thru-hike; namely failure. While I am concerned about many things, failure is the only thing I genuinely fear…

[i] Tramily – a combination of trail and family; a loose group of thru-hikers who hike as a unit

About Gerard Saint-Pierre

I'm a long-distance hiker, writer, photographer, environmentalist, & digital nomad. I'm thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail NOBO starting in March to help raise awareness about mental health. Come and follow along as I blog about the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of a thru-hike while battling depression and PTSD.

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