The Pursuit of the Hike After Failure and the Advantages of Trying Again

Originally posted on The Trek on July 27th 2016

So you Appalachian failed. Your thru-hike wasn’t the success you so diligently planned it out to be. So much time, money, blood, sweat, and tears were poured into your efforts, but something went awry. Maybe you ran out of funds. Maybe you got injured. Or perhaps, maybe you only planned to embrace a section or the “Springer to Trail Days” beer crawl, only to realize later on that there was more to this experience that you still craved. Regardless of what led you off trail, you want to return and have every intention of going for round two.

I was forced off trail due to a pelvic stress fracture, and my husband and team mate decided to return home shortly after since it just didn’t feel right for him to continue without me.

This is how I fractured it. Just kidding! But it would be way funnier if it had! (overuse. overuse is what caused it)
This is how I fractured it. Just kidding! But it would be way funnier if it had been! (“Overuse” is what caused it).

I made it to Boiling Springs, PA and decided to return to my home in Maryland for a “brief” rest period only to receive the unfortunate x-ray results that led to my final decision. I had hiked over 500 miles of the journey not even aware of the severity of my situation, and I was devastated when I realized the best decision for my well being was not to return to my home away from home on the trail.

After ugly crying A LOT, and deciding that I would return to the trail for another attempt next year, I came to the realization that I shouldn’t view this as a failure, but to embrace it for all its benefits. I thought I would share three of these advantages for those who just can’t give up on the dream and wish to try again.

You’ve Become a Pro:

Day one on the trail, the big topic of conversation is all about gear and experiences. Hikers investigate one another’s packs, shelter of choice, footwear, cooking methods (or lack of), food, filtration system, sleeping bags/mats, etc. How do you like it? Have you had any issues with it? How much does it weigh in comparison to mine? What’s the comfort level? How do you handle blisters? Chaffing? Should I bring deodorant? (No, no you shouldn’t).

With these soft feet, I think I exhausted every option when it came down to blister prevention!
With these soft feet, I think I exhausted every option when it came down to blister prevention! Ask anyone who I hiked with in 2016. My feet suck!

You on the other hand have been through all this before. You know what works for you. You’ve also heard of and experienced firsthand what doesn’t. You can now view yourself as sort of a trail guru available for advice and suggestions! Or you can sit back and giggle at the amateur mistakes of others if that’s more your thing!

You Know What Locations Are Key:

At least during a small chunk of your take two, you will have an idea what shelters and towns you may prefer to make pit stops at. During round one, my husband and I would realize that if only we timed our hiking experience a bit differently, we would have stayed at some of the best shelters and hostels.

I remember other hikers bragging about the amazing food they tasted, the great kindness experienced by the owners, or how affordable it was by staying at said hostel. There were also numerous shelters we passed by that had added perks, such as: solar showers, swinging chairs, extra roofing and/or benches, flower pots, board games, lofts and extra levels, etc. All after staying in an old, decrepit shelter that fits 6 uncomfortably with limited tenting space.  This time around, you may decide to plan your miles more wisely to enjoy what you may have missed out on.

You may even come across some quality HGTV style decor such as this or maybe a cowboy penis doodle on the shelter wall! (I don't support vandalism, but that's pretty funny to see after a long hiking day!)
You may even come across some rustic decor such as this, or maybe a cowboy penis doodle on the shelter wall! (I don’t support hiker vandalism, but that’s pretty funny to see after a long hiking day!)

You’ve gained some trail town knowledge as well.  When heading out for resupply, you also may have the benefit of experiencing the services of local restaurants, breweries/pubs, motels/hotels/B&B’s, outfitters and other retailers, as well as where to score that free shower or to get your laundry de-funked. You know what businesses are hiker-friendly and provide the best service, and you know where you’ll be spending those zeros!

Extending Your Trail Family:

Bonding with the Crew from the First Bubble with some Trail Magic (beer and foods) after Blood Mountain
Bonding with the Crew from the First Bubble with some Trail Magic (beer and foods) at Neel Gap

Some people find a sense of community through church, sports, or hobbies. I knew I would make some friends during my thru-hike, but I really didn’t have any clue how close knit the AT hiking community was until I experienced it for myself. I have made lifelong friendships, and have met some of the most incredible human beings with some of the most interesting backgrounds and stories. We took a whole lot of zeros during our first attempt, so we had an opportunity to float through many bubbles and meet a lot of hikers.

More Beer Bonding with the Second Bubble at the NOC
More Beer Bonding with the Second Bubble at the NOC

It would be bittersweet when we would read about people we meshed well with in the log books that were days or weeks ahead, and we would feel a sense of loss upon hearing of others leaving the trail. I am truly excited to meet a whole new class of hikers in the year to come. I don’t think there are many situations where you’re thrown in the mix with such a diverse group of strangers and come out caring for, embracing, and supporting nearly every single one.

Kidnapped these Stinky Freeloaders and took 'em home with us for the 4th of July! Memories!
Kidnapped these Stinky Freeloaders and took ’em home with us for the 4th of July! Memories!

So you Appalachian failed. So what? Your experience has empowered you with authority and cognition, and has left you enticed and enchanted. Your first attempt may not have been a success, but in the end, you learned a whole lot and will not smell defeat (just yourself until you get that hiker “cologne” off of you). So, cheer up buttercup and prepare to do it all over again, and damn, ain’t that something to look forward to?

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