Take a Deep Breath. No, seriously, do it right now. Inhale….exhale… Feel better? Probably not, but hopefully after reading through this you’ll feel 0.01% better than you did before. There’s no getting over the pre-trail jitters until you actually get those boots dirty. However, there are some things that you are likely freaking out about that I can assure you, is a waste of your time and energy. Here’s a short review of what to expect, and some of the things you’re in a panic over that you’ll be laughing about in retrospect.
The truth of the matter is, you’re over-planning and overthinking EVERYTHING! That’s totally okay, though. Pretty much everyone does this before hitting the trail. The truth is, you can’t plan for everything. Sorry, you just can’t. You might be saying right about now, “Well, Stubbs. Thanks for that. Now I’m REALLY anxious.” Don’t be. All you need to know right now is that this is going to be a learning experience, so treat it as such. It’s gonna be like your first day in a new job where you’re just getting a knack for how things work. And the Appalachian Trail is probably one of the best trails to learn from. Why? You’re never too far from town, and you’re going to be surrounded by plenty of people to help get you through it.
The Rules of Society Don’t Stand on the Trail
I hear time and time again how people plan to shave their legs, get their hair trimmed at the barbershop in town, plan on using deodorant, and so forth. News flash! Your hygiene will be taking a back seat, so prepare yourself to stop worrying about it so much. Everyone is going to be stinky. Everyone is going to get hairy. Everyone is going to get sweaty. And when you’re in town, most of the locals know what you’re doing and won’t be too bothered by it either. Remember that you’re hiking the AT, not strutting the runway. Your hair might look like a llama was munching on it while you slept, and you’re going to develop a Sasquatch body. And by Sasquatch body, I mean a very gorgeous, muscular, athletic (and hairy) Sasquatch body with Godly calves for days. Oh and the deodorant? That will stop working altogether after a while, so you might as well just leave it at home.
Diet? What Diet?
No matter how much you eat at home, prepare yourself to be frightened by the voracious monster that you are about to become. Downing an extra-large pizza (or more) all by your lonesome will become an unremarkable accomplishment. You may willingly eat food that was dropped in the dirt, found on top of a trash can, left unfinished by a stranger in a restaurant booth, left in a box outside of a hostel, and will unquestionably, on several occasions, hike miles and miles out of your way in the name of food. Your stomach will never be satisfied. Regardless of how much you eat, you’ll likely look more and more emaciated as your hike continues, so save the portion control for when the journey’s over. Everyone has “cheat days” at home, but trail people get “cheat months,” so savor that food rampage while your metabolism still supports it!
The Trail Connections
Total strangers will become your closest of friends. You might become closer friends with these people than your best friend from grade school. Funny enough, these new trail pals quite possibly will be people you would never speak to in the “real world.” People who have different political views, religious perspectives, who come from different social backgrounds, with different upbringings, and different life experiences. Keep an open mind and be respectful of the trail, and you’ll be rewarded with a huge network of trail friends who you’ll consider family. The hiker bond is strong!
The Experience in a Nutshell
A day will come where you will be colder than you’ve ever been in your life. The polar opposite will occur too, so prepare to sweat more than a hooker at church. You’re also going to get rained on… a LOT! There isn’t any rain gear in existence, nor any foolproof plan that will keep you completely dry; you can bank on that. Your body is going to hurt pretty much all of the time, but you’ll adjust (so long as it isn’t a serious injury). There will be good days and bad days, but if you keep positive, the good will always out-beat the bad, so never quit on a bad day.
Don’t spend too much time sweating the small stuff. You’ll get through it, and you won’t have to do it alone. You’re about the have the experience of a lifetime, whether you complete the whole thing or not. Godspeed, stay safe and hike happy, ya’ll!