The hardest thing about hiking the AT is not what you think it is.
Take a guess and see if you’re right.
You might be thinking it is the physical demand. Traversing 14 states, and over 2100 miles. You will find yourself hiking up one mountain, to get to the top and hike right back down the other side. Sometimes without a view. The trail has an elevation gain and loss over 450000 feet.
The number one hardest thing about hiking the Appalachian trail is physically the easiest, so it is not that.
Maybe its the weather?
Rain, storms, and even snow. My first day was a whiteout snowstorm on Katahdin, and the cold nights left me shivering until I got my gear figured out but, nope. Not that either. The physical demands that you put on your body are also incredible. Injuries are a big reason that people do not finish the trail. But it’s still not the hardest thing about hiking the trail either.
The hardest part of hiking the Appalachian trail does not even have much to do with hiking. It comes before the hike, and after you think to yourself “wow… I’d like to hike the Appalachian trail”.
The hardest part of the trail is something most people that say they want to hike the Appalachian Trail won’t or can’t do.
The hardest part hands down is getting yourself to the trailhead, and taking your first step.
When you think about the hike itself, there is a lot of things that make it desirable.
Living out in the wild. Camping and hiking every day at your own pace. Becoming one with nature and having to rely on yourself and your decisions to keep you going. Living off the grid and balancing yourself. But there is more you have to figure out before you even start hiking. You have to figure out how to pay for feeding yourself for 5 months. Sourcing the gear you need. Multiple pairs of shoes. A pack that can handle the wear and tear every day. Stove and fuel. Sleeping bag and clothes. Headlamp and hiking poles. You have to take 5 months off from your job, or even quit your job entirely. And then any other responsibilities you have. Spouse. Kids. Pets. Lease or car payment. College loans. And then to actually break free from your life and do it.
The hardest part is setting up your life to walk away from it for a while. This idea may be the reason that for people who are already in a tough place in their life, getting on the trail is actually pretty easy. Think about the book Lost. Walking away from her life and getting on trail was something of a reset button. As tough as it is, it was still better than “normal life”. I see a lot of similarities in my experience.
The idea to get away for a while and hike the trail took me over a year to line up everything to do it.
And after trying for a year, I almost didn’t go again. My relationship was strained. Even my mom, my number one cheerleader, said maybe I should wait. I had already put it off a year. Even though I didn’t feel everything was in place, I knew I had to go anyway. My overplanning was all wrong, and with all the wrong gear, and all the wrong planning I went anyway. Turned out its the best decision I’ve ever made. How do you set yourself up to travel for months at a time or longer?