How to Mentally Prepare for a Thru-Hike

January 23, 2015

In preparation for my Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike, I’ve been reading books, blogs, and Facebook posts as well as speaking to those who have actually successfully completed a thru-hike. Although hiking approximately 2,180 miles is a feat that requires physical strength and stamina, there’s a seriously underestimated mental component to successfully completing a thru-hike.

In the beginning, the experience will be exhilarating, exciting, and a great wonderful thing. However, as the miles add up and the weeks wear on, aggravation, discomfort, pain, disappointment, and monotony will creep up and doubt will set in. Without knowing exactly why I am doing this or what the true meaning really is, failure is inevitable. People must have a purpose. Purpose is a driver to many great feats of achievement. Without purpose, there’s no meaning to sacrifice, no reason for dedication, and no point in attempting anything of any great importance.

In one of the books I’ve read, ‘Appalachian Trials’ by Zach Davis (a successful 2011 thru-hiker), he states, “…Right now, sitting on the couch, reading this book, the idea might seem fun. When the inside of your boots have collected a small puddle, it might not seem quite so fun. There will come a day, when you ask yourself this all too important question. Why am I doing this again?…”

He recommends to create three lists that will serve as a reminder as to why I am doing this and what I’m looking to take away from the experience. They will be a powerful tool to keep me motivated throughout my journey and less likely to be at the mercy of my emotions and succumb to breakdown.

The first list is focused solely on the why. This is the list that contains the answers to the question I will ask myself over and over, “Why am I doing this again?” This is the list that defines my purpose, my reason for sacrifice, and the testament to my dedication.

I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because:

  • I’ve been fighting Clinical Depression for the past 7 years of my life and have finally become medication independent after a rough 7 months of withdrawal
  • I want to raise awareness about Depression and what a debilitating and insidious disease it is
  • I’m celebrating life after awakening from a dark chasm of despair and madness in which I almost ended my life twice
  • It is part of my healing process
  • I’m going to LIVE my life rather than just going through the motions
  • I’m on a mission to do something that I would normally have never had the drive, energy or time to do
  • this is my attempt to create a fulfilling life and will be a travelogue of my adventures in doing so
  • I’m doing this to achieve something I would have never thought possible
  • I am going to live my life to meet MY expectations, not anyone else’s
  • I want to be liberated from society’s standards of success
  • I want to prove that success isn’t defined by other people’s criteria
  • I want to achieve something against the odds and in spite of those who told me that I couldn’t do it
  • only 1 in 4 who attempt a thru-hike successfully completes the journey and I want to be part of that 25%
  • I want to look back with pride and say, “yeah, I did that!”
  • I don’t want to be lying on my deathbed wishing I had done more with my life

The second list focuses on the personal benefits I wish to receive from thru-hiking the AT. It was to be written imagining what it will feel like to be sitting atop Katahdin and, in my mind, the days/months/years to come afterward.

When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I will:

  • have accomplished something that not many can say they have done themselves
  • have accomplished something that I never thought I could
  • be able to say “I told you so” to those who doubted me
  • have a greater appreciation for all that I have
  • hopefully not place such value on material things
  • live my life with less fear and anxiety
  • have one of the greatest tales to tell

The third list is a list of negative consequences associated with quitting the trail.  These are the thoughts that will haunt me and will be the irrevocable dignity I will lose if I don’t complete the trail. Of course, as a reader of my blog, you should know that the only extenuating circumstance for me quitting the trail would be injury or some great irreversible sickness.

If I give up on the Appalachian Trail, I will:

  • regret it for the rest of my life (or until I can try again *smileyface*)
  • have to hear it from those who have their doubts about me doing this. “I told you so”
  • have another thing on my list of things that I never completed
  • have spent a ton of time, energy, and money for nothing (well, it won’t be completely in vain, because I will have learned a lesson, but it’s a lesson I don’t want to learn)
  • always doubt my abilities
  • always wonder what it would have been like to have completed the entire trail
  • feel like a big booby

Another recommendation that Zach Davis offers is to publicly state my mission. This will plant the seeds of accountability, and boy, have I planted those seeds! I now have a plantation full of accountability, which makes my upcoming adventure all that more real. The gravity of it is staggering and I sometimes feel overwhelmed. There is no turning back now, I have fully committed to this hike. As February 28th approaches, I must have faith that all my preparation will see me through the 2,180 miles to the end towards my ultimate goal of Katahdin, healing, achievement, and glory.

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