Reality Check – First Week on Trail and Advice to New Hikers

Don’t be fooled by the idea that you’ve been prepping for this for years…you may have no idea what you’re in for! For me, the first few days on the trail hit me like a train. I was not in the headspace I’d thought I’d needed to be in to start hiking.

It’s one thing to say the trail will be hard, but to actually be there, to be dropped off at the trailhead and just…go? It’s a whole other feeling. Despite the hiking and shakedowns I’d done beforehand, this experience turned out to be very different than I’d expected. Diving headfirst into this hike almost felt like pursuing a full-time job, walking 8 hours a day, and learning to camp and backpack.

Instantly, my mind and body protested these changes with a hard, “no!” While I struggled up the first mountain, and then another, I was fighting thoughts like, “Why can’t we just go home and live like we did? Why isn’t the trail making me happy like I’d thought?”

One thought, though, persisted, and I forced myself to hang onto it: “The trail is new to you…”

This is what you wanted

With the immensity of the endeavor splayed out before you, this journey can seem impossible! The first few days on the trail, I’d completely abandoned my reasoning and reconsidered my hike altogether. Former thru-hikers had assured me that they’d also felt the same way at the beginning of their hike. I called some friends as well, and they encouraged me to just stick it out for a week, that it would all get better. Baby steps, right?

If I was going to complete this hike, I had to keep reminding myself, “this is what I wanted…” and I had to believe it with every step.

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

One thing my loving mom says to me is, “Take the smallest steps forward that you can. To eat an elephant, you just take one bite at a time.” You might have heard the phrase. It might seem silly or obvious (I’ve rolled my eyes a few times thinking about it) but the reality of it is that you truly have to keep moving forward, and everything will fall into place.

Reminding myself of these things has kept me going. I wanted this, prepared for it, and now, I can do it.

Three weeks later, I’m still here and I feel great! I got my trail legs, and although I still don’t have a trail name, I’m starting to feel at home out here. It was certainly a reality check, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It helped me to let go of any preconceived notions and expectations on the trail I’d had before.

So, if you find yourself feeling “upside-down” after starting your hike, keep this in mind. Sometimes it’s not as romantic as you’d imagined, or as fantastical as people on the Internet make it out to be. This is a huge task and it will be hard and ugly…but remember that it will get easier, and it will be worth it.

And if you do walk this trail and happen to discover that it isn’t for you, that the idea of it was more than enough, that’s okay too. No matter what, your experience on the trail will be your own, and you can make of it what you want. But you’ll never know what experience you’ll have unless you get out there and do it!