Why Making That List Is Bad For Your Hike

Why Making That List Is Bad For Your Hike

I think I’ve done a fairly good job this hiking off season of NOT getting embroiled in guerrilla internet warfare. I haven’t been getting into peoples faces about things like choosing trail names before they start, obsession over pack-weight when they shouldn’t be, upset with people over constant advertising. I’ve certainly discussed these things with a few close friends – but I’ve been…. restrained.

This is not one of those restrained posts. If you have delicate sensibilities… perhaps you should move on.

This all starts with the blog.appalachiantrials.com  blog that Badger runs and his 3 lists.

  • “I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…”
  • “When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…”
  • “If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…”

A useful way to diagram out your reasoning, especially because expressing why you’re going out to do a long distance hike can be problematic for many. I know that 2 years after starting my first thruhike I STILL have problems with the “why I started doing this” bit when talking to people.

I have no problem with the first list, “I’m doing this because”. The second… I take a slight issue with. Why you ask? Because let’s face it – like all other plans you have on the trail, this one might not bear any resemblance to the reality you’ll find out there. Plans change – sometimes immensely.

When people go out on a long hike like this, they discover things about themselves, sometimes things they never knew or only suspected. Sometimes they validate what they already knew and reinforce it. As Rob Bird once told me “People are out here every year, looking for themselves or someone else – some people find it in 20 miles, others don’t ever find it on this path but have to go to another one. But they always discover the important things they never knew existed.” So what does that mean about your list of things you’ll discover about yourself when you finish?

Maybe it’s time to toss that list and instead of planning on finding or achieving the growth you “Think” you need – open yourself to actual growth that is spontaneous instead of planned. That’s just a thought and suggestion from someone who HAD a list like that and then lost it along the way – and was much happier and experienced FAR more growth when it was natural.

Again – just my opinion.

But here comes the nity-gritty – the part I worry about and almost take offense to when I read the final list: “If I give up on the AT without finishing”

All of the lists I’ve read have pretty much the same gist. Major topics in those lists include

  • Being disapointed in themselves
  • Thinking of themselves as a failure for not finishing
  • Regret not finishing
  • Not be someone worth respect from others
  • Never follow through on things
  • Depression
  • Become unattractive to others
  • Not be someone my friends/family/significant other can be proud of

If most of these were on your list (or are in your head) please I’d ask you to do the following.

Remove your head from your ass and wake up and smell the coffee.Seriously.

There are a few things on this list that are real, and worth noting as being things that can or will happen. When you get off the trail, you will be depressed about it. Not “if” but when. For those who have read my previous posts, they know that I came back from this years hike and was in a spiraling depression – and I FINISHED this year. in 2012 when I made it 1600+ miles and got off I was also depressed. Common link between? Getting off the trail – not whether or not I finished!

What else is true on this list? Regret – you’re going to regret things no matter if you finish or not. You’ll regret skipping 5 miles that one day (I still do) or you’ll regret not finishing. You’ll regret not hiking with certain people more, and hiking with certain people less. REGRET IS CONSTANT – but is NOT a defining characteristic of the trail.

I could regret being with the girl I was for 3 months and giving her EVERYTHING about my trail experience, including changing my hike for her – but I DON’T because it was still Awesome to be with her – despite everything that happened later.

So for the rest – we have to talk.

All this talk of letting other people down, not being worthy of respect or love from others is baloney. You set out to do something that most of them don’t understand at all. They love you for you – not for something you’re doing. If they didn’t love you for you, they wouldn’t be interested in what you’re doing in the first place. So stop that. Stop that right now. If you have to get off the trail for whatever reason, they aren’t going to love you any less – in fact most of them still get to brag about you “my sister/brother/son/wife hiked over 300 miles on the AT! Isn’t that awesome!”. They are NOT going to go out and say “Oh well he/she/it tried but couldn’t do it because they were terrible at it.” So stop it. Now.

Never following through on things is another bit I hate to hear – sometimes there are circumstances FAR beyond your control that come into play on your hike. I told the story about Damselfly recently, and how she stubbornly decided to finish despite seriously injuring herself. That injury is a hike ender for 99% of people. Things like money get in the way – family issues or even just simple time. Things beyond your control happen – and for all you control freaks out there, you’re going to have a hard time dealing with this. Learning to let things go might be your biggest lesson on this hike. So stop worrying about how not finishing a hike like this means that you are never going to follow through on things. That’s crap.

I’ve read two different ones now that say “I’ll become unattractive to others.” This is a female thing it seems (sampling size = 2, so don’t kill me feminists) and it’s positively untrue. Ladies out there – you’re going to get on trail and be the hottest commodity besides Snickers bars. Hiker women are the sexiest things on the planet in my mind. Single Girl Hiker agrees with me I think. She tells me Hiker Men are the sexiest things out there too. Why are you attractive though? Not because there are so few of you – it’s because you’re willing to take chances, be yourself and commit to things. I’m talking about not waffling – knowing what you want and taking it. To me at least, there is nothing more unattractive then the inevitable dance of “where do you want to go for dinner.” You know what you want! Go take it! It happens all the time on the trail. Plus you know, you’re hot! So stop thinking you’re unattractive. Patently untrue.

The biggest thing is that people are disappointed in themselves. I can understand that, and it is something that will happen. But it’s also something that I’ve come to see as not being “real”. What do I mean by that? I mean that you went out and tried – you can be disappointed that you didn’t finish, but it’s not the defining characteristic of your hike.

Your defining characteristic is that you went out there in the first place.

You can run around and around on not finishing, not having gotten what you wanted out of it but that’s all a load of malarkey when you come back to the simple fact: you went out there and did SOMETHING.

And that fact is greater than 99% of people you will ever meet.

You went and followed a dream you had – it may not have succeeded, but you DID do it, even if it was just for a little while.

That is something majority of people will never do – can never do. It sets you apart.

The statistics show that only about 20% will finish a thru-hike. I think that number is lower myself. But of the 3000 or so that will start, they are all following a dream of some kind. That dream is what is important. Not finishing, not doing X or Y or Z on your list. The dream you have to go out and hike a long distance trail is what is important. So stop making lists. Instead be open to your hike and what it can bring to you. Not what you bring to it.

 

foggy kites

Sometimes this is what you’ll find when you open yourself to the possibilities of the Trail

I love you all.

4 Replies to “Why Making That List Is Bad For Your Hike”

  1. I thought the same thing but not about anyone else. I was like, “Woah, self!” I read the book and made the lists like everyone but I couldn’t finish it. I had one empty spot left on the if I give up list. I stared and stared and then realized it was way too harsh and was missing something positive so I filled it in with “be okay”. Yes, I’ll be disappointed in myself but I’ll also be okay. Thanks for the pep talk for the ladies!

    1. Pep talk for everyone – Don’t make the lists. Certain ones are there are lady specific -usually the bits about not being attractive if they don’t finish.

      I think that once people get out there they start to realize just how little they knew about what was going to happen, and the lists (hopefully) go out the window, just like their other plans.

  2. I came across these lists just the other day and decided not to make them. Looked like a waste of time, I have much more pressing lists to work on. Less than 60 days till start.

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