View Full Version : What Keeps You Going?

Wander Yonder
2003-01-20, 01:52
I've spent a lot of time reading AT trail journals the past few months.

At first I concentrated on reading the journals of those who completed their thru-hikes. Now I'm reading journals of those who lasted only a few days or weeks.

I'm trying to figure why so few people make it so I can devise strategies to avoid those pitfalls on my thru hike.

Some aren't prepared for the rain. Some stop when it stops being fun. Some get so physically beat up they have to give it up.

I think that emotional endurance will be my biggest battle.

I am curious as to how others have successfully coped with that. What kept you going?

2003-01-20, 10:18
I sort of hesitate to answer this question since I know there are going to be many that will disagree. I could go into all of the reasons people do quit but instead of doing that I will only say what drove me to do it all.

My answer is so simple but I am sure people would not believe it. It is a desire, goal and committment to finish what I started and the way I planned. That is it in a nutshell. The first step I took on Springer Mt, or in fact prior to taking the first step, I had no doubts that I would finish it. The only way I was not going to finish was due to an injury to me or some emergency with my family. You will hear most everyone, if you ask them while on the AT, do you think you will make it to Maine?
Most will say, I hope so, or that is the plan, or maybe, and some will say yes for sure, but you can tell they do not really mean it.

I think it is more of the individual than it is the problems faced along the way. As I have come to understand it is not the problems that is the problem it is how we react to the problem that causes a person to lose focus. I was determined and I knew beyond any doubt I was going to finish the goal I had set. The goal was in my own head and doing it the way I decided. I was not trying to prove anything, or impress anyone, it was simply something I had wanted to do for so many years, and I knew exactly how I wanted to do it and nothing was going to change it, unless as mentioned above. My goal was to hike past every white blaze, carry my pack the entire way, and complete the entire AT in one season. It was that simple and nothing or no one was going to change my plans. So I think it is more individual thinking, and committment than any other thing that will determine if you finish or do not finish.

I did do another 6 week hike, in 2001 from Springer to Damascus, just to see other folks and try to determine the ones that would make it or the ones that would not. It was very hard to pick some of them, but but I could tell if some were not really committed in the beginning. Most of the people it was difficult to tell since you did not know how they would react to the problems they faced until it happened.

Another thing that I would say is that I loved the outdoors, and I lived each day to see what was in store for the day ahead. I went to sleep each night thinking of what I would see and experience the next day. I just loved being out there even in the rain, or cold, I knew that the sun would rise again, and the heat would come. So any discomfort was only temperorary.

I learned to have faith in myself, in nature, and in God as I walked the mountains and valleys and saw all the beauty that was spread before me. I made some wonderful and close friendships and I would be amiss if I did not say they also helped at times to encourge. Friends can discourage or encourage but in the end it is still how you react to them and what they say.

So in short Sharon, I would say beyond anything, it is a committment, a trust, a deep look into your self, a goal and determination to do what you set out to do. Things that happen and how you react will determine your attitude which will in turn determine you choice. When you have done all you can do, then have the faith that Someone is looking out for you and also said He would never leave you nor forsake you.

Just my 2 cents... Sorry if this response upset someone's apple cart but you asked and this is what worked for me...


Wander Yonder
2003-01-20, 11:06
Justme, that is a beautiful reply.

I read The Thruhiking Papers by Jim Owen, and he says that commitment is the biggest thing, too. He said that he can't understand halfway commitments -- you either commit or you don't.

That sounds like the key to me.

I will probably discuss more of this with you by email!

Thanks for replying.

SGT Rock
2003-01-20, 11:23
**Before reading my post, take it witha agrain of salt since I haven't thru-hiked yet**


Of course I haven't completed a thru-hike yet, but I have done a lot of hiking in miserable conditions as well as spent months in places that absolutly suck.

But I think it is attitude. I have seen 40 year old guys in not the best condition out do 18 year old kids in great shape because of attitude.

You can be prepared with the best raingear and waterproof bags, but after a week of steady rain stuff will get wet, and besides that, you attitude will be soggy. How you deal with that situation will be all atitude because everything else will be out of you control. You can have a great bag and warm clothing, but eventually poor nutrition and constant exposure will leave you cold and uncomfortable. You can have the lightest most expensive gear, but you still have to carry it over mountains. You can plan the very best meals but weeks of eating the same stuff will wear on you, there ain't no pizza delivery to shelters (well, one or two, but you get the point).

Honestly I think a lot of people (maybe the majority) probably quit because of stuff like this. Wes Wisson says it in "A Walk in the Woods" - it isn't what people expect. Maybe they expected to get into shape on the trail and it didn't happen as fast as they wanted. Maybe they expected to have great views at the top of mountains. Maybe they expected all the luxurys of home, only portable. Maybe they thought time would go faster (time slows down on the trail - thank goodness). Maybe they expected a lot of things. But they didn't plan to just let it happen and take it for what it was.

My guess is there are a lot of reasons given for bailing, I see it at work a lot. People claim injury when you see them on the weekends playing basketball later, or blame it on a loved one (my wife needed me) for a convineinet excuse. And sometimes even in their own mind they want the excuse to be the truth.

But I guess if you think about it, long distance hiking is way out of the norm for a normal American. We are accustomed to electricity, instant food, clean living conditions, etc. Hard work is reserved for a few, and almost no one has to do anything they don't like anymore so they can build that mental attitude that goes with the flow when times are bad.

But lest you think I'm cutting on these people, I admire them for at least trying to expand themselves. Those that try are at least trying. They get exposed to the woods, hiking, and the lifestyle. Maybe some will come back and be tougher, maybe some will just be section hikers and weekend hikers - no shame in that.

I'm getting preachy now. I'll shut up.:cool:

Wander Yonder
2003-01-20, 11:40
Sgt. Rock, that makes a lot of sense.

I guess it boils down to being able to grit your teeth and endure when the going gets rough.

I've seen the kind of excuses you mentioned, and also noticed that most people don't really believe their excuses... but they hope others will. And then they try to convince themselves!

And unreasonable expectations seem to play a BIG role.

About time slowing down... one of the things that I have seen mentioned is that you live in the immediate present, maybe for the first time in your life. I'm looking forward to that.

Quite honestly, I want to find out if I have the right stuff. And if I don't, I want to develop it. In fact, I think that may be the real reason for my hike.

SGT Rock
2003-01-20, 12:10
I think maybe just being able to grit your teeth is not the only thing it takes, I think it take some flexability. It may sound like some Douist cliche from "Kung Fu" or something, but a solid rock gets worn down, but the water is much tougher yet has no form :rolleyes:

Let things happen and take them for what they are. Start each day with a goal, but don't kill yourself trying to make it, or don't stop if you find your goal was too easy. Don't expect to deal with the weather the way you want to, deal with it as it comes the best way that works that day...

Man that sounds too wishy washy.

2003-01-20, 12:20
obstacles are what i see when i take my eyes off my goal...



2003-01-20, 13:38
Sgt. Rock,

I think you gave a great answer about the attitude being one of the key elements in order to complete a thru hike. I would agree absolutely with your assesment. That is one thing I have always tried to aquire and keep constantly is the good attitude. I learned many years ago, that attitude is the key to help accomplishing anything in life. The same rains that get me wet, cold and miserable also gives life and the cool refreshing drink from a mountain spring. One must learn "to live with nature" instead of against nature, and this takes an attitude adjustment for most of us. Since our entire society has gotten so used to all the modern easy way of living these days. Everything is geared to making life easier, more comfortable, and less effort. I think that is the attitude that many people take to Springer Mt. and after a few days, unless the attitude changes, they will not continue very long.

Just a thought....


2003-01-20, 16:44
sharon, i'll preface this by asking you to remember that i didn't complete my thru-hike in 2000 due to injury (after 1,500 or so miles).

i agree with all the previous replys with some additions.

be REALISTIC in you expectations - some aspects of your hike will be less, more or different than you expected. your ability to adapt will be tested, no different than everyday life.

be NICE to yourself - give yourself frequent kudos for accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. REWARD yourself! like a pizza in town or an extra snickers bar, etc. it's all about food!

lighten up - don't take your hike too seriously, it's just a LONG walk in the woods. of course you gotta prepare and realize what you're about to do is no cake walk.

ABOVE ALL - have a blast!

Team GAK
2003-01-20, 20:19
Sharon -

Be true to yourself and do whatever it takes to keep yourself happy. Ignore the competition, it's always there, but you don't have to participate. It's your hike.

Carry what you want and carry what you need. If it's too much you can send it home. If it's too little you can buy it or have it sent. Only you know what you need.

Try to be positive - Maybe it's rained 3 days in a row, but the good news is you wont have trouble finding water for a couple of weeks.

Stash some rainy day cookies deep in you pack.

We were slow, but sure. We only did two twenty mile days and that was our choice. We finished in about 5 3/4 months with a week off resting shin splints. We were 53 & 51 and our packs were 40-45 and 35-40.

ps : we carried a waterbag with a nozzle that allowed us to show on the trail.

Wander Yonder
2003-01-20, 22:03
Thanks, guys. All comments are greatly appreciated.

I have had some practice with attitude about rain. Our four year drought was finally broken this fall and it took a LOT of rain to do it. Every time I saw another gray, soggy, leaden day, I would thank God for the rain and think about how happy it was making the plants and how nice the little streams would be around here next year. I'd also think that it was banking water on the AT for me!

I like the suggestions about setting goals, stashing emergency cookies for a rainy day -- and rewarding myself! I think, for me, a LONG talk with my best friend once a week or so will rate right up there with food. :)

I'm not worried about competition and doubt I'll fall into that trap.

Team GAK, appreciate your comment about the shower, too. My solar shower is an essential, especially when the weather warms up! It's also greatly encouraging when I see other people near my age succeeding.

2003-01-20, 22:37
In looking back over my life I think about the biggest favor anyone ever did for me was to tell me that I couldn't do something or I would never make it. As a youngster I was pretty small but that never stopped me from doing what I really wanted to do. When I enlisted in the Army in 1968 I volunteered to go Airborne. Hey, I figured if I was going to end up in a muddy foxhole somewhere I wanted to be surrounded by the best. Anyway ...that's a little off topic, but what's important is that most of the NCO's and officers I knew at the time told me I'd never make it. Funny thing though because at the time there wasn't anything in the world I wanted more. Long story short ...I earned my jump wings and then some. I was challenged throughout jump school and taunted relentlessly at times to give up and wash out. But there was something inside that kept my eyes on the horizon and about the best word for it was committment and dedication. That experience has tempered just about everything difficult I've ever done in my life since. Sure, I get DOWN just like the next person but it's at those times when I reach deep inside and remember those voices telling me that I'd never make it. Not everyone will have the opportunity, or hell even the desire, to go through jump school or any of the other demanding training I did but the lesson is the same. To finish something difficult and challenging you have to see yourself at the finish line - VICTORIOUS ! Visualize yourself on Katahdin. Hold that image in your head and in your heart. Decide in advance that you can and will finish ...and I bet you'll get there.

Bad Ass Turtle
2003-01-20, 22:55
My thinking about this is a bit different from Footslogger's --we talk about it quite often :)

I tend to have a thought like, "I'm not sure I can do that" and then I have to prove to myself, yes I can. That happened a lot to me on the trail, and I would say that that attitude is what got me through an injury, a month and a half of physical therapy, and back on the trail to keep going.

A few years ago, I participated in the Avon 3-Day walk, and Footslogger got me a plaque with this quote on it:

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot.
Eleanor Roosevelt

I love that -- it's perfect for what motivates me.


Wander Yonder
2003-01-20, 23:10
Footslogger, I am already visualizing myself on Katahdin. I love the attitude balance between you and BA Turtle.

I think BA Turtle's method is more like mine. Many times in life I have mentally closed my eyes and jumped in over my head thinking, "I will either sink or swim, and I am NOT going to sink. I AM going to make it." And sometimes it was really iffy, but I always did make it.

In my case, it wasn't always making it in a straight line, either. Sometimes I would get knocked off my feet. But I would pick myself up and keep going.

This thread has reaffirmed my confidence (which had gotten a little shaky) that I WILL do this, too!!!!

2003-01-21, 21:12
I have been reading this thread with interest. This isn't just about hiking - it's about life - and there is a lot of support to be gained from people whom we may have never met but with whom we may share a particular interest - such as hiking - cheering us on.

How about a section for AT hikers on this forum where they can log in, gripe about the weather, share a glorious sunset, chat about how their hike is going or just unload. It could be an interesting forum and the thoughts and support from the rest of us could be of use.

SGT Rock
2003-01-21, 22:51
We have one for AT section hikers. Section hikers (http://hikinghq.net/forum/forumdisplay.php?forumid=18)

When this was a temporary home for the Whiteblaze it was up under the general threads, but I moved it under the AT in the Trail section. I figured this General area was more of the all inclusive discussion section. Should I move it back?

2003-02-03, 13:34
Well as I think back about my thru in 02 I can recall many things that kept me going. The most important thing was thinking about all the people, before me, who had completed the AT. A blind person, people in their 80s, and many others who I would think weren't in any better shape than I was. "If they could do it I can".
Most everyone, sooner or later, will think about quiting. The reasons that they may have will be all different. Some physicle, but I think most reasons are mentle. You have so much time to think, while you are hiking. Many thoughts enter your mind. Some thoughts are positive and some will be negitive. You have to strive to cope with the negitive thoughts and zero in on the positive stuff.
Stay focused on the trail. Set small goals, don't think of all the miles ahead that you have to hike, the next shelter, getting into the next town, visiting a famous hostle, seeing some sight that you read about. My first goal was Fontana Dam, than the Smokeys, getting to Trail Days in Demaskas, etc., right up the trail. At some point you will realize that you can hike the whole AT and you become more determined as ever to finish your hike.
When I started my first goal was to give myself a chance. I had no reason not to. I did my reasearch, motivated my wife and family, had the time and had the required money. My plan was to hike as long as I physicaly could or didn't enjoy it any more. I think my turning point was Demaskas. From there I had a positive feeling that I could compleate.
I hiked with a partner that I met on the trail. We hiked together until he left the trail in central Virginia. He was a great guy and we got along good. I felt so bad when he left that I wanted to quit also. I pledged myself to hike to Duncannon PA. Where I had scheduled a pick up by my wife, and a return home for a break, and flip to Maine and head back SOBO. These planns were about to change. I now planned to leave the trail in Duncannon return home and not come back to the trail.
At Harpers Ferry I called my wife and she informed me that my hiking partner had called here and informed here that he would be returning to the trail to hike SOBO with me from Maine. I now had a new insperation to continue.
The point that I'm trying to make is," when it's bad. It will get better". This became my montra. I finished in Duncannon, PA on Oct. 13, 2001.

Wander Yonder
2003-02-03, 14:10
Grampie, thanks for your perspective.

It meant a lot to me.