In 2017, I thru-hiked all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 100 days starting in Georgia and ending in Maine. That’s about 84 marathons!
I was looking for a challenge that would really push me to my physical and mental limits. Hearing about Cheryl Strayed and other women who’ve embarked on these long hikes, I was inspired to take on my own adventure.
Now that I’ve reached my goal, I can’t really quite believe that I’ve done it, but I’m excited to share with you the lessons I learned along the way.
1. Prepare to Practice
I broke preparation for the hike into physical and mental, although preparing mentally was difficult to do. Gathering equipment was very piecemeal. I bought equipment whenever I had the money to get it. If I did the hike again, I would’ve bought my backpack and walking poles sooner so I could train with them more.
2. Find Your Routine
It was pure excitement starting the hike. I had watched so many videos of the view from the beginning of the trail and when I was finally there, it felt so real. I had stopped training 3-4 weeks beforehand and it felt like I had all this energy ready to use.
I thought about my trail routine long before I actually got to the trail. I wanted to be the most efficient and effective leaving camp in the morning, hiking during the day, and organizing things in the evening. It still took me 2-3 weeks to know what I was doing. My favourite part of each day was arriving at the shelter, knowing I could eat and get into bed to begin my recovery. Throughout the day I’d have highs and lows, but getting into bed was a highlight.
3. Watch Out for Trail Magic
I read a lot about trail magic and trail angels. There were so many amazing people on the Appalachian Trail. I met all these incredible people who gave me food and drinks and the motivation to keep going. It’s the kindness of strangers. There’s this saying that the trail will provide and I’ve definitely seen this to be true. When I had knee trouble the first several days, someone gave me a knee brace. When I twisted my ankle several times, someone gave me a bandage. It was inspiring.
4. Break Down Your Goal
There was a time when I wasn’t sure if my goal of finishing the Appalachian Trail in 100 days would be possible. What I later realized was I was looking at too big a picture. I needed to focus on what I was doing each day instead of what would happen over the next month. At the halfway point, I needed to average at least 24 miles a day, so I always tried to reach 25 miles.
You can sometimes think you’re never making progress, but if you keep going and break it down into smaller chunks you will get there.
5. Accept Your Emotions
Being on my own, at times, was a really emotional experience. I was in the middle of nowhere, so I just had to keep going. I had to suck it up even if it was painful because there was no one else around. I filmed a daily vlog so people could see what it’s really like. Adventures can be glamorous, but I wanted to show this wasn’t a 3-month holiday. I wanted to be realistic and say this was one of the biggest physical and mental challenges I’ve ever taken. While it was my decision to do the hike in 100 days, it was a really difficult and emotional thing to do.
Allowing yourself to feel how you feel is an important part of a journey. Sometimes you have to go through dark patches, but once you’ve done it, it will make you stronger.
6. Motivate with Mantras
I had various mantras that would pop into my head from “Keep Walking” to “Make Progress”. I would count sometimes or get out of my head by listening to podcasts. I pretended to be on The Ellen Show and answer her questions or decide what I would do if I’d won 5 million pounds. I also spent time thinking about life and what decisions I’ve made. I wanted to go deeper and take that time out with myself. These things helped me to keep moving forward.
7. Calories are King
I’m generally a super healthy person, but on the trail, I had to consume 6,000 calories a day. I had thought I’d be able to be healthy with my nuts and high protein foods, but when I was on the trail, trying to consume that many calories from healthy food was incredibly challenging. I was doing the trail stoveless so there wasn't any cooked food. It ended up being a lot of bars and it really started to get me down.
Towards the end, I was looking almost skeletal and everyone was telling me that I needed to eat more, but I just couldn’t consume that many calories. One day I even had 4 snickers for breakfast. Sometimes, you just have to be kind to yourself and do what you need to do. The next challenge will be to get back to my healthy lifestyle, which I dreamed about on the hike.
8. Write a What-If List
Part of my mental training for the hike was sitting down and going through everything that could go wrong on the trail. I went over what would happen if I got hurt or if my kit got stolen or my sleeping bag got wet. I wrote down all the what-ifs on the left side of a piece of paper and all the solutions on the right side while I was at home.
When what-ifs do happen on the trail, you already know how to handle the situation. Just remember you can’t plan for everything and that’s part of why it’s an adventure.
9. Learn to Suck it Up
One of the toughest things during the hike was being cold and wet. When you’re completely wet, it’s the most miserable thing. You can’t get over it. You just have to suck it up and keep moving until you get a little warmer.
Another time, I had to sleep at a really high altitude. The huts were full after I walked 24 miles and I had to hike another 2 miles to a campground. I didn’t think I had enough warm clothing to sleep at a higher elevation, but there was nothing I could do. I wore everything I had and did what I could to sleep through the night.
You have no control over the elements, but you do have control over you. It’s not all unicorns, sunshine, and roses. Sometimes it’s going to be cold and wet and it’s going to be hard. Those are the situations that make you stronger. Try to put a positive spin on it and force yourself to smile.
Hiking the AT gave me more belief in myself. I learned that if I focus, I can get it done. The support of the Tough Girl Tribe has been incredible. I was so empowered knowing I had so many people on my side rooting for me.
Listen as I share more about my experience on the Tough Girl Podcast.
Watch the vlogs on Youtube!!