Last night around 10 p.m., about 12 hours before I was supposed to begin a 4-day-long hike of the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, I canceled the trip altogether.
From the start, I’d held reservations about taking the trip, which is something that doesn’t usually happen for me in regards to backpacking trips. I’ve taken several solo backpacking trips before and although I had a reasonable amount of nervousness leading up to them, I was always excited more than anything. This time around, I was struck with fear whenever I would think about the trip, and I struggled to get excited about the idea of hiking alone in the woods in the dead of summer for several days.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of good reasons to take this trip. I was looking forward to the experience of hiking the Georgia section of the AT in one push (which would have been my longest backpacking trip to date), and I had even planned to attempt to hike the approximately 80 miles of trail in 80 hours, just for kicks (and to minimize the amount of days I would have to be away from home and ask off work).
Despite all the reasons in favor of taking the trip, my hesitation and uneasiness only grew as the weeks went by and I continued with preparations. I spent most of yesterday seized with stress, fear, and almost dread about beginning the trip. After some tearful conversations with family and friends, I decided to cancel the trip.
Although the decision brought me a lot of relief, it was a hard one to make. I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge or not honor a commitment I’ve made. A part of me was incredibly frustrated and disappointed with myself for “wimping out” and canceling the trip. “You’re capable of doing it and you already made all the preparations, so why are you backing out?!” I told myself.
I consider myself a fairly rational person, so it’s never been easy for me to listen to my gut, especially when it seems to be telling me something illogical or irrational. But after taking some time to settle into my decision, I realized I made the right choice. Sure, on paper, maybe I should have taken the trip. I’m sure if I had forced myself to go, I would have enjoyed it after the first day or so once I was back into the rhythm of backpacking. And sure, it would have been cool to be able to say I hiked 80 miles in 80 hours.
The fact of the matter is: backpacking is something I do because I love it. It challenges me, it excites me, and it teaches me things about myself and the world around me that I couldn’t learn in any other way. More than anything, I choose to go backpacking because I think it’s fun. I don’t believe this trip would have been fun. I think I was going into it with the wrong motivations, and I think God was trying to tell me to dedicate these days to something other than a solo backpacking trip.
There was a time in my life when I felt like backpacking was all I had. I believed it was the only thing I was good at and the only thing I was really passionate about. Although I still love backpacking and I know I will do much more of it in my life, I’ve also come to recognize the other incredible things I have in my life. I value my relationships with loved ones way more now because of backpacking (it only takes a couple days of being alone in the woods to realize how much you appreciate someone) and I’ve also discovered and developed many new hobbies and talents outside of backpacking.
I’m sure I would have left the trail feeling accomplished and cool for completing my goal. But to be frank, backpacking is not my career and it’s not vital to my happiness or success or worth as a human being. I am incredibly lucky to have the resources and the freedom to be a backpacker, and I plan to take advantage of backpacking opportunities as often as I can. But for today, I’m glad I chose to follow my heart and stay home.
There’s a lot in my life that’s going to be changing soon, from moving to starting college to living on my own for the first time. I want to spend my time with the people I love, doing the things that I love, and for now, that’s going to take me off the trail for a little awhile. I know it’ll be there for me when I decide to come back to it, and at heart, I know I’ll always be a backpacker.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned while backpacking is to “hike your own hike”. This means that whatever you do, do it at your own pace and for your own reasons. To anyone reading this, backpacker or not, I encourage you to always listen to your gut, even if you don’t exactly like what it’s saying. Have courage to make the right decisions for your own wellbeing and happiness, and surround yourself with supportive people who love you and can help you recognize your strength and worth, even when you can’t.
At the end of the day, no one is going to hike that mountain or carry that pack for you. Don’t underestimate yourself. Trust yourself to know what’s best for you. Push yourself to take on challenges (but only the fun ones – you have enough stress and discomfort in your day-to-day life to try and pursue something that will only add to that with little reward). And more than anything, do what makes you happy, brings you peace, and helps you grow, even if that means staying at home to watch TV in your pajamas with your family.