by Rebecca Craven, business ops & strategy intern
I recently decided, with the help of a friend, to hike the Appalachian Trail. Since I’m an avid hiker and am no stranger to the great outdoors, I thought this seemed like a very reasonable adventure to take on. We prepared by reading well-crafted blogs, visiting countless L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer locations, following an exercise routine specifically designed for backpackers, and talking to anyone we could find who’d ever hiked the trail.
Then we decided to take a practice run. We’d hike for two days, spend one night in the woods, and then come home to re-evaluate what we needed—a way to fine-tune our planning process.
I don’t know if you’ve read Wild by Cheryl Strayed or seen the movie version of it with Reese Witherspoon, but besides being about about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Strayed’s story is at once inspiring, empowering, and horribly terrifying. It’s the inspirational part that has women wondering if, perhaps, backpacking is the perfect adventure for the able-bodied, empowered, independent woman. While planning for my own hike, I read an article about how women are now joining backpacking groups and heading to the mountains in droves.
As one of those inspired women, I hit the trail with my friend.
The first day was great. We started at a leisurely noon. We hiked at a relaxed pace of about half a mile an hour. We had plenty of water. We had plenty of space to pack as much food as could be desired.
We stopped around 5:30 that evening and set up our tents, cooked, and ate our dinner in the sunset then played games until the light was gone. It was everything I wanted in a backpacking trip—enjoying the wilderness with good company.
But that night it got cold. So cold, in fact, that our sleeping bags, wool shirts, leggings, and socks could not even come close to keeping us warm. Who knew that it would ever approach being so cold in late May? After a night of very little sleep, we woke at 9:00 the next morning and started making our breakfast while we drank our coffee. We slowly started repacking everything, and by the time we left, it was noon again.
After such a grueling journey of hiking nonstop with no breaks (or about four or five), we finally reached the car at the trailhead around 3:00 p.m. We dropped our packs and feasted at the nearest restaurant we could find. To summarize: We managed to hike barely 10 miles in about 12 hours. (For reference, the Appalachian Trail is about 2,200 miles; it’s estimated to take six months to hike in its entirety, which means a good pace would be 10 miles per day.)
Needless to say, we did not undertake to section-hike the Appalachian Trail. Nor did we entertain the thought after that first “trial hike.”
I went home feeling defeated, discouraged, and weak. As if I had invested so much of whom I am in just this one four-day trip. I felt like I’d put so much time and effort and planning into this one goal, only to not have it work out—worst of all because of my own inability to cope—that I’d let myself down.
When I was finally sick of self-pity, I realized I needed to forgive myself. I needed to understand that I didn’t disappoint myself; I didn’t let myself down. I hiked my first overnight backpacking trip. I went into the woods, hiked and slept and ate there for 24 hours, and then I came out—and was even more grateful for what I have than when I went in.
I did something amazing, even if it wasn’t the amazing thing I thought I wanted to do. And now I have respect for the trail that I didn’t have before. And next time? Next time, I’ll be prepared. Next time, I won’t stop. Next time, I’ll do it.
I will be going back to the woods. And I will hike that Appalachian Trail.
Rebecca Craven is a business operations and strategy intern at Rodale, Inc. She’s a student of finance, but loves the written word and all things organic. If she’s not outside adventuring, she’s probably somewhere eating a vegetable.