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Mentally preparing for a thru hike.


If you’ve even thought about doing a thru hike you have no doubt got on these ol’ interwebs and tackled this onslaught of information about thru hiking. You may have uncovered r/ultralight, read the book Wild, or follow a bunch of hikers on Instagram. Telling yourself you are going to do that one day. All inspiring. Sometimes todo lists don’t cut it and you’ve got to prepare mentally.

Here are a few things I’ve learned walking from Mexico to Canada and Georgia to Maine.

You won’t be crushing 25 mile days right out the gate.

This sounds more physical than mental but stay with me. I say this because I’ve never had ample time to train before hand. Many times I tell people the only training I did was eating everything I want. So this is a blanket statement. What I really mean is there is a transition period that everyone goes through during the first few weeks of embarking on a long trial. Muscles are sore, feet hurt, shoulders cramp, gear doesn’t work the way you want it to, the tent keeps on flapping in the wind. All of this is normal but your body isn’t used to it and it take a bit for your mental game to catch up. Be patient, in a few months these will be the things you long for.

PUDS (Pointless Ups and Downs)

The trail brings an entire emotional rollercoaster along with its beauty. Multiple times I am left staring at an upcoming pass almost in tears. Not only because it is a beautiful masterpiece of granite and snow but mostly because I have to haul my lazy butt up that thing so I don’t die of starvation that week. 3000 feet of elevation works my mind when I am already physically exhausted.

Small goals

Make small goals. I remember stepping onto the PCT attempting my second thru hike (the first being the Appalachian Trail). As I walked away from the terminus all these thought went through my head of doubt and remorse. Thinking to myself why am I starting another 2000 mile plus journey. After all, I know the pain that is to come by making this decision. As I was thinking those thoughts we walked up to the first mile marker on the trail and I realized we were right in the middle of our journey. If I can make it one more mile I can make it.

Step into the process and embrace it.

Embrace the suck. Times will get interesting out there but this is where transformation occurs on trail in these moments of shaking off the doubt and remorse and moving forward. I remember on the Appalachian Trail the one thing I didn’t account for that would make me want to get off trail was chaffing! It was the smallest little thing that I never expected that ended up breaking me the most on that trail. I HATE CHAFFING!

Expect challenges along the way but allow yourself to enjoy the moment in that exact time. Even if it isn’t fun anymore you will look back and recognize what its made you into.

Hike on.

Ryan Unger