If it's not fun...
In Becoming Odyssa, Jennifer Pharr Davis wrote about the Appalachian Trail Institute. She’d signed up for the course on thru-hiking as a way to set herself up for success.
I loved the part where Warren Doyle, the instructor and founder of the ATI (and known rabble-rouser), asked the participants why they wanted to thru-hike.
"Because it would be fun!” said one unsuspecting fellow.
Mr. Fun got the first of probably many lectures about how tough the trail is and how little fun will actually be had.
He got lectured about expecting discomfort. And pain. And rattlesnakes.
About hardship lurking around every corner. Wet sleeping bags. Endless rain.
Resupplying at the 7-11.
Misery as far as the eye could see.
The Appalachian Trail Institute isn’t a place to go to be coddled or to get positive reinforcement.
One may not agree with Warren’s “glass half empty” teaching philosophy, but he's apparently right that thru-hiking the AT is no tiptoe through the tulips.
It will be hard.
There will be hiker hobble and there will be rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania.
To be (miserable), or not to be (miserable).
There may be misery, but nothing says you have to wallow in it.
I believe a big part of preparing for a thru-hike and setting oneself up for success lies in getting your head right.
For that, I recommend Appalachian Trials, by Zach Davis. It’s the Bible of thru-hiker mental preparation and no one gets berated, so, extra credit for that.
Once you’re prepared mentally and you’ve wrapped your head around the fact that it’s going to be tough--maybe even the hardest thing you've ever done--then you can make some choices about what you’ll do, or what you’ll carry, in your pack or between your ears, to vanquish misery.
Some suggestions for the pack:
1. Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep.
All you do on a long hike is walk, eat and sleep. Sleeping takes up almost half of your day, so be comfortable. My secret weapon? My pillow. I shopped around until I found one that is small, but cushy and perfect for me. Misery is guaranteed without a pillow under my head at night.
2. Essential oils.
I can open almost any bottle of essential oil, breathe it in and find my spirits lifted. Oils make me happy. And they're a special treat to share with fellow hikers.
I’ve strategically chosen a few double duty oils that both vanquish misery and fill my first aid kit. (Read about my essential oil kit here.)
Miracles in tiny bottles.
3. I-pod mini.
I've always preferred hiking unplugged, but desperately long days through the green tunnel may call for desperate measures. So I’m curating a hiking playlist to use on the days when I just don't feel like it.
Beats Antique, anyone? Belly-dance with me down the trail.
4. Stove & cookset.
Some people choose to save weight by eating cold food. Nothing screams misery to me like cold refried beans rehydrated in a peanut butter jar. I want a cup of tea and a hot freezer bag meal at the end of the day.
So that's my list of little luxuries that are actually essentials I don't mind schlepping in my pack for combatting what might make me miserable out there. The weight trade-off is worth it.
But what about that thing that doesn't weigh anything, but is way more crucial for a non-miserable experience over 2,190 miles?
Something more ephemeral (and fun)
I went to the Trail Dames Summit last summer and met some wonderful women who inspired my upcoming thru-hike.
One was Carla "Zipper" Robertson, of Wild and White Blazing. She spoke about being a bad ass thru-hiker (even when you don't feel like one). It was a great lecture, and one thing she asked us was, "How will you bring the fun?"
It may be a pair of polka-dotted shorts or a hideous Hawaiian shirt you wear in town.
It may be a tutu and a tiara.
It may be a tuba (read Southbound by the Barefoot Sisters...apparently Tuba Man made the ladies swoon).
It may be a pink flamingo you put in front of your tent at night.
I love this question!
How will you bring the fun?
Because bringing the fun is entirely up to you!
Bringing the fun is a choice you make.
Bringing the fun ultimately isn't about what's in your pack (that's about comfort).
It's about what you bring between your ears. The choices you make about the experiences you're having, whatever they may be.
Bringing the fun is the opposite of succumbing to misery. It's choosing to enjoy every part of the way, even the hard parts.
Even the rattlesnakes.
Misery or fun? It's totally our choice no matter what the Trail, or some "glass half empty" teacher, is dishing out.
Now excuse me...I've got to find my tutu.
So how will you bring the fun to your thru-hike? Leave a comment and share your plan.