Appalachian Trail thru-hiking should be an Olympic sport, and everyone who completes it should receive a gold medal.
Every single thru-hiker. Without exception.
These icons should be honored with parades and parties and eventually be the most coveted candidates for the world’s most lucrative jobs.
Even a one-day hike on the AT is grueling. Some sections are better than others, but for the most part, the terrain is wild and unforgiving. There are rocks and roots everywhere, daring you not to trip or go off on a swearing spree. There are biting bugs and annoying gnats. There are rivers to cross without bridges. On occasion, it will rain relentlessly, which brings out more bugs while increasing your odds of taking a digger. Oh, and did I mention there were rocks? And rocks scattered between the rocks?
Of course, there are insane views to marvel over. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot wildlife, and very cool fungus and plants dot the landscape, but when your job is to walk an average of 20 miles per day, marveling takes a backseat to the blisters on your feet, which are also vying for your attention.
Occasionally you will misplace a vital piece of equipment, maybe your hiking poles or cell phone, and waste hours of daylight and added mileage to your hike as you embark on a search and rescue mission.
I know this to be accurate and factual because it all happened to me in one 20-mile jaunt.
Now imagine this grind, day after day after day for 4 or 5 months. Or longer.
You must be thinking, “why?”
I like to “swim upstream,” as I call it. If I hike Sobo (southbound), I run into more hikers going Nobo (northbound). It gives me a chance to ask some burning questions. My three favorites are when did you start, where are you from, and WHY are you out here?
Interestingly, the initial reason most hikers pack their bags and take their first steps seems to blur and shift after some time on the trail. And this is where all hikers become one.
Everyone focuses on the task at hand.
They will tell you, “my job is to walk every day, even when I don’t feel like it.”
Everyone is determined to finish.
They have grit, determination, and perseverance.
No matter what, there is no quitting.
As I said, order up the gold medals.