One of the first things I did after announcing my intention to thru hike the Appalachian Trail was to join several AT hiker groups on social media. This served multiple purposes, primarily to pump myself up by reading other people’s stories during a period of fear and self-doubt. But equally important was learning about what to do and what not to do regarding gear, supplies, food, and all the other things that I hadn’t even considered yet. I’ve since left most of those groups due to the fact that the majority of commentary was critical and did more to discourage my efforts rather than to give me a sense of empowerment.
That isn’t to say that it was all bad. On the contrary, many of the most important tidbits of shared information saved me from completely melting down and throwing in the towel. But those tidbits were the exception, rather than the rule. And that is where I feel compelled to share this post.
Cast Not your Pearls
I have read somewhere that when you have a special dream or goal that it’s important not to share it with too many people. The reason for this is that dreams are sometimes fragile things, especially in their infancy. Some of us can be very susceptible to the power of suggestion and/or criticism. One negative comment could be enough to make someone second guess their decision to even make this attempt.
We are ALL Beginners at Some Point!
On posting that I have only day hiking experience, one person commented that “The mountains of Georgia are no place for a beginner.” This one really took my level of joy down a few notches. Who did I think I was thinking that I could do this? Were people laughing at me behind my back and taking bets on how soon I would quit? This was my negative self-talk.
Then another member of the group gave some encouraging words and pointed out that a great many of us on the Trail are newbies too. Many of those who make it to Katahdin started out in Georgia as their first big hike.
Strong People Don’t Put Others Down. They Lift Them Up!
When I received my backpack I was overwhelmed with the number of straps, loops and other gadgets whose purpose baffled me. On posting a photo of my pack and inquiring what their purpose was, one tacky member replied with, “You really need to figure out your gear before you get on the trail.”
This infuriated me because that was precisely what I was doing! I wanted to come back with an angry retort but didn’t want to get banned from the group for rudeness, so I bit my tongue.
Then another member commented that the straps were “compression straps used to tighten up an otherwise loose load so that it would pull the pack in closer to the spine making it easier to carry.”
In that moment I went from being completely clueless to being completely informed!
All it took was a person sharing the knowledge that they possessed.
Categories of Hikers
When I posted about my new tent that I had purchased from the “Ultralight” category on the REI website. A young ultralight hiker said, “That’s way too heavy. Nothing ‘ultralight’ about that.”
At that point I had no idea about the three categories based on base weight:
This other hiker had no idea about my age, my goal for the hike or how long I planned on taking to complete my journey. He was simply projecting his own opinion onto my hike and deciding I had made a wrong pick.
Once again, a more helpful member guided me to a site where I learned about the above categories and gave me the best advice I have yet to receive…….“You can be comfortable on the Trail, or you can be comfortable at camp.”
Knowledge is Power
In this modern era of the internet, which was not around when I was in my teens, we have the ability to spread the power of knowledge to the ends of the planet! There are no excuses to be uninformed when we can share with each other at the speed of light.
On one hand, of course I am a mature middle aged adult and I know that I don’t have to take to heart anyone’s opinion but my own. However, I have lived with fear long enough and feel very delicate when it comes to questioning my ability to pull this off.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
In summary, words are POWERFUL!
What may be intended as harmless banter can do more damage to another’s morale than we may realize.
It’s important that as fellow hikers we do our best to RAISE each other up and make every effort to temper criticism with kind words. I may be a rookie now, but one day I will be an expert.
It is my intention to pay forward all the help that has been given to me and share the many lessons that are in my path to learn. I look forward to every opportunity I am blessed with to help another hiker in need.
The single greatest accomplishment I feel I can have on the trail is being the reason that another hiker does NOT give up!
You CAN do it!
I’ll see YOU on the trail!
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