The Lure of Long-Distance Hiking and Following Your Dreams

What sparks a dream?

Maybe it’s a quote, a picture, or a story. Or maybe we don’t even understand how it started or where it came from. We just know it’s there, living inside of us.

One of my long-time dreams is thru-hiking. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, thru-hiking means a backpacking trip in which a hiker attempts to cover the whole length of a long-distance trail, like the Appalachian Trail (AT) or Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), in a single effort.

For years, the lure of a long-distance hiking trail has drawn me in. Books like Becoming Odyssa, Wild, and most recently, Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart, had me romanticizing about carrying everything I need on my back and walking for weeks through the woods.

But earlier this summer I started to feel like I had read enough thru-hiking memoirs and how-to books, and decided it was time to do it myself. I began to notice a small, quiet voice inside saying, “It’s time to thru-hike.” Now, when I hear this voice, I take it very seriously. So I started to follow this intuitive hit.

My first inclination was the Pacific Crest Trail, so I immediately started researching what it would take to actually thru-hike the PCT. Could I do it? Is it something I even wanted to do? The further I went down the path of envisioning myself doing this, the more it felt like a total “no.”

Naturally, I chose the John Muir Trail as my next best option. It’s shorter, still in California, and seems much more doable. But just like with the PCT, this too felt wrong. Thru-hiking the JMT requires planning at least 6 months in advance (I’d have to wait until 2017), and even if I could pull it off, the timing didn’t fit with the Quiet Adventures I really want to lead this year.

I felt bummed and kept thinking, “Isn’t there a thru-hike for ordinary humans?” An alternative wasn’t presenting itself, so I let the idea go.

My dream takes shape

A few days later, a friend sent me a picture via Instagram with a note that said, “Thinking of you and Quiet Adventures! xo.” I clicked on the picture and was taken to a stunning view of the Tahoe Rim Trail.My curiosity led me to click on the #tahoerimtrail hashtag and down a path of learning about this new thru-hike option.

The TRT is a 170-mile trail that circles Lake Tahoe, passing through two mountain ranges, three wilderness areas, and two states. Most people can hike the trail in 2 weeks.

How had I never heard of this amazing thru-hike for ordinary humans? I was ecstatic to learn about the TRT, but I told no one. Not even my husband. I decided to sit with it and keep it tucked close to my heart before fully committing.

As I sat with the idea, it felt totally right. The level of challenge felt healthy and the length of time felt manageable given where I’m at in my life right now. I decided to do it! I was going to stop romanticising and go for it!

So I told my husband, who gave me a ton of love, support, and enthusiasm. But shortly after telling him, I started to notice that I felt scared.

What if I couldn’t finish? What if I couldn’t find water? What if I wasn’t in good enough shape to hike 12 miles per day? What if my stove broke and I couldn’t fix it? Would I just eat trail mix for 2 weeks straight?

What if… what it… what if… my mind was having a total heyday. So I did what I always do when my mind is spinning out of control—I took out my journal. I opened it to a blank page and started listing out every one of my “what ifs.” As I wrote them out, one by one, I began to notice something: I was disguising fear under logistics. Sure, some of these were legit concerns, but all were totally manageable given my knowledge and experience.

I closed my journal, smiled, and said to myself, “Ah, yes, I remember now. Fear and doubt are just part of the process. It’s what truly guides and motivates me.”

The Mom Test

Next, I decided to tell my mom. In my life I have something I call the “Mom Test,” which is where I tell my mom I’m going to follow through on one of my crazy dreams and I note her reaction. My mom always asks me the legitimate questions and plays the best devil’s advocate. If she has a concern, it’s probably because I really do need to be thinking about it. No matter how irritating this is at times, my mom is usually right.

Note: My mom didn’t know about this test but she does now, being the avid reader of this blog that she is. Love you, Mom!

When I asked my mom about my plan to thru-hike the Tahoe Rim Trail, she had zero concerns. In fact, she was even excited and thought it was a good idea. What!?!?! Such a rare thing for a dream to pass the “Mom Test.” This really solidified things for me.

So I moved on to telling my close friends and now I’m here telling you. Each step along the way I’m noticing the excitement, the fear, and the hope. I’ve moved into action and am well on my way with the planning and training.

Now, I’m not telling you because I think I’m super cool (there are actually much more badass thru-hikes, like the 2,650-mile PCT) or because I think everyone should thru-hike. I’m sharing this dream with you in the hopes that you’ll revisit some of your own dreams that may have been forgotten, pushed to the bottom of the list, or were deemed just too scary to even look at. I’m sharing this dream with you as a reminder to not let fear keep you frozen in your tracks.

Checking in with your own dreams

What dreams are living inside of you? Is it time to start taking action on one of them? If it’s taking an art class, traveling to a foreign country, or trying out backpacking for the first time, whatever your dream is, check in with it today.

Find a quiet space, grab a journal or notepad, and start writing out what you want to accomplish and what it will take to get you there. On a separate page, list out your fears, doubts, and objections, and remember that these things are all natural and a part of the process. Listen to your inner voice and try to envision yourself achieving your dream. If you can’t see it happening, you’ll know you need to make some changes to get where you need to be.

I’d love to hear about your dreams. Let me know in the comments below what you uncover!

With love and gratitude,

Megan

Founder, Quiet Adventures

Photo by Jesse Gardner.