In July of this year, I set out to complete my third thru-hike. I would be tackling the uniquely desolate Continental Divide Trail. On day 7, I received news that my beloved fur child (dog) Jack had suffered a catastrophic cardiac event and had died, my entire life felt as though it was emptied.
Recognizing the healing properties of the trail, I decided to try my hand at healing while remaining on trail. The trail had healed my heart so many times before. By day 21, 420 miles into my thru-hike I made the decision to go home, and it was the best thing I could have done in regards to my thru-hike.
Mental Health on Trail
It is no secret that most thru-hikers struggle with their mental health. Many hikers have found truly therapeutic properties of immersing themself in nature, pushing their physical, mental and emotional limits and truly finding peace within, by being in nature.
I personally found my first thru-hike (AT 2019), to be life changing in regards to my mental state. I had found time to process my life, my trauma and take time to dive deep within myself and answer so many questions that I had been asking myself for years. Although it was not a replacement for therapy, mood stabilizing medications, thru-hiking was an adjunct component to finding peace mentally. Almost anyone who has ever immersed themself in nature will tell you how they felt exponentially better after.
So Rocket, if the trail is so therapeutic, why did you quit?
Why I Quit
The trail, for me, had been a place of reprieve, peace, healing and self reflection. This time was different. I had recently lost my other beloved pet Moofy (cat) to cancer. I was just beginning to mourn his loss when my pup passed away suddenly. I attempted to stay on trail in hopes of finding all those amazing healing properties of the trail to help me heal with these two devastating losses.
I noticed that as the days and miles progressed, I was more angry, more devastated, less able to see the beauty of the landscapes that would otherwise have taken my breath away. Why was I not healing? With a deep self reflection, I realized that the trail can assist in healing, but in itself it is not everything one needs to heal sometimes. I was yearning for my mothers hugs, kisses from my niece and nephew and the ability to lay in bed and cry all day. I needed more than the trail. So I decided with no hesitation to book my flight for the next day.
Since returning home one month ago, I was able to truly grieve the loss of my pets, spend time angry at the world without taking for granted the views that were stretched in front of me, and actually find my identity off trail again.
Why it Doesn’t Matter Why
Although I have laid out quite the acceptable reason to quit a trail, my advice, YOU DO NOT NEED ANY VALID REASON TO QUIT. The trail is hard. It is one of the most challenging ways to live for 6 months that I have ever experienced. Even though it was beautiful, simple and inspiring, honestly, it can be insufferable at times.
"YOU DO NOT NEED ANY VALID REASON TO QUIT."
So many hikers feel the need to justify their decision to quit. I have heard justifications ranging from “I broke my toe, I miss my mom, I might run out of money, I have to go back to work, to the weather was too challenging/dynamic”.
Guess what? I DON’T CARE.
No one should.
If you are even considering quitting a trail, you should not have to justify why. Honestly there were days on trail that I simply wanted to have a clean butt, and was sick of smelling like rotting flesh. Some days I just wanted to be lazy and watch TV. Some days I just wanted a dang break from all the walking. Any of those reasons should be a perfectly fine reason to quit in my eyes. If that was truly what I wished.
The trail is not everything and never should be. The trail has its sweet way of drawing you in and attempting to make you believe that it is everything that matters in life. But I am here to tell you, that who you are without the trail is equally as important as who you wish to be on the trail.
I am not advising you to quit every day you feel tired, or bored, or are sick of the rain. Obviously I want you to truly consider if you want to quit, or you need a zero (a day of rest). Quitting does NOT make you a failure. Quitting means that you are able to truly identify what you want and not being afraid to make changes in order to make yourself happier, more content.
Hikers save money for years, quit their jobs, leave their loved ones for months on end in order to thru-hike. The decision to quit cannot be an easy decision and our community should be supportive and accepting.
Doing What is Best for YOU
I am not going to lie and say that I do not wish everyday I was still on the CDT, heading south, because I do, at times. However, I realized that the woman that would touch the southern terminus might not be happy with her thru-hike, when she arrived. I may have continued to push south, crying every day, angry at the beautiful world around me. Angry that the universe took my companion away from me while I was walking a ridgeline in Montana. My beloved pet was taken away from me while I smiled at the view before me.
I realized that my connection with the trail was severed for the time being. That I was not going to be able to heal and mourn my losses and truly embrace my hiker trash lifestyle. I was simply not able to do both. When I decided to quit, the trail meant nothing to me. Especially if I couldnt connect to the lifestyle, the community, to nature.
The decision to quit felt so relieving and allowed me time to process what I actually needed. Had I decided a week after returning home, to return to trail, I would have known that I had made the decision with a clear heart and mind, with the correct intentions.
I decided that the rest of the year was going to be solely about recentering my heart, my mind and my soul. Thru-hiking was going to have to wait and honestly I am excited for the Rocket of tomorrow. The Rocket that gets to try again, when her heart is healed. When she is ready to crush miles with a smile, and not while sobbing into her sweaty shirt on a windy mountain top.
So I implore you, if your heart is not healing, and your mind is struggling, not just because thru-hiking is hard, but because the trail is not truly enhancing your life, and you desire to quit; do it, it may be the best thing you ever do for yourself.
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