1. Do your research: Before you leave you should try to learn as much as you can about the trail you are going to do. This means finding all the resources that are available to you either online or talking to other hikers. The internet is full of forums, articles, websites dedicated to the long trails so do your research before you leave. You don’t need to learn every bend in the trail but at least know what to expect.
2. Be ready for plans to change: When your sitting in your warm house, on your comfy couch and planning your trip its easy to think what you write down will be your schedule. But, when your on the ground hiking every thing can and will change no matter what you do. Things like unexpected zero days happen because the post office was closed when you got there or your body was in worse shape then you thought it would be. Weather is unpredictable so you might go slower or don’t get the hitch you wanted. Be flexible to change and be happy when things actually go right.
3. Know your abilities: When you get on the trail you’re full of ideas of what you want to do, how fast you want to go and accomplishments to achieve. When I started on the trail I wanted to do 20-25 mile days but quickly learned I wasn’t ready for that. On the trail you see what I call “Team Lightning” the group that’s doing 20-30 miles right out of the gate. They’re fast, have their gear and food locked in and they haul butt. Don’t try to keep up with them. Go at your pace, do what you know and just be yourself.
4. Learn to love pain: No matter what you do you will get blisters, your legs will hurt, your back will spasm and you will be in pain. Learn to love it. Understand that even though you hurt you sometimes have to keep going.
5. Listen to your body: If you are in pain and it feels like you can’t keep going just stop, slow down or take a day off to recover. When you push it toO hard and don’t listen to your body it will just compound and it could take you out for a couple of days or worse make you go home with a major injury.
6. Take care of your feet: Your feet are what propel you on your hike so if you don’t take care of your feet you aren’t going anywhere. During breaks take your shoes and socks off and let them dry out. When you feel a ‘hot spot’ developing stop and take care of it-IMMEDIATELY! Learn how to handle blisters and make sure you have the necessary supplies to treat them properly.
7. Have a positive attitude: The trail can be brutal so learning to be positive no matter what your facing can help keep you going. Its easy to get down on yourself for not making the miles you wanted, getting lost/misplaced from the trail and forgetting something. I’ve learned to find something to laugh about every day either about something on the trail or something you did, its always good to have a good laugh to raise your spirits.
8. Believe in the kindness of strangers: Its amazing the unsolicited help you can get from strangers. People will offer you rides, food, water and so many other things that it will surprise you. In many of the towns you pass through people know about hikers and because we have a good reputation they are happy to help. Always be nice to everyone you meet and a please and thank you go a long way.
9. Get use to smelling: Yes, you will stink. You will stink so bad that you won’t even be able to smell yourself anymore. Your feet, shoes and body will always have a certain funk to it so just get use to it. When you get to town, do laundry first and don’t forget to presoak all your stuff because washing machines were designed for regular humans, not thru hikers.
10. The thru hiking community is awesome: The people that you meet on the trail are all great people and are probably out on the trail for the same reasons as you. They are easy to spot and are welcoming with advice, tips and stories you can relate to. Nothing is better then talking about that last 10 miles of trail or that water source that was suppose to be there but wasn’t with someone who understands. Everyone is out to make sure you succeed with your hike so be nice to everyone you meet on the trail because we all talk to each other and if you’re a mooch or a jerk, word will get out.