When a thru-hiker posts a journal on trailjournals.com, they list their trail name and the projected date for their first day on the trail. I enjoy following a few journals rather closely (like Beaker) to observe their journey along the incredible Appalachian Trail. My 2014 thru-hike floods my mind as places and landmarks are shared in the online diaries.
I also like keeping track of all the journals of the class of 2017 and periodically noting where each pilgrim is along the path. It is sometimes tedious to record the details of my interests but it is also quite interesting to try to see the overall picture of the cohort.
For example, there are 139 online journals reflecting a start date in January, February and March. Of these 139 bloggers, there are only 27 active journals left as of today. What happened to the other 112? Let me share what I can discern.
The largest category, 41 journals, are what I call a “No Show”. A “No Show” is a blogger who posts some pre-hike entries but then posts nothing on or after his/her target start date. The journal is simply empty. Did the individual make it to the AT? I don’t know, but I do know that he/she has abandoned this online journal as a form of communication.
Some journals (34 presently) receive my label, “No Entry,” which means that the journal was being populated and then suddenly, without explanation, the hiker quits recording his/her adventure. After 30-40 days of silence I assume that they are off the trail. Maybe they just got tired of posting to the site, but in either case it is frustrating being left behind without some insight or reason.
This leaves 37 online reports that ended short of the thru-hiker expectations of completing the 2, 189 mile trek through 14 states in one season of hiking. The number one reason for a hiking-ending experience is injury (20 hikers). This is not a surprise given the difficult terrain and demanding challenge that the trail presents. Five hikers encountered injury during their pre-hikes and postponed their attempts for another year. Fifteen pilgrims attributed on trail injuries to their early departure. The injuries varied – seven knees, three legs, two shoulders, one back, one toe, and one foot – but all them them made the journey impossible to complete.
Fourteen hikers left the trail for emotional reasons. Of those, an even dozen left out of discouragement – hard trails, tired feet, bad weather can lead to depression and homesickness. Two others called it boredom discovering that the AT is not always a glorious view of mountain flowers, wildlife, and overlooks. A thru-hiker must watch his/her feet constantly to avoid the faceplant caused by rocks and roots.
One hiking couple ran out of time and realized after four months on the trail that they could not make it before the responsibilities of home demanded their return. What a difficult decision they had to make. Another hiker needed to leave the trail to attend to a family emergency. And yet another, stated his reason for leaving as “unexpected issues.”
It is sad to see people leave the trail. However, I almost always read the online comments of the hikers themselves that what they experienced was life-changing, mind-changing, or personally impactful. I believe that every hiker takes part of the trail with them, deep inside, that does not easily fade. The experience of being in God’s creation, whether 30 miles or 2,000 miles stays in the heart and speaks to the mind in powerfully unique ways. I would love for you to read my book, Hike It Forward, and experience the Appalachian Trail through my eyes and spirit (simply click on the book cover and purchase it from Amazon). Then give it a try and see if you don’t agree.