He has dreamed about it for years. He spent time and money investing in all his gear. He practiced physically; he trained mentally. He even sold his business and gave his family long hugs that would last for five months!

Then, after 28 days of hiking the Appalachian Trail, he wanted to quit.

You are his friend.

What do you say? What do you do?


Appalachian Trail

This week I had to think through this situation and these questions as a close friend thought about quitting the trail and ultimately purchased a plane ticket home. And with time, reflection, and first hand experience - here are some thoughts that I wanted to share.


1. Thru-Hiking is not for EVERYONE.

When I first started this section, I wrote, “The Appalachian Trail is not for EVERYONE.” And then I thought, NO!!! That’s wrong! The Appalachian Trail is absolutely for EVERYONE and should be experienced by as many people as possible. But, thru-hiking is certainly not for everyone. It has been a powerful agent of change and self-reflection for many individuals. But that doesn’t mean that everyone should do it.

In order to thru-hike, the Appalachian Trail has to be a top priority. If your daily family commitments, friendship, work schedule and responsibilities are more important that a thru-hike, then you should consider day or section hiking. NOTICE, I did not say that the trail had to be more important than your family and work. But if you don’t have support and if you can’t commit your mind and heart to the endeavor, then a thru-hike might not be for you.


2. Quitting is sometimes a GREAT decision.

The trail has never been the most important thing in my life. It is very high on the list. But every single hike that I take, I know there is a chance that I might have to get off the trail for someone or something. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is a worthy pursuit, but so is taking care of a sick relative, pursuing a new job, furthering your education, or simply being there for a friend. There are good reasons to get off the trail.

Furthermore, the trail requires change. It demands that you adjust your comfort level. And at some point, every thru-hiker must ask, “Do I want to change?” If you don’t want to change, then you will be MISERABLE on the trail. You may even come to resent the trail. You will probably be much happier and nicer to be around if you decide to stop.


3. Different distances can have the same RESULT.

The benefits of the trail are mostly subjective. I have had the benefit to travel around this country and talk about hiking for the past 10 months. In my travels I have met people who said that their life had been changed by a day – a week – a month – or several months on the trail. And some folks, like me, are still a work in progress!

You can’t place your expectations, or experience, or mileage preference on someone else. Everyone will have his or her own adventure, and create a unique relationship with the trail.


When I started writing this blog, my friend was already very at peace with his decision to stop hiking. I guess it takes some processing and writing for type-A folks like me to get to the same place. But in the end it is OKAY. (And it doesn’t really matter what I think!) No matter when you start or stop, the miles completed and the memories made should be celebrated!!!

I hope that my friend is proud of his accomplishment. I hope that I can encourage him – and let him know that I fully support his decision. And I hope that we can still go back to the trail and day-hike, section hike, or do some trail maintenance together. Remember, the trail was NOT built with the thought or intention that people would ever thru-hike it.

The trail is there for everyone at every phase of life. A day hike is no better than a section hike, or a thru-hike, or EVEN a record hike. The value of the trail cannot be measured in miles or distances, but rather in lessons learned, memories made, and relationships formed.

I LOVE endurance, perseverance and gritting it out no matter what. But that can be a blessing and curse. And I am thankful to friends in my life who can remind me that sometimes – just sometimes - the right decision, the best decision, is to stop.