I spent much of the last evening talking with my friend John, who is in the midst of his own pre-hike preparations. His tasks involve selling a home, and leaving a job he’s held for over seven years. In comparison, my preparations seem quite minimal and small.
One gem of wisdom that surfaced from that conversation however, is the realization that just getting on the trail itself is a huge accomplishment. So many decisions, so much effort, and so many sacrifices need to be made in order to stand before that first white blaze.
It is the first and most important invisible mountain all thru-hikers must climb. There is no guide book for it, and the elevation of that peak varies for everyone rather mercilessly. I’ve met hikers who made the decision to leave home a mere two weeks before setting out. For others, it came in the form of a childhood dream. They placed some portion of eleven years of cutting grass, or babysitting, or minimum wage retail jobs into an account; all for this special day. For most however, the planning state lies somewhere in between.
The beautiful thing, and the difficult thing to embrace about this, is that the path leading to “The Path” is pretty irrelevant. It’s inconsequential, much in the way backpacking gear itself becomes irrelevant, once you find what works for you. Spill any two hiker’s packs, and none of the items will be exactly the same. Ask them to spill the beans about why they’re atop Springer or Katahdin, and you’ll find the same lack of conformity. I love that.
Prepared enough is ultimately left to each hikers own contentment. It’s a gut check performed on your most important parameters. For some hikers it’s about health, insurance, and seeing their kids along the way. For me in 2016, it centered around leaving my job in good standing, and making sure my possessions wouldn’t be a burden in my absence.
This time around it’s all about budget, and having enough money put aside. I way under-prepared for this last time, and so it is the centerpiece of this year’s planning. I am almost where I need to be on this, and it often feels as though I am simply biding my time.
Wait an additional two weeks for warmer weather, or buy a better insulating layer? Is my rain jacket sufficient, or should I buy a better one? Once you get down to these kinds of questions, you’re almost ready to hike. I’m almost there.