I’ve seen a lot of people leave the trail lately. Almost everyone ahead of me that I was following has now gone home. Lots leave due to injury or run out of money, but a significant number of people, when they explain why they’re leaving, say that they just aren’t having fun anymore.
At the beginning, it seems like most people were having fun. We tended to be a little anti-social at first, so I watched all this from the sidelines. But there was lots of drinking, lots of people frantically making friends, people taking long breaks and multiple days off in town. The mood was relaxed. Now, people are worried about making it on time. They’re constantly comparing their mileage to everyone else’s, doing math every evening to see what they need to average to make it by a certain date. They aren’t drinking as much because it’s hard to hike hungover. The weather isn’t fun anymore, either. The mood is more serious. It’s time to buckle down, and the people who just wanted to have fun are deciding to go home.
I’m not exactly “having fun” either. I don’t mean that I’m miserable (though I sometimes am), or that everyone who is should just keep on going, miserable until the end. If the main goal of your thru-hike is to have a good time and you aren’t, then I guess it’s time to leave. I’m just realizing that fun isn’t the big thing I’m getting from this experience.
I certainly expected to have some fun when we first came out, and I do. But if you think a thru-hike is all about fun, or even mostly about fun, you’re terribly mistaken. A weekend backpacking trip is fun. Car camping is fun. But a thru-hike is work. It’s mental and physical effort, constantly.
At the same time, the rewards are much greater than a weekend trip with friends or a couple of days grilling by a lake. I’m not done with my hike yet, but I know I’ve changed already from it. I feel more confident in myself, better able to handle adversity and challenge without getting totally overwhelmed and dispirited. I’ve always had a harder time connecting with people, but out here I’ve met friends that I feel astonishingly deep love for before knowing their last names or what they do in “real” life. I’ve spent many (many!) a long climb thinking about what I want my life to look like when I go back to civilization, and I think that when I do, I’ll feel less anxious and ambivalent about it, more intentional and excited.
These things make me feel good about myself, which I don’t often give myself permission to do. So I’m excited about that too, about feeling more okay with who I am. I’m proud of how I love our trail friends. I’m excited to start building the life I daydream about while hiking.
So, no, I’m not having “so much fun!”. But I’m not leaving yet. I want to get everything the trail is willing to give me. And then, I definitely want to go home.