When Quitting the Trail is Okay - How to Decide to End Your Thru Hike

Here's a true story - I've bailed on a thru hike before.  For those of you who have followed this blog for a while now, you'll know that NoKey and I bailed off the Finger Lakes Trail back in the summer of 2015.  We quit for a few reasons - I got a MRSA infection and a respiratory virus; it rained every single day; parts of the trail were completely underwater, meaning we did a LOT of road walking; the trail conservancy was very rude to us on the phone and didn't offer us any help when were were looking for a place to camp (and the president of the conservancy did call to apologize, but the damage was done); and the biggest reason of all - we weren't having any fun at all. Our thru hike was a failure.  I even wrote a post about how yes, we didn't finish our hike and it failed and why it wasn't a bad thing.  For us, the decision to quit the FLT was the best one and I don't regret it.  In my post last week I talked about reasons why thru hikers will leave the trail.  This week, I want to talk about when leaving the trail is the right decision and how to make the call.

When It's No Longer Worth It

You may have set out to conquer the trail, but now it no longer seems important to you.  Sure, no one said thru hiking would be easy and you get that, but no one said you had to finish the trail as a thru hiker either.  There are many, many different ways to hike a long distance trail and you can complete it (or not!) any way you choose.  When we decided to quit the FLT and take a vacation we had taken quite a few days to talk about our decision.  We had taken a weekend off to avoid more rain.  We hiked out and then I woke up incredibly sick.  We went back home to recover and during the first week after little improvement we decided that the rain would never let up and I probably wouldn't get any better (it took me almost a month to shake the MRSA and respiratory virus).  What is the point of killing ourselves every day if we don't want to be there?  Like I said last week, there are many reasons why you can decide to get off trail. 

When You Don't Care About the Trail Anymore

Hiking the trail can sometimes be like a bad relationship.  It mentally and physically exhausts you, sometimes for weeks on end.  You give yourself to it 100% and you get nothing in return. You've even given up most of your "normal life" to spend time with the trail and it's like the trail doesn't even care!  Now, if this was a relationship with another person chances are you'd be ready to call it quits and break up.  Sure, you might Facebook/Instagram stalk the trail for a while.  Every once in a while you'll feel nostalgic and pull out that picture of the two of you together.  You might even like a photo posted of the trail with it's new hikers.  Time will heal your wounds.  

When You've Tried a Second Time and Feel the Same

So sticking with the bad relationship concept above, maybe you and the trail broke up.  But sometimes exes get back together, right?  Maybe you broke it off with the idea of thru hiking but for whatever reason you two found your way back to each other.  Then, you and the trail fall back into old habits and it turns out the relationship hasn't changed at all; everything is exactly the same.  

The bottom line is this: 


And you know what? That's okay.  Nobody said you have to thru hike a trail for it to magically "count".  What's more is that most trail conservancies recognize trail FINISHERS, not trail thru hikers.  Sure, you might be able to order that extra "thru hiker" or "end to ender" rocker patch for your certificate, but at the end of the day being a thru hiker is just a title.  In a world where we place a lot of emphasis on extraordinary achievements, at the end of the day whether you set the fastest know time, slowest time ever, hike a section over 20 years, or hike it all in six months - anyone who has finished a long trail all gets to say they're a completer.  

Maybe you're on the fence about breaking off your thru hike.  For those of you who haven't decided if getting off trail is right for you, here are a few pieces of advice: 

-Take a zero day.  If you're still on the fence, take another.  Maybe take a week off.  Talk it out with other hikers at a hostel.  Make a plan to hike to only the next town and see if your feelings change.  
- Think about how you'd feel if you quit.  Maybe you're thru hiking to prove something to someone (yourself or a loved one).  If the idea of quitting doesn't make you all that upset, it's probably time to call it.  

Have you ever been on the fence about quitting a hike?  Maybe you've spent tons of time planning and dreaming only to have it turn out differently than you'd imagined?  I'd love to hear how you dealt with getting off the trail.  Leave me a comment or find me on Facebook and get the conversation started!