Appalachian Trail Takeaways Part 1

I learned a lot by walking day in and day out on the Appalachian Trail. As the journey progressed, I wrote down the maxims that I learned. Below are some of my favorite Appalachian Trail Takeaways.

Appalachian Trail Takeaways #1: Food is fuel.

Obvious. Humans need to eat. Physical activity requires calorie inputs, especially hiking 18 miles every day. I knew this before hiking the AT. But when I hiked on a constant calorie deficit, the importance of food magnified. I ate 4000 calories per day and I was hungry all the time. By the end of the trail, I had still lost 8lbs.

Food is Fuel - Appalachian Trail Takeaways #1


Food is fuel is a crucial lesson that successful thru hikers learn early. Hiking 2200 miles requires constant calorie input. Subsisting off of lower calorie levels makes the rest of your experience deteriorate. Your body first consumes the calories for your natural processes. Once those calorie inputs are met, the calories feed your energy levels and mental state. If you fail to meet certain calorie levels, you lose energy and your mental state deteriorates.

Performance required constant food intake. I could not rely on regular meals to sustain me throughout the day. A 1000 calorie breakfast lasted me two hours and same with a 1000 calorie lunch. I needed more calorie inputs throughout the day, so I regularly ate 200-400 calories to maintain my mental and physical state.


Eating remedied all my issues.

When I was tired, I ate. I was in a bad mood, I ate. I couldn’t think, I ate. When I was cold, I ate. I know my body is a furnace, and if I don’t feed it calories I will be cold, tired, and hungry.

I’ve had to rein in my hiker hunger. I no longer need the excessive number of calories because my physical activity has decreased significantly. Food is fuel is still a major takeaway. I know that if I am working and am unable to focus it is likely because I haven’t eaten in awhile. Additionally I know that I should eat breakfast to jumpstart my brain. The idea that calories lead to higher brain function is foundational to high functioning.

Appalachian Trail Takeaways #2: Do it now.

Procrastinating sucks. There is some activity that you are required to perform and you don’t want to do it. So you put it off. Sometimes there are legitimate excuses. Maybe a family obligation pops up making a certain chore move to the back burner. Most of the time procrastination is self-inflicted.

I lived a very simple life on the trail. Wake up, eat, walk, and sleep. If there was something I had to do, there were very few things that I could use as excuses to put off an activity. “Do it now” is revelatory at a micro level and a macro level.

On a micro level, if I walk and feel uncomfortable because my jacket is too hot, I should take my jacket off immediately.

This seems common sense, but in this circumstance I would frequently set a certain time in the future to take off a layer. The next water spot seems like a good time to take it off, or I will wait until the I finish the hill. In reality I prolong my uncomfort by setting aside this task that needs to happen. By taking my jacket off now, and not later, I limit my uncomfort and walk to that future destination feeling more comfortable.


If I really want to hike the AT, why wait a year to do it, when I could do it right now?

Do it now is similarly revelatory on a macro level. It is easy to create excuses for big life events like changing jobs, or going on an adventure. But if I realize that there is nothing institutionally stopping me from completing a task / event / goal now, I might as well do it now and save myself any future discomfort. There are many more variables to evaluate when using this mantra on life choices. If in doubt, I just do it because the fear of unknown outcome is likely holding me back from completing the goal.

Appalachian Trail Takeaways #3: Divide goals into manageable pieces.


Divide Goals - Appalachian Trail Takeaways #3

Learning how to set goals successfully is valuable, especially when the end goal is large and ambiguous. At the Southern Terminus of the AT, the caretaker advised us that we should never think about Katahdin and instead focus on the more immediate goal of finishing the day’s miles. This advice proved invaluable.

If I were to go back to the start and think only about getting to Katahdin, my mental state would be horrible. Simple naivete wouldn’t protect me. I know so much more about the hardship. However, if I were to pursue another thru hike, I know I would be able to finish because I would divide my goals into manageable pieces.


On my thru hike my goal structure had ten levels. Ten levels seems ridiculous, but so does stepping off of Springer thinking you have to walk 2200 miles. My goal levels were as follows: 1) Katahdin 2) half way 3) next state border 4) the next 100 mile mark (typically 5 days) 5) the next resupply (typically 3-4 days) 6) the day’s miles 7) miles to lunch 8) the next hour (2-3 miles) 9) the next mile 10) the next step.

Every time I completed a goal level, dopamine released, and I felt pleasure.

Of course, I felt a lot more pleasure reaching Katahdin than I did each step. But I felt pleasure at each level of goal completion nonetheless. By segmenting my goals I was being productive towards my final goal without being lost in the magnitude of the final goal. The Tao Te Ching has an excellent quote to sum up my goal setting mentality:

“Great affairs always start off being small.
Therefore the sage never deals with the great
And is able to actualize his greatness.” – Tao Te Ching

As a goal setting method, segmentation is incredibly important. I currently segment my goals via the Impossible List to make my long term goals manageable and accessible.

These Appalachian Trail Takeaways significantly helped me complete the AT. They continue to resonate with me as I pursue a more standard life. These takeaways are only a couple of the many insights I had on the trail. Stay tuned for Takeaways Part 2 with more Appalachian Trail Takeaways.


  1. I have many impactful Appalachian Trail takeways that I use in my day to day.
  2. Food is fuel.
  3. Do it now.
  4. Divide goals into manageable pieces.

Learned Self Confidence on the Appalachian Trail

I quit my job last December to hike the the entire 2189.1 mile Appalachian Trail. On July 4th, 2016, I completed my goal and summited Katahdin after 4 months and 6 days. The journey changed my life. My takeaways are many, ranging from the mundane (e.g. food dramatically impacts your mood, ability to hike, and ability to think) to the more nuanced (e.g. my purpose is to maximize my happiness). Read about my initial takeaways here. Above all, I learned self confidence.


Washington Summit - Learning Self Confidence

80% of thru hikers quit hiking the AT. Hikers wake up each day and walk, regardless of terrain, weather, or other non-trivial factors. The daily grind is both physically and mentally taxing. The monotony challenged me the most. Trees look similar, whether they are the first or the thousandth . Eventually I would find a picturesque setting to snap a quick photo, but I would hike hours to find it. I did not have a seriously social hike, I hiked ~60% of the trail alone and rarely listened to music.

I hiked the AT because I wanted self confidence.

The difficulty inspired me to hike. 80% of hikers might not be able to finish, but I knew I could. The AT would evaluate my level of grit and show me whether I could accomplish my larger goals. I wanted the self confidence to pursue my own goals. Society has a typical success trajectory; I wanted to feel comfortable pursuing my own.

Before the AT, I did have confidence. I graduated from Dartmouth and went to work at a PE consulting firm in Boston. On the outside my choices were typical and successful. They were easy. I have been privileged with a great education and an amazing support network. At each junction, I took the typically successful path because I thought that was expected of me. While I had self confidence, I did not have the self confidence that comes from making choices at odds with society’s expectations. I hadn’t learned real self confidence, because I relied on society to guide my decisions.


Then in 2015, I started an email gratitude journal. If happiness is my end goal, gratitude journals are frequently the means. Gratitude journals are scientifically proven to increase happiness. I wanted to use these findings to to spread happiness among my friends. Though it sputtered out after a few months, this project exposed me to a wealth of happiness research as I searched content for subscribers.

Gratitude Journals are Good

These resources hammered home that true happiness comes from within, society’s expectations be damned.

I started looking for atypical success trajectories that more closely aligned with my interests. During my email gratitude journal phase, a friend and I went on a hike. Somehow the Appalachian Trail came up and we decided to hike the following year. I decided to hike for many reasons. They changed as I got closer to my departure date, and they changed during the hike itself.

Through these changes, one theme stayed constant, self confidence. I wanted to learn real self confidence and feel comfortable following my own ideals of success. In order to learn this self confidence, I knew I needed to finish the Appalachian Trail. Quitting would ruin any semblance of independence I hoped to cultivate.

For the past 7 years, I worked on 5 separate projects that I hoped would flourish to something much larger. They all failed. I made easy excuses for the failure; I needed to graduate college, or I had a well paying job. During each project, I had been obsessed with the final outcome, with little thought about the grit required to get to that outcome. The AT would be different. I couldn’t fail in a goal like the AT because I knew the consequences of failure. I had quit my job, and I told everyone my goal. Quitting would ruin my self confidence and I would never be able to start a successful venture.

So I embarked on the Appalachian Trail and a little over four months later, I finished. I hiked the trail fast because I liked the challenge and I would not give myself excuses to be lazy.

If I have the mental strength to walk 18 miles every day, regardless of weather and terrain, I know I can start something that is lasting.

I learned self confidence through finishing. Having completed one large goal, I have a more realistic expectation of the barriers that it takes to finish something great. Grit is the key, and I know I have it. The end goal is not accomplished overnight. It takes daily effort. I would not have made it to Katahdin had I thought about the thousands of miles I had yet to hike. I know I can create similar daily routines for my next projects.

My next goals will be more difficult. I hope to expand this blog, establish a location independent lifestyle, and grow my gratitude journal. I have less of a blueprint to success, because I can’t simply wake up, eat food, and walk.

My self confidence is still a work in progress. I don’t know exactly how I will succeed, but I feel confident that I can figure it out. I am excited to explore the world and work on my ventures, because I know that is what makes me happy, and that is all that matters right now.


  • Prior to my Appalachian Trail thru hike, I conformed to society’s rules of success and had little self confidence to embark on my own.
  • True happiness comes from within and society shouldn’t dictate happiness or success.
  • On the AT, I gained self confidence and know I can choose my own path to success.
  • While I don’t have a clear blueprint for my next ventures, the grit I learned will prove invaluable to my future goals.

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