About the Author, Amy Banuelos: “Hi friends! I’m Amy…an outdoorsy, yet prissy, ice cream addicted, fitness obsessed, adventure seeker. This April, my boyfriend John and I will be attempting a NOBO thru hike on the AT. We are documenting everything from start to finish on our YouTube channel and we’d love for you to tag along!”
Hey y’all, Amy here! I’ve toasted. I’ve celebrated. I’ve told my family, friends and co-workers. I’m attempting to thru hike the Appalachian Trail! My start date is quickly approaching….and I’m panicking because it’s always in the back of my mind. Failure.
Failure happens to all of us. It’s simply a part of life. A thru hike is a bet…a bet against yourself to either win or lose. Either you make it, or you don’t, and the sad reality is, most don’t. Way to stay positive, huh? People fail to complete a thru hike for a variety of reasons. So, what do I fear could ruin my thru hike?

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)

Now you’re probably wondering, what is IT Band Syndrome? Well, come join my pity party and I’ll elaborate. Your IT band is a bunch of thick fibers that runs down the outside of your leg, from the hip to the top of the shin. It’s responsible for keeping your hip and knee stable. When hiking, my IT band becomes extremely tight which in turn causes the band to swell. The swelling produces a severe pain with each step. I can honestly say it feels like someone is digging a knife into the outside of my knee. It’s brutal!! Down hills are the worst and if I’m not using trekking poles, the pain occurs much faster.

About a year ago, John and I went on a two night trip around Max Patch. The first day we hiked about 7 miles. I was fine and wasn’t experiencing any pain. The second day we hiked 13 miles, and more than half of those miles were downhill. At this time, I did not own trekking poles. I had completed several trips without them, so I didn’t really see the benefit of spending the money. 
Anyway, it got to the point where I was moving at a snail’s pace. Every step would send a sharp jab to my right knee. The pain was so intense that I wasn’t properly hydrating and fueling my body. The pain was making me sick. I remember begging John to get me off that mountain but fortunately he is extremely patient and encouraging, otherwise I’d still be sitting on that mountain today! He would ask me to take a few steps, give me landmarks or short “goals” to hike to and then we would take a break. I’d have a few sips of water and nibble on a snack and get back at it. It took us several hours, but we finally made it to the top of Max Patch.

After that trip, I knew something had to be done. I had experienced the IT band pain before but never that intense. There was no way I was hiking that AT or anywhere else for that matter, if I didn’t come up with a game plan. So, I bought some trekking poles (finally!!!) which help to reduce impact on the knees. I’ve also incorporated various stretches and strengthening exercises targeting my hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes and quads since these specific muscles and body parts are somehow connected to the IT band. I do my best to stretch on a daily basis and, while hiking, will stretch before hitting the trail and during various times of the day. I’ve also added an 8 ounce muscle roller stick to my gear list to keep my legs as loose as possible. I train my legs, focusing on my glutes and hamstrings at least 2 to 3 times a week. Exercises like weighted lunges, deadlifts, squats, hip thrusts are key to building strength. I’m doing what I can to prevent a flare up and while I know it’s something I can’t necessarily control, at least I feel better knowing I’m putting the effort in.

Cold Weather

Look, I’m a southern girl. I’m comfortable when the weather calls for 100% humidity and temps in the 90s. What I’m not comfortable with is anything less than 70 degrees. I know, I know…not only is the Appalachian Trail wet but it will be wet AND cold. Recently John and I did an overnight on Springer Mountain. The Approach Trail was beautiful! There wasn’t a cloud in the sky but dear God it was in the mid 30s all day and even lower than that in some spots. Ice and snow covered parts of the trail and even with my fleece, leggings, beanie and gloves I was still a little chilly. When we made it to camp that night on Springer, I was literally freezing. At the time, we both had 28 degree Mountain Hardware Phantom Spark sleeping bags. John had to cover me up with both of our bags just so I could stay warm. He also put a boiling hot water bottle in my bag which helped immensely.

So, after that trip, we decided to switch up a few things. We traded in our sleeping bags for Enlightened Equipment Revelation 0 degree quilts and also swapped out our Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisper down jackets for the Arc’teryx Cerium LT down jacket with a hood. We also purchased down booties. I’m not really sure how those will hold up. We went the cheap route and got them off of Amazon. A waste of $20 maybe? Our quilts haven’t arrived yet but let me tell you, the new jacket is amazing, and I would highly recommend it. I could tell right away that it was much warmer and loftier than the Ghost Whisper. I’ve also decided that I’m not going to limit myself on clothing items just to save a couple of ounces. I know how my body reacts to the cold and I’m going to bring the necessary items to keep me as warm as possible. If it turns out I don’t need certain items, who cares? I’ll just send them home. I guess you could say I am packing my fears….whatever.

We all have fears, right? Do I think my fears could lead to failure? Of course. If any potential thru hiker told you they didn’t have fears or they were incapable of failing, they are lying. But just because we have fears and COULD fail, we signed up for this. We volunteered. We are stubborn, determined, relentless, gritty and focused on crossing the finish line.