“Long live all the mountains we moved.” - Taylor Swift
Once you’ve completed a thru-hike everyone wants to know: “What was it like?!” Your friendships, hardships, and accomplishments over thousands of miles are hard to put into words. Most of the time, I lack the appropriate descriptions to answer this seemingly simple question. But, you know who can always tell stories, share emotions, and give perspective on experiences with precision and heart? Taylor Swift.
It is well known in my personal circle that I am a die-hard Swiftie. To put that statement into perspective, Spotify Wrapped identified me as being in the top 0.05% of Taylor Swift listeners this year. I’m honored to showcase a bit of my insanity to you all through this article.
While her bops and ballads depict her personal experiences with love, the lyrics and underlying messages are actually quite in tune with the miserable and magical endeavor of thru-hiking. Some come at face value, and some are more interpretive.
embracing life on trail and forgetting the ‘default world’
Leading up to the start of a thru-hike (especially your first one) there are a lot of intrusive thoughts. Can I actually do this? Will I be tough enough? What if the solitude drives me crazy? Did I pack the right gear? Additionally, there is nervous excitement — wanting so badly to clock out of a nine-to-five that has clouded your days and possibly stolen some of your sunshine.
As you step on trail and find your stride, one magical night there will come a time when those previously presumptuous thoughts are replaced with such a sense of hopefulness that you will forget the first ever existed. What you thought might kill you, didn’t. The worrisome ‘default world’ is forgotten. The serenity of the trail is so nice, so peaceful, so quiet.
Reaching the first iconic milestone, ‘Eagle Rock’ was an exciting moment early on trail. Photo by Old Lady.
‘thru-hiker chic’ never goes out of style, especially on laundry day
Whether it’s a head-to-toe Frogg Togg rain suit that passes for runway couture or donning your ground sheet as a remarkably debonair dress, thru-hikers know how to knock it out on laundry day.
Lil’ Beanie in laundry day garb. Photo by Drew Foster.
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods?
You will repeat these lyrics incessantly at the end of a week-long stretch in the backcountry … until you finally step ground on pavement to indulge in all the glories that encompass ‘town day’.
There’s nothing quite like the peaceful feeling as you hitch into town for a zero.
(insert self deprecating trail trait here)
It's me, hi, I'm the problem, it's me: starting a 30-mile slack pack after 1 pm.
Whether it’s because a beloved item was lost, being forced to turn in a tattered-beyond-repair piece of clothing, or you’ve run your favorite trail shoes into the ground…sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye even when we know it’s for the best.
Music starts playin' like the end of a sad movie,
It's the kinda ending you don't really wanna see
'Cause it's tragedy and it'll only bring you down,
Now I don't know what to be without you around
This is exactly how it felt when prying myself away from the case of giant sticky buns at the Stehekin bakery, regardless of the fact that I already had two buns in hand and roughly a dozen total pastries. And it’s exactly the opposite of how I felt kissing my bear canister goodbye after Sonora Pass.
I can still taste sticky buns when looking at this picture of Stehekin.
me to my new trowel after losing the last four along trail
They all left. Repeatedly. But you, you giant, rather embarrassing gardening shovel from some random hardware store…
You took the time to memorize me
My fears, my hopes and dreams
I just like hanging out with you
All the time
I was expecting some dramatic turn away
But you stayed
All those times that you didn't leave
It's been occurring to me
I'd like to hang out with it
For my whole life
And I'll be loving you for quite some time… (hopefully).
that feeling when you get a shower
Nothing gives a thru-hiker a bit of overconfidence like a shower fully equipped with soap, shampoo, AND conditioner. What's a girl gonna do? A diamond's gotta shine.
frozen in the Sierras
The tally of daily river crossings, coupled with sub-freezing night time temperatures, and setting off to summit a new pass at every twilight, all amounted to many cold, cold mornings in the High Sierras.
I can recall when I was woken by my alarm in the darkness of one particularly hoary morning. My mind was a mess of a dreamer, with the nerve to adore my shoes and socks wrapped in a trash compactor bag in an attempt to lovingly woo them away from the frosting overnight. I unwrapped them, frigidly preserved, every glimmer of frost like a fake and condescending smile shining back at me.
The very best of me was taken that morning. And for the first time ever, I whispered “I can’t do this right now.” So, I wrapped my shoes back up, and tucked myself back into my quilt. Laying and thinking how I had never been anywhere as cold as this moment, I slept until the sun was shining and I could bear to face the emotional scar my shoes had left on me.
The harsh yet beautiful snow-covered glory of the High Sierras in May.
we were supposed to be just friends…
…but now we’re sharing a tent. When thru-hiking, friendships form easily, and sometimes something beyond friendship blossoms too. Most of the time on trail, you assume you’ll just sweat someone out. But once in a blood moon, there’s a glitch and you unapologetically find yourself fastened to someone special with a stitch.
Washington, you're so gorgeous it actually hurts
Washington made me question the veracity of my strength as the cycle of the Northern cascades drove me close to insanity. Stunning ridgelines, deep canyons, and scaling passes left me a bit depleted but equally in awe.
And I'm so furious
At you for making me feel this way
But what can I say?
Old Lady trekking through the gorgeous Northern Cascades.
when you finish your thru-hike and you want nothing to do with it anymore
There will most likely come a time near the end of your thru-hike where you are ready for it to be over. You may not even be able to bask in your accomplishments without thinking, “I am never, ever doing this again. Like EVER.”
falling back in love with the trail
You’ll leave the trail. With some time, you’ll hobble less and start to return to the routines of the default world. It’s 2 am and you're scrolling through your camera roll on your phone — damn, it was all so beautiful! With a sad sigh, you stare blankly at the ceiling, but you wish you were looking at the stars.
Missing trail so much, you can’t recall why it was that you felt so strongly you never wanted to do another thru-hike. How could you have hung up on the idea so quickly? You wish you could go back, you wish you were on trail right now. For as long as you live, you’ll never forget it. You miss it all too much to be mad anymore.
Crater Lake, one of the best days, with Foamy and Old Lady.
the fate of being on trail
Whomever comes to be your trail family, every hitch, the sprinkles of trail magic, and each step on trail seem to connect, feeling like the most wondrous, serendipitous, beautiful string of fate.
A note given to me from one of the kindest strangers I met along trail: 'It's never too late to be what you might have been.'
What did I miss? What other Taylor Swift songs or lyrics resonate with your hiking experiences? Do you have other stories that fit with the songs above? Tell me in the comments!
Alli is a thru-hiker and freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She humbly aspires to be a strong voice in the outdoor industry centered on positivity and inclusiveness for all bodies, with the hope that her work connects with those who have any feelings of doubts toward their personal pursuits outdoors. Alli encourages all to be silly and simply take small steps towards their goals, with the wish to spread awareness that you don't have to be an extreme athlete to have an extreme amount of fun. Aside from writing, she enjoys backpacking, hiking, snowboarding, trail running, and snuggling with her dog. Find Alli on Instagram, @bucketsofmoonbeams.