This article originally appeared on The Trek on May 6, 2021. Read it here.
I can check off another state. Bye Pennsylvania! I’ve been on trail for 2 weeks at the time I’m writing this, and I’m 172 miles into my goal of hiking from Boiling Springs, PA to the northern terminus in Maine. These entries might look a little funny because I’m writing them from my phone and the formatting doesn’t always cooperate, especially with my pictures. I think it’s what I get for using a fairly outdated phone.
Now, this post turns a little dark, perhaps. I’m hoping it just comes off as introspective. I always find myself searching for a way to convey what this truly feels like as I’m doing this hike because I can’t get over that separation I feel between the internet-trail world and the real-trail world. It’s not always easy to bridge that gap but I’ll sure keep trying with the good, bad and ugly.
If there are a few simple words that could encapsulate the most dominant feeling of my two weeks on trail so far this time, those words would be “rushed, a little hectic, with a small dose of blissfully happy sprinkled with bits of homesickness.”
That’s right, rushed and hectic. While traipsing through the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve had enough time with my own mind the last couple of weeks to be reminded that we take ourselves wherever we go. And while it would seem that I’m peacefully walking, zenned out noticing bird sounds and feeling the breeze all of the time, a more accurate snapshot of my mind at any given moment looks something more like this:
“Okay, it’s 2 PM so that means I have 6 hours until dark. If I hike until 7 I could reach the next shelter. But it’s supposed to rain, it could be full. Oh crap and it’s Saturday, these camp spots will fill with locals. Okay, I better get a spot somewhere by 4:30 pm. But if I do that I’ll have to stealth camp before I reach the next water source. Do I have enough water for that? Wait, there’s one more source. My pack feels so heavy though, do I load up on all of that water or do I think I can book it and make it all the way to the shelter instead? My shoulder is really feeling the ache. Okay skip the extra water, I can hike a little faster and make it.
Oh, a viewpoint! Oh but just up all of those rocks. Okay come on, I vowed to never skip a viewpoint. But the bottoms of my feet hurt so bad right now I’m not sure I really want to step on those extra rocks to see it. Ugh okay, real quick. Oh man, that’s pretty, but if I stay up here long enough that group of hikers right behind me that I met out for the weekend will catch up and then I’ll be in that awkward phase where they’ll let me pass but I’m not really fast enough so they’ll be right behind me all the way up this next climb and that always makes me feel a little uneasy like I can’t completely go at my own pace. Ok, I’ll just wait here until they pass me.
Wow, I’m really tired. If I stop early today, do I have enough extra food until the next town? Okay of course, I always manage to carry too much food. But then will my trail friends I started to make the last few days get ahead of me and I have to start over again socially? The meet and greets can be a little overwhelming at times, I know I’m shy. It would be more fun and calming to wind up where they are. Should I just camp alone? But…”
… and so it goes. Crazy, right? It’s not like that every moment. But I can tell you that those types of thoughts are the dominant force right now compared to serenity.
The good news is, I think all of that starts to fade the longer I’m on trail. It happened on the last longer hike and I’ve already felt myself start to get past the beginning slump and start to feel a little bit of the groove.
The other reminder I’ve gotten is that things out here don’t go as planned a lot more often than they do go as planned. I think this fact, plus the aforementioned racing thoughts have contributed to this feeling so far that I haven’t really gotten any downtime, including the times I’ve planned for personal downtime and used it as my motivation to reach it. There have been at least three times now where I was ready for a catch-up reset motel room day and it wound up not happening like it was supposed to, the first two times it didn’t even happen at all.
It probably seems strange that that would be a need out here while hiking the Appalachian Trail, but coming into town is hugely important and can be a motivator to look forward to. Sometimes it’s necessary to dry off, warm up or cool off, rest the muscles and do necessary things on a phone while not having to carefully conserve the battery because of limited charges. The days go fast between catching up with people at home and making sure I haven’t missed any important e-mails, etc, doing “chores” like resupply, laundry, and gear repair, and throwing in time for at least two things to go wrong plus some rest time.
I can take away one obvious thing from all of this: slow down. Even though I want to move. I guess I have to accept where I’m at. It has also been difficult while my significant other is dealing with some tough stuff that came up for him at home right now, and even though I spend the free moments I have trying to make myself available, I feel heaviness and guilt. How can I just be out here when he’s home dealing with challenges? Yet he continues to encourage me to be out here, doing what I set out to do because it doesn’t change any of the hard stuff for him right now whether I’m on the trail or home. That topic tends to weave itself into the moving thoughts of the day pretty frequently.
So I must press on as I continue to get used to this new challenge of the trail that I didn’t experience so much in the past. The rocks of Pennsylvania have been tough but the realness of life in the background and my inability to keep up with it in limited time in town has been tougher. My hope is that things continue to fall into routine and my mind keeps moving toward a more mellow place as I head into week 3. I hope to follow up with some more actual trail stories from these first couple of weeks, I do believe I have some good ones! Time has felt limited but writing, both in my blog and personal journal helps me sort it all out and remind me that out here, I can be my own worst enemy and have to cut myself some slack if I need to go slower or take a second zero day hiding out in a room indoors to reset from the ups, downs, and social aspects of the trail. Thanks for sharing my reset time with me!