It’s been almost two weeks after my last 25 mile day, and I gaze upon a horizon in an often overlooked gem called Hells Canyon. I have returned to Oregon, but just barely.
I can tell this will be a long readjustment. Far longer than others, mostly in an attempt to bring meaning to my hard-earned journey this year, but also because I want to sort a few matters that have been sitting heavy on my mind, matters that the trail couldn’t bring peace and clarity to. Also, I am so fortunate to have the company of Rookie: that sweet, loving man that I’d met months ago in the snowbound woods of Tennessee. And I want to enjoy, rather than rush, our time together.
I savor this evening from a camp chair, the sun having set on the Oregon topography, it’s warmth faded, but by morning will be instantaneous. There is little snow atop these Eastern Oregon peaks, a welcoming notion. The cherry on top is that there is no schedule. Nowhere that I must be. No set adventure or number of miles to dictate the day.
I’m a fair weather hiker now. I can still see the lasting effects of five months of hiking, four of which took place across the challenging nature of a winter thru-hike. Amazingly, Rookie and I came face to face with these effects one afternoon as we drove to the trailhead in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. The sky was dark on the horizon, now shielding the almighty snowpack from sight. But we wanted a few nights in the mountains, and we wanted to hike the grandeur that lay within its granite walls. And by we, I mean I. Let go of control, Mary. If only it were that simple.
For Rookie, it is easy. He is calm and compromising, at ease because his style of hiking does not allow force to dictate what he enjoys most: the great outdoors. I, on the otherhand, routinely try to force a square into a circle. So it makes perfect sense that I disregarded the next series of symptoms as superficial, while Rookie would bring awareness to the traumatizing effect that winter had on me, so much so that we’d describe it similar to PTSD. Driving up the road toward Elkhart Trailhead, a series of construction stops caused my senses to be overwhelmed. They penetrated my ears like thunder, they made my skin crawl with claustrophobia. Fixated on the darkening horizon, my breathing grew with anxiety and my back stiffened with pain. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Meanwhile, I had the thought of recently telling my publisher, in an email because I am paralyzed by fear, that right now I just can’t stomach the thought of being in front of an audience, big or small, to sell books. I wondered if I ever could again. Worried, and still a few miles from the trailhead, tears started to fall as darkness and depression flooded my mind. Without prompt, Rookie flipped a u-turn and pulled over. A blue sky sat in our gaze.
Depression is common post-thru-hike. Now away from the demands of the Calendar Triple Crown, I no longer want to force myself into any situation that will increase my stressload.
So instead of hiking the Wind River Range, we got back on the road, heading westward toward Oregon. Each day I’d look up into the mountains and see them as less daunting. Each day I’d shed a little bit of that traumatized self. Rookie, who finished his southbound thru-hike in March, helps me understand that what I’d gone through was an incredible challenge, and also incredible. I suppose that’s why I feel so comfortable with getting off the trail when I did, because the winter hike had been enough in itself. It’s such an accomplishment knowing that I walked the length of the Appalachian Trail at that time of year. And because of it’s challenging nature, it pushed me up against myself, as if the experience served as a mirror.
I’d still be trying to force a square into a circle if I continued, and I most certainly did not want that anymore. Ending the trip is salutary, a relief. I acknowledge that I was never entirely doing this for my own genuine interest, but instead in part to satisfy the curiosity of others. It was an answer to the ubiquitous question, What’s next Mary?
My blog and book put me in the spotlight. And so did social media. Except for writing itself, I’ve never enjoyed the aspects of social media. Its time consuming, an obsession, a tether. It influenced the words on the page, and I found that disheartening. Elizabeth Gilbert, one of my favorite authors, tells her audience to never write for someone else, especially her. She urges writers and creative thinkers to write and create for themselves. And if by chance our words or creativity is enjoyed by, or helpful to others, then awesome.
All too often I felt inclined to spoil a spectacular vista in hopes of 4G so I could Instagram or check Facebook. I’ve watched many hikers do the same, and although some might genuinely enjoy it, it’s not my style, and never has been, and I’m ready to stop forcing the square inside the circle. I’ve decided that, in time, I will simply delete my ties to all things Facebook.
I will continue to write on my blog, and more so once I find balance after this readjustment phase. And one day I will likely self-publish another book. But I will no longer push myself into the spotlight to satisfy the curiosity of other people, friend or onlooker. I won’t try to use social media as a tool to promoting myself. I am not a brand, nor do I want to be a brand, and this experience, which I am so grateful for, has helped me see this.
I’m a simple girl, people. I’ve always been that shy girl at the back of the room. And although there are so many occasions that I might be the life of the party, I’d much rather it be spontaneous, rather than expected.
So that’s about it for now. I apologize if I let some of you down. I honestly thought I could pull the Calendar Triple Crown off. But I suppose I thought it would take the lenght of three trails to reveal that so-called mirror that I mentioned earlier. Instead, I believe in the magic of the trail, and I believe my feet took me to where I was destined to stand. I have no idea where life will take me from here, but if I trust in it, I’m sure it will lead me further down the right path.
Thanks for reading. And stay tuned.