YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO MAKE IT
New Jersey/New York
Truth be told, I might not. And if this wasn’t my jounral, albeit a very public journal, I might not tell you the whole truth, instead letting you believe that everything is happy as can be, that thru-hiking is easy, and that you should quit your day job and come hike with me. Well, if you could keep a good pace, I would love the company, as I believe not having company on the trail is causing me to grow restless in my mind.
Today I watched a video on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s twitter feed. It was taken from Springer Mountain a few weeks ago, and showed a dozen hikers heading north from the southern terminus, many clad in new, shiny gear and short-sleeved shirts. Why the hell do we put ourselves through this? was the title, or something of the same sort. Insects flew in front of the camera lens and I chuckled to the thought that as I struggle with solitude and the still cool temps, those leaving from Springer, now 1,400 miles to the south, deal with mosquito bites and overcrowded shelters.
At times, when I sit on the trail’s edge, I turn to look south, imagining a thru-hiker, stern in speed, hiking toward me. How cool, I think.
I’ve dealt with solitude on the trail before. From June 20th to September 13th, I hiked the CDT solo from Monarch Pass to the Canada border. At first it was scary, then invigorating, and then about a month and a half later, the days felt lonely and my mind, despite how beautiful the scenery was, could find itself looking at the glass half-empty.
Over the last month, and now 78 days to the north, I’ve self-diagnosed myself with at least twenty mental disorders, trying to understand why I’m tired at the end of a thirty mile day. Or why I’m sick of winter and want spring, real spring, to burst into life. Or why I’m not in the mood for climbing another mountain and really, really want to chuck my poles at the ground and yell at the world for making such a beautiful, amazing trail? Or why, after spending days without talking to anyone, that it’s hard for me to process and then respond in a timely manner to an east-coaster. Or why I can’t make a decision in the supermarket when there are twenty varieties of granola bars, instant potatoes and flavors of tuna fish. If only the Pecan Nature Valley bars, Loaded Baked Idahoan Potatoes and Thai Chile Tuna were on sale and I could get on my way.
Not having any other thru’s around to shoot the shit, well, it’s made me go a little insane in my head. Depending on who meets me, I’m an emotionally challanged woman wondering in the woods.
But I know that this is only fuel to a bigger problem. For years I’ve struggled with stress, anxiety and depression, causing that terrible “grass is greener over there” syndrome. Part of the reason I’m hiking the Calendar Triple Crown is to come face to face with the bullies of stress, anxiety and depression and to find relief. It fucking sucks getting anxiety over a potluck, or worrying that the weekend is almost over when its friday and you just got home from work. I know I’m not alone on this!
As I hiked along the NJ/NY segment, one that I’ve hiked more times than I can count as I grew up in the nearby trail town of Warwick NY, I listened to the audiobook “Beyond Willpower.” It’s a very insightful self-help book, many ah-ha moments, and I was left with a personal commitment to find healthy ways to settle the growing unease inside of me.
Meeting friends and family, however, my recently aquired mental health boost was met by a bewildering blend of happiness and melancholy. And despite a beautiful scenery, with vistas overlooking across verdant valleys, scattered with farm, pasture and rural township, and the boulders and rock hop leading hikers further north, I felt torn, caught once again in a weird time vortex, too much thinking and anxiety that I would never get to Maine, let along off the AT and onto the next trail in a timely fashion so as to hike, right, two more thru-hikes. My mind stirred with anxiety. Did I still want to hike? Am I going to make it? Am I a fool for thinking I could? How many times am I going to be asked what kind of socks I wear? I chucked my phone against the bed, ripped up the notion of a schedule, and took a few days off.
Almost all hikers toy with the idea of getting off trail, and I too fell foot to it, to scrap this whole idea of hiking the Calendar Triple Crown. I wondered, WTF, did I drink some bad water? I recall the outlet from a pond that sat adjacent to a road and to a small community of homes in Pennsylvania. Perhaps I should try to light my water on fire before pouring the unfiltered liquid into my mouth to ensure that I’m not ingesting water that had been fracked a mile above. Ultimately, however, I was drained from riding a cyclical roller coaster of emotion, and felt like I couldn’t live in the present, as my mind was preoccupied on the future or the past. I was over it.
So I took a few days off. Hiked a few. Then another day off. And now I’m watching as my smile returns, and I remind myself that there really is plenty of time to carry out this mission of three long-distance trails in one year. And hey, maybe another hiker, stern in stride, will catch up! A girl could hope…