393.1-One Month Anniversary
Yesterday marked my one month on the trail; what a beautiful and incredible month it has been! I want to take this time to talk a little bit more general about what my relationship with the trail has become.
In simple words, it has become an addiction. I noticed this first when I was “stranded” in Hot Springs, NC and I didn’t know how I was going to get back on the trail with the wildfire closing the 15 mile section north. It was my second day in town and I had been waiting for a shuttle that never came, and when I found out it wasn’t coming- I felt my blood pressure rise, my face get hot, and I didn’t know why I felt like crying. I ended up squeezing in the bed of a pick-up truck with 5 other hikers in what would be one of the sketchiest hitches I hope to never recreate. I survived, had a good laugh in the end, and that’s all I will say about that.
The trail is a meditative practice. When preparing for the trail, I was expecting that I would set aside time during my day to sit quietly and meditate about my life presently and what is to come after the trail. However, I have not done this “formally” a single time; but instead find that I actually do this probably 7-10 hours a day. I have conversed about thinking and meditation with some of my hiker friends and have gathered some common traits. I have formally categorized my thinking out here in the woods as “up-hill thinking”, “down-hill thinking”, and my most dreaded…”level-ground thinking”.
“Up-hill thinking” is only reached once you have met a level of fitness where you don’t actively think about your heavy breathing or your aching calf muscles on a long, steep incline. You have a steady pace that is not consciously being mediated. A dialogue is being exchanged between your mind and body that you are unaware of. The thinking that takes place at this time is quiet, centered, strong, and focused. You can take “mental” breaks from this thinking, where you can focus on either the sound of the steady rhythm of your breath, the movement of your trekking poles, or the literal “one foot in front of the other” mantra. Additionally, it is not uncommon for me to experience the “blank page effect” where literally you have quieted your mind to the point where your mind and body are one unit simply just moving… This is the happy place where I feel the most present.
“Down-hill thinking” is the fun part. It’s your minds free-play. This is where I convince myself 4 different times to become a beekeeper on my farm when I’m through with the trail, that I want my future kitchen to have blue and white porcelain dish wear, or when I have elaborate, hypothetical conversations with people back home that aren’t there… I allow my mind to bounce and play and to not perseverate on a “serious” thought. If I find that a single thought does continuously come up, I can actively make a “mental bookmark” and say to myself, “put a lid on it, that’s an up-hill kind of thought”…
“Level-ground thinking” is what I have a hard time with. Simply, I get bored with myself and experience what I call “mental fatigue”. The thoughts aren’t exciting, there is no variability, there is an effort involved to keep the mind active and not repeat itself. To be honest, my hardest days on the trail have been the level ground days. This is where the trail begins to be mentally challenging and not physical at all; and this is when I tell myself to smile really big, even when no one is around!
I am learning a lot about my mind and body. I have had days where I say a total of 5 words to another human from sunrise to sunset. That can be the best and the worst thing- to have that much time within yourself. I tend to try to see it as a strict positive once I think of the little amount of time I’ve actually been able to be this quiet and to myself in my life aside from when I was a little, dirty farm kid. I feel I am doing myself an incredible service to take advantage of this opportunity. I feel like I am being reintroduced to my body. I am learning what it can do, what it doesn’t like to do, what fuel it needs, what fuel it “thinks” it needs. I find myself looking at my legs and seeing these little muscles strengthen and I feel so proud and thankful that they have agreed to partake on this journey with me.
I am currently in Boone, NC visiting my grandparents for the weekend. I am resting my body, sleeping in a clean, big bed. I have already taken one shower and two baths. I have had home cooked food with fresh vegetables! I find myself sitting on the toilet for long periods of a time, because not having to squat feels so incredibly good, guys! 🙂 I love that I am already taking note of the luxuries I have been so happily living without.
Real quick, some cool things that have happened on the trail… Slept in an old barn that was converted into a trail shelter and when I walked up in the evening, there was trail magic provided by a guy named “Lucky Charms” who thru-hiked last year. Funny thing was, I actually met him my first week on the trail at a hostel in Georgia! He brought all the hikers beer and hotdogs, we had a fire and heard some wonderfully rich trail tales. Yesterday, I ran into a guy named “Tough Love” who does Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy for a career like I do and we talked about Autism for about 8 miles- all the way to town! It was so wonderful to speak with someone with a similar vocabulary and experience to what I have had. Once we made it to Elk Park, I was waiting to get picked up by my grandparents. I was sitting in this old antique store eating ice cream with “Tough Love” when this sweet, local woman asked to sing for us…acoustically. She sang, “I’ll Fly Away” by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch, which is one of my favorite songs and in one of my favorite movies “O Brother, Where Art Thou”… Just one of the million “funny, little things” that has happened on the trail that I know I will remember for years to come.
I will be reaching my 400 mile tomorrow and will be passing through Damascus, VA by Wednesday or Thursday. Looking forward to some familiar mountains in my home state and the beautiful family and friends that come with them!
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Is! Love following your travels! You are in my mind and heart each day! Please let us know when you get close to the trail here in Rapp — the entire VB team is coming to meet you! love love love and lightness! suzanne