Anxiety Ascent: Why I’m off the trail
I wake up in my room, surrounded by four walls and my black cat walking over my down comforter. The air conditioning is cool and my bed is soft. This should be an ideal morning for most people because I slept in and don’t have anything to do, but I instantly began to panic.
My room was too big, I was used to my tent. I wanted the tiny one-person Nemo tent with no space to stretch my arms. I could stand up to change my clothes, instead of wiggling around in my little green home. My bed smelled of lavender and my pillows smelled like my shampoo. I longed for the stench of my pack and fresh ground, both mixed with mountain laurel.
I was off the trail and I could feel it.
My choice to come off the trail was a painful and tough one. I had made it to Shenandoah National Park. For a few weeks I had been in a bad headspace. The saying, “Don’t quit on a bad day,” continuously rang through my head. However, I was having great days and still feeling the pressure and anxiety in my head. It began to really get to me. Then I got sick.
One of my travel companions caught a strange 24-hour virus that made him feverish, nauseous, and fatigued. He hid it well as we took a rest day at Middle Creek Campground. A few days later we made it Glasgow, VA, and Mountain Cat’s mother and grandmother picked us up and took us into Lexington, VA, to enjoy a couple of zero days. I started feeling really bad and realized I had a fever. It took a few hours to sweat out the fever. Mountain Cat said, “There was no life in your eyes, girl!” And damn, I definitely felt like I was dying.
After I bounced back from that, I was still sluggish but I was hiking. We arrived at Devils Backbone Brewing and had a great time, but that night I started feeling sick again. I ended up with plenty of bathroom problems and I also ended up puking a few times. I attributed it to drinking too much, or maybe the food I ate was too heavy. For the next week and a half I was nauseous and having plenty of poop issues.
This wasn’t helping my state of mind at all.
On top of all of this, I had developed several blisters on my feet and my plantar had been bothering me for over a month. I’m terribly frightened of thunderstorms and we were hiking in the sixth wettest summer for Virginia since they began keeping record. My uncle had also passed away and I wasn’t there for my family back at home; that pressure weighed heavily on my heart. I realized I was running low on money, too. Spirits were low and my anxiety began to creep more and more. Finally, the creeping stopped and it pounced. I started having anxiety and panic attacks. I just couldn’t be rational. My thoughts raced and there wasn’t a chance of getting a grip on myself. I knew what needed to happen, I knew I needed to come home. But that thought made things worse, actually. I was panicking about coming off the trail now.
Luckily, I had found a trail family that was supportive of whatever choice I needed to make. At home was the same support system. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my love for the trail was significant. I had actually fallen in love with the trail, but it was becoming toxic for my well-being.
How was I suppose to appreciate the beauty of this trail if I couldn’t get my head right?
My mom was on her way from Georgia, all the way to Northern Virginia to come get me. I fought myself on leaving but I had become jaded to the trail. Every step became a burden. The only time I was happy or enjoying the trail in way at all was when I was with Mountain Cat, Knope, and Cobra.
That wasn’t going to work.
I wanted motivation again. The want, need, and longing for the trail needed to be back in my head. I needed my soul to be caught back on fire… but everything was wet.
So here I am, back in Georgia. Back where it all started and back where I am from. Back where I started falling in love with the trail. This was never about the physical trials. After the first two weeks, everyone is walking up and down mountains like it’s normal. No, this was a mental and emotional marathon. One that I couldn’t complete, without a break.
I’m going to take some time and then head up to Maine and do the last few hundred miles with my friends and with my bubble. I made it to around mile 950 before I came off, so I plan on hiking from Maine through the Shenandoahs eventually so that I can complete my Appalachian Trail hike. I haven’t been off the trail that long but my heart is still breaking every time I see a post about the Appalachian Trail. It will always be there, so I can’t look at this as a failure.
Maybe this isn’t traditional, maybe I’m not a purist, but maybe this is my hike and I know when it’s time to listen to what my body and head are telling me. It’s all bittersweet because I know that my adventure will continue eventually, but I’ve been very sad about coming home. Living in the woods for 3.5 months will change you.
I’m going to keep going, and I’ll keep writing too. My Appalachian Trail adventure has been paused for a brief amount of time, but I’ll be back out there soon enough. Not only that, but other trails as well. I plan on doing a 37 mile trail in North Georgia called the Bartram Trail this summer.
I want to say thank you to my family and friends who have supported my choices in this adventure. Thank you to my sponsors--Vasque, LEKI, Osprey, Darn Tough Socks, Otterbox, Nemo, Rawology, and Torrid–for keeping me swagged up and feeling/looking (hiker) fresh. Thank you to my extended trail family–there are so many of you that I can’t name you all, but I’ve loved running into you all along the way. Making you laugh and smile was one of the highlights of this Trek.
To my main trail family, thank you so much for all that you have done for me. I know that I’ve made friends that I will have forever. You are the folks I will call whenever I’m heading out on my next big adventure. Outside of Erwin, TN, when I was so close to calling it quits, I joined this tramily and I couldn’t have made it so far without all of you. You made me feel at home no matter where we were. I can’t wait to see you in Maine, my friends.
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Bravo!!!! That sounds like some super power self care you did with making that decision. When waking the Camino de Santiago and stopped sick from contaminated water, I remember an older man saying, “Everyone walks their own walk. And your walk will walk you more than you will walk it. You don’t get to choose your walk. You just get to choose if you are going to partner with it or fight against it.” Kudos on partnering with, loving, and respecting your hike and yourself. That is one champion, kickass, super hero move and such great practice for doing the same in the rest of life.