Heartbroken, but Determined and Hopeful
I apologize for my long hiatus from blogging. I am still alive! I have not written a post because I simply have not known what to write. I am still at home and have been seeing a chiropractor twice a week.
I still don’t really know what to write. This will be a roller coaster of triumph, despair, heartache, and hope.
At this point, I have decided not to return to the Trail this year.
I fully intend to finish the Trail. It just won’t be in one shot like I hoped it would.
Honestly, this has been the most difficult part of coming to this decision: the fact that my hike will not be a bonified thru-hike. I have been facing this reality for a couple of weeks now, in the back of my mind, and I am no more resigned to it than I was the first time I realized this possibility. My heart still aches over it. I wanted the glory of being a thruhiker. I wanted to be a member of that elite class. This was my plan from the beginning and I have been dreaming about it ever since the idea formed in my mind 1 ½ years ago. The tears are leaking out even now as I write this.
I do not know what else to do. The season is getting later, the weather is getting colder, and the days are getting shorter. My bank account is beginning to look a little scary. My workplace is itching for me to return. My back and leg are still not cooperating, so that even if I did return to the Trail, I do not know if I could put in the miles I want to in order to finish at a reasonable time. Knowing me, I would be racing the weather, the daylight every day, and time, and thus would not be enjoying the hike. Neither would I enjoy hiking with crippling pain in my leg on a daily basis.
The point is, I want to enjoy the Trail.
In some ways, I am ready to get back to normal life, but then I find myself missing the mountains. I see photos of my fellow hikers finishing, of people I knew on the Trail experiencing the beauty of Virginia and the Smokies and getting closer to their goals. I am happy for them, but it makes my heart ache. Post-trail depression is real and I feel like I have been experiencing some of it.
I never thought I would say that. One rough day on the Trail is enough to remind you of the comforts of home. There were so many days, especially in the three northernmost states, when I was frustrated with the Trail for being so hard, not just physically but mentally and emotionally hard. But now I feel myself being drawn back to the Trail and I cannot go and that is a new kind of hard.
In dealing with this conundrum, I have been trying to focus on what I have already accomplished. I have been writing about my experiences on the northern half of the Trail, which will perhaps become a book someday. I keep returning to my journal and my photos and videos. The triumph of Katahdin is still fresh in my mind. On only my second backpacking trip ever, I solo-hiked over 1200 miles through some of the toughest terrain on the AT.
The solo part is huge. Everyone (literally) asked me if I was going on this trek by myself. My fellow hikers who are women get this same question over and over and over (along with “are you carrying a gun?”). Before I started the hike, my answer was a tentative “yes” or a made-up “I’m trying to find someone to go with me” (I didn’t try that hard). My “yes” became more confident all the time when I was on the Trail. Now when people ask me if I hike by myself, I answer yes and bristle with indignation. “Seriously? I just proved myself in 1200 miles and you are still asking that question?” Show me an instance of disaster on the Trail and I will show you a hundred instances of kindness and camaraderie. It is a beautiful thing.
Of course, I wasn’t truly alone. God carried me thru. If I had been hiking with someone, I would not have relied on Him as much, which I believe was all part of His plan. As one of my dear friends from the Trail said, “He is a jealous God.” My fellow hikers were always a source of support and encouragement, as well as my support community at home, including my family, my grandma, relatives, friends, and coworkers, who cheered me on from afar.
Like I said before, I fully intend to finish the Trail. My back is still not perfect and I am still in pain when I walk/hike. I am hoping the extended rest will help. I am thinking about going semi-ultralight as well, maybe getting a different backpack or changing out some gear things. When I do hit the Trail again, sometime next year, I intend to fly. As many of my friends from the Trail have assured me, “The Trail will be there.” And while I am not thrilled about the prospect of having this hanging over my head for the next few months, I am trying to remember that I am blessed to have a reason to return.
“Still round the corner there may wait,
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”
-JRR Tolkien, The Road Goes Ever On
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