I Almost Quit the Appalachian Trail
Spoiler alert… it’s taking me quite a while to write recently. Trail life is hard y’all. Since starting this post, I have summited Katahdin, flipped to Springer, power housed through Georgia and NC/TN, and now I’m heading for Virginia in a couple days. But allow us to rewind to my almost breaking point.
July something. 2019.
They say don’t quit the AT on a bad day. And I had a bad day… two days actually, that were really, really bad.
I made it through the Whites! Yes, I’m still celebrating. They were tough, and I knew Southern Maine was a butt kicker as well, so I scheduled a FULL zero after the first section in order to recover from the Whites and prep for the rest of the north. I got through Mahoosuc Notch in an hour flat (mostly because I was following a 21-year-old with Lyme, usually men 60+ are more my speed and pace). Then I hit Mahoosuc Arm, or should I say Mahoosuc Arm hit me. There are so many near-vertical rock slabs to climb that seem to never end. Want to know what’s slippery? Near-vertical rock slabs. Also, rebar that is randomly placed in sections that have slippery rock. And tree roots. Mud. Pretty much everything on the trail. Especially when wet.
Recently, on two separate incidents, an AT hiker as well as another hiker in Maine were airlifted off mountains due to injury. I also have many trail friends no longer on trail due to falls and accidents. With the upcoming rain and thunderstorms, mixed with the above treeline terrain, I was beyond nervous and letting my head get in the way.
I started a 20-mile stretch with optimism. The first ten miles were relatively flat and then not so much. The second half of my day included Saddleback Mountain, the Horn, and Baby Saddleback. I had been doing my best to track the weather, but as we all know, that’s an impossible feat. Instead, for me, it became an obsession. During what was supposed to be the nicer section of my day, I was bit in the calf by a moose fly. They are assholes, by the way. This particular one was following me for at least a mile, taunting me with the buzzing and hovering before ramming into my face a few times. When I finally thought I got rid of it, I felt the unimaginable pain radiating up my leg. I take a moment, but I ultimately know that I have to get over it to finish my day. Better said than done.
At a road crossing I clean my wound and find my duffy (fanny pack), which I thought I lost. Stitcher and I continue to lunch and relax even though we still have about eight miles until camp. The Saddlebacks can’t be too bad; we did the Whites! Well, I was wrong. The Saddlebacks weren’t terrible, but my mind wasn’t in it, and it certainly wasn’t strong enough for this day. I’m watching rain storms in the distance and the wind is bringing them right in our direction. In between the Horn and Baby Saddleback I have a panic attack. That’s the nice version of what I experienced. I couldn’t breath, overheated, nauseous, and panicking. I call Stitcher for help and she manages to get me to cool down, eat some trail mix, and attempt to calm my breathing. Apparently I was ghost white and “didn’t look good,” according to a fellow hiker as he hiked passed me. Thanks? I make it to camp somehow with promises that I’m allowed to cry it out with Buckles later. I even catch up with an original tramily member I haven’t seen since Pennsylvania. I’m OK. I think.
Deep in the Thick of It
So, the next morning we get an early start on an eight-mile hike to the next shelter. We want to beat the rain and perhaps stay in the shelter or wait it out and push on to the next campsite. Joke’s on us, though; the rain starts just after we leave camp and comes down in sheets for four hours. Want to know when it stops? When we arrive at the shelter, of course. At this point, my entire hand is pruny, swollen, white, and weathered. I open my cookies only to have my skin peel off. Gah! During the rain I decided I was over Southern Maine. I was gonna skip up to Caratunk and do the missed miles later. (I don’t. Surprisingly the trail got way better after the Saddlebacks.)
I convince Sonic to drive up a logging road to pick up Stitcher and me because I NEED a mental health day.
Stitcher and I start the descent, which is basically skirting cliffs and butt scooting down rock boulders. It takes us FOREVER to get down, especially with the recent rain. Again, wet rock. We get into town and I’m a mess. Even after the shower and laundry I’m not feeling relief. My back was tweaked and every time I stub my toe or jam my foot on a rock (which is often) I feel a shooting pain that has turned into a constant pain.
I cry it out.
Remember Why I’m Doing This
When prepping for the trail, I read Appalachian Trials as a guide for the psychological struggles of the trail. So now, as I’m mentally in the deepest thick of a struggle, I return to my list of reasons for hiking the trail. I read them a few times and realize… yep, don’t care. This trail is stupid. What was I thinking? None of these reasons matter to me anymore. I’ve changed and now I can’t relate to my former self.
I cry it out again.
In fact, though my trail name is Papercut, I’ve secretly, not so secretly, renamed myself Floodgates.
I’ve never been a person to cry in my normal life. Funerals, sure, and maybe once or twice a year. Now, I let it flow. I cry for everything. Rain, fear, beautiful moments, anger, frustration, being homesick, grilled cheese, mozzarella sticks… oh wait, sorry, hiker hunger.
The point is this: I cried it out, I got so much support from home and trail, I got the best trail magic, and I knew I had to finish this dang trail. The surprise, for me, is that the most inspiring support has been from those I’m not close to. Random day hikers, people I barely know, chance meetings of people saying “I’m proud of you.”
This Trail Is Hard
This is not hiking. Especially in the northern section of the trail. It’s rock climbing, mountaineering, ascents and descents loaded with technical foot placement and in my case, a panic attack.
The trail is beautiful, and hard, and magical beyond what I can even comprehend. Although the difficulty in its infancy lies within the physical aspects, the most trying part is getting through the mental game.
As my great friend Bruiser says: Things will work out for the best if I can get my head out of the way.
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