Can I do this? Yes, I’m doing it!
What Was I Thinking?
I strapped on my pack and cried. I’d already been through one frantic round of “what can I ditch?” after I first discovered how heavy my fully loaded pack was. (Note to self: you should have kept the puffy!) Now the blue monster was a few pounds lighter, but still well over 28 lbs. How on earth was I going to carry this thing for 8 or 10 miles a day? Could I even hike 8-10 miles?
The tears kept coming. I was in full-blown confidence meltdown mode. My husband and daughter smiled sympathetically as they said goodbye, telling me how proud they were that I was even trying this backpacking thing. I carefully thrust my pack into the trunk, warning them that I might chicken out and return home again before lunch. Then I jumped in my car and headed toward Amicalola Falls.
These weren’t the nerves of a departing thru-hiker – no, that fleeting childhood fantasy had not yet returned to take up permanent residence in my mind. This was just my first real backpacking trip and I was terrified I’d fail. At the age of 51, I hadn’t done much outdoorsy stuff since before I had children. Although I’d always enjoyed hiking, sailing, and other fresh-air endeavors, I set them aside for years while I worked and raised a family.
It’s Time to be Me
Something about turning 50 flipped a switch in my brain, suddenly releasing me from the bonds of preconceived notions about what I “should” be. It was incredibly liberating to finally realize that I owned my life. (Better late than never on that one!) If I was ever going to be the person I was meant to be, I couldn’t wait any longer.
So here I was, trying to be a backpacker. Was this really me, or simply a vision I conjured up? Suddenly I felt like a total imposter.
It’s amazing what a few miles on country roads can do for the psyche. By the time I reached the visitor center at Amicalola Falls an hour later, my “Backpacking 101” group was ready and waiting. My jitters had abated and I was feeling braver. I was the only woman in our group of five, but it didn’t matter. I was doing this.
Welcome to Backpacking
Over the course of the next 36 hours, we encountered sun and rain, sleet and hail. I had to sleep in the shelter because my tent got totally soaked as I tried to set it up in a chilly downpour. I shivered all night in a 30-degree bag, tossing and turning on my noisy sleeping pad. A mouse ran down my back. I put too much water in my Mountain House meal. I peed in the woods. It was…amazing!
Sunday afternoon I arrived home exhausted and elated. I had walked my first steps on the Appalachian Trail, setting my foot on the southern terminus at Springer Mountain. I learned a lot that weekend, and quickly confirmed that I knew nearly nothing about backpacking. So what? I was hooked.
“I’m Doing It”
In the months leading up to that trip, my husband, Jim, and I had started day hiking more frequently and we also read several books about Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. Sensing that my sprit of adventure was aching to be un-caged, Jim teased me mercilessly. At least once a day he started a conversation with “when you do your thru-hike…” I finally looked at him and said, “Stop joking, I’m doing it.”
It took me a while to convince Jim and my two daughters that 1) I wasn’t crazy and 2) I was in fact planning to take a six-month sabbatical from my business to go walk in the woods.
That was barely six months ago. Since then I’ve been training, doing shakedown hikes, and backpacking whenever I can. I spend hours and hours researching and planning. I’ve got most of my gear together and now I’m down to fine-tuning, shaving weight and comparison testing to see what works best for me.
Can I Really Do It?
Next April, I’ll start my thru-hike exactly 11 months after that fateful first trip. I feel like I’m ready. I could leave tomorrow but the doubts still creep in: Can I really sleep alone in the woods? Will the foot I broke on summer vacation be OK? Will the rest of my body do what my brain wants it too? Can I bear to leave my beloved pets behind? Will I be heartbreakingly homesick? Can I afford this?
All those answers will come in time. For now, I’m forging ahead. I’m excited to share my journey with you here at The Trek, and to make new friends on the trail and off. It will be an epic adventure, and I can’t wait.
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