Coping with the Countdown – The Frantic, Last-Minute Preparations for an Imminent Thru-Hike
The moment has finally arrived. After an entire year of preparation, two somewhat disastrous shakedowns — and studying every book, article and blog I could find about thru-hiking — I’m about to hit the trail. But instead of feeling confident and excited, I’m wracked with insecurities, second-guessing everything, dithering over last-minute decisions that suddenly seem monumental (and will probably fade into insignificance once I’ve actually begun to hike). Here’s what I’ve been frantically up to as the Moment of Truth draws near:
Putting on weight. Pack weight, that is. After working diligently to cull everything non-essential from my pack I’ve been throwing extraneous items back in: another long-sleeved shirt, heavy winter gloves, and even an extra hat. I know I’ve got to stop. I’m not traveling to Antarctica, after all. There are plenty of roads that cross the AT, and if I need something different I can pop into a town and buy it along the way. It’s time to take those unnecessary items back out.
My worst seesawing has involved my shoes. After a year of trial and error, I’ve decided that my Oboz hiking shoes work the best for my plantar fasciitis. They are comfortable, burly enough to protect my feet from the rocks, and keep the PF pretty much under control. But their traction on wet rocks is abysmal. I slip and slide all over the place whenever the trail is slick, and the last thing I want to do is fall. My other option is to wear my La Sportiva trail runners. They’re lighter and have a better grip, but aren’t as good for the PF. Worse yet, the toe box is a bit narrow for my feet — a fact that could cause problems long-term. But after endless debating (and trying every shoe on the market), I’ve forced myself to face facts. The perfect gear doesn’t exist. There is always going to be a trade-off. I’ve done my research and chosen the items that work best for me right now. I have to stop obsessing and have confidence in my choices… and maybe (gulp!) carry two pairs of shoes.
Mourning everything I’ll miss. Leaving your ordinary life behind for a while sounds exciting, but it also has a downside — missing out on things. Not just little things, like hot running water or binge-watching Netflix, but big things, important things, like birthdays and special events, moments that will never recur. That point really hit home this weekend when I had to break the sad news to my grandson that I wouldn’t be at his birthday party this year. Hopefully the sacrifice will worth it, but missing out on these significant moments is going to be much more wrenching than I believed.
Crossing the last few items off my to-do list. I’ve soaked my clothes in permethrin, mailed the first half of my drop boxes, and compiled the list of our daily SPOT recipients. There is nothing left to do except for one final, terrifying thing:
Confronting the possibility that I could fail. Let’s be brutally honest here. Less than a quarter of potential thru-hikers actually finish the entire AT. Although everything inside me rebels at the thought, I have to acknowledge that I could be one of the many hikers who fall short. The odds against success are overwhelming. 2,189 miles is a REALLY long way, and a lot can go terribly wrong. I could get sick, injured, or otherwise defeated anywhere along the way. But as daunting as this journey seems, it’s definitely worth the try. It’s impossible to accomplish anything of real value in life without risking failure. The bigger the challenge and the harder the struggle, the greater the reward. Can I do it? Will I be one of the few who succeed? At this point I really don’t know. But please keep your fingers crossed for me — because in just a few short days I’m going to find out.
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