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:weight

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.

final-shoesRethinking all my equipment.  Should I switch from a hammock to a tent?  Should I use an Ursack instead of a bear bag?  What about my fleece jacket? Is it light enough?

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.

permethrin1Crossing 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.

boxes

 

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Comments 17

  • Trish S. : Mar 21st

    Couldn’t have said it all better myself! Hopefully it gives you comfort to know another is going through all of the same things! Hope to see you out there 🙂

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Mar 21st

      Thanks, Trish. It helps to know I’m not the only one going insane. 😲 Best of luck to a fellow journeyer! I hope that we meet up!

      Reply
  • Linda Vance : Mar 21st

    The Scientist March on Washington. That’s the hardest thing for me to pass up. I am just shy of being ashamed when I tell my East Coast friends and colleagues (often the same people) that yes, I will be less than 150 miles from DC on April 22, and no, I won’t be joining them, not in DC or in any of the sister cities. They are younger than I, most of them, and more directly affected by funding cuts for science research than I am, and so they cannot imagine why the march is not the most important thing in my life that day. But there are passions and then there is “head space,” and by April 22 I want to be in the kind of trail head space that doesn’t brook those kinds of high-energy intrusions, which, when it comes right down to it, are pretty similar to the high energy intrusion posed by a grandchild’s birthday party.

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Mar 21st

      Linda, I’m trying really hard to block out all the political noise and focus on the hike. I’ve simply reached the saturation point and need to get back to something basic, such as what is the point of my life. It hurts to miss family events, but I’m trying to let the rest of it go.

      Reply
  • Bill Riski : Mar 21st

    Wish you both well. What a great adventure to undertake. And I have a burning question.

    What did you two come up with for trail names? 😎

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Mar 22nd

      Thanks, Bill! We will sure miss the wine tastings with you. And we haven’t really decided on trail names yet. I guess we will wait until we’re on the trail. Let’s just hope our names don’t reflect something idiotic we’ve done.

      Reply
  • Brenda : Mar 22nd

    ” 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?”

    These are some profound words that apply anywhere in our lives. I may use them on Facebook later and will give you credit for the quote. I had planned several weeks ago to follow you on your journey. So happy that I made that decision. You will be in my thoughts each day. Safe and Happy trails to you!! Looking forward to your blog post!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Mar 22nd

      Thank you so much, Brenda! I appreciate the support very much.

      I think you’re right about how facing a challenge applies to a lot of aspects in our lives. I heard them say something similar in The Barclay Marathons, a documentary about an extraordinarily difficult foot race that hardly anyone has ever finished. They said we rarely set ourselves up to fail in our modern lives because we like to avoid pain, but it’s only when the risk is especially great and success is a long shot that we can accomplish anything of value. That really set me thinking and put this journey in a different light.

      Reply
  • Sherry : Mar 22nd

    The count down! Anxiety always strikes before many events in life. Of all the years I have seen you walk through life, one thing I know is that when you decide to do something you go for it. Your father taught you patience, but your mother taught you determination! Just get up everyday on the trail and see it as a new day to begin. If you have a set back that day, tomorrow will begin a new one. I have so much faith in you and so admire you two for persuing this adventure. Can’t wait to hear all about it! ❤️

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Mar 22nd

      You might be right, Sherry, although I always thought I was simply stubborn, which is not necessarily a good thing. But it is certainly true that I like to set big goals and pursue them. I hope you’re right that I can do this. I just wish I were 40 years younger….

      Reply
  • Pat Block : Mar 22nd

    Hi Gail…”Good luck” with your journey. I’ll be following next spring. 😀⛰ Also I noticed your drop boxes photo. Someone had mentioned to me awhile ago that it’s good to run a strip of duct tape of some color you’ll recognise to spot your box better. Sometimes there can be loads of other similar boxes stored with yours. This is especially true if the post office/business is about to close.

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Mar 22nd

      Yes, that’s a great idea, Pat. We will definitely do that when we send the boxes for the second half of the trip. It was too late to do it for the first half. Hopefully we are early enough in the season that there won’t be too many other boxes yet.

      Reply
  • Anne : Mar 24th

    Have a very good time, Gail ! I’m 54 and should be ready to do some very long walk or some wonderful crazy thing in 2019. I’ve been keeping articles and films about hiking and expeditions and stuff in my Favorites for years. It must be for a reason. It will. It has to.

    Good luck and let’s never forget : Qui ne risque rien n’a rien. So… vivons !

    Anne

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Mar 24th

      Thanks, Anne! It’s definitely a risk, but like you, I have to believe that this venture appealed to me for a reason. Surely there will be valuable lessons along the way! And best of luck to you, too. One thing I’m already learning is that the sooner you do it, the better. Too much can go wrong physically as our bodies age. So get hiking:)!

      Reply
  • Anne : Mar 24th

    I will !

    🙂

    Reply
  • Tracy Doerr : Mar 25th

    You are an inspiration! I have enjoyed reading your blogs from the start and I am super excited for your upcoming trek!
    Deep breaths, and positive thoughts! I will be praying for you and look forward to your upcoming posts!!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Mar 25th

      Oh, thank you, Tracy! What a nice thing to say! I really appreciate the support.

      If nothing else, it should be an interesting experience. I just checked the weather report for the first week of our hike and there is a chance of rain each day. It will be a trial by fire, I guess. Stay tuned…

      Reply

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