Courage to Hike as an Overweight Woman
Courage to hike as an overweight woman happened two years ago, when walking upstairs or cleaning my house winded and drenched me in sweat. A medical condition, long recovered from, left me grossly obese and a prisoner in my own home. However, hope was around the corner. After a foot reconstruction surgery from a fall, I watched an inspirational documentary by Nikki Kimball, a world-class ultrarunner, called Finding Traction. However, the nerve to change my weight and life was not solely born from watching TV and dreaming of a better self, but from being shunned and fat shamed at a friend’s birthday party. With the pluck to change my life and courage to hike, I returned to comforting familiarity with the woods and picked up a hiking pack.
Not far from my home in northern Georgia, my first hike was on the Appalachian Trail off Tesnatee Gap. Filled with trepidation and fear of judgment from others, I slapped on my new pack, complete with a hip belt extension. Winded and a ball of sweat, I meandered up the leafless southbound trail because a poorly written guidebook claimed the one-mile trek was an easy ascent to amazing vistas. I marked the entire bumbling mile with tears and frequent breath-catching stops. Each time I leaned upon a new trekking pole, I craned my neck upward to analyze mocking switchbacks and false summits. The promised gorgeous summit of Cowrock was impossible, and I began to believe that I made a grave mistake trying to hike. The old Army soldier in me from depths long forgotten, forbade quitting and reminded me that failure was never an option. I hung my head to hide my salty tears from passersby, convinced each passing agile hiker thought, “This is no place for such a fat cow in her cute new gear.”
Every single stinky thru-hiker and fresh-smelling day hiker told me; enjoy my hike, almost there, you got this, and have a great day. Between their encouragement and the screaming drill sergeant in my head, my feet in new hiking boots found the courage to hike. When I eventually crested Cowrock and broke through the trees, 40 hikers in various groups sat in the early noon sun on the slab of rock overlooking the stunning vista, eating their lunches. Those who passed me stopped chewing to clap and cheer. No judgment-filled eyes, mirth on lips, nor snarky comments were my reward for the arduous journey, only surprising encouragement and genuine support. From several following conversations and chitchatting, I became stunned how strangers could be so supportive and invested in another stranger. Over the next two years, I grew to understand, a vital hallmark of the hiking community was the simple but mind-blowing act of caring for fellow hikers and being present in their lives and conversations. I was hooked much beyond the comfort of the wilderness.
Two Months Before the AT Thru-Hike Attempt
With another 20 pounds to lose, I will start my AT thru-hike overweight but not dangerously obese. For every 20 pounds shed, I envision an entire hiking pack dropped off my body. We all know how good it feels to slackpack. I once was offered life-changing support from a hiking community where I could restore my confidence and health. In the spirit of trail karma and giving what I have received, I am offering the same to my human family. I am here to encourage, answer questions, share in trials and tribulations of becoming able to hike greater distances. One half mile at a time, you will find support on the trail and from me. I will echo what I said when I crested Cowrock one sunny March afternoon among the community I have grown to need… mighty things come in fat packages.
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