A Different Adventure
Well I suppose this is my last AT entry. I’ve decided to leave the Trail. It was hardly an easy decision, but it is made and I am happy with it. Before I started, I never even contemplated making this decision. Which is funny, because statistically, I should have. What’s actually funny is that in not contemplating it, I have very few summer clothes at home, planning only for a return in the fall. They are in storage in Virginia.
Before I dive into my reasons, I want to thank you all. I had (and have) an incredible support team. You kept me going when I was down, and never had a flicker of doubt that I could do this.
It means more than words can express, and I am grateful. In honor of that, I plan to donate nearly all of the food purchased for me to a local foodbank. Some of it will go to other hikers via Trail Magic. In honor of the gear/supply support, I will be making an additional donation to charities as well as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy this year.
I have been mulling over this for several days. It boils down mostly to feeling more and more like the Trail was a chore. I had a really difficult time being present, and was always thinking about miles or the next shelter or how long my food will last or the next stopping point. It began to feel as if I were doing the Trail just to do it, and that’s not what I wanted to do. I gave up. I did. I gave up trying, and I came home. And it’s comfortable, but it feels off. I don’t hear the Trail pulling me back, shouting my name. I do think I made the right choice for me, whether others see that or not. Now I’m caught before another life turn, another adventure. I feel more scared to tell people I left than I did to leave the Trail. The Appalachian Trail is truly the hardest thing I’ve ever set out to do. I could do it physically. I think if I forced myself, I could do it mentally, too. It’s definitely harder mentally than I ever expected. But as I slowly learned about daily miles, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
The Trail was strangely lonely. I’m not used to being alone so much – I guess I’m not quite so solitary after all. Nights were fun, but I walked alone all day. I didn’t find a good group to hike with, and my pace was inconsistent. I found a lot of people were pretty aggressive in their mileage: 15 to 20-mile days. I can’t do that. If I could, I wouldn’t. I applaud those who can and choose to, but it’s a recipe for wrecking my body. I was still adjusting to the 35 pounds on my back.
I think I gave it a pretty good run, and am so happy that I didn’t give up the first time. I feel incredibly lucky. I have tried the Trail, and now I also have 5 months free from everything*. That is so rare. I’ve thought a lot about what I can do with it, and am excited to share with you below. Of course, I’ve had time to think about my decision, and maybe it sounds easy as I write this now, but it was not. I’ve planned this for nearly a year, wrote up my lists, put my whole “normal life” on hold. It’s frustrating to hear all of the “just wait a little, it gets better” or the “the first x weeks are the hardest” (the x goes up in relation to how many weeks I say I’ve been on the Trail). While those may be true, I was simply not enjoying it. So why do it? The worst part is knowing I’ve become that statistic I never imagined I would be: the 70% who don’t make it. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me. I knew it would be hard. I never even imagined making the decision. Maybe I thought it would be made for me, but that’s not how life works.
* I work for the best people.
While I did not complete the hike, I did complete a hike, and am still adjusting to life after the Trail – and it’s weird. For example, I still keep all my cards and money in a Ziploc and stick it in my pocket. The weight of a purse seems absurd. I thought I’d be showering twice a day – just because I could – but in fact, it feels a little weird to shower when I haven’t hiked ten miles that day, and don’t plan to. I don’t feel gross, why am I showering? Real world routines. I haven’t reactivated my smartphone, and I don’t plan to until the fall. Or maybe at all. I re-learned how to coordinate things without texting every five minutes. It takes this skill – planning. And I find I’m less stressed. Of course, there are many reasons for this, but I do think a minor one is not being connected to my phone all the time. No one needs me that much, and I’m good with that.
I came across a couple of posts that helped me feel less alone in leaving the Trail. One woman, Hufflepuff, had to leave due to health problems, and one man tried and failed twice. Hufflepuff and I share a Harry Potter reading problem bond, as she re-reads them for comfort also. I think she called it “calorie-free comfort food,” which is pretty accurate. Whenever I’m home for an extended period, or just back from a trip, I tend to start picking up Harry Potter, or sometimes Dan Brown books, and re-read them. The man, Seth Baker, put into better words some of the reasons I failed.
The first few days after I got off, I had to readjust to having a sink in the bathroom. I would always reach for my Purell, in my pocket. I also had to get over being terrified of getting any food, or anything that might smell at all, on my clothing for fear of bears mice. I’m still a bit overwhelmed in stores that sell food – even convenience stores. My body is getting out of calorie mode, but it’s incredible to go into a store and realize you don’t have to pick items out based on weight alone.
You can even buy more than a few things (I haven’t yet been to a grocery store). Another instinct I’m amused by (now) is checking my computer. I’m amazed at how I spent my life just a month ago. For a couple days, I’d go to my computer, look at email, Facebook, or some of the blogs I follow, and I had this expectation: entertain me. My pre-AT life revolved around the Internet. Now I find I’m just not that interested.
This is the fun part! Where do I go from here? My summer plans include:
- Publishing a book
- Traveling the world
- Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in India, Thailand, Jordan, or Malawi
- Moving to a new place for a monthlong self-imposed writer’s retreat
I’m very excited. I’ve been working on a novel for a couple of years now, and am in the midst of editing the second draft. With the time I have now, I plan to move to a third draft by midsummer, and then publish in the fall. I’ll need to start building up a website and various social media presences, which will be fun, too. I’m in a 6-week writer’s workshop right now, which will help me not procrastinate. I hope. Then, I’ll travel for awhile. At the moment, that includes Hawaii and Hong Kong, in addition to my volunteer location. I hope to visit people I haven’t seen in awhile, but time does not equal money, so I’m figuring all that out.
The highlight of my summer will be international volunteering. Building homes or orphanages for a community that really needs it. The trips are 1-2 weeks long, and I am eager to help others in this way. After that, I plan to rent out a furnished place somewhere else and finish editing my novel with a change of scenery. Explore a new region while thinking through my final final final edits.
I leave you all with this, which I picked up in my post-AT travels and immediately hung in my room.
I hope to continue blogging about my non-AT adventures over here. Follow along if you want.
It’s been an honor. Ent, signing off.
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