Early Emotions on the Appalachian Trail
A Slightly Rocky Start
So first things first, absolutely nothing could prepare me for the Appalachian Trail. I felt like having hiked the Long Trail and having been on some intense day hikes around New England, I would be starting the AT with a lot of knowledge. Going into the trail, I was comfortable with my ability to hike and to make friends. Having heard the AT was such a social experience, I figured that going in solo didn’t mean I would stay solo, and I didn’t. But the first night that I was out there, I wasn’t convinced I would find anybody ever. Dramatic, I know. But get this: I was in the woods alone, hundreds of miles away from everything comfortable, and it was damn cold.
I traveled fifteen miles, including the approach trail, that first day and stopped for the evening at Hawk Mountain Campsites. I had met people throughout the day, but most of them stopped well before me, and I was alone for that first night. It was tough. The woods loomed dark around me and I felt the isolation of the trail creep up on me. It hasn’t hit me during the day since it was beautiful and sunny and I was kicking my ass mile after mile up the trail, but as soon as I was snuggled into my cozy bag, I just cried and cried. I felt like I had made a huge mistake, coming out and leaving my boyfriend and our dog behind. I was in over my head entirely. It didn’t help that I had absolutely no service to speak of.
After several miserable hours (trail time of course, it was probably really only thirty minutes or so), I realized that sleep was not going to come. I grabbed my headlamp, left my entire tent site as it was, and hustled up the nearest mountain to the top (nearly a mile away from my camp), to call my boyfriend. When I say I had a mental breakdown on the phone, I really mean it. I’m talking full on hiccupping sobs and drippy snot–not pretty! He was good to be though, he told me that it was only the first night(duh, but my brain was so overstimulated), and that I was just overwhelmed with the emotion of starting the journey of a lifetime, and he was right. Hearing his voice, I felt extremely soothed. He was right, things would look better in the morning.
And In The Morning Things Did Look Better.
The next day, I woke up feeling pretty lousy still, but pressed on towards Katahdin, miles and miles away. I think I texted my mom to tell her I was feeling lonely (sorry, mom). Luckily, though, I met a friend. His name was Mustard, and while I would have continued on down the trail regardless because I am stubborn as a mule, Mustard really helped me appreciate the trail. He was extremely kind and offered to let me hike with him. Together, on that second fourteen mile day, I felt that we really got to know each other. We hiked alongside each other the entire day and more or less shared every detail about our lives with one another.
Having a friend to hit milestones with (In this case, Neel’s Gap) and to complain about our aches and pains really helped me feel more at home with the trail. Mustard and I stuck together for about five days before splitting from each other. He was more inclined to do big miles quickly, which I could do, but the days were exhausting and I felt like I was missing out on some of trail life that I wanted to enjoy. Namely trail magic and photoshoots (haha). I ended up breaking away from him at a bout of trail magic atop Tray Mountain, where the owner of Boots Off Hostel was cooking burgers for us out of his van. I sat up at the trail magic for almost six hours, enjoying the company of my fellow thru hikers and waiting for a few friends who I had made a few days prior to getting off the trail for a night in Helen. I was also trail named Vortex at the trail magic, since I was “sucked into the vortex of fun.”
It was extremely hard to leave Mustard because he and I had formed such a fast friendship. I genuinely enjoyed his company, but I felt that I was sacrificing my own hike for his. It wasn’t worth it. I’m so proud of myself for that, part of what I wanted from this hike was control over my own decisions, and while leaving was a hard one, it was worth it. I started hiking with a smaller group, Jack and Ella, whom I immediately meshed with and have been with since.
I feel like since that first night, in only a hundred miles, I have already grown as a person. I am so much happier than I was, I am enjoying the trail every single day, and have been so happy with the company I am keeping. I wanted to write this blog mainly to tell the truth. In the beginning, it was so hard. Not even physically, just mentally. The entire task felt so monumental and isolating. I was kicking myself to go faster and do bigger miles in order to push through the anxiety of being alone, but after only ten days out, things seem much more manageable. I am adapting to the hiker life and I am having fun while doing it. It seems like the first few weeks are hard for everybody. Almost all the hikers I have spoken with talked about anxiety, homesickness, and loneliness within the first few days. I had such a strong idea of what the AT would be like before I came out here, that I dismissed the idea that it might be different than what I expected, which made it a little harder to adapt.
Anyway, this is Vortex signing off for now, from a weird hotel computer somewhere in a trail town.
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