On a Tough Day, Lessons in Embracing the Suck
In the real world, I’ve been in situations where I’ve felt overwhelmed and I’ve had the option to stop and give up right then and there. In this world on the trail, however, that’s not an option. Yesterday was one of those days when I wanted to give up. I had a short 13-mile hike downhill into town. Easy peasy, I thought. I thought wrong.
As most bad days start on the trail, I couldn’t feel my hands. In typical AT fashion I was cold and wet from the first steps. I started the first downhill stretch and was sliding everywhere in the mud. It was like I was cross country skiing. My pants were soaked and muddy so I decided I would be warmer if I bit the bullet and zipped them off into shorts. A little while later I decided I needed to warm up my hands because it felt like my heart had simply stopped pumping blood to them. I realized that I had packed all my gear on top of my gloves, so warming up my hands that way wasn’t an option – it wasn’t worth getting all my gear wet and muddy by reorganizing. OK, new plan, I thought. I’ll put my poles away and bundle up my hands in my shirt sleeves. My hands were too numb and wet to collapse my poles so I ended up carrying them like a baby down that mountain. Even balled up, I still couldn’t feel my hands. Conditions were slick as ever so I had to really watch my step and move slower than usual. At that point, I broke. All the negative thoughts that had been kept quiet rushed into my head and I couldn’t help but cry. I was at the mercy of Mother Nature and the freezing rain was not letting up.
I made it to my first crossroads and was unamused to see a sign saying 6.6 more miles to Hot Springs, N.C. I could’ve sworn I was almost there. It was time to reset my expectations. I had two to three more hours to go. I cried again and thought about what I would be doing if I was home right then. I would’ve been curled up on my couch with a cup of tea watching Netflix. Ah, that sounded so nice. But instead I was on that mountain with no other choice but to keep moving forward. An hour or so passed and I saw the next sign saying 3.2 miles to Hot Springs. Things were looking up! I stopped crying and began to concentrate on my breathing. Negative thoughts still tried to make their way in but I worked on replacing them with more positive ones like these: I would be warm and dry again soon. Also, I’d be reunited with my trail bestie, Bluegrass, since we planned to sync up in that town. An hour later, I rounded around a corner and there it was! Hot Springs, North Carolina! My bad day was almost at an end. As soon as I stepped off the AT I saw the hostel where I was staying. Even after all that I couldn’t help but think, “the trail provides.”
A few hours later Bluegrass rolled into town after crushing a 23-miler. We joked about how today sucked but was an absolutely amazing experience. Since day one Bluegrass has said that we need to embrace the suck of the AT. If the trail was easy it wouldn’t be as rewarding. The AT teaches you to persevere through tough situations. Next time I’m feeling overwhelmed on or off the trail, I’ll search for the energy to make forward progress.
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