Emotional Rollercoaster 10 Days Prior to a Thru-Hike
Jitters. Anxiousness. Nerves. Excitement. Worry. Fear. My mind felt unsettled and scattered as I went through the remaining to-do lists on a repetitive loop. Have I ordered everything I needed for my resupply boxes? Have I gotten all my work affairs in order? What am I forgetting?
“Action cures fear. Indecision, postponement, on the other hand, fertilize fear.” -David Schwartz, The Magic of Thinking Big
10 Days (until my feet took their first steps of the 5 million that lie ahead)
I was ready, and yet I wasn’t—anxiety crept up and hit me like a wave—enveloping me in its wake. I busied my brain scanning blogs and YouTube on what I might have overlooked in my planning. My nerves were shot and I could hardly keep my mind focused on my normal routine.
Ten days seemed infinitely far away and a lot could go wrong in that infinity. The ‘what if’ catastrophes played endlessly in my mind, further fueling my anxiety—what if I get sick, break an ankle, twist a knee, be eaten by a bear, get attacked by a psychopath, contract Lyme disease—and on and on it went. If it felt like a joyful dream before, one where I was blissfully hiking through sun-drenched meadows, it was now becoming quite a reality.
My nerves and brain also conjured up all that could go south in the next ten days—i.e. tragedies that would prevent me from ever stepping on the trail. I wanted to encapsulate myself in a protective bubble, avoid the next ten days and be transported to the start of my hike immediately. But, patience is a virtue. Waiting, I must.
Jitters were marginally better. Spent the afternoon sorting my food and gear onto my new resupply boxes—trying to fit it all with the help of my sweet husband. Who knew that USPS Priority Mail “Large Boxes” are anything but large? Amazon sends me toothpaste in bigger boxes.
Regardless, taking some action helped release some pressure as each to-do item got checked off my list with full gratification. The flip side of the small “Large” boxes is that they kept things in perspective—reminding me that I would carry all that fun stuff on my back, up and down mountains.
Should I start training? The idea that I should physically prepare finally struck me as something I certainly overlooked. Is it too late to climb the Stairmaster with my pack on? It’s not that I was out of shape, I just wasn’t in hiking shape. How does one prepare to be active for 8-10 hours each day with a 9-to-5 desk job at home?
Doubt also started to seep in—what am I doing leaving my job? Is this a mistake? Maybe I am taking my love for hiking too far this time?
As I sat in my home office, working ‘business as usual,’ it was hard to imagine that in one week I would step onto the Appalachian Trail and no longer check emails or log into Zoom. I was still in the same physical environment with the same pressures, and nothing seemed different, aside from a few resupply boxes stacked high in my living room.
Sadness finally arrived as I went through my daily routine for the last time this week. I was saying goodbye to life as I knew it. When I return home some things would be the same while others would definitely change—routines, friendships, priorities, and inside jokes would all change—and everyone said that I would change, but how?
Change was definitely coming. Change was in the air—thick and heavy, scary and unknown. Since my new journey hadn’t started yet, I was suspended in the gray-in-between-land of change, as one chapter was closing and another one was still days away from getting started.
My cat explored stacks of gear and inspected the resupply boxes, sniffing all the new things with her cat-like curiosity. I wished I could bring my loving fluff-ball with me—an adorable family member to bring me comfort on the long journey ahead. Of course that wasn’t possible. Has anyone hiked with a cat?
I had to embrace missing morning meows and evening snuggles for the next several months. I had to look forward to the reunion instead. Would she remember me when I returned? She seemed to know that I was leaving—following me around and meowing through the last of my Zoom calls.
Back to the to-do list and scanning my life for any loose ends that would be hard to tie up from the trail. Taxes, washing my car, send-off dinners, mailing my work laptop back, departing gifts for my family, instructions for how to keep my plants alive, and washing the last of my laundry at home. One last trip to REI? Sure, why not. I am packing all my fears.
Sleep? Nah, it’s overrated. The excitement finally caught up and I was up two hours before sunrise.
The outpouring of support from coworkers, friends, and family members brought on the highest of highs. The decision to hike was validated with every email, text, IM, phone call, and dinner conversation. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is cool. My worries about perceptions started to melt away. Fears receded to a healthier level.
Excitement was hard to contain. I wanted to jump up and down, kick my feet in the air, and talk about nothing but hiking the Appalachian Trail. Why am I not there yet? The waiting game was brutal.
I tried to stick to my normal routine—eating normal breakfast, running, showering, listening to my favorite podcast (Tim Ferris Show), and grabbing a low-key dinner with friends—but my thoughts swirled around the trail. My mind was already hiking, I just had to get my body to Georgia.
I finally packed my Gregory backpack after one last trip to REI. Like a 3D jigsaw puzzle, it only took two hours to fit all my gear inside.
The totality of meticulous planning weighed in at 35 lbs (food and water including). The base weight clocked in at 22 lbs—two pounds heavier than my goal. But, in just a couple of months, I would ship home all the cold-weather gear: gloves, pants, tights, mid-layer, extra base layer, and beanie—bringing the weight down closer to my goal.
Last day at home. The last 24 hours stretched every minute to an hour. I could not focus on being present, and I couldn’t let my mind go to a place of sadness, knowing that everything I was doing at home would be the last time for a long time—if I made it all the way to Maine.
The idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail was still hard to believe. I drank in the last of the sunny 80F+ degree Florida weather (temps I wouldn’t feel for at least a few more months), and scanned the forecast on atweather.org—RAIN! Of course it would rain, it’s a rainforest.
It didn’t rain! Yet. My husband and I flew into Atlanta on a beautiful sunny day with temps in the high 60s. Our shuttle service (Tom) delivered us to The Lodge at Amicalola Falls. We spent the first day getting the official ATC thru-hiker hang tags, chatting with trail volunteers, hiking 600 steps straight up to the peak of Amicalola Falls, and grabbing beers on the scenic patio of the Lodge.
We hiked one mile of the 8.9-mile Approach Trail, saving the longer hiking distance for the next day. Today was a reflection day, a chance to take it all in, watch the sunset over the Georgia mountains in a relaxed and laid-back way. The long journey still spread before us with all of its unknowns—veiled in a sheet of mystery.
The pendulum of emotions swung far and wide. But as the time to hike got closer, the swinging normalized, though the excitement still buzzed and hummed like an electric wire.
Preparing to take off for six-or-so months was reminiscent of preparing for a big, important test. It is stressful. You spend a lot of time prepping, thinking it over, reading about test-taking techniques and tactics, and studying all the material—yet you just don’t know which way it will go. The day before the big test, the jitters and the stomach butterflies won’t let you sleep, and your mind races in a thousand directions, what will the future hold? Will I pass?
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