Figuring Out How To Hike My Own Hike
I’ve had a lot of great times on trail, and somewhat unexpectedly found myself engaging in the party culture of the AT. Part of the reason I chose to do a flip-flop hike is that I didn’t want to feel stuck in the party scene, but even being outside of the bubble, I started experiencing the draining of my introvert battery. As much as I enjoyed having a good time with my new friends, I started feeling like I needed some space. Things came together for me when a previously scheduled event provided a chance to get off trail for a few days. The timing was great because wildfire smoke had elevated the AQI, so it wasn’t a good time to be outside doing vigorous activity anyway. I got off and my tramily hiked on. I had mixed feelings because as much fun as I was having with them, I started wondering if I was really “hiking my own hike.” I felt like I needed to take some alone time to sort out my priorities. It’s hard to hike with others because people have different preferences for how frequently to stop in town, how many miles to do a day, where to camp, etc., and the variety of styles necessitates compromise. It’s easier logistically to hike alone because you can do whatever you want without coordinating with others. Of course, coordinating can be well worth the hassle, but the more people there are, the harder it becomes, and the more compromise is required.
I was grateful for an opportunity to naturally break from the crew and have some time to reset and figure out what is most important to me. When I was off trail chatting with my friends about my hiking experience, they asked me what I missed. I wonder if they expected me to say “mochi donuts” (kind of true) or “air conditioning” (also kind of true, but more so now than when they asked a few weeks ago). My answer was “solitude and reading books.” I found that I just wanted to write in my journal and think about stuff. Part of the reason I came out here was to work on my issues and do some writing. I found that it was hard to be in the frame of mind to do these things while in the constant company of others, sometimes crammed five to a hotel room to cut costs.
When I got back to trail, I had more personal space, which was welcome. It felt lucky that I found the solitude I was looking for. I encountered another hiker on trail the second day after my break, and they said that they hadn’t seen another thru-hiker all day. It was as if we were in some kind of thru-hiker void. “PERFECT,” I found myself thinking. And it was. There were two other hikers at the shelter that evening, and neither were very chatty. It was what I needed at that time.
During my alone time, I stopped smoking weed every day, which has been a social thing for me. At some point along the way, I had realized that smoking up had made me really unmotivated to write or journal or do any productive contemplation. It was good for me to be away from the party people for a minute to realize that having some time substance-free is pretty important to me. I feel like it’s fine and fun for me to smoke up every now and then, but daily is too much for me, and I was glad to get some clarity about my personal boundaries.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what has brought me to trail, like my goal of “working on my issues.” I’ve had trouble communicating what exactly I’m trying to do out here, but snakes gave me some insights. Let me explain. I’ve seen a lot of snakes on trail. Most are small, but some are large. In fact, I got so close to a big one that I nearly impaled it with my trekking pole. But each time I encounter a snake, I feel virtually no fear. Thankfully, I know to give them space, but that reaction is guided by knowledge rather than instinct. I don’t think it’s particularly bad that I lack a fear of snakes, but it makes me sad because I know why. It’s because my brain is busy fearing things that are benign or good, because I’ve associated them with a threat in the past. My amygdala, the part of my brain that controls my fear response, feels backwards. So I’m trying to understand that more and work on being less held back by it. In my alone time, I’m reflecting on fear, and thinking about when to trust it and when to question it.
I’m glad to have had the space to figure some of this stuff out, but it can get really heavy. I find myself chasing that elusive goal of balance: balance between being social and keeping things light, and finding solitude to do my therapy shit. My time away from my tramily helped me get in tune with my own needs, and I hope to be able to communicate those needs in the future if I feel like I need alone time.
Since I’ve been out here for almost two months now, I also have a much better sense of what I value in my day-to-day hiking-wise. I really value not being constrained to a schedule and being able to be spontaneous on trail. I have a rough sketch of where I’m going every day, but flexibility is important to me so I can change my plans according to weather or my mood or whatever. I also like walking slowly. I like stopping often and taking in my surroundings. I also like to have some non-moving hours in my day to write or read or just hang out with people. Because of this, my ideal daily mileage range is 10-15. This feels low because I am constantly passed by hikers doing bigger miles. I try to remind myself that this is not because more people do more miles necessarily, but because people hiking the same miles as me in a different location will not cross my path unless one of us takes time off. My observations of average daily mileage are statistically skewed because I’m also moving. I can get to Katahdin before Labor Day by hiking ten miles a day. That is encouraging to me, and I am really enjoying taking it slow.
What I’ve also figured out is that I like a balance of social opportunities and solitude. I’m a lazy hiker and don’t love setting up my tent, but tent camping is a great way to have your own space, and doing more of it will help me when I need alone time. I’ve been trying to balance time in shelters and time at campsites, and so far, it’s been working well for me.
As for my tramily, well, we’ve all sort of gone our own ways at the moment due to different priorities. But Lotus and I are actively trying to reconnect! I’m hoping that happens soon, because for all the good that has come from my time alone, I’m ready to have a hiking buddy again! And in the meantime, I’ve been hanging out with another tramily that has kind of adopted me, and been meeting and spending time with lots of other great hikers. The great thing about the AT is you’re never really alone!
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