Finding Comfort in the Uncomfortable

The Decision

When you decide to hike or backpack there’s a good chance you don’t know who you’re going to see along the way, and the further away from your home or your comfort zone you get the greater your chance is of seeing people you don’t know. Seems pretty logical right? Now, take that information and apply it to a 2,189 miles trek across 14 states. For an extrovert who can float from person to person and group to group making friends at the drop of a hat this doesn’t seem like a problem. In fact, it probably seems like a wonderful idea. Why didn’t you ask me earlier? However, for those of us who are not extroverted social butterflies it seems a bit intimidating. I am not nearly as shy or awkward meeting new people as I was growing up, but I definitely still fall into the introvert category, and my best friend is so socially anxious she makes me look like an extrovert. In fact, said best friend and my dog Panda will begin thru-hiking those said 2,189 miles of the Appalachian Trail with me and Panda is most easily, and somewhat obviously, the most sociable being in our trio!

When I meet someone for the first time I like to smile and nod, maybe shake hands, and then observe the other party for an extended period of time. How extended? Well, that is usually determined by what you’re wearing (how creepy do you look?) and how loud you’re being (how obnoxious are you?). I tend to subconsciously put both factors on a continuous scale and then grade them based on their intersecting point.

On my scale, F is good and A is bad because F = you failed at being creepy and A = you were great at being obnoxious. Admittedly, I confused myself the first time I tried to write that sentence, but we’re good now.

Example #1:

You’re a young woman in her early twenties wearing brown convertible hiking pants, a purple shirt, and hiking boots. You smile and laugh a lot and seem to be at ease with everyone. You don’t look creepy or give off creepy vibes so on the creepy scale you’re an F. You’re also a college student traveling alone who appears to be interested in knowing a lot about all of your new, however brief, traveling companions and you ask a steady stream of questions the moment someone new is in sight. On the obnoxious scale you’re a B.

Final verdict:

I will answer your questions if they are directed specifically towards me, but I will not volunteer information and I will or will not avoid a shelter with you based on the kind of day I’m having and what my tolerance level is at that moment.

Example #2:

You are a young man in your late twenties-early thirties wearing brown hiking pants, a green shirt, and hiking boots. You smile often, but don’t initiate first contact. You don’t give off creepy vibes so on the creepy scale you’re an F. You quit your job as an office accountant to hike the trail and figure out what you really want to do with your life. You speak calmly and navigate through conversations based on how chatty your companion seems to be at the time. On the obnoxious scale you’re an F.

Final Verdict:

Are you single?

Changes, Expected & Unexpected

Previous thru-hikers frequently discuss the changes the trail made to them: mentally, physically, and emotionally. Some changes were made and expected, others just seemed to creep up on them and happen subtly. For current hikers there’s probably a level of uncertainty about both. As I look towards my own thru-hike just a few months away I find myself making a list of changes I would like to see in myself, and I start wondering about unforeseeable things.

Five or six months in the woods gives you plenty of time to turn yourself inside out; really get to know who you are, what you believe, why you believe what you do, how to understand yourself better, how to accept others in uncomfortable situations, and, probably most important, how to accept yourself in uncomfortable situations.

Everyone who starts the trail has to deal with all of those whats, whys, and hows to a certain extent. Each person is at a different point in their life, which ultimately dictates what changes happen to them and within them. There are a lot of things I know about myself and a lot of things I still need to learn, and I have just under 4 months to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

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