I am guilty of trying to “win” weekend hiking trips. It’s those pesky thoughts of “Well, if we add a couple of miles on this day, then we’ll only have X amount of miles left and we can get a head start on the car ride home.” This was something that became a real issue on our first longer-than-a-weekend hike last summer through the Sierras. Very rarely were we able to push further than that day’s planned miles. By the end of the day, I was physically drained and mentally exhausted after spending hours telling myself I should be able to go further. It felt like I was losing and it was the first time I really questioned whether I was cut out for doing a thru hike like the AT.
After reading “Appalachian Trials” by Zach Davis, I knew I would need to change my mindset. Instead of focusing on the end goal, I needed to focus on the journey. We finished hiking through the state of Georgia in 8 days and are about to enter the Smokies. We still have 13 states and over 2,000 miles to go. The end is nowhere in sight, and that is so freeing.
The amount of ground you cover during the day doesn’t matter if you know you’ll be hiking every day for the foreseeable future. Instead of focusing on mileage, I am free to think about what that day’s experience will be like. Who will we meet? What wildlife will we run into? Is there a cool viewpoint that might be coming up? (So many cool people. Three squirrels so far. Yes, always yes.)
Despite the vast differences between the east and west coast mountain ranges, I consider our hike on the John Muir Trail as our “shakedown” hike. In other words, the hike that prepares us for another, typically longer, hike. I am so grateful for that experience because of the perspective it provides. It helped us dial in not only our gear, but also our attitudes. This, above all, can help us have a successful thru hike. And, this is where Patrick and I differ. For Patrick, a successful thru hike is hiking from Georgia to Maine. For me, a successful thru hike is enjoying the experience more days than not. We will without a doubt have days that suck, whether we’re cold and wet or hot and bug-bite ridden. What I’m shooting for is a peace that transcends understanding and daily circumstances. Perhaps not quite happy, but not unhappy either.
Every day out on the trail feels like a blessing. We’re thrilled to be here, rain or shine, and are looking forward to all the lessons we will continue to learn on this journey—one step at a time.
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