Climbing Has Prepared Me for a Thru-Hike
Everyone has experienced the anticipation of big deadlines and upcoming events creeping their way closer to them as time continues to move at what seems like an accelerated rate. The second-guessing makes its way daily into our minds and the expected outcomes are imagined in hundreds of different ways. But this not the time to let these worries fester inside of us and lead us to rash decisions. I truly believe that we can take these fears and use them to our advantage. Especially the outlandish fear of, “will I make any friends on the trail?”
I don’t know if you have checked the registration charts recently but there are a lot of people attempting a thru-hike this year, and as we all know, only about half of the true number of people actually register. So if I have done the math correctly, which I most likely have not, between Jan. 1 and April 1 around 1,407 dreamers have register to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. On the day I plan to leave, there are 26 others beginning their hike as well. Maybe I should be wondering if I will make too many friends instead, but I often distract myself with this thought when other worries or fears start to add up in my mind.
I have been doing way more research than I have actual planning these days. I have been told by multiple people to not overplan and simply hike my own hike, which is exactly what I will be doing when it comes to mileage and zero days. But I like to be prepared; after all, rule number one of Leave No Trace is to plan ahead and prepare. The beauty of where I am in life is that I do not have any big responsibilities holding me back or pressuring me to finish the trail quickly. I work two part-time jobs that will both have me back whenever I do return, my lease is month to month, my car is about to die, my family already lives far away, my friends will stay in touch and even come visit me once in a while, and I have been described as a flight risk by multiple people. The biggest aspect of my current life that I am thoroughly going to miss is climbing, and my climbing partner. I think I have an addiction to the feeling I get when I am covered in chalk, hanging by three fingers, and about to fall at least 15 feet before being caught by a 9.8mm rope. I have put in a lot of hours to reach the level of climbing ability that I am at now, and I dread the fact that when I return from the trail I will have to start all over. The beauty of climbing is that it has taught me so many lessons that I will be able to use on the trail. The biggest of which is that my abilities are around 80% mental and 20% physical. I have been getting in shape for a while now because I love working out and I want my body to be as ready as possible to be pushed beyond its limit. In fact, I was pretty sure I overdid it the other day and broke my toe when I dropped a piece of gym equipment on it. But it turns out I just severely bruised the toe bone, so am still at it. But with any challenge, a positive mind-set is key when you need to believe in yourself to reach a certain goal. A certain level of fear is OK, but I cannot put a number on the times that I have been able to make a move, reach, clip, grade, and an overall route because I simply told myself I could and put my full effort into it. This is the type of mind-set I will carry with me throughout the entirety of my hike. I wholeheartedly believe that I can hike the 2,192 miles, but I have to understand that there are situations that will come up that are out of my control. Weather, injuries, gear failures, extra costs, home situations, and government shutdowns are just things that I cannot foresee as I plan out the six months of walking. (Yes, I know the government has reopened, but I honestly have no faith in the system not screwing us all over again.) Climbing has also forced me to realize that the best way to overcome something challenging you is to rest before continuing to try. I am not good at resting, and anyone who truly knows me can attest to this fact. So when I get tired, when bad weather occurs, or when my body is breaking down, I will have to sit down and let myself recover before moving on. If you haven’t read the article about Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou climbing 5.13s like its her job at age 55, it will change your outlook on what a sense of confidence can do for you.
In a way, the hiker life is really just a continuation of my life as a climber. It will be physically challenging, I have specific gear, I will be following a marked and sometimes unmarked route, I will be keep safety as a priority while on trail, I will use the hiker community to my advantage as I make friends and rely on others to keep my spirits up, I will get dirty, and I will often be climbing actual mountains. My focus between now and when I met up with the 26 other registered thru-hikers at Amicalola Falls is to really hone in the “I can” motivation and convince myself that adding hiker trash to my dirtbag climber resume will all be worth it when I summit Mount Katahdin.
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