Well, it’s official. Georgia is in my rearview mirror. And while I remind myself the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror for a reason, it is also a good idea to take a glance back to check for blind spots before continuing the journey.
…and that’s the extent of my driving analogies. Thankfully.
So what did Georgia teach me?
The stairs are horrible and amazing. Do them anyway.
I think one of the most frequently asked questions among potential hiker groups is ‘Approach Trail or not?’ I chose the former. It was just the reality check I needed. The stairs aren’t just hard, they offer instant gratification with all the amazing views of the falls, something that is pretty rare out here. Most of us have just one shot at this adventure, so make the most of every opportunity. I also believe the smartest decision I’ve made thus far was to do the stairs and THEN stay at the lodge.
We are women! Hear us roar! Watch us hike!
Seriously, there are a ton of women out here this year, and it is amazing. Hiking solo and in groups. With partners, siblings, friends, and children. All shapes and sizes and ages. It is unbelievably inspiring to witness. Traditionally, you would witness the ‘Snow White Syndrome’ – usually one girl with a bunch of guys. This is no longer the case, and at the first few shelters and campsites, the gals actually outnumbered the guys. I really hope to see this all the way to Maine.
Of course, we all want to hike up to a trailhead and be greeted by a cooler of cold drinks, a friendly face offering chips or oranges, or even the legendary Leap Frog Cafe. Don’t get so lost looking for the big moments of magic that you miss the little ones. Twice I had someone offer to take my water bladder with them to the water source when I rolled in late and my feet were toast. That was everything for me in that moment. On top of that, if you can, pay it forward. I shared a trick I had learned(the hard way, of course)with another hiker who was struggling with some of their gear. Little things like that add up. Be the change.
Don’t obsess over finding a tramily.
This one was a hard lesson for me to learn. My husband and I did two tours in the diplomatic realm, where people come and go constantly. You learn to meet someone, make a quick decision as to whether they are friend material or not, and then latch on tight for the short amount of time you have together.
I did not arrive in Georgia with a goal to find a tramily, but I would be lying to myself if I said I hadn’t romanticized the idea at least a little. I am a very social creature, after all. Shortly after getting on trail, I found myself within a group I had hoped I would be with for a while.
When I crossed the NC border, however, I was alone. It was a little sad, but it was also just fine. Because I was hiking the way I wanted to, and so were they. And those two ways just didn’t quite mesh. But more importantly, I am hiking as me, 100% true to myself.
Look, I’m a lot. I know it. A lot of volume, a lot of adventure, a lot of color, a lot of personality. Too much for many. For so many years, I’ve had to adapt to a situation, a social setting, one of the hubby’s assignments. There was a moment I caught myself in the mindset of ‘how can I make myself smaller to fit in better?’ rather than ‘is this enough space for me?’ Ouch, Tdee. Course corrected, I still love that amazing group of people, I learned so much from them in such a short time, and look forward crossing paths and sharing laughs with them, but if I am meant to find a tribe out here, it will happen when it happens.
Be humble, and remember who is in charge.
Guess what? You’ve been dreaming and planning and obsessing over every ounce, every piece of gear, every hostel, etc. Once you are on trail, your plans and dreams are no longer in the driver’s seat. Your body is in charge, 100%, and listening to it is the most important thing you can do. Stretch often. Stop and refill your water even when it’s cold and raining. Figure out how to fuel yourself when you lose your appetite those first few days. Don’t just carry that cork ball in your pack, break it out and use it. If you need to rest, do it. Embrace the fact that THERE IS NO SHAME IN TAKING A ZERO.
Being a chunky, middle-aged gal, no one bats an eye when I say something is sore or that I need to pull back, but beneath the chunky, middle-aged gal surface is a fiery hiking monster constantly shouting, ‘MUST GO FASTER! MUST DO MORE MILES!’ It took a Herculean effort to keep my miles low while my legs and lungs adjusted, especially since I’ve already done around 600 miles of the trail in the past. I should just be able to bust out 15-20 mile days, right? No. That’s my ego talking. Let that voice out in celebration at milestones. In the meantime, let the body lead.
Things I still need to get better at:
-Arranging my things in my tent. It is total chaos in there.
-Fueling properly midday. Drinking more water, even if that means having to stop to pee more.
-Getting out of camp efficiently. I’m more of a slow morning ritual kind of person.
Things I have gotten pretty good at:
-Stopping to take a really cool photo or admire a view.
-Having beautiful conversations with perfect strangers. (I know, this wasn’t the biggest stretch)
-Being immensely grateful for the incredible things my body has shown me it can do.
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