Great Expectations 

I’ve neglected posting for a while. I told myself that it was due to lack of inspiration. This isn’t entirely true, and I can’t blame the trail for what was really going on: the Virginia blues. 
Ugh! How could I let this happen! I prepared so carefully! I read the book (multiple times because when it comes to nerdy over preparation I like to be thorough). 

Heres how it happened. When I last left off in my narrative it was trail days, and I had spent the previous week limping through the Roan Highlands with increasing worry over the numbness and tingling in my left foot. In my off trail life I am a physical therapist, so deep down I knew better than to keep hiking with the potential of further nerve damage. A talk with an Ortho doctor at trail days confirmed this thought. It went a little like this:

Doctor: “Maybe not hike 15 miles a day.”

Me: “I’m thru hiking. That’s kinda my thing.”

Anyway, I took a week off to rest and ice my foot. That left me with a lot of time to think. I knew I missed the trail, but also I thought about how hard the past two months had been. My one mantra had been, “Just make it to Virginia. Everything will be easier in Virginia.” You see, the blue ridge is my home. Those are my mountains and I knew in my heart if I could just make it to familiar territory the hike would be smooth sailing. 

Starting off great in VA with the ponies!

The other thing I was convinced of was that in Virginia I would receive the mystic trail legs.

The way people talked about this phenomenon, they made it seem like that one night during your thru hike the magical trail leg fairy would visit you, wave her wand and sprinkle you with ramen dust and suddenly you awaken with hitherto unattainable hiking prowess where you can hike 30 mile days without breaking a sweat, leap 6,000 footers in a single bound, and make day hikers weep with envy as you speed passed them in a stinky blur.

Or something like that. You get the idea. The point is I had expectations.

I returned to the trail with new insoles in my shoes, a can-do attitude, and excitement about being in my home state. This was going to be better. Easier. 

Sunset in VA near first WVa line

My first day back on the trail I walked a demoralizing five miles. What!? I was supposed to be cranking out twenties by now! I clearly still had some healing to do and lessons to learn. Mainly, that the trail didn’t owe me anything just because I had been out here for two months. 

Slowly, my foot began to heal. But Virginia was hot, rocky, exposed, and unyielding. The southwest part of the state was not the rolling blue ridge that I was familiar with in central VA.  I began to feel the emotional ups and downs less acutely, but in a bad way. I was becoming emotionally numb instead. The constant visits from friends and family were wonderful, but everytime it made it was harder to walk back into the woods. I realized I was leaving so much behind at home. Worst of all,  we were desperately behind schedule  to finish by September. We were going to have to double our pace and I already felt like I was pushing as hard as I could.

Obligatory McAfee Knob Picture 

This led to the hard decision to skip the second half of Virginia and come back to finish it in the fall when we have more time. 

Maryland was beautiful and filled with charming parks and people. Also, here’s the dirty little secret: southern Pennsylvania is beautiful! All I had ever heard was how horrible “Rocksylvania” is. However, this section was beautifully maintained and I could really feel the pride the PATC maintainers take in their trail. 

“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be” One of my favorite quotes on a sundial outside Quarry Gap Shelter in PA

When we reached the halfway point, I should have been elated. Instead I felt like I was in the depths of despair. All I could think about was that I have been on the trail for an eternity, and now I was going to have to do it again. 

Smiling on the outside, fear on the inside

I found myself bursting into tears for no reason in the middle of the trail trying to assure my worried and disbelieving husband between sobs that I wanted to keep hiking the trail. I was just feeling so overwhelmed with the amount of trail left, and frustrated at how slow I was moving.

So about those trail legs…I have a complaint to lodge with the trail leg fairy.

I  am still struggling to hike 12-15 miles a day. It’s not that I’m still injured or anything either. My foot hardly bothers me anymore which is great. It’s just that I’m slow. I can hike 2 mph if I really push myself, but can’t sustain it all day. It simply takes me twice as long get my miles in everyday and I often leave camp first and crawl into camp at 8:00 p.m.  

When I look back to the beginning though, and remember those first weeks on the trail where I struggled to hike 7 miles, I can see how far I’ve come. As I sit here in New York state, and think about how far away Georgia is, I know that I’m stronger mentally as well as physically. 

It’s this thought that has helped pull me out of the blues. I have overcome crazy obstacles: nerve pain, excruciating heat, rabies shots (teaser! A story for next time). I have walked a 1000 miles. I’m stronger than I think. 

Because it’s not really the Virginia blues (don’t blame it on my beautiful state!) It’s probably not even the halfway blues like I thought. It’s my own unrealistic unmet expectations that I’ve placed on myself. 

New state, new perspective

When I got to New Jersey, I resolved to let go of those expectations. I will finish the trail, maybe not in the way or time frame that I planned, but eventually I will finish. 

I know that the trail will still be hot. My feet will hurt. I don’t deserve for the trail to be easy. I will hike slow. But I will get there. 

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Comments 2

  • Rik Do well. hillbilly hiker... : Jul 18th

    Maybe you need to drop your expatatiions and try axceptance it is what it is ….

  • Mark Stanavage : Jul 18th

    Atta Girl! Whether you’re the fastest or the slowest, it is still one foot in front of the other. Before you know it, you have another ridge behind you. You will be excellent. You will make it. Maybe not how you planned, but rather how you need it. Best of luck to you and your husband.


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