Hard Climbs and a Weary Hiker

OK, so here’s the deal. I’ve run smack into a wall, a gigantic Mount Washington-sized wall. In case you didn’t know a wall that big hurts, like hurts ya deep down in your soul kind of pain. A wall that big is multilayered: physical, mental, and possibly most detrimentally spiritually. Oh, and the actual storm lingering over Washington isn’t helping matters.

If I’m honest with myself (and you) I’ve been smacking into this wall for weeks, but until yesterday I wasn’t being honest even with myself. The straw that broke this camel’s back was climbing down the Wildcats – a never-ending, slick descent that had me choking back tears thinking of the long Greyhound ride home. In my fantasy, I didn’t just go home with my tail tucked, saying, “Well, folks, I tried.” Nope, my imagination made my AT exit as dramatic as possible – I would hole up somewhere out of reach sulking in the north Georgia woods, living on ramen and canned beans, having a proper pity party for myself. Of course, even as I let my mind run unchecked, I knew that’s not how the next few days were going to go down, but maybe I just needed to mentally lose it for a minute.

It took me over six hours to climb the six miles from Carter Notch Hut down to Pinkham Notch, so it was a nice, long wallow into the darker reaches of my soul. By the time I made it to the parking lot the sun was shining and I knew I needed to make an actual plan whether I quit or not. So I stuck out my thumb and hitched myself right back to Gorham, but we got into a car accident on the way. Actually, we weren’t even on the way yet. We were still in the parking lot and it wasn’t really an accident. It was more like a fender bender. OK, so what really happened was the dude ran smack into the parked car behind him and the only traumatic part of it was watching him check around the lot to see if anyone saw and just driving off. I still feel a little guilty for not even suggesting he leave a note on the other guy’s car, but it happened so fast and at this point I’m used to experiencing life at walking pace. Anyhow, I’m pretty sure I needed that jolt to really get my gears grinding in the right direction. I needed to check in with what was really going on with me.

Physically: I’m tired. The hike has been more of a climb lately and my body has taken a beating. My forearms, shins, and thighs are purpled up. I have other various small battle wounds, but the real physical problem is I fell flat on my ass ten days ago and hurt my tailbone. It sounds silly, I realize, but oh my gosh, it really, really hurts and it’s likely to keep being a literal pain in my ass for months to come. There’s nothing I can really do for it except ibprofen and a few stretches, so meh, I need to suck it up and accept that the climbs are going to be a little bit tougher and the ground is going to feel a little bit firmer.

Mentally: I’ve been at this for over three months and my brain is tired from the effort. It’s not like there is a ton of heavy mental lifting to do, but the logistics behind a thru-hike can be taxing and daily decisions are pretty critical when you’re trying to ration your food, seek out reliable water, negotiate weather, and figure out which way down the rock slab is safest. Again, nothing I can really do for the mental drain other than accept it and nourish my moodiness as best I can. There is a reason why they say the mental piece of a thru-hike is often the toughest to successfully wrap your mind around.

Spiritually: The soul factor is a piece some hikers don’t consider much, but I can tell you it’s the everything factor for Mouse Mama. So what happened? Is it because I went from reading Thoreau to a self-help book to Kafka’s “The Trail”? I’m doubtful that’s it, but I’ll keep considering how my literary choices affect my outlook. Is my spiritual downward spiral actually because things are going well? Probably. Here’s the deal – I flipped up to Maine to get some solitude and instead found myself tucked into a nice little community. This isn’t a tramily (trail family), but instead a fluid and self-reliant group of folks constantly coming and going and cheering each other along as we make our way south. It’s nice, but maybe it’s too nice for my soul to accept with open arms, so in retaliation it’s getting all twisty up in there. At home I’m more of a solitary gal keeping a few close pals. Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy afternoons crammed with companionship and laughs, but I get to set the parameters that work for me and it’s not quite like that out here. Yes, I have a tent that zips closed, but it isn’t the same on the trail and it is hard to explain and that’s besides the point. The point is the universe has a funny way of delivering what you most need, and since I’m on a roll with this whole open, honest, and vulnerable thing, I’ll tell you I’ve known for years I most need to learn how to let people in. Go figure. I went into the woods seeking alone time and got served a heaping portion of feel-good folks who I just can’t help but to love right back.

Real rough dilemma, right? Probably not for regular people, but I needed to figure out how to get on board with the love-fest or hop on the Greyhound because resisting it was destroying me. So what’s a girl to do? I’m embarrassed to say it took me days to realize I just really needed to reconnect with my roots, so I called my parents, I called my therapist, I sent flurries of texts to friends, I wrote in my abandoned journal, I took a nice deep breath, I hung out with my new friends at the park, and let the love settle over me.

I’m not out of the woods yet. Washington still looms large in front of me along with the rest of the Presidential Range and the Whites. I’ve still got to contend with the physical and mental struggles, but I’m hoping my little attitude adjustment toward others gets my spirit back on track and sets me skipping southward a little lighter on my feet.

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Comments 2

  • Beth : Aug 3rd

    You are so wise and getting wiser by the day. We connect with each other at our weakest point, and you are connecting! We cannot exist alone (as hard as we independent women try)! We need each other and it is ok to lean on each other, and GOD forbid, ask or NEED help! Remember when your new friend told you to BE STUBBORN? This is what he was talking about! You can do anything, and you continue to prove it! We are with you every step of the way…but, I do wish I was a little closer! Love you!

  • TicTac : Aug 4th

    If it was easy, 15,000 people a year would thru hike the AT. It is because it is hard that it means something that someone is willing to stand at the top of Springer, or climb to the top of Katahdin and commit to walk literally thousands of miles. You did that Beth. You not only stood there and made that commitment but you have followed that path for three months to arrive at this tough place. How many people reading your blog entry have put those days, those miles, those aches and pains, those tears into their dream???
    Here’s the bottom line. if you decide to get on the Greyhound and go home, look at what you have done, not what you have not done. Look at your accomplishment with pride and ownership. Maybe take a week off, then make your way up to Baster State Park, climb the Hunt Trail to the top of the Big K and hike south to Mt Washington. It isn’t going anywhere and it doesn’t care which side you climb up.
    But honestly Beth, whatever you decide to do, you have not failed, you have done something not many people today can do. Be proud, I certainly am.


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