High-Maintenance Hiker

It’s been pretty clear to me for a while now that I’m not that normal. In particular, I’m not that laid back. To some, that might make my decision as a middle-aged woman to thru-hike the AT somewhat odd. What I wonder is whether it will make actually hiking the hike easier or harder than it is for most.

Of course we are all special and unique, but not all my peculiarities are exactly endearing. I hope some are charming, such as my tendency to groove rapturously during a salsa dance, but I know many aren’t, such as my need for all the chairs to be pushed in.

Some of this “specialness” makes living with other people hard on me … and probably on them. My boyfriend, Inti, and I lived with his family for four months last year, and I found myself using that phrase a lot: “hard on me.” Toast crumbs on the counter were hard on me. Loud movies and video-games were hard on me. I chose the words with care to locate the source of the discord within myself. Inti’s family members were not difficult; it was simply difficult for me to live with people, period. (Inti is the only human from whom I never need space.)

True, some of this can be chalked up to simple introversion and a deep need for solitude and silence. Fine. Solitude and silence are in high supply on the Appalachian Trail. But others of my peculiarities might more brutally be called “high-maintenance.” I do need the chairs pushed in. I am only comfortable at 72 degrees. I do need the lighting just right.

Don’t I sound fun?

Now that all my people know I’m hiking the AT, my narrow range of tolerance and my need for things to be my way have been a source of amusement for some of them. At Christmas, for example, when I declined to eat from the chunk of cheese my parents’ dog had knocked off the coffee table and gnawed on (“I rinsed it in hot water and cut off the edges,” my dad insisted), my brother said, “Hey, you’re going to be in the woods for six months—better get used to it.”

Then, at a restaurant with a friend last week, I blinked and commented that the heat from the overhead vents dried out my eyes. “I’m so delicate,” I joked.

He just smiled. “How are you going to handle living in the woods?”

I see no contradiction. I’m not taking a dog, nor am I planning to eat food from the ground (though I guess if I drop a granola bar and I’m really hungry I might apply the 5-second rule—that is WAY less gross to me than sharing cheese with a dog). And I won’t have my contact lenses.

Of course, there will be a lot of physical discomfort on the trail, of course I will have to tolerate many temperatures outside of 72 degrees, and of course nature doesn’t line up trees like chairs pushed neatly under a counter. It’s messy out there. I’ll be grimy at the end (and beginning) of every day.

I confess that this prospect of near-constant discomfort scares me a bit. But I really think it’s just different out there. On the trail by myself, I’m just not going to sweat the kind of things that are “hard on me” in daily life with other humans.

Maybe that’s precisely because what nature will throw at me will be thrown at me by nature, not people.

It doesn’t hurt me that nature lacks situational awareness. Nature’s not supposed to care about people, be considerate of their needs.

Does this kind of thinking mean I’m a bit misanthropic? Does this indicate that my true motivation for hiking the AT is hermitic? Am I a lone wolf?

No. I like people and love being with them. Sure, I’m a bit OCD, but I have to believe that out on the Appalachian Trail, disorder will be beauty. Away from all the humans whose behavior I can’t control, I’ll happily let nature control me.

But if a fellow hiker with a dog offers me food, I’m going to politely decline.

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Comments 4

  • Slack Packhiker : Jan 31st

    Enjoyed the honesty aspect of your piece. The ability to be aware and to communicate are huge assets and should serve you well as the uncontrollable come your way.

    Returned honed like a diamond, your family will be clambering to go on their own AT hike asap.

    • Mathina Calliope : Jan 31st

      Awesome perspective. Yes–honesty is so important to me these days. I hope it will help!

  • Cliffdiver : Jan 31st

    Tenacity and singleminded should be your new comfort words. Tenacity to endure each day when the hiking turns into your daily job. ( the honeymoon phase usually only lasts a month- it’s not the Green Tunnel for nothing) Singleminded for achieving your goal despite everything else. Good luck on your hike!

    • Mathina Calliope : Jan 31st

      Thank you! Appreciate the encouragement!


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