Hiking Amnesia: Impressions from a Mid-Trek Break
Thru-hiking is a lot like childbirth. The minute it’s over you forget the pain, you forget the misery of scaling mountains with a heavy pack strapped to your back. You even forget how utterly exhausted you are each night as you collapse into your bed and how much you despise the rocks. Instead you remember the beauty and peace of the forest, the camaraderie and friendships you developed while toiling up those challenging hills. I’ve been on a break for less than a day now and already that post-hike amnesia has hit me — making me antsy to get back on the trail.
But because of bad weather I’m here at home, waiting for the snow to melt up north. I’m using the time wisely – repairing damaged equipment, culling the contents of my backpack, and treating my clothes with permethrin to help ward off those dreaded black flies. I’ll also take some day-hikes south to stay in shape and rack up a few more miles. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share my initial impressions of our journey — good and bad — now that we’ve made it a quarter of the way through our hike.
The trail is harder than I expected. Way harder. And the bald truth is…I don’t love crawling up boulders. I hate the fear that consumes me when I have to climb down slippery rocks. Maybe I’m too old, or maybe I’m just too chicken, but I’ve fallen too many times and seen too many people getting injured to embrace that kind of challenge and relax.
On the other hand, I still love to hike. I love it when the trail is moderate. I love all the gorgeous sights – the interesting fungi and lichen, the unspoiled ponds and farmland, the amazing views from atop those peaks. And I’m fascinated by the variety of tree bark (pitch pine is my favorite so far). I love inhaling the scent of hemlocks. I love hearing the woodpeckers working at dawn. And I especially love snuggling in my hammock, all cozy and warm, while the stars glitter overhead and owls hoot to each other in the dark.
And John and I feel physically great. Aside from our creaky knees, we both feel stronger, fitter, and much more energetic than we did before the hike. John has already lost 25 pounds and looks fantastic. I’ve gained muscle and strength. We both walk with a spring in our steps and feel years younger. I even sleep much better at night.
But the best part of the hike by far has been the people we’ve met: trail angels, other hikers, people we’ve come across in towns. Certainly, I appreciate modern amenities. Make no mistake, taking a hot shower after a tough day of hiking is total bliss. And we’ve enjoyed stopping in towns along the way — eating in local taverns and bars, staying everywhere from fleabag motels and upscale inns to private homes. But more than that, this trip has resurrected my belief in humanity. There are some incredibly nice people in our country, and I’m grateful that so many have crossed our path.
One final note: It took us roughly 45 days to walk from Harper’s Ferry, WV to Williamstown, MA. It took us less than seven hours to drive back. The walk up north was grueling, painful, and excruciatingly slow. But despite the difficulty, I wouldn’t have traded that adventure for anything. Thru-hiking the AT is one of the best decisions we ever made. And we’re not through yet. We’ve got over 1,500 miles left. Amnesia or not, that’s not something I’m going to forget!
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I agree with you about the amnesia. We have done most of the trail over 2 years and both times I’ve sworn never again! Now we’re planning a proper thru’ hike for 2018. And despite reading about all of your struggles, I can’t wait. Sad but true, once bitten always a hiker! Good luck and happy trails!
I’m right there with you, Leslie. I keep thinking “never again!” too, especially when we hit a rough patch, and yet…I’m still having fun. Best of luck on your thru-hike! I hope you blog about it so I can follow along!