Hiking The Appalachian Trail With My Mind: Wtf?
Where to Begin: The Mental Journey
Would you like to know something interesting about me? I’m going to tell you anyway. I am not afraid of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I may be bold to speak for others when I say this but I don’t think most people who set out on this adventure are. What I do know is that the first question most people ask when they hear about someone hiking the AT is, “aren’t you afraid?”
This is how I like these conversations to go:
Friend: “Aren’t you afraid?
Me: “Of what?”
Friend: “I don’t know. Being alone in the woods like that?”
Me: “I have probably felt more alone at home in my apartment than I have ever felt when I am hiking in the woods.”
Friend: “Oh…” (contemplative face) “Why?”
Me: “I am more connected to myself, my senses, my surroundings. I feel like I am most in tune with myself, not desensitized. I feel alive, not afraid.”
That being said YES of course I have fears, everyone does.
Maybe I would call it nerves instead of fears. Things I am nervous about? Meh, whatever. I am not nervous about being alone deep in the woods. I’m not freaking out about what to do if I see a Black Bear or run across a Rattle Snake. I know how to try to prevent injury and be smart with my footing. So the things that might run across your mind and mine are very different. My “fears” are more simple than that…like…
- Digging & Pooping in a hole when it’s downpouring. Think about it, imagine wiping your butt while you’re squatted over in the rain. Oh yeah, not to mention wiping with soggy toilet paper. This is going to be a real struggle, my friends.
- What if I run out of toilet paper on that same shitty day. (see what I did there…hah!)
- A backpack strap malfunction. I DO NOT want to carry my pack with a broken strap.
- My first hitch. It’s bound to happen and I have to get over that.
- Running out of candy. Which is not an option.
- I’ve never found a four-leaf clover in my life. If I don’t find one after walking 2,193 miles I will assume I am unlucky forever.
- How disgusting will packing out used tampons and toilet paper be? Especially soggy rain butt toilet paper. Leave No Trace #1 Rule.
- Will my poop smell like peanut butter eventually? Is that a conflict of interest? Something no one wants to talk about? Tell me. I need to mentally prepare for peanut butt.
- How much is setting up my tent in the rain going to suck? Or do I just suck at setting up tents? Or does the rain just suck? Embrace the suck.
- My body can make it to Katahdin, but can my mind?
Can I actually mentally make it there?
The most important thing to address on this list before hitting the trail is #10, everything else is out of my control. I am the only one who can prepare my mind. It is the only thing on my list of fears that is actually in my complete control. My only responsibility throughout this journey is to manage myself.
Let’s put it this way, I am asking my body to walk across 14 states, 2,193 miles with an elevation gain of around 500,000 ft. That’s like climbing Everest 16 times. Imagine that. I know that my body can physically make it but I need to keep asking myself am I mentally ready for this? Am I mentally ready for the roller coaster of life on the AT?
The answer is yes.
I like alone time. It has become a very valued space for me as a grown-up. I am lucky that I know how to communicate that I need to take space or want space when I need it. It’s a skill I am thankful to have grown into. I tend to process and chew on information before I decide what to do with it or what compartment it belongs to in my brain. I also pick and choose wisely what information I allow myself to give time or energy to. Not everything that challenges my brain is important to dissect. I like to declutter and rid my mind of unwarranted thoughts. Alone time is a space that lets me feel the things I need to feel before reacting. It’s a space that lets me process my emotional state before letting my physical state take over.
In my past and present, I struggle with depression. It’s a vicious cycle that never seems to fully terminate itself. It has taken all sorts of forms through different parts of my life. Addiction, self-harm, bad eating habits, drinking, sex, etc. You get the point. The list is endless but the truth is that despite all of those outward struggles the battle was always within me. The only space that no one could get into but me.
However, those struggles never stopped me from trying to move forward.
I am who I am today because of those experiences. Without the challenges I have faced and overcome, the challenge of the Appalachian Trail wouldn’t be probable. I’ve pushed and pulled, advocated for myself. I climbed ladders and made it to the top in many avenues of my life. I made myself into something, but it was never enough.
To overcome my own mind’s dark places I always needed goals. Something to prove to myself I was worth being here. I need to feel accomplished and that I’ve earned that accomplishment on my own. I like to work towards something bigger. It makes me work harder to get to where I need to be. Challenges do not scare me. Which is why in my darkest times I would push my limits in a negative way, edging on that dark side of my own capability. If I can’t keep moving up or find new challenges and positive growth I start to feel the depression creep back in. This is how I learned how to control my inward dialogue and move forward.
My mental journey for the Appalachian Trail begins.
Preparing my mental state for the AT? Wtf? I know. I probably sound kind of silly to some of you. But the truth is no matter how much physical training I do or logistics I set up I still need to make sure I am mentally ready. But yeah, I should be training more, hiking with my pack on, eating healthy, hearty, and well. I am enjoying my time with my boyfriend and cats while I wait impatiently and patiently for my start date. It’s all a lot to think about on top of managing moving out, finances, and travel logistics. The little details add up.
I realized that I talk about the trail all the time. Literally all the time. I feel like a broken record asking friends about gear or babbling to my boyfriend about something I am super pumped about for the tenth time. I realized that I find myself telling strangers about my upcoming trip. Why? Why do I do that? To confirm to myself that this is happening.
This is happening right?!
The more I choose words that are affirming and confirming, the easier it is to see myself on top of Katahdin. Positive affirmation, self-manifestation, visualization, whatever you may call it. It’s very real to me. Choosing an internal and external dialogue that presents itself positively. An example: “When I make it to Katahdin…” versus “If I make it to Katahdin…”. They have a very different tone. I used to see this in my dance students all the time. The ones who would say “I can’t do that.” never did. The ones that said “I can’t do that yet.” would soon find out how. It’s very simple but a key to success in my opinion.
The only person stopping me from getting to Maine is me. And that’s the bottom line. If I can’t find a way to believe in myself then how can I ever expect to accomplish anything? At the end of the day, we are our own worst enemies. How I choose to battle myself mentally before, during, and after this journey will result in the success of my overall adventure. If I can’t learn from the good, bad and ugly then I have not mentally prepared myself for victory on Katahdin.
I’ve worked a lot harder to gain a lot less. I am ready to battle myself mentally, physically, and emotionally. I choose to walk the path of the Appalachian Trail with the knowledge that I can do this.
This is the way.
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Hello! I feel that we have a lot in common! Same feels, same age (almost), and similar thoughts *heart eyes emoji*. I’m excited to keep readin your blogs, we got this! I’m leaving toward the end of this month, hope to meet you out there 🙂
So proud of you and the physical, mental, and logistical preparation you are putting into this. I share in your “fears” (I think of them as concerns), but have no doubt that you will overcome every obstacle and challenge the Trail will throw at you… except peanutbutt. You may not be able to overcome that… but we will love you just the same.😜
I will worry enough for both of us…so you can take that off of your “to do” list. I love you and totally believe in you!!
this is the way!
I love reading your blog so much, you are such a thoughtful and interesting writing. Also you had me giggling with that numbered list. I'm fangirling hard from afar because you are so kick ass and inspiring and I can't wait to follow along on your trek! Also, I climbed Katahdin last year and I can't think of a better way to finish 2000+ miles!!
I love your writing style. You have the three Hs, humble, humorous, honest. I look forward to following your Trek posts!