Thru Hiking With Heavy Things That Weigh Nothing

I would like to suggest listening to this track on Youtube while reading this article.  Disclaimer: This is a cheap attempt to steal the emotions from that song and have you relate them to my writing.  And maybe a little laugh.

I’m taking more on the trail than what I carry in my pack.

My thoughts.  They are coming with me whether I like it or not.  Unlike my gear, I don’t get to trade the heavy ones out for a lighter version. I’m sure this is the case for many of us, but seems to be discussed less in the time leading up to a thru hike, and instead in the very emotional and often heart-breaking “I quit” videos where it all comes out.  I’d like to avoid that, so I am going to get some things off my chest right now.

Why can’t every family be like the Griswold’s?

Thoughts of family are exceptionally heavy.  I am still grieving from the loss of my father, who passed away in 2008.  As of a year ago, my last surviving grandparent passed away. I’m not alone. Each of my closest friends has lost one of their parents, without exception.  Each time, it is a lesser version of losing my Dad all over again. Over the last 9 years, I have become all too familiar with death.  I am at peace with those who I have lost, but it doesn’t stop me from missing them dearly, some days more than others.

I don’t get along with my brother, and my relationships with my mother and sister are strained as a result. This hurts more than you can imagine.  And if for some reason you can relate, I am very sympathetic. Losing someone while they are still alive is in a lot of ways harder than losing someone through death. Unlike the finality of death, hope remains alive that relationships can heal in the future.  Hope can help, but hope can also be a burden. Figuring out my path forward with or without my family will be a more difficult journey than walking from Georgia to Maine.  It is by far the heaviest thing I will attempt to carry to Katahdin.

Lightening up that ego

I had a really great childhood.  Great family life, good friends, and a lot of fun playing in the woods and creeks.  That being said, I was a shy and lacked social confidence.  Even though today, I consider my red hair a gift, it was very much a burden as a child.  It was just a thing that separated me from most of my classmates, and gave them something to pick on.  I wasn’t bullied, but teased.  By the time organized sports came into my life, some of that insecurity diminished, but I was far from confident in myself.

Me and My Dad, Randolph Macon Military Academy, Front Royal Virginia, Circa 1981

After high school, I couldn’t find my way.  I went to community college, but I didn’t take it seriously.  I had no idea what I wanted to do with my future.  It took over 11 years, at least 6 jobs, and 3 attempts at college before I found my path.  As I discussed in a previous post, I started a business and enjoyed success over the next 7 years.  I found my stride in life and my self-esteem improved immensely.  Success breeds confidence.  Rightfully so.

You’ve changed

It is inevitable. Going through a transformation in life that gives you a great deal of confidence is going to change the way you act and the way people perceive you.  “I liked the old Jimmy better” is a phrase I sometimes hear from my close friends (If they call me Jimmy, that means we are old friends.  I’ve introduced myself as Jim since I was 20 years old).  If you have been paying attention, that means they liked the version of me that lacked confidence.  I was a kinder and gentler soul, unjaded by the harsh realities of adult life.  They don’t realize that they are suggesting they like the cheap-shot-punching-bag I once was.  They want the care-free, always laughing and joking, even at my own expense, easy to get along with version of me.

Life has taught me I can’t be that way if I want to succeed.  I have to take the bull by the horns and wrestle for control of my own destiny. That takes confidence.  And therein lies the rub.

Balance in all things

Confidence builds your ego.  Increased ego leads to judgement of others.  It really is a double edged sword. You need confidence but you don’t need the ego that goes along with it.  That ego is heavy and elusive.  It hides.  Your friends and family are normally the ones who see the monster, not you.  “Dammit Jimmy, there it is again!”

Awareness is important.  I want to be more aware of my ego and lessen its footprint.  As I hit the trail, I am exploring the option of visiting a meditation facility for a 10 day course and vow of silence.  I want to grow as an individual and find a way to channel my confidence into making other people confident in themselves, rather than making them feel inferior.  My intentions are normally well meant, but my comments, opinions, and commentary are not always perceived that way by others. I must find a different approach to my interactions of those who are closest to me.

Lightening the load along the trail

I intend to have a good time on the trail.  I can’t wait to meet other thru hikers, trail angels, and everyone else along the AT.  I am a fun person.  I like to be sarcastic.  I laugh, I joke, I even make fun of myself.  I’m out on the trail to have a good time with all of you.  I will not burden you with my inner thoughts.  I know we all have our own demons we carry on the trail that we hope to lose along the way. This is on me.  I am a fairly open book, as this article shows.  If you want to talk to me about these things, by all means, do.  But don’t feel the need to go deeper just because you are aware, if you happened to read this article before meeting me.

This journey is much more than a walk in the woods.  It is a search for my true inner self.  I may not find the answers I seek, or like the ones I find, but I shall go forth nonetheless.  I will not find peace with my family until I find peace within myself.

I often put my feelings in the back of my mind, in favor of cheap and often non-intellectual entertainment. On the trail, I will mostly be stripped of these digital pleasures (you better believe I am going to find a way to stream Game of Thrones though) and forced to face the realities that exist in my life, and the chances to improve their state of being.  I am hopeful that by the time I reach the top of Katahdin, I have found peace with myself, my family, and figured out “what’s next”.

Then again, maybe that’s just my ego talking.





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Comments 6

  • Karyn : Mar 5th

    You know Jim, I’ve read all of your posts, not in chronological order and at first I thought “well said”, now I am thinking you are somehow telepathically writing my thoughts – but you are saying it way better than I am thinking it. I would love to meet you sometime because you seem like a genuine human being in a spiritual sense and you are able to convey (I think I am not misunderstanding your point in paragraph under “balance…”) your thoughts very well, very succinctly. I am a 2017 flip-flopper starting in mid-April so I guess there’s a small chance in could happen *don’t worry, I wouldn’t dig deeper.


    • Jim McNelis : Mar 5th

      Thank you for the mi d words, KC! I am sure we will cross paths on the trail! Looking forward to it.

      • Jim McNelis : Mar 5th

        *kind. On mobile. Excuse typos.

  • Angel Nguyen : Mar 5th

    Jimmy and no I don’t call you that because I like the old or shit even the new…even the new Jim bought me a freakin plane ticket home, which I will never forget so i actually like the new Jimmy! HA! Jimmy is who you are to me, whether indifferent or fully transformed, your “home” your familiar, your old school, I feel comfortable in being vulnerable around you. I knew you before your success and you still had that underling ego so your self reflecting is still a bit off, but you’ve got a lot more miles ahead of you so, give it some time. lol. I am impressed with your writing buddy, i didn’t think you had it in you but speaking from the heart and showing your battle scars from over the years is…… majestic. Thank you for letting me in and sharing your story. I look forward to reading more of your entries.

  • Linda McLaughlin : Mar 5th

    Jimmy, I love the old and the new JIMMY. My thoughts and prayers are with you on this journey. I made one many years ago and found out a lot about myself, good and not so good. I look forward to following your entries. Good luck and God bless.

    • Jim McNelis : Mar 5th

      Love you too, Linda! You continue to inspire me with your outlook on life and all the fun you are having in retirement.


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