How Hiking 1,200 Miles Has Changed Me
I may go down in history as the worst trek blogger of 2018, but I guess an update is better late than never.
For those of you who have been relying on my blog for updates: I’m sorry! I’ve got loads of great excuses for why I haven’t given an update in a while. Most of those excuses have something to do with the fact that I’m simply exhausted. It takes a lot of work to process my thoughts to share with you in a way that makes sense, and lately that energy has been put into walking instead. So forgive me, I swear that I’ll try to do better for the next 970 miles to Maine.
I think there is a little bit too much to update you on since my last blog post. Since then I have done nearly 1,000 more miles. Instead of describing those miles to you, I thought maybe I’d try to describe how those miles have impacted me and brought about change in myself. Including, but not limited to, my dramatically increased chocolate consumption.
Being here now: Living in the moment
Sometimes as I walk I find myself fantasizing about returning to my real life. I think about going to Colorado, going running with my dog, Flynn, drinking coffee while wearing sweatpants in the mornings (gosh I miss wearing cotton), and having places to be with things to do.
When I find myself thinking about it, I try to redirect my thoughts back to enjoying this time that I have been given to be outdoors (mostly) without a schedule. Before I left for my hike, being on the trail was all I could think about. It’s a thing we do; we romanticize what we don’t have. I know the life that I fantasize about after the trail will not be as wonderful as I make it out to be in my head while I twist my ankle dodging rocks, swat at black flies, and sweat drips down my face. I know that I’ll be stressed, overwhelmed, and daydreaming about my life on the Appalachian Trail.
But I’m better at recognizing these moments, and I’m better at redirecting those thoughts to enjoy the simplicity of walking on the white-blazed path in the woods.
Becoming more confident in myself
As much as I’d love to say that I’m a confident person, I’m not. I’ve always been shy and self-conscious. Don’t even get me started about the awkwardness that occurs when I attempt to talk to a guy that I find attractive! It is pretty sad.
Being on the trail has made me a more confident person. I’m beginning to care less and less about how others view me. Heck, I wore my fanny pack and Crocs with socks out barhopping in Washington D.C.!
Starting with very little camping experience, I have made it over 1,200 miles on the AT… and most of the time I’m still smiling.
I think you sort of have to put yourself out there when you’re hiking the AT. You pass lots of strangers who are curious about you and your adventure. You have to rely on other people to get rides to and from towns. You have to be OK showing up in a public place after not showering for five days, in clothes you haven’t washed in over a week, and being able to make a joke about how much you smell.
I still have a lot of confidence left to build, but hiking the Appalachian Trail has been a heck of a start.
Embracing the situation, even the sucky ones
This one is more about accepting the things that you have little control to no control over.
We have dealt with some wild weather this year. Weather so wild that lots of folks got off trail because of it. We’ve dealt with snow and below-freezing temperatures, rain and flooding, heat and humidity, and even fires. This year’s weather has been tough and it makes you question yourself and the reasons that you’re hiking. At least it does for me.
The thought of having to crawl into a soaking wet tent with all of my important items also wet or damp feels terrible. Especially knowing that rain is still on the radar for the next day. It makes me think about quitting. It makes me miss home, my bed, and cuddling with my dog every night. But it gets better when you start accepting it. You start to change your thinking from how miserable it is, to knowing that the rain will end eventually and everything will dry out again.
Lately on top of the weather, the bugs have come out. After hiking and sweating all day, it is pretty frustrating to be walking and having black flies dive bomb your eyeballs and mosquitoes swarm your ankles. Learning to do what you can (douse yourself in deet) and then just embracing the rest of the misery as the thru-hiking experience is challenging. But overall, just accepting the suck makes for a better experience than getting pissed off does.
I have to keep reminding myself: I know I’m going to miss this when I go back to regular life.
Enjoying the little things
Seriously, it is amazing when you realize how much joy you feel seeing a toad, or simply allowing yourself an extra 30 minutes with your shoes off at lunch. The little things like taking a moment to enjoy a view, or running through a puddle and getting your feet soaked on your own terms instead of spending extra time trying (and failing) to keep your feet dry while tiptoeing around the muddy edges.
The little things are everything.
We met a lovely man out for a section hike and he gave us bubble gum. Like the good kind, Hubba Bubba. I hadn’t chewed bubble gum in ages. I spent two hours hiking while blowing bubbles. I swear that single piece of soggy gum was a mood lifter for a solid three days.
Recognizing that there is still a lot of kindness in the world
I already knew this before I started hiking. I’m a pretty optimistic person when it comes to people. But the kindness I’ve seen and experienced is unreal.
Last weekend we met a couple and their dog on the trail. They lived close by and were out for a weekend trip. We ended up camping at the same shelter. That night it poured and I woke up in an actual puddle. Everything I had was drenched. I had to put on my soaking wet clothes, and let me tell you, there is no worse way to start your day than putting on soaking wet (and exceptionally smelly) socks. These kind folks offered to take us into their home the following night. They picked us up on a road right on the trail about 20 minutes from their house, they let us hang all of our wet gear in their garage and basement, they let us do laundry, shower, sleep in real beds, and they fed us… twice. It was so uplifting and it felt so wonderful to be so welcomed into someone’s home.
That was one example of exceptional kindness, but we have seen so much more. People come out with coolers full of cold drinks, grills to cook hot dogs for us, fresh fruit, oatmeal cream pies, and all sorts of great food and conversation.
We have hitched rides with folks who were willing to go out of their way to get us where we needed to go, and one man who even paid for a couple rounds of drinks for us even when he himself didn’t drink.
We have met so many incredible and supportive people and I can’t wait to pay it forward in the years to come.
I can’t wait to see what the next 970 miles bring.
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