Getting Over And Around Personal Speedbumps
Fun fact: The Appalachian Trail is loaded with speed bumps. And we aren’t talking roots or rocks.
Some originate in packages as tiny as a tick. Others strike as forceful as a fracture. Weather, feet problems, the norovirus—there are a whole host of unplanned obstacles that can slow you down or even jolt you right off the trail.
Then there are impediments that might prevent you from taking your first steps on that almost 2,190-mile long beaten path before you can say go.
Already Facebook postings report prospective hikers who are unable to receive an expected work leave of absence as planned and now are turning thru-hikes into section hikes. Some trips have been potentially jeopardized by unforeseen expenditures that are cutting into next year’s budget. For two others, late summer shakedown hikes resulted in injuries for one and stolen gear for another.
I have two grown children; a happily married daughter who has thoughtfully provided her parents with a delightful two-year old granddaughter and a son, living in Australia to be with the love of his life and getting paid to swim with dolphins. When the idea of hiking the AT first entered my mind, I considered timing—both theirs and mine.
“No babies or weddings from April to October!” I half jokingly stipulated.
Well. It turns out the joke is on me. I have now learned that I, too, have a speed bump. One of these major life events will occur. In mid-May.
The Open Road
I’m not yet retired, but I am self-employed and somewhat able to manage my time and work load—more so than my husband. I’m also at a stage in life, where at least for me, an interesting transformation occurs once the kids are out of the house and you still find yourself in good health. After years of carpooling, leading Girl Scout troops and passively sitting along soccer field sidelines, your schedule finally becomes your own again. The road opens up like a wormhole—allowing you to slip through a temporal portal betwixt responsibilities.
Regardless, the notion to leave your family and any obligations associated with your “normal” life isn’t easy. While the trail tends to attract non-conventional thinkers and doers, most of us still have to deal with the duties of our everyday lives.
I knew that my decision to hike the trail would not be immediately embraced by my spouse of 32 years. Not only is it more than a wee bit selfish to place the burden of responsibility of maintaining a household completely on his shoulders, I am participating in an activity with the potential to develop new relationships and experiences that exclude my husband.
And then there are the cultural obstacles. Even though “Because it’s 2015” and fully 50 percent of Canadian prime minister Justine Trudeau’s new cabinet is comprised of women, traditionally women still tend to be saddled with cultural expectations that include narrow definitions of the role of wife and mother. We are supposed to put the needs of others in front of our own desires. We are also reminded that hiking/canoeing/traveling alone is foolishly dangerous.
Already I’ve heard reactions to my plans to hike the AT next year ranging from “how can you stand not to be able to see that granddaughter for six months?” to “you’re taking a gun along, aren’t you?”
When the topic of next year’s hike came up during a recent winterization project, even my furnace guy cautioned me about safety. When asked exactly what he thought was going to be dangerous, he pantomimed the stabbing scene from the cult movie classic Psycho (cue screeching violins).
Like the tinny GPS voice emanating from my dashboard whenever I’ve missed a turn, I’m merely recalculating my route, not abandoning it.
First came the decision to consider an alternative itinerary—shifting my starting place from Springer Mountain and a traditional NOBO route—to a FlipFlop. Now I’m shifting my expectations from a continuous journey with minimal stops to one that includes a longer roadside break.
So come May, you’ll find me on a train or a plane heading back to the Midwest in order to spend a week or so meeting a new grandchild and spending time with the older one. I’ll use the opportunity to evaluate my gear situation and resupply box needs. And bonus: I’ll score an extra, unscheduled pit stop with the husband.
It’s just a speed bump. I’m getting over it.
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What an amazing adventure this will be!! I will be following you trip with great interest. So important to chase your dreams.