Keeping Out the Rain
There’s a lot of talk about how terribly it rains on the AT. Everywhere I look I see more accounts of downpours lasting days, soaking everyone’s every possession. ‘Nothing is waterproof,’ they proclaim in the forums, ‘so just get used to getting wet.’
It’s one of the classic Appalachian trials that no training can prepare you for–the misery of being trapped in wetness, with no end in sight. And it’s these hurdles we can’t train for that most threaten our chances of finishing, because they alter our very mindset unpredictably. Our brains themselves will be working very differently waterlogged than when they first cooked up the charming idea of a thru-hike. So we don’t know what to firm up our resolve against–our enemy is invisible until the battle itself. One has just got to hope to have the mental fortitude to face the rain when the time comes.
I had an encouraging glimpse into what that fortitude might look like today. As I was running in Central Park, it started to pour (I know it’s not the Smokies, but bear with me). The sudden wet discomfort irritated me, but I got used to it enough to get lost in my thoughts again, as I tend to do while running. Then it really got bad. The wind picked up, shooting the rain hard and horizontally at me. Here’s the funny thing. This time, I was so absorbed in whatever dream of the trail I was having that it was several seconds until I actually noticed the change in weather. Once I was aware, I felt myself tense up and flinch at the wind. But there was a brief window when rain was still blowing into my face but it didn’t affect me at all. This delay is a crucial insight into how we might deal with hardships like rain on the trail. The driving rain doesn’t automatically trigger misery; there’s some secondary, separate process where the misery comes in. And if I could delay it by five seconds by accident, who says I can’t hold it off entirely?
I’m not claiming that because I can handle a run in the rain I can hike through four days of rain no problem. Again, I can’t imagine the actual sensation of being caught in that kind of weather for so long. I just know, now, that there’s some way that that weather can be blocked out somehow. There’s a hidden mental trick, of which I just scratched the surface, that numbs my senses enough so as not to even really notice the storm. More valuable than the lightweight-waterproof-breathable miracles we’ll all be wrapped in is this skill of simply not noticing the intensifying downpour. It’s an evasive skill–but it must be in there somewhere.
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