There is No Winning the AT

Why I’m moving slow

Before I left Maine 2 weeks ago, I kept confidently telling people I’d only take 5 months to hike. They would ask when I’d be back and I’d say, “well the average is 6 months but I think I’ll only take 5…” ugh, what a cocky little bugger. I thought, well I’ve backpacked a lot in my life and I pretty tough. Again, ugh, what a cocky little bugger. But the best laid plans, as they usually do, went astray.

Im currently sitting on my 2nd zero (with a number of neros padded around those days) with a Coca-Cola and a cranky ankle in Franklin North Carolina. A zero is a day where you hike no miles and Nero is a day where you hike nearly zero miles. I don’t want to be zeroing. I won’t lie, it’s nice to have a shower and clean clothes, but I want to be out moving north. Its taking all my self discipline to listen to my bodies needs.

My left ankle started hurting about a week ago. I believe it’s an overuse injury, basically too much too fast. I’ve never been too good listening to my body. When it started hurting, I knew I had to slow down. I had just done my first 15 mile day and have since cut back to 8 mile days. I’ve started taking each step slowly and with intention. I’ve started tightening my thighs and engaging my glutes. Doing everything I can to protect my ankles. The slowness has been challenging. I’m so eager to go, move, do what I came here to do or at least what I thought I came here to do. There also has been a lot of fear. My minds been twirling all those “what ifs”. The most prevailing, “what if it gets worse and I can’t keep going?” Something that pains me to even consider.

So while I try not to drown in the fear and everything else surrounding that, I’m trying to make some meaning of the experience. Figuring out what lessons can be learned in the slowness. What lessons can be learned by deliberately going less miles than those around me and even more so, what feelings and thoughts arise when I compare myself to others speeds and when I get fixated on my own expectations of myself. I’m still leaning what those lessons are.

I’ve echoed these words many times in my pre-trail days, that I value moving at the speed of trust versus with urgency, but now I’m learning what that really means in an embodied way. I’m building trust with my body in this new ecosystem and rhythm. clearly I can’t plow through the process of that growth.

So I’ll continue to ask myself how I squeeze the urgency out of each step on my trek. How I hike this hike with humility rather than a perspective of conquest. This trail isn’t my right and finishing it isn’t either. There is no “winning” the AT and there is a lot to be learned from slowness.

Moving thru milestones

Despite or perhaps because of my slow speed I’ve been able to greet a couple milestones this past week, including seeing my favorite view thus far.

I past through Georgia into North Carolina. First state complete! It was a tough day, maybe my toughest. It started raining about an hour before I reached the boarder sign. That cold frigid kind of rain where your hands can barely unzip your pack to grab rain gear. I ripped the crotch right open on my rain pants almost immediately after putting them on  and spent the day trying to keep my pants somewhat dry (Thx Frogg Toggs).

I felt sadness when I saw the North Carolina sign and I’m still not sure why. It was the tiny little sign at the base of this huge steep climb. It was pouring down on my ripped crotch self. And my ankle was throbbing. I think maybe I felt sad for myself in this pitiful kind of way but also knew it was absurd to feel sad for myself.

I ate lunch under a shelter after 3 tough climbs into Georgia and met a couple people I’ve been hiking with since. We crossed the 100 mile marker together a couple days later. That crossing felt a whole lot less pitiful. I celebrated by sitting up there for hours reflecting over the horizon and eating a snickers.

We then proceeded to make it through a couple bear filled tent-sites, one with my favorite tent pitch yet that I’m pretty proud of, and into Franklin NC where we have mostly just consumed food.

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Comments 2

  • Brenda Lee : Apr 7th

    So very proud of you, and glad that you are listening to your body more. As someone whom gets injured frequently due to pushing too hard, too fast after that initial rush of Hey, I’m Doing The Thing! I also understand that mixed sadness and dread of having completed the first stage of the journey, only to realize just how daunting the rest of the path looks. For me, it was learning to navigate and sail the Intercoastal Waterway, fighting against currents and getting pushed backwards at times off the coast of New Jersey until I wanted to cry. We had plenty of misadventures, including me grounding on a sandbar just getting out of New York harbor, and managed to cross Albemarle Sound (about halfway, think Roanoke) before we were forced to give up. But I digress…
    You do not have to compete with anyone or anything but your expectations. That said, I do understand the need for weighing how much time you can reasonably spend on breaks and trying to get to your next marker to set up camp by nightfall or hunker down due to inclement weather. I wish you fair weather, good friends along the way, and good luck. Looking forward to your next update.

  • Jackie : Apr 9th

    What an experience. And you can be with others at various times but the experience is solely yours in the end. Keep the trail underneath you, the trees around you and the smells surrounding you close. In a couple weeks we’ll ask what you need at your stop at that time. Something to look forward to.


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