Left Turn’s Greatest Failure, but Biggest Step
On the early morning of day two, I passed a gentleman going SOBO. I asked him if he was a SOBO hiker and he said no, that he spent one night on the trail and decided it was time to go home. I was aghast. How could someone spend months planning and dreaming, only to get out here, hike nine miles, and decide that was enough? He said it just wasn’t for him; that he tried and didn’t like it so he was going home. I felt sorry for him and it must have been written all over my face. He assured this new wide-eyed, Maine-hungry hiker that it was the right decision for him and that he didn’t regret a thing.
After 164 miles, I thought about him again. I had been wanting to get off the trail for 70 miles, but I kept telling myself that the feeling would pass. That if I could just reach some important milestone I would magically get better… feel better. Those 70 miles were marvelous. Even though I had gotten behind my trail family, I watched the sun rise from the top of Standing Indian Mountain. I climbed Albert while my new friends cheered me on from the top. I hiked 20 miles that day, made countless friends and memories, but nothing could shake the feeling that I didn’t belong there anymore.
There’s a scene in many movies that we all know really well. A character dies and you can see his soul escaping his body. As I climbed Albert, I felt that. All the fear, self-doubt, self-loathing, and insecurity escaped from my hands and feet like a fog lifting. Here I was going almost straight up rocks and never doubting my hand or footholds. I was a machine. None of those emotions had a place inside me anymore, so they rose out of my hands and feet with each step I took.
In the days that followed, that fear and other self-hatred never came back. I flew across rocks and around roots. I felt comfortable talking to strangers. I saw my body for what it is… a vessel of strength, and reveled in its new muscular beauty. Fear has always held me back. Not having it was a welcome change. This… this is what brought me to the trail. I had to escape my fear! Finally! My one reason! Pre-trail, I was scared of life. I was scared of succeeding and not succeeding at the same time. I was scared of people. I was scared to do what I really love to do.
The thing is that I still had 2,089 miles left to go. What would drive me now? The truth is nothing. Nothing drove me after this but my own stubbornness and not wanting to let you all down. But my journey isn’t about you. It’s about me. Did I really need to put myself through this anymore when the answer I sought was already found? How does one continue on? I started spending way too much time in towns after that; lured by the promise of a town burger or an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. I got really sick climbing up Jacob’s Ladder after crushing 12 pieces of pizza and realized that my relationship with food on the trail is unhealthy, and doing me physical harm. I can escape my fear, but how do I escape my addictions?
The trail is not the place to fix your relationship with food. Food is the number one topic of conversation and other hikers revel when you relay stories of epic five-hot-dog trail magic. Meanwhile the meat sweats and arrhythmia got me like…
All these things pulled me off the trail. I hitched into Robbinsville, N.C., got a plane ticket and a shuttle into Asheville, and went home.
It won’t be forever. The woods call my name every day in the whispers of the trees’ leaves. I’ll section hike the parts I can between jobs. I’ll move to a place with epic trails and mountains to climb (ehem… Colorado). The mountains are and always will be home, beckoning me and my ENO. Nothing will ever feel more like home than a campfire and swinging gently in my hammock while the hiker trash get stoned and the evening bugs sing.
Not finishing the AT is my greatest failure. Not greatest as a synonym for biggest, but greatest as a synonym for best. I don’t regret a single step. Not even the ones I took for that hitch into Robbinsville.
Peep my Instagram for pics of my epically short and meaningful journey.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.