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.

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Comments 6

  • Rocky : Mar 31st

    I’m so glad that you posted this, Left Turn. We were sad to hear that you got off trail, but I’m so happy that you got what you came for!! I (we) will miss you dearly, but I’m so grateful to have met you. Keep in touch!! With love, Rocky (thatotherrachel)

    Reply
    • Anna : Mar 31st

      Thanks doll! Hope the boys’ butts stay okay 😂 I’m so excited to follow your journey 😁

      Reply
  • Vibha : Mar 31st

    Wow. Just wow. Beautifully written!
    I’m inspired by your courage.
    The physical and mental courage it took to set off on this trek. And the emotional, spiritual courage it took to get off the trek. You quest to detox from fear was answered and that is an amazing gift you gave yourself.
    Your greatest failure returned you home… to yourself. You followed your heart. And in doing so you win again and again.
    Rock on Warrior Woman!

    Reply
  • predzhead : Apr 5th

    hey left turn…no shame in your game young lady..if you recall i was tenting next to you when that hella thunder storm tried to take us out..lol. oh and yall ate mt red beans an rice i worked so hard on…hehe. im currently off trail as well but planning to return when i get enough cash…all them zeros killed my budget..godspeed in all your future adventures

    Reply
  • Leah Lipka : Apr 8th

    Amazing! I met so many people who got their answers early on and went off to pursue what was calling to them. I honestly think it takes more courage to admit that you don’t want to press on that it does to finish. It YOUR time, YOUR money and your dream. Let go of the pressure and do what’s right for you. And you got your answer because the trail doesn’t let us down. Way to go lady, thanks for sharing!!

    Reply
  • TBR : Apr 12th

    Nice revelation. Hard to quit, but … the trail will always be there.

    I consider hiking any big distance on the AT – 20 miles, 50 miles, 500 miles – to be a major accomplishment. So is being honest with yourself.

    If you aren’t enjoying it, don’t do it. Takes courage to quit in the face of all the social pressure (especially for a blogger). Good for you.

    Reply

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