Letting Go of Expectations Before the AT- Reflecting on My NPT Thru-Hike
It has been awhile.
Remember back in September when I hiked the first 30ish miles of the Northville-Placid Trail? And I said I’d finish it in October and blog about it? Well, the rest of trail was amazing, but the blog part didn’t really happen.
Now that I’m so close to leaving for the AT (under two weeks, omg, omg), I’m thinking a lot about what I learned from my second section of the NPT, and I figured I’d finally get around to writing this. This post is long, and I’m not sorry.
On a Cold, Rainy Day in Late September
I started out on the NPT in a drizzling 35 degrees. It was amazing how much the trail had changed in the few weeks I had been away between sections, both in terms of weather and conditions. It was absolutely beautiful, and I was so excited to take on the remaining 104 miles from Whitehouse to Lake Placid.
Except there was a problem.
I completely underestimated my physical ability. Between my two hikes I had improved significantly, so the mileage that I had planned for each day was way less than I was now capable of and what I actually wanted to do. When at 2 p.m. the first day I had already reached my planned campsite, I didn’t know what to do.
I’m a planner. I love to make and follow plans.
Arriving at my campsite so early, though, was a problem for a whole slew of reasons: it was cold and wet so I didn’t want to stop moving, I knew I’d be super bored sitting in my tent all afternoon doing nothing, and I physically I felt like I could go so much farther.
So I did the unthinkable, and scrapped my itinerary on the very first day.
I was going rogue.
Sometimes it’s OK to let go of expectations of what things should be, and just “wing it.”
My second night, I stayed at one of the campsites on Cedar Lake, and woke up to an incredibly dense fog.
Which eventually cleared to give me one of my favorite views of the entire trail.
Day Three Was a Lot
Mentally, I was struggling some.
I came in expecting this section of the trail to feel similar to my first hike, just as relaxing and beautiful. However, I found myself getting frustrated because the quiet mind I had on my first trek was replaced with a somewhat racing mind that just couldn’t. stop. thinking. It felt like I was starting a whole new trail, instead of just picking up where I had left off as I had hoped. As soon as I let go of the expectation for this section hike to be anything like my first, though, I was able to just take it as it came, and enjoy it for what it was.
After an interesting day, I made it to the dam and set up at a nice campsite near the water. While getting settled, I spoke to a nice man who was also there camping with his dog. We parted ways and I finished setting up, but about an hour later he came to my site with a gift.
My First Trail Magic
And then I cried about it. Because I am a sap.
Let me tell you about this man. He brought me the best meal of my life from his camp, on a day that I was just overall feeling blah and rundown. A pork chop, three potatoes, yogurt, and pound cake later. I was loving life thoroughly.
That night I slept soundly. I woke up with plans to head to Lake Durant Campground, where I had reservations to stay that night. I was so excited for the shower I would get there. That day hiking though was blah again.
The trail was extremely muddy from the rain we had been getting, and there were excessive blowdowns that made navigating some areas pretty challenging.
Then finally, when I was only two miles away from Lake Durant…
I saw a bear. A real bear.
Guys, this was not a little bear. This was a real grown-up, full-size black bear. But don’t worry, I am a badass and most black bears are terrified of people anyway so when I yelled it ran away. Wimp. I was ready to fight.
For the rest of the hike to the campground I was paranoid about this bear situation, but I lived so it’s fine. The hot shower made it all worth it, even though I still smelled when I got out.
The next morning, my dad brought me my food resupply (thanks Dad!), and I continued on my way.
Over the Next 3 1/2 days, I Hiked 52 Miles to Lake Placid
I went over Blue Mountain Ridge (the only major ascent along the NPT) early in the morning to make it easier on myself, but that also meant fog so thick that I was pretty much in a cloud. I actually really enjoyed the change from the mostly flattish terrain I had been experiencing. That gives me hope for enjoying the roller-coaster of mountains along the Appalachian Trail, but we’ll see how much I like it once it becomes part of my average day.
The Long Lake section of the trail was beautiful, but let me tell you: the wind that comes off the lake is brutal, and Long Lake is long. I have no photos from here because I was either moving around or hiding in my tent the entire time.
My Last Full Day Was a True Test
I would be finishing the NPT the next day, and I needed to make big miles in order to finish in Lake Placid a day ahead of schedule, to follow my new plan. I woke up to pouring rain, but accepted that I was probably going to be wet for most of the day and got going early.
To start off my morning I accidentally got turned around on the trail…
…and backtracked about two miles before I ran into some other hikers. My already long day just gained four extra miles.
This area of the trail had been rerouted due to beaver activity, but when I passed through I took the original trail instead of the reroute. Then on the other side of the section, I took the reroute where it rejoined the original trail, effectively looping around and sending me in the opposite direction. Sigh.
No worries, though. I reoriented myself and then when passing through the trouble section a second time, I went the wrong way again. (Yes, really. I almost cried when I realized it.)
The bridge was pretty cool, but do you know what was even cooler? The Cold River.
Because I am just so coordinated and lithe, I slipped on a rock while filling my water and fell rib-deep into the river. 10/10 would not recommend.
Crazy thing, the Cold River is actually freezing cold.
Because it was a balmy 35 degrees out, I figured I should change out of my soaking wet clothing and into some dry stuff. Luckily I had the self-control to not put on my sleeping clothes (since those need to remain dry at all costs), so I threw on my rain pants and set back out onto the trail.
And then I ripped my pants.
While attempting to shimmy my way over a tree that had fallen across the trail, I ripped the seam of my Frogg Togg bottoms and they split all the way up the side. It was a pretty dramatic fashion statement.
I tied some of the scraps back together and carried on. I’m glad I didn’t run into any oncoming hikers; they might have mistaken me for a zombie at the point. Just as it was starting to get dark, I made it to Cold River Lean-To #1 and set up camp for the night.
My day sucked so hard. I got lost (and added more miles), fell into the river, and ripped my pants. However, I didn’t let it get me down and I completed my first 20-mile-plus day.
I Passed the Test
A big purpose for hiking the NPT was to give me some experience before setting out on the Appalachian Trail this spring. My last full day on the trail really felt like it was a test for all that I had learned along the NPT, at the culmination of the trail. I was able to work through every problem I encountered, and I was able to keep my head when things got scary or stressful. I went to sleep early on my last night on trail, feeling proud.
On my last day I hiked the remaining 14ish miles to the end of the trail, finishing in Lake Placid.
I Actually Did It
Over 11 total days, eight of which took place during this section hike, I successfully solo hiked all 138 miles of the Northville-Placid Trail. It was definitely hard, and I cried some good cries, but I absolutely loved it. Completing the NPT gave me even more excitement toward my coming AT thru-hike, while also instilling in me the confidence that I was even capable of long-distance hiking.
The Appalachian Trail is so different than the NPT though, from terrain and trail conditions to popularity. Even though much of my hiking knowledge so far has come from the NPT, I need to recognize and remember that they were two very separate experiences.
I’ve been fantasizing about the Appalachian Trail for over 12 years.
Obviously I’ve got more than a few ideas about what hiking it will be like. On the NPT, once I let go of the expectations of what I thought I should be experiencing, I had a much better time mentally. I’m working to let go of those expectations about the AT as well, so I can just enjoy whatever experiences come.
With now just two weeks until I start my AT NOBO thru-hike, I feel ready. The NPT supplied me with valuable hiking experience, and instilled in me the confidence that I can take on whatever the AT throws at me.
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