Mental Battles: Stay the Course… or Trail

So many emotions flooded my mind as I packed up my car and drove south on Monday. I just spent three unforgettable months tucked away in the North Carolina mountains, meeting amazing people, hiking, discovering the joy of geocaching, and working my arse off to save money for my pending thru-hike. I quickly grew accustomed to the small town atmosphere, the 75 degree average temps, easy access to the AT and other trails, and pocketing nearly $600 a week, most of which (what didn’t go toward boozy nights) went directly into my hiker savings.

View on my drive to work

View on my drive to work

And then Monday happened.

I had to pack up the amazing life I had been living for the last few months, shove it in my truck, and drive south about two hours back to Athens. Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore Athens. The Classic City will always hold a treasured place in my heart. But this time around returning was not something I had been looking forward to. While in the mountains, I felt like my dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail was so close, so tangible, so real. I was living among the mountains I would soon be hiking through, meeting hikers and other like-minded individuals, and working toward my monetary goals of saving for my hike.

I returned to Athens Monday evening to my neglected house, suffocating heat, and a break-neck pace. So much for my leisurely drive up the mountain to work everyday surrounded by beautiful scenery. Now my commute consists of traffic, fast food joints, and red lights. So much for my active waitressing gig, where I got to meet interesting people day in and day out, move around a lot, and, well, how can you not like working on top of a mountain? Now I’m back to sitting in front of a computer screen for 8 or more hours a day, typing and emailing and doing homework. So much for saving money. I was able to save several hundred dollars per week while in North Carolina. Now I feel I’ve spent that much in less than a week of being back. I’m making significantly less money at my Athens job than I did waitressing and starting to really stress out about saving hiking money. What on earth am I going to do to get me through until Spring(er)?

Just. Stay. The Course.

I have to keep telling myself this. This last semester is all that stands between me and living my dream. Three classes. One research paper. A 4 month commitment to work as a graduate assistant for UGA. I’ve got it made really, with this assistantship covering most of my tuition and giving me a stipend to live on. The end is so close I can taste it. I’ll have a Master’s degree! I’ll finally be finished with school! I can finally start truly planning and mapping out my hike! So I’m trying to stay the course and stay focused on school. It’s difficult when I’d much rather be reading books about the Trail than the textbooks and journal articles I need to be reading for class, but I can do it. I know I can. It may not be fun and it may not be easy but it is doable. So I will devote the next 4 months of my life to finishing this degree so I can move on to things I’d much rather be thinking about and studying: The Trail of course!

I’m also fighting mental battles about my start date. My advisor wants me to student teach in the spring, which runs from January to the end of April. That interferes with my intended start date. Which interferes with my end date (really need to be finished by mid August at the latest). So I’m stressing about when I will be able to start and when I will finish and how I will catch up with the hiker bubble and what happens if I can’t hike fast enough to finish in time to get a teaching job in August. Ahhhhhh!

Maintaining my sanity.

Of course, I can’t NOT think about the trail. So in between classes and research I’m doing several things to try to help physically and mentally prepare myself for hiking.

  • Fitness. Despite all the obvious reasons that an exercise regimen is good for you (reduces stress, increased health, increased energy, etc.), I’m taking extra measures to prepare specifically for the trail. I’m working with a personal trainer at a gym in Athens to help condition for the trail and I’m getting out on trails as often as possible, carrying a partially loaded pack.
  • Education. I’m reading every AT/Long Distance Hiking book I can get my hands on (and find time to read between classes and homework). So far I’ve read:
    • Wild
    • AWOL on the Appalachian Trail
    • A Walk in the Woods
    • Three Hundred Zeroes
    • End-to-Ending
    • Appalachian Trials (of course!)
    • I’m currently working on The Appalachian Trail Girl’s Guide and have many others on my to-read list, though suggestions are always welcome!
  • Gear selection. Of course this is one of everyone’s favorite. I’m still facing the hammock vs. tent debate, but I’m slowly making larger purchases as I can afford them so that hopefully I don’t have to spend a lot of money all at once right before my departure. I’m leaving little things to request as birthday/Christmas gifts from parents and relatives later in the year. So far I have:
    • Warbonnet Blackbird hammock
    • Big Agnes Fly Creek one man tent
    • Osprey Aura 50L pack
    • Black Diamond trekking poles
    • Sawyer water filter
    • Brooks Cascadia trailrunners with Sole inserts (LOVE these shoes)
    • Thermarest self-inflating pad (I do not like this pad; will sell it and purchase something different)
    • 40 degree bag from Walmart (I will get a different bag for my thru-hike)
  • Mountain therapy. Perhaps the greatest thing that has happened to me is that my boss in North Carolina is allowing me to continue to work weekends at my waitressing job. I should be able to continue to bring in some extra income that way to put into my savings each week for the next couple of months. This also gives me a really, really good excuse to drive back to the mountains every weekend and will allow me to get in some hiking time. Thank heavens for this, because if I was stuck down here in the 90+ degree heat with no mountains in sight for the next 2 months, I think I might actually die.

Wish me luck as I plow through these final months before the real trail prep starts! Actually, not luck. I don’t need that. I need sanity and peace of mind and determination. So wish me those things, and I think I’ll be ok.

Summiting Scaly Mountain during one of my summer hikes.

Summiting Scaly Mountain during one of my summer hikes.

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