Mission to Maine Aborted: No, I Didn’t Quit the AT
Good morning from Hot Springs, N.C, mile 274 of the AT. The rumor mill tells me that by the time hikers reach this tiny little mountain town nearly half of all thru-hike attempts are aborted. I believe it and I get it even though I’m not about to jump trail myself.
The Smokies seem to do something to hikers that tips our delicate mental teeter-totter one way or another. And, yes, our mental psyche is especially delicate by the time we roll into Hot Springs. At home, from your iridescent screen, our pictures beam, but the AT doesn’t always leave us with caked-on smiles and iconic mountain snaps. Its harder to catch shots of the grating mental dialogue every hiker endures at some point. It’s hard to show you the fire in our legs as we lean into our hiking poles for support while we contemplate which quad has the most strength at the moment to hoist us up and over and onto the next step.
In the Smokies, the weather can be tricky, the terrain still isn’t a stroll, and while our trail legs are coming online they remain elusive notions we long for. By the Smokies we are a tired bunch of hooligan hikers that have just been beat up by the climb out of the NOC and Jacobs Ladder and the push from Fontana. Most of us have worked the quirks out of our gear before getting into the Smokies and we are starting to realize how bad it stinks no matter how much it weighs. The novelty of the necessity of including a second breakfast and an afternoon Snickers bar into our diet has long since worn off and, quite frankly, chewing can feel like a chore.
So something has to give in the Smokies or else it starts feeling like you are stuck in a rat race to Maine. For me, I realized I needed to stop trying to plan everything out and to relax my daily time and distance goals or I was going to wear myself out mentally. For me, I realized I needed more time alone. I know how nuts that sounds, needing more alone time in the woods, but even with a late start behind the bubble the AT is an incredibly social trail and solitude is where I have most often found true contentment.
That’s not to say that I haven’t made some great friends out here and had some rad conversations filled with all the good feels, but the Smokies made me realize I need to find balance between solitude and social. The Smokies made me realize that the balance between the two has been an elusive struggle in my actual life off the mountain as well. So I took a zero yesterday and filled it with all the social delights found in town: real food, a good beer, and all sorts of friends, but today I’ve let the friends leave ahead of me and I’ve saturated the morning in coffee and snips from “Walden” and I’m wondering if I’ll even leave today. A storm is rolling in and the longer I wait the more muddy my week becomes, but it might just be worth it to settle in a bit longer and let the thunder wash through my spirit because, after all, this summer isn’t some maddening mission to Maine.
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