An Ode to My Broken Trekking Pole: Going Emotionally Ultra Light
With every step I took my trekking pole got a little shorter. Every time it hit the ground it seemed to shrink. I tried locking it again and again but it didn’t work. I would twist it forever, make sure it was tight, I would set off again, and within a few minutes it would telescope down. Before I knew it I had one trekking pole that went up to my elbow and one trekking pole that went up to my knees.
Not wanting to deal with this issue I filed it away in the mental ‘to be dealt with later’ column. I made a valiant effort at hiking with mismatched trekking poles but eventually realized how ridiculous I looked stumbling around and admitted this was an issue. I stuck the pole in the side pocket of my pack, figured that eventually when I got around to it, super glue would fix it.
200 miles later, super glue did not fix it. The pole shrank again with each step and I had to face the fact that not only was my trekking pole broken beyond repair but I had been carrying around useless weight for 200 miles. I swallowed my pride, chalked up my loss and somewhere in New York on the side of the trail found a dumpster and admitted it was time. Throwing it away felt amazing. The same feeling I remember getting when I eventually got around to taking out my trash when I used to have an apartment. It is so obviously the right thing to do and so quickly taken care of. I wondered why doing what needed to be done was so hard to actually do.
The trail does not let you put your problems off for later. When you are living with just what you need, every item you carry serves a certain purpose. If something you need breaks there is an immediacy to it. If you lose your water filter, you are no longer able to easily access water. There is no sticking your head in the sand, not if you want to keep drinking. Even if it means taking a day out of your hike, figuring a way into town, finding your way around town, getting what you need, figuring a way back to the trail and moving on. It’s not fun, but the longer you wait the worse it gets. You just have to solve your problems.
But I didn’t. Not for 200 miles.
I carried that broken piece of aluminum because I just…wanted to make my hike harder?
So I chucked the pole, and when I did I got to thinking. What is so hard about letting go of extra weight, what is so hard about letting go of things that no longer serve you? Did I think that the pole might magically fix itself if I carry it long enough?
What else am I carrying around that I don’t need? What do I hold onto that is dragging me down? Clenching my fists around old or outrageous ideas, like the one I had that super glue would solve this problem somehow seemed safer than just facing the truth that my pole was broken and dealing with it. Throw it away, take out the trash, minimize.
If I Am going to complete this hike I need to get rid of all the extra weight. I need all the physical and mental strength I have to complete this thing. I can do it, but only if I choose to carry what serves me. I know I can carry my pack to Katahdin but not if I also carry fear. I know I can carry my pack to Katahdin but not if I also carry doubt. I know I can carry my pack to Katahdin but not if I also carry a heavy, broken, knee high trekking pole. So I lightened my load and I threw that thing out.
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