My White Mountain Emotional Rollercoaster: Part Nine, Gorham

Note: This post describes events that occurred on August 12-13, 2023.

When I awoke at the hostel, it was after 7:00. I wasn’t surprised to see that John had already left. I got up and went to find some coffee. Downstairs, I chatted with a hostel worker over coffee. She was really impressed with AT thru-hikers and expressed her admiration for the endeavor. She imagined it was an amazing experience.

Now I absolutely cannot argue the fact that this is an amazing experience. But it was hard to focus on how amazing it is while I was nursing tender shin bruises, a mild foot sprain, a blood blister on the bottom of my foot, and a general disinterest in continuing to hike this trail. What I was doing was hard and exhausting. I was having doubts about what I had signed up for. Did I like this anymore? What was I doing out here?

You can’t really see the bruises, but they’re there.

I went back upstairs and looked at my stuff. Would I really hit the trail today? The weather was so nice. Taking a zero would forfeit some pleasant hiking conditions. But I didn’t want to walk. I think what was most dispiriting about my feelings is that I hadn’t really felt this way previously. Even when the going was tough, I looked forward to better days. For some reason, I didn’t feel that way anymore.

During my Prezi traverse, I commented to some SOBOs that I was excited for Virginia. I was just sick of the Whites. Actually, I hated them. Some people are thrilled by the challenge of hiking a steep and rocky trail without switchbacks, but I’m not. I like walking, not rock climbing. I really didn’t like the style of trails I was hiking on. The views were breathtaking, but were they worth it? I also hated falling. Injury seemed imminent with each step or creative maneuver. I was in constant psychological discomfort, facing my fear of injury whether I fell, slipped, or just had to work my way down a steep cliff.

I think this happened because I didn’t straighten my sock out properly before putting on my shoe. Seriously.

I considered my options. I could just skip the rest of the north and go to Harpers Ferry and hike south. I would forfeit my thru-hike attempt, which was never a huge priority to me anyway. I just wanted to be immersed in nature and enjoy some time for personal reflection. It would be cool if it worked out, but ultimately I didn’t care that much about checking the “thru-hike” box. Especially if it meant weeks of misery working my way through the 200 difficult miles ahead.

As much as I might not care about finishing my thru-hike, it felt like a big decision. I called my friend Lotus to talk it over with her. I didn’t necessarily get any clarity about what I should do, but it was nice to voice my concerns to someone who understood what was at stake.

I took the day to relax. I kept writing. I drafted and scheduled more blog posts. I ate town food and enjoyed the relaxed pace of a day without expectations. I figured tomorrow would be better.

Town food always helps.

A couple of hikers arrived at the hostel after nightfall. We didn’t exchange any words while they settled in. I figured they had probably hiked a 20-something mile day. I felt distant from them since my daily mileage and approach to hiking the trail was so different.

The next morning, I had some coffee and chatted with the hostel worker from the previous day. She teased me about my zero and asked if I needed a kick in the butt to get back out there. She meant well, but I didn’t like her tough love approach. I was already feeling like I didn’t fully understand why I didn’t want to be out there anymore. The “just do it” attitude where I keep swallowing my feelings felt counterproductive, but I was at a loss for what else to do. I had already taken a zero and hadn’t experienced much clarity. Was I supposed to wait around for the answer to come and keep prolonging my hike? It felt unreasonable. I just had to go.

Upstairs, I began to get my things together and one of the late arrival hikers from the previous night started chatting with me. I didn’t want to get emotional, but I couldn’t help it. Through tears, I explained that I was dreading hitting the trail, but I didn’t know what else to do. A few moments later, her partner invited me to breakfast with them. It felt like a better idea to go out with them than to try to hike when I was feeling so bad about doing it.

I enjoyed a nice meal with my new friends Kicks and Halftime. We had some pleasant small talk before heading to an outfitter. My inflatable sleeping pad had been leaking and I couldn’t find a hole in it, so I bought a closed cell foam pad to try out. I learned that the outfitter sold trekking pole tips, but I wasn’t sure if they would work with my poles. I decided to return the next day with my poles to see.

After we returned to the hostel, Halftime offered to give me a shakedown. He was an ultralight hiker who had already completed a thru-hike of the AT previously. I knew he could give me some solid advice, and I happily accepted his offer. I had known for some time that my loadout could use some attention. I was encouraged by the opportunity to make some changes that might alter how I was feeling about hiking. Maybe I just needed to make it easier on my body.

I am weirdly attached to this pet rock I purchased for $1 from some middle school boys. Named for the town where we met, Cheshire has been along for the ride since MA for nearly 300 miles!

We scrutinized everything in my pack. Halftime was careful to let me make the final decisions about what I would take. He was only offering suggestions. With his guidance, I removed so much stuff: a book, mini notepads that I hadn’t used since acquiring them in Connecticut, an umbrella, my pet rock. I also dialed in my gear, getting rid of some winter items that I hadn’t used since receiving them prior to Moosilauke. I wasn’t that thoughtful about my base weight, honestly. Maybe that’s what the problem was all along.

We talked about food. I said I always arrive to town with a bunch of extra food. This was a no-no. Halftime asked how many calories a day I packed out. I didn’t know. I always just packed what seemed right, and it was always, always, always too much. He suggested 3,000 calories a day: if I didn’t eat it all, I could try 2,700. I was in awe of how expert he was. I was out here just winging it. I counted the calories for the days I expected to be out and left the extra food in the hostel hiker box. I was going to make a good faith effort to try to make hiking less miserable.

Kicks and Halftime left later in the day, and I thanked them profusely for their help. This shakedown was the morale boost I desperately needed to feel better about getting back out there. I want to bed feeling nervous but ready to finally tackle Wildcat.

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