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?
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 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.
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.
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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