New England and Thoughts of Quitting
New England has not been kind to me. I went through a process of trying to navigate layers of frustrating conditions. There was the heat and humidity that settled in, causing complete exhaustion. This in turn led to not making the miles I wanted. Then add the persistent dampness and bugs and I was fed up.
Hot and Bothered Through Connecticut
In the heat wave I became an expert in nero days of necessity. I would walk as hard as possible in morning to get into town and find respite. This break in the midday heat usually involved sitting in a public library until evening. But it never cooled down in the evening, and the heat lingered well into dusk.
I’d leave with the idea I’d night hike to make up time, but it never happened. Within 30 minutes of walking my shirt is dripping with sweat, and standing still I could smell a smell of sour milk wafting up from my damp socks. The continued heat took all the energy out of me. I’d collect water and plop down at the earliest convenient opportunity out of town.
Another Layer of Awful
Bugs flying from the muddy sections of trail just worsen an already terrible experience. In the morning I bathe in a half a bottle of bug spray, choking on the mist the lingers in my tent. I secretly hope it slows the firing of my nervous system as I drift of into paralysis. With an hour, I’m so sweat drenched I’m sure the bug juice has all but washed off my skin.
Then the mosquitoes bite through the back of my shirt and at my ankles through my socks. They whisper their mosquito whine in my ear. Little nameless black bugs hover six inches from my face, diving into my eyes. If not caught in my eyelashes, they go for an excavation through the nostrils.
The Things That go Bump in the Night
At night I toss my pack down and set up my tent as soon as possible. I feel the bugs bouncing off my skin, followed by the tiny sharp sensations of their biting. I finally get my tent set up without scream-crying for deliverance.
As I open the door to the tent, no fewer than ten mosquitoes are dancing that drunken sky waltz within the bug net. I sit inside, sweating on my things clapping my hands against their air raid. As I’m falling asleep, the tent floor is riddled with mosquito bodies, a killing field of blood suckers.
It’s unpleasant. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not really that fun at all.
It’s awful, just straight awful. I don’t have any idea how to sugar coat it. No awe-inspiring sunset, no random acts of kindness from a stranger, no super totally connected to you feeling, is going to change how much this trail sucks right now.
Massachusetts and the Continued Misery
I came across Pancakes, another hiker I’ve seen off and on since the middle of Pennsylvania. We were both feeling worn out. While both visibly tired and annoyed, we came across a series of day hikers who wanted to chat. We did our best to be good trail ambassadors, humoring their mundane set of questions. For both of us it took everything to try to be nice to these people.
We just wanted out. Out of the woods. Out of the bug swarms. Out of our own minds. Just out, not here. At dinner, we recited the rules to each other as a way to once again convince ourselves to stay the course.
Never quit on a bad day. Never quit in a climb. Never quit when asked if you’re hiking the whole thing for the bazillionth time. Never quit when prompted to a performative re-enactment of your last bear encounter. Never quit in a heat wave.
Upper Goose Pond Cabin, the Good and the Bad
Upper Goose Pond cabin is the lakeside stop I’ve been waiting for this entire trip. A dock jutting into a body of clear, cool water below a cabin is the type of imagery that makes the trail. There were boats on the water and barbecue grills on those boats. A short swim from the dock and I was eating burgers and pasta salad on a pontoon in the water.
There was a pancake breakfast provided by the volunteer caretakers in the morning, and it felt like things were really starting to turn toward the better for me. The pancake breakfast deteriorated due to clash of personalities and unkind words. The negativity that spoiled the atmosphere persisted with me and I felt like garbage all day.
To Stay, to Go?
Following a thundershower that drowned out what remained of my motivation, I found myself looking at bus tickets from Western Massachusetts to Boston. This was followed up by looking at flights from Boston to Phoenix. I knew I didn’t want to leave, but I didn’t want to stay either.
I felt my will wilting in the pressure cooker of the woods of lower New England. But I talked to some others out there about where I was at, mentally. It was a comfort to know I wasn’t alone, that others felt it too. Talking about it, writing it out as I’m doing now, these are cathartic practices for me. To know that there are others going through similar hardships, and to know they are continuing on, makes it a little easier for me to take the next step, go another mile.
A Pause Before Vermont
I decided to make it to Williamstown, MA, and take a couple days off. There aren’t very many affordable lodging options so I’ll take the hit financially. Spending a few extra bucks is far preferable to the limitless regret I’d likely experience if I were to leave the trail at this point. It’s time to find my path again.
Hiking willy-nilly kills me. This is how the hike has felt since leaving the Hudson River Valley. Just walking along to Maine, la-dee-da. The feeling of just barely surviving hasn’t helped either.
I need to set priorities. These hiking priorities allow me to create achievable goals. Setting goals helps me to see where I’m make my progress. Even this late in the game it is still important for me to practice the basics, to focus on today, and what I can realistically accomplish in a 24-hour period.
Even with thoughts of abandoning this trek, I know that with support, patience, and self-care, I can get through the lows and make it through another day.
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I hope you find peace in whichever decision or non decision you make. I am a section hiker who backpacked at Upper Goose Pond recently. I don’t eat pancakes but saw the stress it caused that day..waiting, wanting more, etc. Your posts are very good. Good luck.
Keep it up Ryne…keep grinding and things will get better. Eye on the prize…you’ll look back after you reach Katahdin and marvel at how much resilience it took to do this which most people dont have…and you did it man.
Hang in there brother, you regained your perspective and will flourish. Trek on!
Not making light of the hardships but man! You’ve already accomplished an amazing thing. Wherever you are now hang in there, hike on, or not, and feel that sense of satisfaction you deserve!
Ryne. You will do this. The trail likes to throw us a curve just when we think we have it made. But you will prevail.
One section at a time.
Being a CT resident, I totally get how miserable you were in this section with the heat, humidity, and bugs! I wish somehow I knew, and I would’ve come and scooped you up for some R&R, air conditioning, and mental rest. 🙂 Push on, my friend. There is much beauty and reward ahead.
The mid Atlantic states kind of sucked during my 2016 NOBO. Hot, buggy, no real mountains… I felt so drained. Trust me, once you hit Vermont you’ll remember why you’re on the trail. VT NH and ME are the best states on the trail. Don’t lose hope!
Steamboat, I thru’d in 2014 and your touchingly honest account here of your experience rivals my own, although my trials weren’t weather-issues. Whatever gets in your brain and gets you down can really deeply gouge your spirit. I tell people that I learned things about myself I didn’t necessarily like or want to know. Every time I crossed a road, I looked left and right and thought, “I could turn off right now and be done with this,” but every time, I walked across, back into the woods. Do I regret my decisions? No. But I do regret putting up with my own misery. My AT experience is with me every day and will be for the rest of my life. Yours will be, too, no matter your final path. What you decide is yours alone, and NO ONE’s opinion matters except yours. And here’s an amazing thing I learned: the AT will still be there, if you choose to stop. You can return in a healthier state of mind and body, whenever you want to, and really enjoy it on your terms. There is no failure, no judgement. HYOH means just that. Do what’s best for YOU, man. No regrets. *virtual hug*