No Friends For 500 Miles, Thanks
I told myself prior to starting this hike not to make friends before Damascus. We’ve all heard the statistics, somehow ever-changing, about the percentage of people who make it to Damascus, and the logical, realist side of me didn’t want to deal with losing tramily in droves early on trail.
Of course, I failed miserably at this internal goal and met such amazing people within the first minutes of this quest. As I’m making my way north, it’s hard to see people leave trail. Some had plans to do a short stint and get back to life; I can accept those, even if it still might leave me a bit melancholy. Some departures come as a shock, and for me, those are the saddest. It’s hard to imagine planning and saving, sometimes for years, quitting a job, and committing to six months on trail, just to quit within the first hours, days, or weeks. The reality of the AT is that it happens all the time! The crowds of people have dissipated over the last few weeks, and although I’m less worried about finding a place to pitch my tent, it is sad to think about all of those who left the trail.
I met this lady in the shuttle from Atlanta to Amicalola; I was headed to the Approach and she was headed to Springer, so I wasn’t sure I’d see her again. To be honest, she seemed a bit disheveled, with a pack and a duffel bag seemingly overflowing, so I was a bit concerned. Well, as you may know, you somehow seem to see everyone again even if it may seem mathematically impossible to do so. I saw her a few days later, carrying a normal amount of equipment, and we became instant tramily. She seemed thrilled to be on trail, had a positive attitude, a great sense of humor, and to top it off, she was out-hiking me on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, we were separated after I had to spend unplanned time off trail, but we kept in touch and planned to meet back up in Hot Springs, NC. Sadly, this didn’t happen, and despite my best efforts to make up the miles, she left the AT. She mentioned that she just had enough, wasn’t happy with the crowds, and missed her family. In my mind, if we were all back together, she may have stayed on trail. I know that the decision to leave trail is a personal one, but I still felt some level of responsibility. I wondered to myself if she would have quit had I done 30 mile days to catch up, or if I skipped ahead to meet her. It was too late to attempt to stop her, and kidnapping was out of the question, but I spent the next week or so thinking about the “what-ifs.”
There’s really no way to truly know the reason people quit the trail. I imagine in some cases it’s simple; perhaps they just don’t enjoy hiking or they have an injury. In other cases, it seems more complex and emotionally based.
A Roller Coaster of Emotions
This is a hard task – probably the most physically and mentally challenging thing most people will ever attempt, and I know some days are especially taxing, but as the saying goes, “don’t quit on a bad day.”
We all have bad days out here, even bad weeks, but I can’t count the number of bad days that have been followed by spectacular ones. You just don’t know what may happen next or how that may impact your outlook. This trail is a rollercoaster of feelings, experiences, and challenges (not to mention the terrain itself), but I’ve found it’s important to focus on the possibilities and positivities when I start to question what the heck I’m doing out here.
Taken at face value, the trail is a bunch of seemingly endless ups and downs, but the experiences and sense of accomplishment at the end of the day make all the struggle worthwhile. It’s a wild ride, and I’ll do my best to remind myself to stay on, because you never know what might happen next.
Homestyle aka Noël
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