The Thru-Hike Was Hard, But not Hiking Is Harder
The following is a guest post by Carolyn Walker
I finished my NOBO thru-hike a week ago today. It took 5½ months, which is very average, according to a chart I read somewhere awhile ago. I hiked with my husband; we started early, in the middle of February. This early start came with positives; plenty of water, moderate temps in the mid-Atlantic states, lack of crowds. The only real detriment was six weeks of snow and freezing weather early on.
Our hike was remarkable to me; unremarkable by other standards. We suffered only minor injuries; we didn’t run out of money; we are retired and did not have to rush back to a job or new career or school. We hiked slowly but steadily; usually up and out of camp by 5:30 to 6 a.m.; still hiking by dinnertime. We accomplished 20-mile days by putting in long hours and took zeros every two weeks or so.
I had to push myself each day to get to our intended shelter or campsite. I didn’t listen to music or podcasts and we typically hiked alone; my thoughts centered on fantasizing about food or laundry in the next town; whether I would treat myself to some new clothes or gear if there was an outfitter (or a Goodwill). I would also fret about home, my adult sons, or the future. My mantra to get through difficult parts was to count one-two-three… to ten, and I would repeat again and again, measuring my steps. When climbs were particularly tough or the mud particularly deep, I would convince myself that my legs could operate on their own; they didn’t need my will to keep going. And sometimes I would pause and stare at the rocks and roots and snipe at the trail, “Well, I guess you won’t hike your own damn self!”
I fantasized about reaching Katahdin; and we finally made it, on Friday, Aug. 3, at 9:30 a.m. We took the requisite pics, climbed back down and hitched a ride to Millinocket. Now we are at home in Florida. It’s hot, it’s boring, and I’m already restless.
Today I was walking on the sidewalk next to a terrible and busy road and a cricket jumped in front of me. Almost like the crickets on the rocky tops of mountains in Maine on sunny days. Apartment complex squirrels scamper up trees when they see me, but don’t fiercely chatter a warning to me to stay out of their territory. I listen for birds but hear only traffic. There are no toads sweetly and clumsily climbing out of my way. Occasionally when I pull something out of the closet I get a whiff of hiker stench from my yet unwashed down bag. It smells like perfume.
A month ago at this time I only wanted a shower and a beer. Now those luxuries mean almost nothing; I long for the loons and the owls. Please let me trade the ocean for a clear, cold spring. We will hike the PCT next year, but it’s a long time away.
Carolyn is an AT 2018 thru-hiker, and is planning on hiking the PCT in 2019
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