Now What? Start with Three Simple Steps
Moving Forward after a Dream Deferred
Nearly two months ago (though it feels like much longer) I shared a bit of the painful story of why I wasn’t going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail this year. People were starting to follow me on social media as spring approached, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I thought I’d open up a little as a way of letting people know there’d be no AT journey to follow. Maybe as a bonus, the story would help others.
Little did I know that a couple of weeks later, everyone would be in a similar boat: a crushing blow outside their control, a complete change in the direction of their lives, perhaps new financial and emotional struggles, and no more AT thru-hike.
As someone with a couple of extra months of this disappointment under her belt, I thought I would share some of the wisdom I’ve gained along the way. I hope it helps.
You spent an absurd amount of time and energy planning this hike and preparing physically. You set your sights on a goal that you knew would take months to accomplish. This was no small task. It is completely understandable, acceptable, and healthy to feel whatever you are feeling—anger, frustration, depression, fear, anxiety, whatever. You are grieving a loss! If you’re afraid that sounds silly, I can assure you it is not. Let yourself feel those emotions, because the only way out is through. Bottling up these feelings and hiding them in the dark recesses of your mind will cause them to stink and mold and persist over time. I repeat: let yourself grieve.
While you’re grieving the deferral of your big dream, it’s more important than ever to move—physically if you can, but mentally as well. Take walks (again, if you’re able), do yoga, read, bake, do whatever you enjoy doing. Hobbies comfort the grieving mind. They cannot cure your sadness, but they help you move forward, which is the direction you need to be going. There is so much power in doing.
Make plans? At a time like this? Absolutely. In high school, my cross-country team loved the saying, “You have to have a dream to get up in the morning.” The act of goal-setting and planning is a powerful step. Making plans in the midst of so much uncertainty and disappointment is an act of hope you owe to yourself.
Personally, I witnessed the fiery destruction of every plan I’d made, all by the person who vowed to support and love me for the rest of our lives. I have no reason to trust another person or another plan again. But not having something to work toward feels too defeatist and is not in my nature. If you planned a thru-hike, you’ll need something new over which to obsess, or to add meaning to your day. Set a goal for tomorrow, a goal for next week, next month, next year—whatever feels right. But recognize these plans can fall through again, and that is OK.
My New Goal
When I realized I couldn’t spend the coming months hiking the AT, I set a new goal that I knew would still mean a lot to me. It incorporates my love for distance running, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the North Country Trail, and competition: this September (though, admittedly, date is tentative) I will attempt the Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore Trail in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
If you’re unfamiliar, FKTs of many of the world’s major trails and routes are cataloged on the FKT website. Men and women can complete the trails supported, self-supported, or unsupported. Using GPS data and tracking devices, athletes can submit their times for verification. The Appalachian Trail hosts FKTs from athletes trekking NOBO, SOBO, supported, and self-supported. The stories behind those attempts are enthralling, particularly noted by Jennifer Pharr Davis in her book The Pursuit of Endurance, Scott Jurek in his book North, and Karl Meltzer in the documentary Made to Be Broken. I highly recommend checking this out if you haven’t already.
The women’s FKT of the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore Trail feels achievable for me, and having something to work toward every day, something that brings me such joy, fuels me. Since I don’t have to rely on race directors canceling, or large groups of people, I don’t have to worry too much about how the coronavirus pandemic may affect my plans. I admit it is possible for the trail to close or for the pandemic to worsen, but I’m no stranger to twists in the road. None of us is, anymore. We’ll just have to keep moving.
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