On Struggling

The pastor at my church did a sermon about going through hard times this past Sunday. I’m able to catch up on services when I’m in town, and I caught this one on Sunday afternoon.

The main message, as I understand it, was that everyone goes through hard times, even our heroes. Maybe especially our heroes. By going through these hard times, people expose themselves to uncomfortable situations so they can discover what they are really capable of. The hard times come and go, always. It’s part of life, and you are forged in fire, coming out stronger on the far side of the hard crossing.

But platitudes won’t make you feel any better. A true listening ear can help. But ultimately, you need to address the struggle. I think how proactive you are will determine how effective you will be at managing the hardship.

I never wrestled in high school, but my sons are now proving themselves on the mat. In my amateur observation, the competitor who is active will generally win. Or at least score a lot of points. The passive competitor is letting the match happen around him. A lot of life lessons here, but being an active participant is critical to winning a positive outcome on the back end of a struggle.

How does this apply to my SOBO AT thru-hike? Get to the point, Moses! Well, first, thru-hiking is hard, and being an active hiker helps get through struggles. Second, everyone is struggling with something. The Trail, life events, transitions, death of a loved one, financial hardship. Any of these can apply to hikers you meet, or to folks you meet in town. So, as the saying goes, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about.

The Trail has gotten easier for me, but walking the miles and climbing the mountains is still hard. As is human nature, I see the world through my previous experiences. What I am hiking on now is “easy.” But for the section or day hiker, this might be the hardest thing they have done. I should be more empathetic when talking with them, understanding they are struggling just as I did the first time I backpacked (which I swore I would never do again). Or maybe they are finely tuned and cruising over the terrain. The only way to know is to ask questions, listening more, and telling “war stories” less.

Listening may also allow the opportunity for fellow hikers to get some things off their chest. I met someone on my last day in New Jersey who was going through personal struggles and found peace in hiking. He’s still struggling two years after some significant events, but he continues to look for peace through day hikes. Keep moving, keep fighting, keep searching. I was glad to take some of that weight off his chest and throw it in my backpack. I’ll walk it off, praying as I hike.

Be kind. Listen more. Brag less. Myself, I’ll get better at these in the next 1,300 miles.

What I liked About…

Now, for the trail update!

– Massachusetts

Two solid challenges on the north and south. I enjoyed the climbs up Mounts Greylock, Everett, and Race, which had some particularly lovely views. The middle was mostly flat, cruisy terrain. Good mix of easy and hard.

The frequency of towns kept me well fed and rested.

War Memorial on top of Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.

Mountains and fields of Massachusetts


– Connecticut

Similar to Massachusetts, Connecticut had a good mix of easy and challenging terrain, highlighted by a tough climb up to St. John’s Ledges. Bear Mountain was fun after a night of rain, too. Connecticut also has some unique rock formations, such as the “giant’s thumb.”

Rock walls that farmers once used to control livestock have been creeping up since I got out of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Connecticut had some particularly old ones. I like to imagine the work that went on in the hills long before the AT arrived. Mostly I hope it was corn that ended up in a jar.

Giant’s Thumb. I thought it looked like a Thai 7-headed snake, but to each his own mythology.

Mossy farm wall

– New York

Bear Mountain would have been a highlight here, but it was closed due to flooding that occurred around July 9 or 10. The trail was closed to prevent further damage from the thousands of visitors who come up from nearby New York City.

No one really talks about New York except generally disparaging things about the broken glass and noise. These remarks are accurate, but there are some really great views of the Hudson River Valley and surrounding mountains. The “lemon squeezer” was a fun challenge.

I liked how the trail just went straight up and down the mountains. No nonsense. Very New York.

I also enjoyed the diversity of people I saw on parts of the trail due to the proximity to New York City. Families, section hikers, trail runners. Everyone was out there from highly experienced to first time in the woods. It was great to see so many people accessing nature.

Lemon squeezer. Hop in if you dare, or just take the easy route.

View of the Hudson River Valley, probably not from Bear Mountain.

– New Jersey

Of the seven states I’ve covered so far, New Jersey might be my favorite. Possibly Vermont, but I think New Jersey had better views with less work. The Pochuck Boardwalk was a real treat walking a well-maintained boardwalk (New York, please take notes) through a beautiful marsh full of purple and yellow flowers. New Jersey was rather quiet, too, making for more pleasant camping.

Highest point in New Jersey, the aptly named High Point

Pochuck Boardwalk from the suspension bridge

Deer from the Pochuck Boardwalk

Headed to a farm stand for a snack after descending the Stairway to Heaven..

I have a new pair of boots, just for tackling the terrain in Pennsylvania. They are Merrill Moabs, just like the ones I’ve been using, just with tread. The 500+ miles from southern New Hampshire to the end of New Jersey tore my other ones up, taking actual chunks out of the soles.

Crossing the Delaware. Don’t know why George Washington and the boys didn’t just use the I-80 bridge. Less drama for sure.

More updates from the home side of the Mason-Dixon line!

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Comments 2

  • Charlotte : Aug 25th

    Wow! I have been following NOBO thru hikers since March. I enjoy the fact they are sharing so much of themselves and experiences, good, bad, and everything in between. However reading your most recent post I am even more inspired to take on the AT 2025 for my 70th birthday. Your words resonated so beautifully. Thank you for your inspiring journey…I’ll continue to follow you, but must read your first trail posts….God bless you šŸ™ šŸ˜Š

    • Brad Brannon : Aug 26th

      Charlotte, thank you so much for reading and sharing. It’s not easy putting together the thoughts and words on a tiny phone from a tent or hostel. Knowing that the work has impacted even one person to “take a hike” makes it worth the effort. Like you said, we experience everything out here. It’s how you react that counts.

      Best of luck as you prepare for your thru-hike!


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