Bad Case of the Pennsylvania Blues
Northbounders are susceptible to the Virginia Blues, and although my symptoms may be similar, I’m experiencing them in a different state. While it’s not Lyme disease or a twisted ankle, the condition needs to be treated seriously if I have any hopes of finishing the trail.
I attribute my Pennsylvania Blues to several factors. The three top issues for me right now are pressure, loneliness, and the seasonal changes.
By pressure I am referring to the pressure I put on myself. My competitive nature drives me to want to push harder, go more miles, hike faster, be farther along. Honestly, I’ve had to mute the Instagram posts from several others ahead of me because seeing how much farther along they are puts me down. I recognize that living in the moment and appreciating being where I am no matter how far along would be a healthier and happier way to go about the trail. If only I could take that knowledge to heart.
Then there’s the loneliness. I know there are still bunches of other SOBOs despite there being less of us. For some reason, I’m on a different schedule than everyone else. This issue was also brought on by myself somewhat. I intentionally wanted to get space from my tramily; I just didn’t want to be alone. Now, being alone can be great for personal growth, but as a single female on the trail, it can be a little scary at night. It’s mostly that I want to have people around to talk with and relate to. I think it would help me be less focused on the miles, too.
Lastly, there is the changing of the seasons. While the fall colors are beautiful, and I’m looking forward to Shenandoah and the Smokies in peak fall foliage, the shortening days are making me sad. I finally have the stamina to hike from dawn till dusk, but the sun rises after 7 a.m. and sets before 7 p.m. I’m dreading the days when the sun sets before 5 p.m! In the real world, I think I typically get a little depressed with the seasons changing, and I thought that by being out in nature I wouldn’t mind as much because I’m living each day to its fullest potential. If anything, I’ve found that the opposite is true. I’m living in nature, so my whole schedule is dependent on daylight (yes, night hiking is an option, but I prefer not to do it). Therefore, I am very aware of the shortening days.
There are a variety of ways in which I handle my blues and each of the issues that bother me.
First, I tend to call my mom. Although sometimes our conversations make me irritated, my mom is my rock. It’s therapeutic to be able to vent, full emotions, to someone. As for handling the pressure I put on myself, I try to think rationally. I don’t have a deadline, so why cram in a ton of miles. I want to enjoy the stops along the way, so why hike too fast and miss them. Then, as I mentioned above, by muting social media posts from others I avoid the dangers of comparing my experience to theirs. The loneliness is treated by getting into town when possible or trying to camp where there is company. I’m hoping to catch some SOBOs ahead of me and wish some behind would catch me. However, I’ve also made it my goal to face my loneliness by making getting over the fear one of my reasons for hiking the AT. There isn’t too much I can do about the shortening days. I find that I do best when I get an early start, so I feel as if I am using every drop of daylight.
Overall, I’ve doubted myself recently. I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and go home. Ironically, that same pressure that can make me too hard on myself is also the thing that keeps me going. It drives me forward despite my blues, and maybe that’s all I need—to endure until the Pennsylvania Blues fade away.
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Treat yourself to a Philly cheese steak sandwich, Port Clinton Hotel has some rocking eats. As an Englishman on the trail told me (he finished in Port Clinton)” Its about the smiles, not the miles ” Enjoy this special time in your life.
Love you Em & appreciate your honesty. It helps me think about my own loneliness & blues as days get shorter. And yes to face it, live in the moment & think about what I can do to to turn it around & enjoy it. Wish I could pop down there, just can’t right now.
But thinking of you, love you & unbelievably proud of you whatever you decide. You inspire! XOXO
Emma, as one who (at this time in my life and for various reasons) can only dream of hiking any part of the AT, I am in absolute admiration and envy of you. Whatever you decide, you are a star!
I hope looking at the pictures from this weekend doesn’t make you more lonely – know that we all missed you and were just so inspired and moved by what you have taken on and how much you have done already, and how you are doing it! Several of us also talked about how much we would like to come join you for a day or two (as Amy noted, you might have to count it as a zero day, though, since we would not be able to keep up with you). Know, too, that you can call others besides your rock/rock star mom! For me (and I am sure others) it would be such a privilege to hear from you, to share the downs as well as the ups of your journey. I am still feeling the glow from your too brief stopover with me, and I miss you whenever I walk by Lou’s. Call any time!! Love you and cheering for you!! A.K.
Emma, I see you making important, insightful observations about this experience and yourself. I think that honesty and self reflection is what gives you the strength to endure the most challenging times, even when doubt runs high. (BTW, loneliness fins everyone and is one of life’s toughest experiences) Despite it all, you continue on, pursuing your dream of hiking the AT. I am in awe of your determination, abilities, courage and spirit. Go girl, go!
You have hit the halfway point and Pennsylvania is behind you. Think of how far you have come since experiencing your first week with blistered feet! I am virtually cheering you on. You are a remarkable badass young woman!
Hi Em! Thanks for sharing some of your vulnerabilities so openly and also showing (mostly yourself) that there are things you can do to be mindful of your psychological journey and to provide self-care. Before reading others’ comments, I was going to say the same thing as Kim, which is that I am only a phone call away! I guess I can use the excuse of being in CA to say why I can’t join you for a day hike; in truth, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to keep up with you! But, if I were there, I would be honored to share some miles with you and to experience just a bit of what this trek is all about.
Sending CA love,
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