Prepping for the Appalachian Trail: The Mental Game

In which we discover that the testing has already begun.

In deciding to do this big, bold endeavor, things didn’t happen all at once; there was, at least for me, no switch that immediately flipped, no initial moment where I gazed heavenward and threw my arms wide to embrace my newfound conviction of “Let’s do this.”

But for anyone who’s ever thought about a big undertaking – whatever it is – you know: for however long you’re rolling that giant nut of an idea around in your brain, it will infuse your thoughts during everything else you do. Everything. Every day will feature some variation on the theme of what in the actual hell. Am I really going to do this?

Piling Up, Piling On

Then you decide to do it, and: wham. There’s all the gear, the food prep, and the training, and honestly, it’s felt like a full-time job sometimes just trying to get all of that in place. But of course, that’s not everything. There’s also… everything else.

Because now’s a good time for home renovations, right? Also, this picture fairly accurately sums up my state of mind in the months leading up to departure.

Hey so you’re gonna need to do something with the house while you’re gone, so you should find some tenants, and hey you’ll probably also need a property manager so you don’t have to try and deal with a random plumbing emergency from the trail, oh, and Birch needs a vet visit to make sure she’s current on all her vaccines, and hey you need to make sure all your work stuff is handed off, oh, and HEY have you done your taxes yet?

In the midst of all the prep, the list never seems to get shorter. Everything is a thread that, when you pull on it, further unravels the sweater and sends more issues tumbling out. Gonna get some tenants? Gonna need to get those bathrooms updated then, you can’t rent the place out with them looking like that. Gonna get a property manager? That’s another set of phone calls and meetings. Things can seem like they’re conspiring to keep you from the trail; all your issues are forming a cabal intent on thwarting your plans.

And that’s to say nothing of one’s own doubts. Can I even do this? Is my body going to make it? Am I going to crash out in a month, or maybe even decide that I just don’t like it that much? I’ve already told everyone I’m going; how would that feel?

So many days I wished that I could, you know, maybe just kind of slip away for six months without anyone noticing.

And what about Birch? She’s generally ready to run up and down any mountain you put in front of her, but what if something happens to her?

Look how comfy. Am I really going to take her away from this?

You can get into your own head with things. Man, isn’t this bathrobe the softest, most luxurious thing ever? Aren’t these socks so toasty? Wow, this French press coffee is dynamite. Who would want to leave this behind?

It can all make you feel like you’re being led to an inexorable conclusion: I’m not ready.

You’re Not Ready

I mean, there’s no certificate you’re going to get that declares you Fit For An AT Thru-Hike, or whatever your own personal Big Thing might be. There’s no stamp. You just have to take care of what you can, and at some point, it’s time to go. I realized pretty early on in preparing for this that I was never going to feel ready, but it was still an unsettling feeling as my departure day grew ever closer, like a giant frigging meteor.

But It’s Okay

However, I also realized that spending every waking moment shut up inside the house prepping (and stressing about prepping) would be kind of self-defeating. So I acknowledged the fact that I was, on some level, never going to feel ready, and took care of what I could. I found tenants for the house. I got Birch to the vet. I did my taxes.

And more importantly, I took opportunities to say goodbye to many friends. I’ve gotten so much support from many sides for this trip and I’m profoundly grateful. Connecting with people before leaving was the natural way to celebrate that. Thank you to all who I got to spend time with in the last few weeks. It really grounded the whole experience.

And now, the packs are packed, the car is rented, the trail is out there, waiting…

It’s time to go.

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