Being more than average.
On the trail alone, I let my mind wander and think about a wide variety of things. I think about what I’ve done in the past, people I’ve met, and replay conversations in my head. I ponder why I feel the need to hike this many miles, what I plan to do when I get home, and how my life will be different. I also absorb everything I see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste (foraging!) along the way.
Sometimes, my thoughts get deep. One of my deeper trains of thought that has returned several times is why I feel the need to do hard things. Things that others choose not to do. Like taking the hardest academic courses in high school and college. Running half and full marathons. Working towards a PhD (I’m ABD). And hiking the Appalachian Trail. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I feel pretty average. All of this ruminating has led me to the conclusion that I attempt these hard things because it is my way of fighting against average.
Breaking free from the average life is challenging for me. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is tough! I don’t like heights; I’m afraid of falling; I’m not very coordinated. So of course, I choose to hike this long, challenging route. It ain’t no walk in the park, that’s for sure! The picture above is from the Franconia Ridge – a series of >4k peaks in the White Mountains. It was my longest day in the Whites, so far. The views were spectacular! When I reach a summit like this, I grin and think, “I GET to do this!”
At the same time, I am holding back tears of terror. These summits test my limits of what is possible for me. Not just because of the physical challenges, which are huge, but also because of the psychological challenges. Several of these ridges in the Whites are narrow with steep edges. The wind gusts strong enough to blow me off trail without a quick pole plant. When I crossed Franconia Ridge, I had to hold back tears at least three times. Tears of pride because I’m actually DOING THIS! Mixed with tears of terror because this is pretty dangerous terrain.
Every time I summit another peak, or even look out at the vistas around me on the side of a slope, I think again, “I GET TO DO THIS!” I am reminded that this is a gift to me, from me, but also from my family and all my friends supporting me in this endeavor. I know that not everyone can do this. They may not have the finances, time, or support and encouragement from people close to them. They may not physically or mentally be able to do it, or have a strong support network to help them. I am privileged to do this. I don’t take this journey for granted and I wouldn’t have been able to go over 800 miles so far without this mindset.
I hiked over Mt. Madison a few days ago. For those who don’t know, this mountain is basically a rock jumble with a long, steep, rocky ridge down to the tree line. I would look ahead and tell myself, “OK, this is what we’re doing.” Another variation of “You have to move; you can’t stay here.” My legs are in great shape from all of this climbing, though… if you ignore the bruises and scrapes. You see, sometimes, my fears start to take over and I need to crawl – literally on hands and knees – over rocks, around narrow cliff edges, or even backwards down steep slopes. But I get the miles in.
I am getting better at accepting my pace and mileage. I’m proud of how far I’ve come (both distance and personal growth). I’m astounded at what I’ve done. I often look ahead at my next feat and wonder how I will accomplish the miles. Then I look back at where I started and my jaw drops at what I’ve done. And I always stop to look at the flowers – even the tiny alpine blooms.
How do you face your fears? What accomplishments make you proud? Until next time, hike on!
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