The Real and the Raw of Maine

I guess I wrote my last post a bit prematurely. I’m not ready to quit. I won’t do it. But. I’ll be honest that I’ve stumbled upon a stretch of not so great days. However, I stick to the status quo that I will never quit on a bad or rainy day.

And while I’ve had quite the streak of yucky ones, they’ve all been sprinkled with really amazing people who have made a world of difference to me and my hike. I’ve been reflecting the last 30 or so miles about why I’ve been feeling so unhappy. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably a mixture of things.

I called a friend at the trailhead in Stratton and got picked up to stay with him and another hiker friend in Boulder’s home, my first trail angel. She’s a complete badass and everything I hope to be when I make it to my 30s. Rock on, Boulder. You’re seriously my hero. I’ve never known such kindness. I bunkered down in her A Frame abode in Carrabassett Valley for two nights and took a zero to rest my feet and wait for a resupply package to come into town, along with my new shoes!

Little did I know, my new shoes were actually two different sizes. I noticed just before we were about to leave. I knew my foot and ankle were still swollen, but not THAT swollen. After checking the sizes, I understood why. While I’ve heard great things about REI working with thru-hikers, my dilemma with customer service didn’t quite go so well, probably due to me being frazzled and having little experience with dealing with this kind of issue, and also partially on their end too. I had hoped they would be shipped to the town by today (3 days later), but they just didn’t reach me in time in Rangeley. Hopefully they’ll be in Andover by the time I arrive. I cried a bit on my way back to the trail, knowing how much my feet ached in too small shoes and the new blisters to come, one toe nail hanging by a thread. I laugh remembering my aunt warning me about this. The lady at the gas station gave me an ace bandage wrap for my ankle for free, and as I was wrapping my ankle, somehow my shoe was left at the gas station. Thank god we realized before we got too far down the road, or I would’ve been hiking in crocs.

The sweet lady at the post office (Mary) I believe in Stratton was a life saver and helped me mail some of my food to Rangeley and helped me tape my shoe box up and the library stayed open for 5 more minutes – enough time for me to print my shipping return label. All I could do was laugh about my circumstances of the day when I got out of the car at the trailhead to start hiking again.

I’ve spent enough time the last few days wallowing and having a bit more of a victim “woe is me” mentality than I’d care to admit. I’ve been working on reminding myself that this experience is not “happening to me” it’s happening in response to me and I get the power to decide how it goes and my experience, no matter the circumstances. I’ve done a lot of hanging my head and holding back tears and crying to my mom when I have cell service about how hard everything is, and I wonder if maybe I wasn’t quite clear with my intentions in my last post. I realize now I don’t want to battle daily with uncomfortable circumstances, I just want to enjoy nature, and rest in the woods and see beauty, have an epic adventure to live to tell about, and be happy. I want this hike to be a gentle experience, not a war zone with my body.

I’ve taken time to reflect further and I’ve come to the conclusion that my less than happy attitude probably stems from a few things. For one, the past three days I haven’t felt like myself. It started out with fatigue, just general that had me huffing and puffing way more than normal up Crocker Mountain. Then it shifted into lack of an appetite, and today more GI symptoms – matching the bill for some sort of virus. I dry heaved on the side of Saddleback Mountain and cried for awhile, but I must’ve burned off all my food in my stomach on the way up. I went a good half way of the day without food or water because I knew I couldn’t keep it down and needed to keep moving if I wanted to get into town and see a doctor, so I waited until I went downhill and then tried a bit of Emergen-C and food bar and they seemed to settle okay. (Update – I’m feeling much better now and can keep food down again, thank god.) I guess that’s the thing I’m learning about thru-hiking… no matter the circumstances, or how amazing or awful you feel, you just gotta keep on walking. Thru hiking is perseverance that I’ve never known, and I’m learning that so much of it begins with mental fortitude. The body will listen to whatever the brain has to say – so I’m learning if you train your brain your god pod will follow suite.

I thought I would never make it the 7 miles to the campsite the first night out of Stratton. I met a fellow Trek blogger at the bottom and top of the first peak, and we began bumping into each other since then. I heard screams as I scrambled down the side of the mountain into the campsite for the night and bumped into a kind man named Rob Starbird. He said there was a group of 13 girls there, and I knew based on the way I was feeling I needed a bit more quiet than the site would offer, so I walked with Rob an extra mile to the river where there were more tenting options, a bit quieter, and some fellow SOBOS set up for the night. It was my second day hiking alone on the trail and it was a tough one. I was dreading that one extra mile into camp that I hadn’t accounted for but he told me all about Maine and being a guide and his different adventures along the way. Rob encouraged me – telling me I was smart to slow down and that I seemed to be moving at a good pace. He also told me of different opportunities in Maine if I ever chose to return to explore and possibly live there. The simple walk and conversation lifted my spirits. It seems whenever I’m almost at my wit’s end, the Universe always sends me support and a little nudge to keep on going. This has happened so many times the last few days, even if I’ve thought of quitting I down right refuse to – partially because I’m so damn stubborn and partially because I know there is a reason I’m here and I’m not done yet. The story doesn’t end here and I know it.

I think emotions are feedback, so I’ve realized if I’ve been feeling this unhappy, there may be some things I could change to improve my experience. Am I living in alignment with my goals, or have I been swayed off path a little? These are the questions I ask myself when I’m not feeling it so I can navigate my way back to my center. I’m glad I’ve taken the time in asking myself because I think another reason I’ve been feeling bummed is because of the shift I’m navigating from hiking with those that I’m close with to hiking on my own. A friend here told me one of the best pieces of advice he got before starting the trail was “don’t be afraid to let people go.” I’m realizing this is so much easier said than done, but slowly, maybe not so gracefully, I’m allowing such to happen. Today for example, I still didn’t  feel well when I woke up , so I knew the best option for my body was to take a rest day. But my heart also sank, knowing how far ahead I’d have to catch up to ever see those people again and it still aches a little knowing it’s probably not a possibility. But. I stayed and I rested and although it’s a bit tough I did what was best for me, and I know my body is thanking me for it. I didn’t expect this part of the experience to be  tough, but it’s okay that it has been. This was never meant to be a complete duo hike, but now I really miss being part of a team. While there were so many differences, I realize each person brought something valuable to the table that way. The achievements sometimes felt even more victorious. It’s not bad hiking alone, it’s just different, and I’m adjusting. Again, that’s okay.

Since that realization I’ve been trying to get into alignment with my goals of hiking the trail. I thought it was funny when I got into the campsite the first night out of Stratton, my new friend told one of the other hikers “she hikes like us!” Meaning, instead of trying to push mile after mile to my body’s extreme, I’ve been letting myself sleep in later, and I’ve been shifting my focus to remembering that I’m here to enjoy myself, attempt getting an actual vacation, enjoy the trail, and not rush, etc. I’ve been really focusing on slowing myself down the past few days. I’m not sure I’m doing a very good job seeing as I just pushed myself to Rangeley in 3 days when I could’ve split it up more, especially not feeling well, but for some reason I can’t help but push a little. I realize I’ve been trying very hard to keep up with others in front of me, and I just can’t. It’s totally okay that others around us are wanting to go at a faster pace – maybe that’s in alignment with their goals, and I totally honor that. But this is my time for me to heal from the exhaustion of nursing school and to recharge my batteries. I want to come home feeling ready to start my next career adventure and my spirit feeling rejuvenated even if I am tired and sore from hiking so long. I’ve spent a good portion of my life exhausted and stressed out and this trip was never meant to be similar – I’m working to shift my attitude and my way of hiking so it is a more uplifting experience.

Whenever I have trouble letting go, I remember how gracefully my mother let me and my siblings go off to college, and the space and support with which she offered me as I flew off to my AT adventure. She never asked me to stay. She wanted to support me following my dreams, so out of love, she set me free. I want to offer the same for those that I care about, even when it’s hard, even when I want to hold tightly. The truth is I don’t know what will happen or who I’ll catch up with or who will fall behind me. I guess that’s the beauty of the experience; it’s all up to fate.

In my first few days on the trail, I see now that I learned how to rough it, suck it up, and toughen up. I learned how to push my body past my own personal limitations and beliefs that I couldn’t do it and then I pushed some more. I pushed through starvation and bugs eating us alive day in and day out and heat and rain and so much pain. I’ve never pushed my body so hard before or knew that it had the capacity to perform on demand when it needed to. I also learned how quickly my emotions could get in the way of me going from point A and B. There weren’t a zillion long lunch breaks in the 100 mile wilderness. There were lots of early mornings and later evenings and lots and lots of tears. While those days were hard and incredibly stressful, they were some of the best days so far. Things are really different now. And while I think it may be for the best, and I know I need to know within myself that I can do it on my own, I still kind of miss those days.

I never planned on hiking for the people, but the people have become the biggest part of my hike. I’ve flat out told others here that I came to the trail to escape for awhile, to get some peace and quiet and solitude, but honestly the people have meant everything to me, and if it weren’t for them, I don’t think I’d still be out here right now. I’ll always carry this gift with me though – the ability to push beyond my own limitations.

My new trail friend gave me a glimpse of a different way of trail life the past few days. I’m used to hiking with few breaks, pushing and pushing, waking up early and what I’ve done the last few days has been quite the opposite. While I’ve spent longer days out on the trail, I’ve slept in til 8, 9, and left at 10:30 one day. I still made it 12 miles before 7, so I must be doing something semi right. The day into Rangeley I felt dreadful so I just took my time all day. I didn’t rush. My friend kept saying “we’ll get there when we get there” and “there’s no need to rush.” He would suggest breaks I would’ve never dreamed of taking, longer lunch breaks with warm food, and I would find him at the top of mountains, telling me to take my pack off and rest for awhile. It was this contrast to the way I’ve been hiking that I paid mind to. I realize this might have been the reason I was separated from my trail fam – I needed to experience this different way of hiking. This dude had such a good attitude, it helped me reflect on how I could be doing better with my own. I’m also realizing that I don’t actually have to push so hard all the time. I’ve taken much longer breaks the last few days than I ever would’ve allowed myself before, and it feels pretty good honestly. Surprisingly, like when I used to take study breaks in college, I seem to do better than if I hadn’t stopped at all.

Yesterday, despite feeling like vomiting all day was so incredibly beautiful. As I hiked I was absorbed by all the beauty and I remembered how much of a privilege it is to be doing what I am doing. I’m working to find a different response to people when they ask me how my hike is going. I don’t want to be known as the hiker who has had a bad stretch of bad days and is known for things always going wrong or having a lousy attitude. So many times I’ve asked myself what the hell am I doing out here. And I guess it’s good I’ve been asking – because as I recall I’m not out here to push my body beyond its limits – no wonder why I’ve been unhappy. It’s hard, I’ve found myself in this head space of feeling “left behind” for a good stretch of my life, and it’s been coming up big for me out here. I realize though that you can’t really be “left behind” if you have yourself. You’ll always have your own back, your own arms to hug you close, your own self to trust, to believe in, and to cheer for you.

For the record, I still enjoy hiking with people way more than hiking alone all the time. It’s something about the shared experience that really makes it worthwhile. I like my solitude for my morning reflection and then I like to share the company of others for remainder of the day with some spurts of quiet time here and there.

I recall not too long ago about a post I made about what to send me – and honestly I thought about taking it down because so much of that has shifted now. I have quite enough food, the real things coming up are some gear replacement (new food bag since mine has begun to rip, new poles since mine keep giving out) and the money to pay for a bunk in a hiker hostel due to staying in town a little more often than budgeted to allow my body time to rest and adjust. I’m so scared I’ll run out of money, but I’m doing my best to trust that by taking care of my body I am being smart and saving myself from early injury. I am trusting things will be okay. I am trusting I will make it and praying I will find a way for my needs along the trail to be provided for. However, I’m not assuming others will help, just asking the universe for what I need and seeing what happens.

If anything, I just love hearing from people and the encouragement… a text, FB message, card, letter or whatever. Words make all the difference. It’s helped so much and reminds me I can do it, even though it’s been really hard. I’m working pretty diligently to cut down on my “things” so I keep having less of them.

My final thoughts of the day revolve around mirrors. I’ve noticed that the trail has become somewhat of a mirror for me. Out here everything is very black and white. It’s true, the trail puts you face to face with your best and your worst in ways that are completely transparent. Not only are you are seeing these parts of yourself clearly, but so are the others around you. There’s nowhere to hide, or pretend that the not so great traits aren’t there. We all have them… short temper, hangry, negative Nancy moments, or any of the works. However, there being no room to hide, just means there’s a lot more room for acceptance, more growth, and more love for these parts of ourselves. Lately I’ve been trying to show myself more love even when I’m feeling completely intolerable.

It’s easy to get a little sucked up in codependency out here – in thinking you need others to keep going. I know I, for one, have thought so many times that I wouldn’t make it up the mountain or my set range of miles. Every day I prove myself wrong. I guess it’s a really good learning experience. I hope to leave the trail really and fully believing in myself. It seems the view I have of myself doesn’t quite match up to the view that my loved ones see of me, so I am working on that.

Thanks all for reading this incredibly long post that I’ve been mulling over in my head the last 30 miles. I’m so grateful to have such a solid support system out here.

I’m just gonna keep trekking along.

Love and snap peas,

E

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Comments 6

  • Mary : Jun 27th

    I feel ya! It is hard and painful and I never knew how hard till I got out here. But there are beautiful moments too and I am growing. The people are a huge part of it; it is a relief to get to a shelter at the end of the day and have someone to talk to. I am getting into Maine in the next day or so; so hoping to run into you!

    Reply
  • stealthblew : Jun 28th

    The mind is very powerful and left alone can create a sense of euphoria or dispair if left unchecked. Perspective / attitude is the result of controling the channels of thought. Please remember, you alone have the power to control your thoughts and hense your mood.

    Reply
  • Chief Duffy : Jun 30th

    So glad youre still out there, and you learned enough to slow down. It will get better! Before long you will hike with folks hiking in harmony with your pace. Enjoy!

    Reply
  • Caboose : Jun 30th

    Hi! I successfully thru-hiked in 2006 for many reasons and the top 4 are: I always wrote in my journal that it had been an awesome day and the next one would be too (even if it wasn’t). I learned the phrase “it is what it is”. If I was sick or bug bit all over, maybe soaking wet with mud and sore feet, maybe hungry for something that didn’t require rehydrating), I repeated this phrase. Number three is definitely the joy I found in meeting people. Taking the time to know them a little bit and letting them go too. It was always such a treat to run into someone I’d last seen hundreds of miles before. Last thing that moved my legs and kept my head in the game was knowing that the universe would provide. (Once I lost my headlamp…and as a frequent night hiker, that was rough. BUT!! The universe responded with a full moon and clear skies). Allowing my self to rest, put my feet in the stream, take an afternoon nap, and such was OK. Everything is always ok! In fact, it was good for my mind and body!

    I’ve enjoyed your honesty and am rooting for you- however far you go- you’re learning so much. Stay awesome. Smiles.

    Reply
  • firehound : Jun 30th

    Hey Emily,
    They Say if we were paid to do the AT we’d quit. You’re doing awesome, get your shoes, slow a bit and enjoy it all ! I admire the hell outta you, it’s a brave task you’ve set for yourself. There’s no Rush, no driving factor but yours. I’m proud of you and the hiker community that’s supporting you. I’m jealous of every step you take SOBO on the AT ! Hike safe and enjoy !!!

    Reply
  • Roger and Gwenn Bair : Jul 4th

    Hi Emil! We’ve been so interested in your adventure. is it possible to call or text Roger? We are going to Maine tomorrow. He wants to ask you something. 614-554-4116

    Reply

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