Rethinking How to Hike My Own Hike–There Will Be Consequences
For the record, Virginia…not flat, not easy.
I was 360.8 miles in to my flip-flop thru hike and looking forward immensely to a zero at the Quality Inn in Waynesboro, VA.
The six days and 75 miles leading up to Waynesboro were HARD, with endless comments in the shelter logs about how seriously NOT FLAT and NOT EASY Virginia is.
Not flat and not easy meant three 2,600+ foot climbs, at least one deluge and choosing between getting killed by lightening (as I hung my bear bag) or getting killed by the bear.
I chose the bear, but he had sense enough to stay out of the rain that night.
Respect Virginia, y’all!
Back to that zero in Waynesboro (which has a fabulous coffee shop called the Farmhaus, BTW, right behind the Quality Inn).
I’d been pushing some miles and carrying too much food over those crazy climbs, I limped into Waynesboro with a sore hip. One zero led to another and then to another with no sign of improvement. I decided to go home and get it evaluated, you know, in case anything was really wrong.
The good news…nothing broken. Probably an impinged labrum (but could be a tear).
The bad news…rest a few more days.
A few more days’ rest has turned into two weeks. The hip isn’t 100%, but it’s close. I’ve invested in an economy sized bottle of Vitamin I. I’m ready to walk.
So, I’m going back in!
Tomorrow my sweet husband will drive me back up to Waynesboro. We’ll get coffee and avocado toast at the Farmhaus. Then I will continue my northward trajectory.
But it’s going to be different this time.
Getting off the trail was harder than climbing the Priest because I couldn’t be sure I’d be getting back on the trail. I fought disappointment, pain and frustration all the way back to Asheville.
And fear. I had no idea what the doctor would find.
The good news is that the “rest” has been a nice opportunity to reflect on my hike.
I now see that I needed this time for reflection, otherwise I risked the infinitely bigger disappointment of getting to the end of my hike and realizing I hadn’t hiked my own hike.
I’ve now realized I was letting myself get caught up in things that weren’t so important to me and I wasn’t honoring the things that will make this whole experience memorable and meaningful long after I touch the last white blaze.
Here’s what hiking my own hike means to me:
1. Letting go of the mania of mileage.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the mania of big miles. Everyone talks about it like it’s a badge of honor to hike 22 mile days. Or 30 mile days. Personally, I want to stop and smell the wild azaleas (they’re amazing!), look for birds and animals, enjoy the views. That’s not possible (for me, because I’m slow) if I push big miles. I can see how big miles would quickly turn my hike into a grind, from which it’s just a short hop into endless complaining about how much it sucks.
Plus, I’m pretty sure big miles contribute to sore hips and other things, and I’m not going there again.
So, the plan…shorter days, fewer miles, longer breaks, slower pace.
2. Self care, self care, self care.
Long distance hiking is already hard on your (53 year old) body, so there’s no excuse for adding insult to injury.
There are so many ways I added insult to injury during my first 360 miles!
But now that I’m slowing down (see #1), I can take some precautions.
I can take the time to stretch my hips, ankles and feet every day. I carry a 1/8″ foam pad that doubles as a yoga mat and a bandana that I can use as a strap, so a lunchtime stretch is easy and quick.
I can take the time to take better care of my feet, those little twin miracles at the ends of my legs that propel me forward every day. I’m now carrying a spike ball to massage the bottoms of my feet. I’ve added a pumice stone to my bounce box for foot care in town. And I’ve made another batch of essential-oil infused foot balm to massage into my aching feet at night.
And, fingers crossed, I can do better nutritionally. I know I’ve talked shit about pop-tarts many, many times in the past. I even made it my trail goal to never eat a pop-tart. But the truth is that even the so-called “healthy” brands you find on the trail, brands like “Nature’s Way” and “Healthy Choice,” even Clif Bars, are basically some version of a pop-tart. It’s appalling. It’s too late to dehydrate enough kale for my hike, but I intend to solve this problem of too much sugar, not enough nutrition. My hike depends on it.
3. Resupply more frequently to carry less weight in my food bag.
It’s better to spend the time going into town for more frequent resupplies that to suffer through 3,000 foot climbs while carrying seven days of food in your pack.
Yeah, I made that decision. It was a bad one.
I realized it was a bad decision when another thru-hiker, 102-pound Immram literally ran past me on the trail with her tiny, tiny pack two days in a row. She didn’t miss a step by hitching into Buena Vista for a resupply.
4. Continue to re-evaluate what you’re carrying and adjust as necessary to save weight.
My self-inflicted break came at a good time–just as the weather turned the corner to summer.
I’ve been able to lighten my pack a little more by switching out some winter items (10-degree sleeping bag, long johns, big puffy jacket) for more summer-appropriate gear (30-degree quilt, shorts, thin puffy jacket).
Some things I’ve ditched completely only because I had the time, space and benefit of experience to unload my pack and and evaluate everything in it.
Nothing escaped my notice and about everything I asked, “Have I used this? Is there another use for this? Is there something else I could use instead?”
I found that I’d chosen well for the most part, but I was able to cut out some excess from my first aid kit, my essential oil collection, my clothes and my water filtration kit.
I’m still hanging on to my puffy vest, though. I hear it’s a good option for wearing on laundry day.
I also reconsidered the hammock vs tent debate since I’d had chances to talk to several hammockers while on the trail. I envied their ability to camp over unlevel ground (and the fact that they all seem so utterly in love with their hammocks). I thought I must be missing something important.
I set up my hammock in the backyard one night and spent the entire night fighting to keep my sleeping pad underneath me and tweaking my already sore hip. The only thing I’d be missing is another $600 for an under-quilt and and ultralight tarp and it would still weigh a pound and a half more than my tent.
Maybe next year on the Wonderland Trail, but this year I’ll stay faithful to my Altaplex now that I’ve learned how to pitch it and get comfy in it during a lightening-spiked deluge.
5. Get out of the bubble (as much as possible).
The bubble has its charms, I’ll admit.
It’s fun to gather around a campfire at night with people you’ve come to know, who make you laugh and who don’t give you (too much) shit for hanging your bear bag over their tent (unless it happens more than once).
It’s fun to take your place amongst a group of thru-hikers on McAffee Knob and know you’re part of something unfathomable to the day-hikers who keep to themselves.
It’s fun to share a table with a random group of hiker’s at a fancy-ish All You Can Eat restaurant in the middle of nowhere Virginia on Mother’s Day weekend and to feel like you’re dining with your best friends, with people you’ve known and loved all your life.
But the bubble has its costs, too.
Keeping up with these youngsters will hurt you (see #1)!
And competing with them for limited shelter space, tent space, hostel space, bar stools also has the potential for an unhappy ending.
I’m not really sure it’s possible to completely escape the crowds on the AT, but I’m hoping that most of the big bubbles will have passed by the time I get back on tomorrow. If I’d known better, I might have started a few hundred miles up the trail to avoid the pressure of the bubble.
But I still wouldn’t change a moment of my experience so far.
If I’ve learned anything, it is that everything works out exactly perfectly.
The Consequences of Hiking My Own Hike
Last year my husband and I hiked a section of the AT in the notorious White Mountains of New Hampshire, from Kinsman Notch to Crawford Notch. At the time I was thinking that I could always skip that section during my thru-hike if I ran out of time or just didn’t feel like it.
Now that I’m hiking this thing in its entirety, I can’t imagine skipping ANY section, even the ones like Mt. Lafayette, which I’ve hiked at least six times already.
But I can imagine that it might take me more than a full year.
I can imagine that, if I hike it at a pace that makes sense to me (and doesn’t hurt me), I might run out of time. I might need to skip ahead. I might need to come back later. I might need to wait till next summer for some parts.
Which means, technically, I wouldn’t be considered a thru-hiker (defined as someone who completes the entire trail in one calendar year), which I set as my goal when I started this odyssey.
Is that the right goal?
But I have to ask myself now, “Is that the right goal for me?”
“Can I do that and stay healthy and enjoy my hike?”
“Or is there something else even more important to me that I couldn’t see until now?”
(No, it’s not the trash can on the parkway overlook, the holy grail of thru-hikers that may be.)
It’s always been about paying attention, observing, connecting to nature, writing, sketching, being immersed for an extended period.
It’s always been about going solo and making the most of the community (which isn’t the same as keeping up with one community).
What’s important? What’s the priority?
Completing in one year or just completing?
Ending a wreck or ending healthy?
Getting it done or enjoying the experience?
It’s hard to let go of the notion of completing a thru hike. And, as a flip-flopper, it was hard to let go of the idea that my hike had to end on the summit of Katahdin.
But I’m willing to adjust my attitudes, my expectation, my definition of success as necessary.
So long as I get to keep following the white blazes.
See you on the trail!
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$$600.00 for underquilt and tarp your shopping at the wrong place for sure. Dont have no where near that much in both sets of my quilts
You have made some very important observations about what you want out of your hike. I agree that some folks get way too caught up in high mileage and miss out on a lot of other stuff along the way.
In short, you’re concentrating more on your journey now. I applaud you for your new awareness, and I have learned a lot from your observations. I will begin my flip flop SOBO from Harpers Ferry in about 5 weeks, and hope to use some of what you’ve shared. No, not some, but ALL!
Good luck and keep up your posts. I want to hear how it goes for you. I’m rooting for you.
Thank you, Ruth! Enjoy every step of your hike! I hope to see you out on the trail somewhere. Roo (short for Ruby Throat)
You are doing great. Hike Your Own Hike. It’s about the smiles not the miles. Lots of repetitive sayings you have heard on The Trail I am sure.
Make this YOUR experience.
Been hiking The AT for 25 years and have enjoyed every step. Happy Trails 👣👣👣👣
Yes! Smiles, not miles. Thanks for the encouraging words and for reading. Happy trails! Roo
Well written, I LOVE the tips!
A tip or two from me: Going to hammocks is a HUGE learning curve. With a tent, you set up 2 – 3 times & you know just about all you need to know about setting up your tent. Not so with a hammock! I can now set a hammock up twice and have it dialed in, that took YEARS to work out.
And, I agree that you don’t really save weight. But to ME, the comfort more than makes up for the weight penalty.
Keep going, if it takes more than a year, that’s OK!!!