Shakedown Hike Threw Me a Punch, but I’m Ready for Springer
I love it when a plan falls apart.
(Insert inspirational sports movie quote here. Something about moving forward after getting knocked down or punched in the face.)
I find myself a week removed from my shakedown hike and still struggling to find the words to express my thoughts. In typical Appalachian Trail fashion, what seemed like a great plan completely fell apart when we hit the trail. Let me explain.
Initially, the plan wasn’t to do a strenuous hike. Seeing as we were only one week away from our hike we intentionally picked an easy section of New Jersey trail to test out our final gear sets. The section starting at Culver’s Gap and going to through most of High Point State Park is usually pretty easy hike. Usually. I’ve hiked this part of the AT at least a dozen times. I know this section like the back of my hand. Twenty miles over two days seemed pretty easy to me at this point. I’m no veteran hiker, but I have plenty of experience. This is going to be fun.
After a few weeks of beautiful springlike weather, unusually early for Jersey, Elsa visited.
(I really want to insert a “Frozen” GIF here but I’ll assume it’s copyrighted and frowned upon.)
Within a week New Jersey received 30 inches of snow. Luckily, our hike was planned smack dab between two huge snowstorms. The first of which melted rather quickly — at least by my house it did. We get dropped off at Culver’s Gap, Route 206. Immediately, we find ourselves hiking through six inches of snow. It’s slow going, but worse things have happened.
The Fellowship of the Ring
Hiking through snow is nothing new to me albeit much more difficult than we originally planned. Day one was supposed to be a relatively easy day to Rutherford Shelter. Picture this, “The Fellowship Of The Ring.” The part where the fellowship is trying to make it through Caradhras during a blizzard, before deciding to go through the mines of Moria. Now I don’t bring this up because we hiked through a blizzard but because of how we looked. Bob, my hiking buddy for this trip, is a much smaller guy than I am. A six-foot former rugby player, I’m not a small guy. Bob is walking over these large snow drifts barely sinking in three inches. Of course some he sunk in a little farther, but he managed to get over them without sinking all the way in. Much like Legolas walking on top of the snow. I, on the other hand, was more like the hobbits, sinking into snowdrifts that at times came up to my mid thigh, making the hike super easy of course.
Obviously trekking through this slowed us down a lot. My legs have never been so tired after completing a sub ten-mile day in my life. I found myself thinking back to reading Zach Davis’s “Appalachian Trials” (no less than five times) and the things he says. Reminding myself why I’m doing this. The AT punched us in the face but we adjusted and we finished our hike. We did finish short of where we initially expected to make it. We found a more prudent choice to go home and rest while we had the opportunity to do so. There is no reason to risk getting hurt less than a week removed from our departure date.
Now I find myself a mere 24 hours away from boarding a bus to Georgia. The anxiety levels are through the roof. What am I getting myself into? Why am I doing this? I’ve spent so long digging myself out of the hole my mental health dug me into; why leave everything behind when I’m finally in a healthy place. I find myself thinking of something I said when I randomly met a fellow 2018 AT thru-hiker, and Trek blogger, in a bar in Washington, D.C., last week.
“I am the best version of myself when I am on trail.”
That is why I am doing this. Being nervous is fine; I should be. I am about to take a journey into the unknown. Yes, I can read about hundreds of other hikes, but I need to hike my own hike, right? Everyone’s experience is different. I am equal parts excited and nervous for where this will take me. I’ve spent the past few years preparing myself for this adventure. I am ready. So again I end this with a band quote.
“My friends from where I’m from are all a wreck
Hangin’ high up on a horse
Hangin’ heavy from their old routines
They wake up still uninspired with no regrets
Hungover and divorced, they torch their 20s like it’s kerosene
Carrying on and on
I can’t decide
If I should stay or sleep outside
With that look of sheer distress from left to right”
Into It. Over It. – “Open Casket”
Obviously, I chose to sleep outside.
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