Smiles or Miles? Part 2: New Hampshire and Maine

Trail angel (and more importantly my friend) Fresh Ground told me just before I started my trek into the White Mountains:

‘You can do this. Your body is as ready as it’s going to be. Your body can do it, the only thing now is how long it will take you.’

How long? That is the question. Previously, I could look at a 100 mile section of trail and estimate it would take me a week, give it take. Now that’s all out the window.

And I have never felt better.

The mountains will take as long as they will take. Did I spend the last 5+ months just building someone who could put down big miles, or did I build a hiker? Am I out here to see how many miles I can do in a day, or am I out here to explore? At this point in my journey, the only mile marker that matters is the last one.

Letting go of that ‘but we gotta make miles’ regimen (thanks Relish!) has probably been the healthiest thing I’ve done for myself in a long time. It freed me from one of the big pitfalls out here: comparing myself(and therefore my hike) to everyone else’s, and feeling bad when I didn’t measure up. I became more flexible, and opened myself to new adventures, new friends, without the constant worry of meeting this week’s goals. I started to find my wonder again. Adopting the mantra ‘mountains not miles’, helped me get excited for what the trail was going to bring each day and switch my brain back from ‘job’ to ‘adventure’. My inner 12 year old tomboy was reveling in the new landscapes I tackled, and each night I crawled in my tent sore, but happy and looking forward to the next challenge.

Flipping the switch wasn’t easy, though this is where we slower hikers find the mental terrain a little more familiar. I had a few conversations with faster hikers from the March and April bubbles as they passed (everyone passes me eventually), and several of them were having a hard time mentally reconciling with the drastic drop in mileage that often occurs when you hit those last two states. Going from 22 to 10 miles a day is a big splash of cold water, after all. Going from 15 to 10 isn’t quite as severe. I think this is where slower hikers get a little comeuppance. For months we have experienced the mental game of not being able to keep up with others around us. It’s an established obstacle by the time we get to New England, and, if we are still on trail, chances are we have figured out a way to conquer it or deal with it. For faster hikers, they are handed a one-two punch of physical and mental challenges, courtesy of the Whites. It’s certainly not impossible to overcome, but it does take some effort.

There is still no one way to hike this trail.

At this point in the game, I have met hikers who have slowed down to make the adventure last, hikers who have sped up because they have a limited time to complete the trail, and hikers who just want to get this thing over with and are hiking on sheer will and stubbornness. I like the daily challenge. I don’t need to be on trail forever, and certainly didn’t think I’d be out here this long, but I don’t want to walk away feeling like I left a single stone unturned. I celebrate the strength I have built, both mentally and physically. I am so very grateful for a life that has allowed me to take this journey.

No matter how long a student stares at the clock on the wall, the lessons will end at the conclusion of the school day. No sooner. So pay attention and get the most you can while you’re in it. 😊

Hardest mile, still all smiles!

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