That First 100 Mile Feeling
One of my favorite poems is ‘How to Eat a Whale’ by Shel Silverstein. It goes as follows:
Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail.
And everyone said, “You’re much too small,”
But that didn’t bother Melinda at all.
She took little bites and she chewed very slow,
Just like a good girl should…
…And in eighty-nine years she ate that whale
Because she said she would!
Over the years, this poem has become a life mantra. Whenever I tackle something, I like to break it down into manageable chunks. When my youngest gets overwhelmed with schoolwork, I always remind him, ‘Don’t try to eat the whale all at once.’ Right now, the Appalachian Trail is my whale. So many doubted I could do it, but I will, one step (bite) at a time. Because when I set my mind to something, I see it through.
I believe every hiker has personal milestones in mind, be it mile markers, trail towns, viewpoints, state lines, etc. For me, it was that 100-mile marker.
When I went out on my LASH in 2019, I covered 455 miles, so of course, I had my fair share of milestones. I focused on and celebrated every 50-mile chunk. However, every time I completed a 50-mile section, I didn’t arrive at a sign, I had to create my own mile marker. Sometimes I just made awkward signs with my fingers for a quick photo, other times I took a break to set up some sticks or draw in the dirt with my trekking poles. All the while passing the ‘real’ markers for the ‘real’ hikers on their way to Katahdin. I celebrated, but I also felt somehow removed from the trail, as if my accomplishments were less legitimate.
The day I hit 200 miles, I had been hiking around a thru-hiking tramily on their way to 1500 miles. That morning at the shelter while we were all having breakfast and packing up, I mentioned how excited I was to get to my milestone and received a generic indifferent response. Later on, as that mile approached, one of the group came up to me and told me how excited she was for me, and remarked how easy it was to forget the feelings they had for those early victories. I don’t think she ever realized just how much I held those words to my heart. Thanks, Togs!
This time, that 100-mile marker was different. This time, it was MINE.
We’ve all seen the marker. Drawn simply on the side of the stairs of the Albert Mt tower. Nothing flashy, right? Wrong. That marker celebrated what my body could do, of course, the climb up Albert Mt is no joke, especially in full sun with no leaf cover. But for me, hitting that marker, taking my picture with that sign, mentally cemented my place among these amazing and crazy people we call thru-hikers.
As I approached the tower, last in the bunch from the shelter that morning due to my superpower of transforming into a snail made of molasses on inclines, I heard another hiker call out, ‘Yay! You made it!’ To which I replied, ‘Not until I see that sign! Where is it?’ OK, so there may have been a few more colorful words used, but you get the idea.
I paused when I saw it, that 100-mile sign. MY 100-mile sign. I arrived. That bite of the whale was tough to chew but oh so tasty. With adrenaline pouring through my system, I picked over the rocks and around the other hikers taking a break, and walked to the edge of that gorgeous view. With a brief warning of ‘I hope no one is trying to record right now,’ I raised my poles in victory and let out a celebratory yell that was feral and primal and came from so far deep inside that a new fountain of joy broke open within me. Remember when I said I’m a lot? This was a lot of emotions and volume in one wild package. Some folks laughed. A few commented they wished they hadn’t just turned off their cameras. I am a lot of things. Boring, however, I am not.
100 miles was delicious. I cannot wait to taste Katahdin!
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