The Countdown to Springer: Four Weeks Out
Hello fellow and future AT hikers! This is my first post for The Trek, and I’ll be honest—it’s taken me a few months to write this. I’ve re-written this post about 3 times. Mostly because I’m a bit emotional trying to put my reasons for hiking into words, but also because I feel this pressure to be cool and not at all emo with this (lol too late). My goal with this blog is to be sincere and honest about the joys and struggles of backpacking, so I hope you’re reading with an open heart. I’ll be as real as I can be.
This post is my way of saying “hello world,” but I also hope it might be helpful to other hikers in some way.
The Ways and Means
I have many reasons for undertaking a thru-hike, but at the age of 34, I’m finally able to take the initiative. For about ten years, the thought of thru-hiking was more of an escapist fantasy. It was something that got me through uncomfortable or painful moments, but that’s how it had to be. In my early twenties, I felt I had too many milestones to achieve before I could comfortably take six months off of life (and bills). And realistically, I did. There are definitely some economic factors that have to be put into place before anyone can step out into the woods for months at a time. So while my heart was set on thru-hiking, it took years of planning before I could begin to take tangible steps forward. While that was hard work, I also know that I’m very lucky for this opportunity. That’s something I’ll remind myself of when things get hard.
My Reasons for Hiking
I’ve been trying to avoid romanticizing this hike because I know there are going to be many lows. And in those instances, I’ll have to remind myself why I’m out there. So here are my top 5 reasons for hiking this year:
- Because I love it: My body and mind feel most at peace when I’m hiking. When all else fails, get some endorphins and good views.
- To heal my mind: I’m a sexual assault survivor and this thru-hike is time I’m setting aside purely for the sake of healing. I also recently lost my dad in an accident, so I’ll be out there to process grief, too.
- To gain perspective: I feel like I’m at a crossroads in life, and I’d like to be intentional about what’s next for me (as much as one can in this Covid era, anyways).
- For creativity: I feel most creative when I’m hiking. Endless time to free-associate does wonders for my writing.
- For community: Like many, I feel trapped after having spent a year in Covid isolation. I’m looking forward to connecting with other hikers.
I can’t give you my reasons for hiking without also giving you a list of my fears. I’m trying to acknowledge these fears sooner rather than later. Hopefully, by thinking through them I’ll be a bit more informed and resilient on the trail. Also, I’ve seen way too many odd flexes in the FB hiker groups and I definitely don’t want to be like that. I’m sharing my fears here because they keep me humble, and also fearlessness is an exhausting hustle.
- Covid: I’m worried I’ll be lulled into a false sense of security out there, effectively letting my guard down and putting myself and others at risk. I know there will be cold, rainy nights when I’ll want to sleep in shelters. In this case—what am I comfortable with? What are other people comfortable with? Can you effectively mitigate risks in shelters if you use common sense? I also expect I’ll encounter hikers who are steadfast about not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. I encountered this last year on the AT through the Shenandoahs. Because the mask issue is so politicized, I’m gonna have to sit those debates out. There’s nothing I can do to change anyone’s mind on that front, and I’m least prepared to have those conversations with strangers when I’m feeling vulnerable in the woods.
- Giardia / Norovirus: I’m a huge baby when I don’t feel well, so the thought of being this sick on the trail is daunting. I’m gonna need a lot of sanitizer.
- Lyme disease: Lyme Disease is awful. I’m also irrationally afraid of having to pull an embedded tick off of me.
- Bears: I’m comfortable around bears in the daytime. I’ve seen way too many in the Shenandoahs to be easily intimidated, but I also don’t underestimate their curiosity or desire for human food. On my first night tent camping, the side of my tent started caving in because something large was batting at me. I don’t think a bear wants to snack on me, but I don’t love the idea of a clumsy bear poking around in the dark.
- People: I expect I’ll encounter people who make me uncomfortable. I’ll have to rely on my own intuition to stay safe, and I hope to find other hikers who are validating and discerning.
- Falls: I am clumsy. I bought Travelers Insurance because I just can’t trust my coordination.
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