The First 100 Miles: Hiking My Own Hike
I have walked 138 miles. That’s six percent of the Appalachian Trail if you’re doing the math.
It’s just fine if you’re not. I’m trying not to.
When I started my flip-flop hike in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., the goal was to start slow and ease my body into the six-month beating it was about to take.
And that’s what I did. My dad started the hike with me (his trail name is Daddo) and we did first seven miles, then 11, then 13.9. It felt good – apart from the blisters that came on that first day, covering my pinky toes, back heels, and inner arches.
I’ve always had trouble with blisters, but have never found a solution. And, when I asked around, everyone said the same thing: if they had blisters, they went to town and got new shoes.
But, despite the fact my feet were killing me, I was determined to stay on trail. I felt that if I left the trail so early – just 40 miles in – I would have failed my hike.
They say that only 20 percent of northbound hikers complete their thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail – that’s about one out of every four NOBOs. With the harsh winter weather at the start of their hike in Georgia this year, that success rate might have gone down. For flip-floppers, the success rate is a bit more generous at 50 percent. We start on flat terrain in good weather and end already having our trail legs for the hard stuff. We also have packs of NOBOs to ask for help if needed.
In the beginning of my hike, I felt like I had to prove myself and make it clear that I am determined to get to the end. Of course, this contradicted my need to take care of my feet in order to get to the end. Eventually I realized the irony and caved.
After the fourth day, my mad and I shuttled to Boiling Springs, Pa., from Pen Mar State Park and I switched from my waterproof Merrell boots to men’s sized Brooks trail runners. We took a day off to let my feet heel and hopped back on the trail the next day. My dad hiked south while I was dropped off to keep heading north.
I felt like a new person on that first day alone. My legs felt strong, my feet weren’t aching, and I ended the day at a bar off the trail that provides free camping and showers for hikers. I crossed into Pennsylvania singing.
There are a few sayings on the AT, with “hike your own hike” being the most repeated. And, these first ten days have made me realize how important that saying is.
My first week on the trail was a mental game of fighting nerves. I questioned whether I would ever be able to go over 13 miles, if my hip would stop hurting, if I would lose the NOBO friends I had made because I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, keep up with their 25-plus-mile days. When I was reminded of that saying, I tried to let it all go and remind myself: I am in no rush.
The trail is not a race, but it’s easy to get caught up in going quickly and the idea of walking big miles. Once I realized I could go 15 miles without hurting the next day, I tried for 19. After that, a few of us slackpacked (when you carry just food, water, and a filter) 26 miles to Duncannon, Pa. My first marathon.
Still, I am trying to stay present in my long walk and enjoy the time I have to do it. For the next few days I am going to take it easy, take in the views, and navigate my way over the rocks of Pennsylvania.
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