Finding My Trail Legs, and a New Attitude

The day before I started my thru-hike I was prepared to feel anxious, sad, excited, scared, overjoyed, and so on. Instead I spent the day feeling numb to it all. The week before I left I sold my car, moved out of my apartment, found a sublessee, went to send-off parties, worked my last day, drove a rental car to Georgia, and said my final goodbyes. I had gone into shock from the transition of the 90-mph lifestyle I had been living to the start of my new three-mph lifestyle on the trail. As soon as I set foot on the trail, I felt my mind go to ease. This is where I’m supposed to be. So far I’ve made my way 200 miles up the trail, from Amicalola Falls to Gatlinburg, and have already seen myself and those around me grow.

The Shift in Trail Culture

In the past two weeks, the trail culture had changed around me. In those first few days I would ask aspiring thru-hikers where they were heading. After hesitation, I would get a response similar to the following: “Ummm, I’m trying to go north but we’ll see how that goes.” I believe everyone was hesitant to commit to a thru-hike because they didn’t want to be disappointed if they didn’t complete it. Fast forward to the Smokies. Whenever I meet someone new, I ask where they’re going. It amazes me to see the shift in their responses. Full of confidence and without hesitation, I’ll hear, “I’m going to Maine!” or “I’m hiking the whole damn thing!” Although we can’t control things like injury or sickness, we all have this confidence in our shared goal. We want to see each other succeed and are working to build each other up.

Don’t Sweat the Little Things

The night of the snowstorm was loud, really loud. I jumped up in the middle of the night after hearing what I thought was a family of bears trying to break into my tent. My imagination painted the most vivid image of a baby bear coming in from the left (actually the wind) and a big mama bear sniffing around on the right (actually Bluegrass snoring). Pumped with adrenaline, I grabbed the two items closest to me and started banging them together. “Go away bear!” After the initial shock wore off, I looked down to see that I banged my phone and headlamp together – the two items I keep in my sleeping bag on a cold night. My headlamp was intact but I cracked the screen of my phone. I let myself feel stupid for a minute but then I got over it. If it was a bear, I was ready for fight or flight mode. An intact iPhone screen is not a necessity out here. I care about food, water, gear, and working legs. That’s about it. You start to learn what’s really necessary to live and stop sweating about the luxuries. I’m hoping I bring this minimalist mind-set with me when I eventually leave the trail.

Push Yourself

The benefits of thru-hiking are different for everyone. Before I set out on my trek, I wanted to become more self-reliant, build confidence, and push outside my comfort zone. Yesterday I did just that. I had planned for a 16-mile day, majority uphill, in the Smokies. As the day went on I was feeling good. My trail legs had finally arrived. I ate lunch at mile 15 and made the decision to commit to a 22.5-mile day. I trekked on one more mile to the last shelter before Clingmans Dome, the highest peak on the AT. I had one last chance to change my mind. I filled up on water, ate a Snickers, and gave myself a little pep talk. I knew I could do it. I passed a few section hikers on the way up who cheered me on and said, “Keep it up, you’re looking strong!” I made it up Clingmans Dome to snap a few pics and pushed on four more miles to the Mount Collins Shelter. I had finished my first hike of over 20 miles and hit the 200-mile mark of the AT. Thru-hiking is a true mental test – you have to get out of your head and see what you’re really capable of doing.

I’m looking forward to more opportunities to challenge myself on this trip, and I can’t wait to see myself and those around me grow into the people we are all meant to be.

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Comments 8

  • Megan : Apr 3rd

    Just lol’d at your cracking phone screen but so proud of you!!!

  • Adam : Apr 3rd

    Way to go MJ, keep it up!

  • Ina Richards : Apr 8th

    I enjoyed this article ! Hope to keep up with you !

  • Firehound : Apr 8th

    Awesome ! Congrats on the milestone, Maine’s waiting for ya !

  • Treehouse : Apr 8th

    Keep the faith! You will make it.

    • Glenn : Apr 8th

      Congratulations on a killer start!

  • C Gibbs : Apr 8th

    Enjoying your trip

  • Josh Johnson : Apr 19th

    Nice! Sounds like you started to hit your stride. Hike on! <3 @designpassion


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