The Trail Provides: Sugarloaf and Spaulding

After completing dozens of hikes you begin to develop a routine.  You stop focusing on what this person said that annoyed you, or what the traffic will be like. Your train of thought is narrowed until all you’re worried about is having the right gear, food, water, and being psyched for the day ahead. That’s one of the best things about hiking. The simplicity of it. It no longer matters what’s going on in your ‘real life’ because all you need to worry about is the basic necessities and walking.

Day One: Sugarloaf and Spaulding

A 3 a.m. alarm and a four-hour drive deep in thought was how I started day one. I’d like to say that the farther I got from home, the more focused I got, but that wasn’t the case. I left for my hike feeling anxious and completely distracted by my real life. I tried to tell myself that I needed to focus on the day ahead, crushing miles, but it was really hard.

As I pulled up to the parking lot and began walking toward the trailhead, my mind was incredibly foggy and I just wasn’t into it. I’d be spending the majority of the day along the Appalachian Trail so I figured I’d run into some people, and within minutes of hitting the woods I was deep in conversation with a section hiker named Map’. The first few miles flew by and we said goodbye at the junction of Sugarloaf and the AT.

The undercast from the summit of Mount Sugarloaf.

I found myself alone again (which normally doesn’t bother me) and the negative thoughts started creeping in.  As I hit the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, my mood aligned with the weather, I took a quick snapshot of the undercast, and sighed. This was supposed to be my time; these four days in the woods were supposed to be a birthday present to myself.  I began to tear up, and self-doubt tore through me like a knife.  But as I turned around another thru-hiker was cresting the summit and we quickly began talking about the trail, hiker funk, shoes, and once again my mind was focused on hiking.

We continued along for a short stretch of the trail, decided that right there in that bog is where we would want to live if we were a moose, and then parted ways. I stopped for a quick snack and then continued on as the mist rolled in.  I’m used to being in less than ideal weather while hiking and have grown to be OK with hiking in dense fog, but when you’re already in a negative frame of mind the weather can take its toll on you.  At this point I knew I wasn’t into this hike so rather than allowing my mind to wander into negative territory again I turned on a podcast and just kept walking.

Where I’d live if I were a moose.

Breaking the Cycle of Negative Thinking

Somewhere along the AT between Sugarloaf and Spaulding I was finally able to shut off the negativity and just focus on the walking.  Over the course of hiking many miles solo, I’ve discovered that if you just keep pushing through the negativity on a bad day, eventually you will stop thinking those negative thoughts and just be walking. It’s like a switch is flipped in your brain and your legs become the wheels of a vehicle that is propelling you down the trail. You’re no longer thinking about the aching in your legs or the sweat dripping down your face.  All of that has melted away and you’re just existing, observing, and absorbing the beauty of your surroundings.

I ran into a few other hikers on my approach of Spaulding Mountain and after reaching the summit I opted to turn around and head back to my car.  My original plan was to also summit Mount Abraham, but that would’ve put me at 18 miles for the day and I knew that I was too tired to accomplish that.  The walk back along the trail was much more pleasant and I ran into several day hikers and overnighters.  As I reflected on my first day on trail, one thing kept rolling through my mind. A phrase that I had heard several dozen times by thru-hikers but had never really experienced myself.

The Trail Provides

Every time I started getting down, every time I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to keep going, the trail provided. Whether it was conversation with thru-hikers or the podcasts, what I needed on this first of a four-day adventure was distractions and the trail provided. As I climbed into my car and rolled away from the trailhead, I smiled because I knew that I’d be OK. I smiled because I knew that over the next few days I wouldn’t be alone, I’d have the trail, and if I needed something it would be provided.

To be continued…

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