Trail Honesty, Tough Terrain, and Tough Decisions

I’m writing this post from a cute little hangout in Vermont. I love actually having a keyboard to type with. While I’ve started my latest post several times, I’ve found myself continuously lost for words. I know they are processing through my head, but they haven’t quite made it into coherence until now. Or, at least I’m going to do my best to piece them into coherence for myself and those at home following my hike of the most recent happenings.

The good news – I’ve finished the hardest part of the entire trail, or so I’ve been told. Others keep telling me I should be cruising here soon. I am looking forward to hiking bigger mile days, as I’ve been doing mostly 10-16 mile range, for me mostly in the lower teen range during the challenging terrain.

The other news is hard to put into words. Before I got to mid New Hampshire, I was planning on going home. My body wasn’t happy. My spirit and brain weren’t in good places. I felt done. I called my mom and told her I wanted to go home. When I informed some of my close friends about my plan, immediately I was supported, and multiple people offered to come let me stay and rest with them for a week closer by to the trail so I could take some time to make my decision. However, the next day, I hiked Franconia Ridge, and fell in love with the trail all over again. I got to the hostel for the evening, my friends waiting to say goodbye, and I told them I was going to take some more time with my decision because my uncertainty wasn’t the clarity I needed to make the most beneficial decision for myself at the time. I took a zero day to rest and then the next day I did my first slack pack(hiking with just a day pack and snacks for the day) of the Kinsman with my friend Tinkerbell.  Even though it poured and we were borderline hypothermic because of the cold, we had about lot of fun. Tinkerbell and I took off the next day to finish the Whites with Mt Moosilauke, and it felt amazing to crush the last mountain and see my other friends at the shelter at the end of the night. After that I knew I couldn’t go home yet. I wasn’t done.

What I’ve realized with my stretch of not knowing what to do, or how to navigate, is that I am growing and learning so much during this experience. I realized maybe it’s not so much going home that I needed, but more so the permission and the option to do whatever I needed to do for myself, without judgment. I came out to hike the whole trail, and to this point that was my goal. But as I reflected, I began to realize my goal was no longer to hike every single step of the trail. I was making myself crazy being a trail purist, a rule follower, and I realized it was okay to start hiking my own hike in whatever fashion that looked like. For me, this meant skipping a small section to catch up to a group I felt safe with and taking an extra rest day, then a few miles when a kind trail angel offered me a ride to a local sporting goods store to sort out my shoe dilemma, and then my current jump ahead two towns to wait for my friends and rest for the next few days after a stretch of miles still feeling fatigued and unwell. My plan at the moment is to come back to these sections within the year before my start date – June 5, to finish them sometime in the Spring when I’m really missing the trail. I’ve been uncomfortable with the idea of skipping, but after the extreme fatigue I’ve been experiencing the past few days, and after a visit to the local clinic, I was told multiple days rest was necessary to the continuation of my hike.

For me, accountability is important. When people who are faster than me ask how I got ahead – I’m honest with them. Maybe I won’t return to the sections I missed, and I won’t be able to call myself an official “thru hiker” because I missed these segments of miles, and if that happens, then so be it. I’ll be honest about it. I know others worked really hard to claim that title. For now, I’m working to provide myself with options of what feels best for my body and my spirit, and I’ve been a lot happier now that I’ve given myself the permission I needed to do whatever I need to do to be in a balanced and healthy place. I’ve decided I’m going to take the trail day by day, and that my goals are focused on my mental toughness – I want to feel like the badass my friends tell me I am for hiking this far. I want to feel to the depth of my being that I can do it. I want to hike big miles and feel good, instead of crying and second guessing myself on every mountain, no matter how big or small. While I would really really like to finish, it’s more important to me to go home with this confidence that I can handle anything.

I’ve figured out how to find rides from town to town, how to navigate finding places to stay. I’ve slept on floors, couches, in huts, shelters, woods, a barn, and many hostels. To me, that’s a lifetime of knowledge. I’ve always wanted to travel, to explore. Now I know that when I want to vacation and see new places, I feel confident that I’ll be able to find my way.

I’m realizing a big part of this trip is learning how to make tough decisions about what’s most beneficial for my well being, over, and over, and over again. This is part of the reason I’m not ready to go home yet – I know I’m growing so much from these opportunities and learning how to really care for myself and do what’s best for me, not what’s best for other people. I’m still learning, but I’m glad I’ve been gifted this opportunity and I’m hoping it will help me in my future nursing career and my future in general.

What I’ve been struggling with most is finding the balance between hiking and resting, when to push and when to stop and listen, and navigating the social aspects of the trail. I’ve taken the fatigue I’ve been experiencing pretty personally, and not being able to keep up with my other friends has been hard mentally. Part of the reason I’m out here is to prove to myself that my body is well, that I can do it, and not being able to maintain a fairly reasonable pace the past stretch of miles has been challenging. I finally realized after my last trip to the clinic that rest was something I could not put on the back burner any longer, which is what led me to meeting my crew  ahead and take the next few days to recoup and wait for my test results to see if Lyme is the possible culprit for my extreme fatigue. The reality is that it may just be I’ve been pushing myself too hard, and for me it’s a hard pill to swallow. I want to be strong enough. I want to feel strong enough. I want to feel like I can do anything, like I’m unstoppable. But I also know that I started my hike after being in a period of exhaustion in nursing school – unfortunately, it may just be too much for my body. I took my NCLEX three days before I left for Katahdin and I was studying almost every moment up until my hike. I never had a recovery period or time to rest before I left. While I thought that this hike would be somewhat of a respite(I laugh at myself now thinking this), it’s been probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done both mentally and physically. I don’t regret it one bit, but it has become a part of my hike that I am learning to make peace with with and honor my body more because I know how hard I’ve been pushing myself. I also realize that even if I were to go home, the things I’m working on would still be there. I figure I might as well keep working on myself in an environment that’s fun, different, and exciting. I’m not ready to go back to the real world yet either, or to work. Because of this realization I’ve been focusing on making my hike more enjoyable. I’ve found a good bubble of people, some a few days ahead and behind that I’ve had a lot of fun with. If you know me from home, fun is a new experience I’m discovering, as I’ve been pretty dedicated to finishing school for so long that I kind of forgot how anyone would have fun. Honestly I’m not even sure I knew what fun looked like until I got to the trail!

There are so many memories I will carry with me, and I’ve laughed more than I ever have in these past stretches of days. I’m really grateful for this time I’ve been gifted, and the people I’m surrounded by. I know despite the challenges I am exactly where I’m meant to be. I am so blessed and I hope to one day move somewhere in either Maine, New Hampshire, or most likely Vermont and settle down in a cozy little home where I can become a trail angel for other hikers in need and pay it forward like so many others have done for me.

What I never expected was the outpouring of support from the locals and trail angels who have been helping me along my journey. I had heard from previous southbounder’s that trail magic wasn’t really a thing for us, but I’ve been floored with the kindness of others so willing to help and pay it forward. In Gorham I was rescued to a safe abode for a night from a kind woman named Patty and her friend Leslie. Patty carried my pack off the trail, took me home to rest and shower and figure out how to navigate the current predicament I was in. Somewhere down the the line I met Squeeky, who had to get off the trail due to injury, and he has been helping the whole crew of us out, stopping between roads with fresh drinks, helping us slack pack, he helped me get new poles after mine broke (they’re essential to my tent setup) switch out my shoes, and has offered countless rides. In Vermont multiple trail angels have been my saviors, offering places to rest, food, a ride to the clinic for medical treatment, further transportation, and just plain kindness and encouragement. I am so grateful for the love and support of the people here. I’ve gotten four different hitches to help me get around Vermont, all of the people being so kind and willing to help hikers. When I was in Hanover, so many people stopped me to ask if I was a hiker and provide words of encouragement.

While this post is a hodge podge, it’s all I could really come up with to sum up my time here. I’m working through a lot of things, and I’ve realized that’s okay. At the moment, my focus is on cultivating the joy I see in my friend’s faces as they hike, and allowing myself permission to rest and hike however I need to, because this is my vacation. This is the experience of a lifetime, and I want to enjoy it. Hiking every day has become my job, but I’m reminding myself that it’s important for me to be having fun too. I’m excited for what is to come, and I’m happy to rest for a couple days. I’m ready to feel strong and well again and get back to the woods.

Also, I ate gluten and dairy a few times and didn’t die, so my future seems to be looking good. I know it won’t be an every day thing, but it’s nice to know my body is learning to tolerate it a bit more.

Until next time, thanks for all the love and support,

Love and snap peas,

E

UPDATE:

Some of my labs came back showing low iron and albumin being the cause of fatigue – although I’m still waiting to hear about the Lyme, I’m guessing some of these deficiencies may be from adhering to a gluten and dairy free diet on the trail and not eating as much meat or veggies as I would at home because it’s humanly impossible out here. Any suggestions for those with dietary restrictions?

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Comments 8

  • Jen Chrostofersen : Jul 20th

    Emily,
    It is refreshing to read about the healthy perspective you have gained on your hike. Good for you!! I’m an RN of 23 years and wish I’d thought to thru hike the AT after nursing school. Embrace the good and the bad of this journey and I know when it’s time to trade your hiking boots for some Dansko clogs your going to do amazing things as a nurse.
    Jen

    Reply
    • Emily Elizabeth : Jul 20th

      Thank you so much, Jen!

      Reply
    • Cindy : Jul 24th

      I am a nurse of almost 40 years and plan to hike the trail when I retire in 2019. Just gotta go 🙂

      Reply
  • Ed England : Jul 20th

    Hi Emily…wow..I have wanted to hike the AT and have actually visited Springer Mt. and walked a brief 100 yds. just to get a flavor. I admire your honesty and like you, I would love to hike and be a trail Angel. How are you doing today? Ed…([email protected])

    Reply
  • Princess Bubblegum : Jul 23rd

    Hey there! I met you at Jennie’s in Hanover. Do you have any social media so I can message you directly? You and I were feeling really similar if I remember and I would love to talk to you about it. 🙂

    Reply
    • Emily Elizabeth : Jul 28th

      Hey sorry I just saw this! My instagram is Wildwom_em_hikes

      Reply
  • Cindy : Jul 24th

    Wonderful post, Emily. There’s a book I think you would enjoy, Where’s the Next Shelter by Gary Sizer. Very enjoyable read about someone who also ran into problems on the trail.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  • Tadhg Farnum Rendino : Jul 25th

    Nine-

    You are strong enough. It’s incredibly hard to find a balance between challenging yourself and making sure you still have a comfort zone to retreat to, and we have to walk that line every day out here, but I do truly believe that- you are so, so much more than just simply capable. You’re a superhero. You’re crushing it every. single. day. I’d say I believe in you, but belief implies faith with lack of proof, and I’ve got plenty of proof you can kick ass.

    I think you’re on the right track with those thoughts about your health goals being mental, not physical. Seeing incremental gains in the latter is a lot simpler than noticing their intangible counterparts, but they’re just as important, if not moreso. Second-guessing yourself can be an opportunity, rather than a stumbling block, if you can figure out how to harness it. (For what it’s worth, from what little I know about you, you’re already on your way there.)

    I’m still working my way through Vermont- can’t wait to see you again. If, you know, I can catch up. :]

    -Nil

    Reply

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