Unpacking Failure After An Early Exit
My 65-liter Ariel Osprey has been leaning against the dining room table since last Wednesday night. I don’t know what finally convinced me to call my dad, whether it was the incessant, taunting buzz of the flies above the mesh in my tent, the thought of shoving my destroyed feet into unforgiving boots again, or the fact that I couldn’t sleep horizontally because the pollen stuffed my nose up so much that it was painful and disgusting to lay my head down.
It isn’t easy to admit that I failed, that I won’t be summiting Katahdin this year, that the dream I once held so dearly is over, at least in part. My decision came down to a simple choice: continue hiking, likely despising one of my most beloved pastimes by the time I made it to Maine, or dissolve a dream that has served as the cornerstone to my identity for three years. And seeing as I have another (hopefully) 60 years to hike the remaining 1,300 miles of the trail, it seemed like a no-brainer.
I keep telling myself this, in the hopes that it will make me happy, or at least content with my choice. I’ve spent the better part of the last week wallowing. I’ve cried and I’ve stared down that red bag in the dining room. I’ve willed it to disappear or perhaps convince me that I didn’t really want to quit. I’ve watched as people I follow on Instagram rack up the miles, passing milestone after milestone, while I sit at home and watch reruns of “Jersey Shore.” (Side note: watching 23-year-olds get super plastered and act extremely foolish can be cathartic at this particular juncture in life.)
From the outside looking in, I have had a lot of success in my life. I graduated from college early with a great GPA and job prospects, I have family and friends that love me dearly, and I was taught the importance of self-reliance and determination by the strong women who surround me. But the trail was supposed to be a different kind of success. It was supposed to show me how strong I am, how brave, and how the skills on my resume are only a part of my whole package.
It’s hard to say that my experience did all of that, because I’m not sure that it did. I know that I can climb mountains for days (two months and four days to be exact), that I can survive in temperatures that don’t average above freezing, that I love listening to full albums, that hearing a creek while waking up can be a healing sound, and that I will probably laugh at the absurdity of being a human-sized prune in a thunderstorm. Do I include strength, bravery, and confidence in that personal reflection? It’s hard to say in this moment.
But one thing that I have learned, without a doubt, is that I know who I am and what I want. I may not be able to hike 2,200 miles in one go, but I know that I was bold and audacious enough to try. I put too much stock in what others thought before I started this trip, but by making the decision to stop hiking, I found that I threw away any idea of what people might say or think. There may be people that are disappointed in me or think less of me for this failure, but honestly, when did they ever hike 800 miles? I am proud of how far I came. I am proud of my determination and guts. I am proud to have failed, and that I get the opportunity to fail again at something else soon, because at least I will know that I tried.
I did not achieve everything I set out to do, not even a fraction of it. But what I found out there, among the trees, turned out to be just what I needed.
Until next time,
And with all the money I saved up for the trip that I didn’t use, I just booked a trip to Mexico. I’m sure I’ll get over my melancholy while I’m scuba diving with sea turtles and drinking margaritas by the pool.
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