Velocity and Friction: Thoughts on Postponing My Thru-Hike

Before starting, re: this coronavirus situation: I want to send my love, hope and compassion out to all of you, particularly to those struggling with health and finances. I want to express my deepest gratitude to those in the health care industry, as well as to those in other industries supporting our response to the pandemic. If this situation made me feel anything about the trail, it’s that my plans feel minor in comparison to the struggle of others. I offer my thoughts below as additional perspective for those reconsidering thru-hike plans. I do not intend to minimize the greater and deeper impacts this virus is having.

The trail community is a beautiful place. Let’s support one another, band together as a community, country, and world to fight this thing. OK. Back to the article.

Sometimes, you’re on a yellow, plastic slide; it has the gloss and sheen of a never-before-touched surface, engineered so skillfully you can’t believe how fast you’re moving down it. There are changes in the incline, some slight, some so severe you feel a drop in your stomach as it steepens, at points almost becoming vertical. It’s thrilling, maybe a bit scary. You can’t believe how smooth this ride is. You run your fingers along the sides and still don’t seem to slow.

Other times, you’re on a rubber slide. Who the F makes a rubber slide? you wonder. You scoot downward, skidding the skin on your thigh in the process; it leaves a red mark. You think about rolling down the slide instead; you think about climbing back up. Maybe the slide was yellow and awesome just before this. Who uses rubber and plastic on the same slide? What the heck is going on?

Isn’t that the question we’ve all been asking recently: What. The. Heck?

I hiked near my mom’s place yesterday, finding my feet on Colorado soil instead of the Georgia soil I’d been expecting. I had a flight booked to Atlanta that morning and fully expected to be starting my NOBO thru-hike today. However, at the request of the ATC, I decided to postpone my thru-hike until further notice.

As I walked, trying to make sense of the current coronavirus situation in my head, I started thinking about two things:

Velocity and friction.

It’s been my observation that to pretty much anything I am experiencing at a given moment, I can attribute levels of velocity and friction. It’s what I think of as emotional physics, of sorts.

Low-to-negative velocity, high friction: A job opportunity I fought tirelessly for, but didn’t get. A relationship I tried to “make work,” but still ended in something like defeat and a whole lot of sadness. Trying to make myself like celery many times, to little avail.

High velocity, low friction: A travel plan that, even with its many moving parts, seems to “come together nicely.” A friendship where even difficult conversations seem to happen easily and compassionately. Trying to make myself like chocolate (negative friction, too much avail).

If you started reading this article, hoping I would opine on the best materials for playground structures, you will be sorely disappointed (stop reading now). More likely, you’ve figured out the slide is a metaphor.

Sometimes in life, we are on the fast, yellow plastic slide, where everything moves smoothly; other times, we are on the rubber slide, and it seems despite our best efforts, a given thing just doesn’t seem to “go right.”

I’ve often been a slide fighter, scrambling my way up the plastic slide or tumbling my way down the rubber one, most often doing so when things aren’t going the way I want or expect. This is tempting, isn’t it? After all, life is certainly not meant to be frictionless and the most important things require effort and some scrape-y red marks. 

However, I have also observed something else. Amid these emotional physics, life seems to have a way of pulling us down particular slides, no matter what. Maybe they aren’t yellow (though they should be; it’s the best color), maybe they aren’t slides we knew existed. Maybe we hate that we’re on the slide.

I know the coronavirus situation has impacted many trail plans, which is heartbreaking to all of us who have planned and sacrificed for this experience. I don’t have recommendations for what you should do, whether you should slide fight or not. What I will say is this:

Sometimes, after I’ve been resisting gravity, arms and legs pressed against the plastic ridges to my sides, I decide to kick up my feet instead and see where the slide takes me. Those have been some of the best rides.

I am not leaving for the trail now, though I am hopeful I will still be able to leave sometime this year (whether NOBO, flip-flop, or SOBO) and equally hopeful it will be even more epic than what I had originally planned.

Wishing safety and health to all of you and that whatever your trail experience becomes, you enjoy it. It is a slide, after all 🙂

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Comments 2

  • Marcia Powers : Mar 19th

    Brilliant and heart warming post! Thank you.
    One of the take-always from hiking is life lessons most of which we didn’t expect or know we needed to learn. You haven’t stepped on the trail yet but shared a lesson of compassion (first paragraphs) and acceptance (slide metaphor). You are a hiker that I would love to hike and talk with.
    Marcia Powers…GottaWalk (around my neighborhood park)

    • Becky Lehmann : Mar 19th

      Thank you, Marcia! Very kind words. Grateful this crazy situation hasn’t robbed us of going outside and doing day hikes/walks/runs 🙂


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