We go to the mountains to conquer ourselves
Restarting, it turns out, is almost as hard as starting. Some days, it seemed even harder.
Sometime around June 1, I called my white knight of a boyfriend. He had told me that if I needed time off the trail – all I had to do was call and he would rescue me. When the pain was too much to handle, I did indeed call him and he did indeed rescue me. Long story (covered in the previous post) short, I spent seven weeks off trail dealing with excruciating plantar fasciitis and capsulitis. Then I came back to the AT.
It’s true. The trail was still there. But it wasn’t the same. First – I felt like the trail had burned me and burned me brutally. After walking for weeks in pain, I looked at this dark, muddy path snaking off as far as the eye can see and couldn’t help but ask myself, “How much more pain is this worth?” Second – my trail family was, with one exception, in New Hampshire and Maine while I picked up in good old rocky Pennsylvania. Third – I didn’t know anyone around me. New bubble. New NOBOs looking at me like I’m a fraud because I just appeared out of nowhere. New trail families existing around me, outside me, without me. Finally – my trail legs are gone. Every hill seems brutal, every mile is a hard fought battle that I grapple with alone as other thrus run by with legs hardened by 1500 miles of uninterrupted hiking.
All in all, lonely and disheartening.
On the other side of the coin, my stalwart boyfriend hiked all of New Jersey with me. He made me stop to stretch, made sure I did my PT, made sure I ate even though it was 100 degrees. My hiking partner also stuck around a few days to make sure I was moving again. Though ultimately Kraig had to leave to go back to real work and Beast pushed on without me, they were two pillars of strength while I had them.
After Beast and Kraig left, I remembered the old adage, “What do you do when you get knocked down 100 times? You stand up 101 times.” So I suffered through some lonely days. I walk some days with pain threatening to creep back into the picture. Kraig talked me out of quitting several times the first few weeks back (he is the head of my support team and my indefatigable champion. Despite what I will say about my newfound independence on trail, I don’t know that I could do this without him).
But I also see now how this has and continues to make me into a better, more resilient hiker. I am meeting new people and making friends, but after having the heart-wrenching experience of having and losing a hiking partner am no longer relying on anyone to be around tomorrow or four days from now. I am throwing down my pack and pitching camp when my feet tell me to OR when I find that perfect campsite. I don’t need to meet anyone anywhere, so why shouldn’t I camp on top of the beautiful mountain as opposed to the buggy shelter?
I am testing my own endurance limits and knocked out more 20 mile days in the Greens than anywhere else on the trail. In short, I have finally become the stupidly independent solo NOBO I always wanted to be, but wasn’t sure I could be.
So yes. Injury was bad. The worst even. Leaving was terrible. Coming back was a physical and emotional roller coaster. But at the end of the day, the trail is still teaching me things about myself, my limits, and my strength. And so I keep pushing, pushing, pushing and keep in mind my favorite quote by Sir Edmund Hillary. “We go to the mountains not to conquer the mountains, but to conquer ourselves.”
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.