How Emotions Change on a Thru-Hike
Contrary to my sparse published updates on this site, I AM writing a whole lot on the trail. Instead of writing for those who want to follow my adventure, my recently writing has transpired into journaling for my own self discovery and private reflection. I’m not in an air conditioned library in Damascus, Virginia (aka “Trail Town USA”) where these thoughts from the past couple of weeks are scattered around the keyboard and monitor.
Now that I’m not sitting around the campfire with my new fern identification book, or listening to a really emotional song while hiking, or better yet, on the porch at the hiker heaven farmland and meditative retreat center called Woods Hole, the desire to write just isn’t here. The mix of emotions and alcohol and food from last night paired with the elevation isn’t helping me, and the ‘Time Remaining’ countdown box in the corner of the screen is making it all the more rushed. What I can tell you from reading back on my journal is that my highest and lowest points on the trail have all occurred so closely in time to one another. For thru-hikers, picture the elevation map of the Whites, and translate that to an emotional profile. Sometimes, it happens all in one day.
Take the bad day I had, for example. And! Before we start, let me preface this by reinforcing that Virginia is BEAUTIFUL. Don’t you dare go thinking I have some sort of Virginia blues. If anything, I am overwhelmed with just existing in a place so beautiful, and still trying to pick apart what it is about northbounders that has made “the Virginia blues” such a commonly used phrase. What happened to me was a physical and emotional struggle that could have taken place anywhere. Ok, here it goes:
I was having a rough morning. I was feeling anxious and frustrated with my own anxiety. I wasn’t in the mood to hike, which made me more frustrated because hiking usually helps my anxiety. Henri, being the supportive and loving man that he is, was talking it through with me when I brought up that a reason I’d been hiking alone during the previous days was because there were so many beautiful spots and I kept spreading bits of my dad’s ashes. It’s a weird sort of ceremonial thing that you’d think was more epic than the act of it actually is, and I was taking my time doing it alone. Vocalizing my need to be alone for this time, and knowing my hiking abilities, Henri stayed ahead of me for most of the day.
Of course this becomes the day that I roll my ankle on a downhill, trip on a rock, and fall flat on my face, smashing my knee into a rock. Pain shot up my back and into my shoulders as I fell. Instead of getting up quickly as I usually do, I remained collapsed in the middle of the trail for a long few minutes, without flesh wounds but still assessing myself for any other injuries that I may have. Now, believe me, walking from Maine to southern Virginia, you’re bound to fall a lot. There was a point where I would roll my ankle at least once a day. I tripped on a steep descent and caught myself with my face inches from a rock. I’m constantly aware that one of these little events could put me off the trail and that they could happen to any of us. For some reason, I wasn’t just aware of it but I actually felt the reality and severity of it.
I admittedly felt a bit of a perk when I came to find that it was NOT going to be the day that I injure myself enough to get off trail. This was the reassurance that I DO still love it! I got up and, as always, got to walking again. I was shaky all day, though. I was just not hiking well. I was frustrated and just wanted to get to our destination– Woods Hole. It’s a hiker hostel with five star reviews for hospitality, home cooked healthy meals, and a cozy atmosphere. By five star review, I mean that I’ve been hearing positive reviews of it since Vermont! To make it even more unique, it’s located right off a side trail in the woods.
It wasn’t until I hiked two miles past the turn off that I discovered the downside to the middle of Woodshole’s hole-in-the-woods location. Frustrated and upset, I turned around and hiked back, and arrived shaky and stressed out.
Luckily, Woods Hole is the #1 place to stop if you’re stressed out. I’m telling you, I still don’t know how I got lucky enough to end my most frustrating day there. I wish I could pick out one thing. I wish I could say it was all because of the owners, or because of the pre-meal prayer where we say what we’re thankful for, or the delicious healthy meal, or the game of cards against humanity, or the farm land that we stayed and worked on the next day, or the conversations about meditation or being an artist. It was a mix of all of those things, and largely due to my lovely trail family experiencing Woods Hole together.
Similarly, I wish I could pick one ingredient that makes a day on the trail bad. That way we could come up with a million recipes and just exclude that one thing. We could pick it out of our trail mix. The problem is that there’s not one thing. Sometimes you have to just get it out of your system. For me, this means to write about it and transcribe a little piece of it into blog form at the Damascus library. Other times, it means painting or drawing. Sometimes crying on the side of the trail feels right. Other times, talking it out is best. All we can hope is that we hold onto the one common coping mechanism we all have for a bad day: walk it off.
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