Halfway There & Embracing My “Why”
“Your body is strong. Your body is powerful. Your body is beautiful. Your body is resilient. You are strong. You are powerful. You are beautiful…”
These are the words I repeat to myself as I slog downhill, still 5 miles from camp and my feet screaming with every step. The combination of my beaten down shoes, hot temperatures, and some particularly rocky terrain was an unforgiving one, reigniting new blisters that had not flared since the first days on trail. Repeating these words, this mantra, has become a habit of mine. They serve as a reminder that, even on my hardest days on trail, I am out here for a reason and that I can do this.
This reason though, my big “why” for my hike, is not something I have been very forthcoming about on trail. While I have been relatively open with my family and friends about my reason for being out here prior to starting, to this date, I have only confided in 4 other hikers about it. I mean, when someone asks you what brought you to the PCT, it isn’t exactly easy to say more than “adventure!” or “a break from work!” Anything more than this feels like oversharing or too intense.
But a few days ago, as I neared the halfway mark and finished what has been by far the most mentally and physically challenging week for me on trail so far, I started to reflect on where I have been and how this has lead me to where I am today. We all have a story to tell, and owning it is an important step towards embracing who we are.
6 years before I touched the Southern Terminus, I was gearing up for another journey. This one was not nearly as exciting or picturesque as April 2022, but it would change the trajectory of my life forever. Similarly to the PCT, it began with some uneasy steps, but rather than taking them on a dirt path facing north, they were through buzzing metal detectors under the watchful eyes of a security guard.
I was being admitted to a program in a psychiatric hospital for individuals struggling with eating disorders. This would be the first (and most traumatizing) of 4 different rounds of intensive treatment for Anorexia Nervosa and the other eating disorder behaviors that would continue to haunt my life for the coming years. I would come to spend all 4 years of my college career in and out of therapy, both processing my experience being sent away to these isolating programs and also fighting a self critical voice that made me believe they were where I belonged.
And this probably goes without saying, but that mantra I began this article with, and it’s message that I’ve come to live my life by, was a distant dream. I didn’t believe that any part of me was strong, beautiful, powerful, resilient, or even deserving of love. In fact, if you had told me that I would some day be walking across the country, I wouldn’t believe it. I didn’t think healing was possible for me because I had come to believe that I would never escape from my disordered lifestyle. “You’re a poor bet” one doctor would come to tell me. “I won’t put money on your recovery.” And for a moment, I would believe her.
So what changed?
The answer isn’t simple. I could probably say I owe it to the various treatments; the therapy sessions, the different medications, meal plans, metabolism tests, and support groups. Or I could pinpoint the specific recovery victories, like when I started to fall in love with the person I saw in the mirror, or the challenges, like the time I cried at a table of friends over an “intimidating” bowl of Ben and Jerry’s. Or maybe it was that first time I went backpacking in the Smoky Mountains, when I realized how much I love walking in nature and how capable I was of engaging in endurance sports without hurting my body in the process. That when I began hiking and running in the wilderness, every single self criticism faded away and I felt truly content.
The truth is that all of these things played a role in my recovery. Over time, I found a way to put myself first and I began to treat my body with care, nourishing myself and allowing myself to enjoy movement again. And maybe there will come a time where I’ll write it all down and dive into the specifics of all these stories, but that’s not why I’m writing this blog entry.
I’m writing about these things, these fragments of my story, because despite all the ups and downs and everything in between, I found a way to fall in love with myself and my body. I also fell in love with movement in the outdoors and spending long hours in the backcountry. A switch didn’t flip to make it happen; it took years of hard work and both pushing through the hard days and also taking lessons from them. The same can be said about every single day so far on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Life often hands us challenges that push us out of our comfort zones. Out here on the trail, we expect them. One day it could be a range of things from bunch of bad blisters, the next a snow storm, then tripping over downed trees, malfunctioning gear, a heat wave, pesky mosquitos, and even coming face to face with a protective bear.
These challenges sometimes push us harder than we would like and can make one question why you’re even out here. Why not go home to the comfort of a bed, hot food, clean water, and the arms of loved ones? It would be easy. Just get off and book that flight. And for some of us, this is the right choice. Not everyone’s adventure starts and ends at the monuments, but that is okay too.
What I am beginning to realize is that this journey, similar to the one I began in April 2016, will not be easy, but this makes it all the more worth it. This may sound cheesy or cliche, but on the opposite side of the hardest moments come the happiest and most beautiful ones. Being able to appreciate the good and the bad allows us to remain humble and open to all the craziness that falls in between. And staying true to oneself and one’s story can lead a person closer and closer to where they need to be, even if it’s not what they planned.
So maybe you have a mantra you recite to yourself or a routine you follow on a daily basis. Maybe you journal or you meditate or you talk out loud to yourself. Maybe you sing songs to the trees as you walk; no one is here to judge your rendition of your favorite 80s beats.
Whatever it is that makes you feel the most whole, on or off trail, I hope you do it. And on the hard days, the days you feel like quitting and the days you feel like maybe you don’t deserve happiness or that you just can’t win in life, I hope you take a moment to remind yourself of the amazing things you have done and all the potential that lies beyond whatever hard thing you are facing. Because you will climb mountains, cross rivers, smash prs, and reach monuments. And you will laugh, cry, go on adventures, fall in love, and enjoy yourself immensely. It’s all part of the journey. This is only halfway.
This blog entry is dedicated to anyone who has ever felt unworthy of love. You are not alone.
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