Here She Goes Again (aka, Sorry Feet)
It feels like yesterday and like eons ago. I was bundled up in the back of our rental SUV with my parents, my grandparents, and a pack that already proudly had the Appalachian Trail hang tag zip-tied to it. My crazy, delightful family had decided they wanted to road trip with me from New England to Springer Mountain, in Georgia, and see me set off on that six-month journey. We were maybe halfway there, and I was absentmindedly scrolling through gear lists and blog posts for the PCT.
I caught myself, and I just had to laugh. I hadn’t even set foot on the AT yet, hadn’t even conquered a third, or a quarter, a mile, or any of it at all, and I was looking up another thru-hike? It occurred to me in that moment I was likely either delusional, or genuinely insane. There was absolutely nothing besides the feeling in my gut to prove that I could walk that far, for that long, under the weight of my (at that time, very heavy) pack.
The following six months proved to me that I was the latter—wildly, gratefully insane, and my love for long-distance hiking is certainly certifiable. I started a curmudgeon who swore it was just a hike, and stumbled upon a very lost part of myself somewhere between Georgia and Maine. I finished an absolute optimist and a masochist who relished the dirt, the bruised collar bones and shin bones and knee caps, the aching muscles, the blisters, the sunburn, the frigid cold, and the hundreds of miles walked in damp socks and shoes for the beauty that they’d earn my eyes, my ears, and my psyche. The Appalachian Trail guided me north with her white blazes, but even after Katahdin and the 2,190 miles before her that came and then went all too quickly, she has continued to guide me.
The realities of life and a career swallowed me back up again after I returned home, and that was OK, with the love for long-distance hiking and the mountains and the tall, quiet trees still deeply, warmly nestled inside of me. Winter was still hard, and only being able to hike for two or three days at a time was still very hard, but it was all OK. The trail, or maybe life itself maybe, continued to provide in return for hard work. People continued to impress me with their generosity and kindness, and my own resilience continued to surprise me. My feet are less calloused, but I’ve found many excuses to eat rice sides and sit around campfires with people who make my heart sing.
It was OK, but I missed the walking. I missed being hungry and tired and cold and completely contented, I missed not worrying over deadlines and whether I remembered to send that email to Jim. The PCT came into my mind again, a little wandering reminder from that long road trip to Georgia, where I left my sanity. There were a couple of days when the Pacific Crest Trail began whispering in my ear again, reminding me that I had thought of her before and that there were other paths that needed walking, but she was impatient, too. Her shouting, though, started quickly, the begging and the pleading, and it felt like I woke up one day with the plan completely made. She snapped her fingers and, hypnotized, I was sold on it. My heart and my soul were desperate to get back on to a trail and make my only focus pushing north, and north, and north again.
So, there it is. StinkyCheez will walk again in March/April of 2019, and I am excited to bring you guys along for the ride. This is going to be a very different hike. It will be my first time hiking on the West Coast. It will be my first time hiking with a partner (that’s right, folks, my lovely and equally insane significant other will be joining me on foot and in our very tight tent).
And it will be my first time hiking with a true deadline—if I get accepted in March or April or maybe even May, I will start a PhD program in late August or early September. Before I started the AT in 2017, I wrote a post about how I wasn’t thru-hiking, how it shouldn’t and didn’t matter to me if I hiked for two months or six, and how I wasn’t heading out there to walk from an arbitrary start to end. I was heading out there to walk the in-between and appreciate what I found there. That post was written from a great place, and it is a great mentality to carry with you when you hike, but it was also written out of a couple heavy ounces of fear that I just might not have it in me to get to Katahdin. I know, after the Appalachian Trail, that I do have it in me to groan and drag myself to the finish line, but that post still rings true for me. If I cannot pull off big days, skip some zeros my soul wants to take, or handle the challenges of the trail in enough time, I will have to leave the PCT without finishing. I don’t want to do that, and my stomach already gets tied in knots admitting that potentiality. Maybe I’ll skip the Sierra, do the JMT another year. Maybe I’ll pull 35-mile days from the get-go (but then I’m in the Sierra so very early). Maybe I’ll only sleep five hours a night, hike the rest of the time. I will be rereading my writing about “Why I’m Not Thru-Hiking.” And I will be reminding myself to appreciate the in-betweens, even if my future catches up with me and I cannot make it to the northern border quite in time (but you can bet your left ass cheek these little legs will be hauling 50s if the finish line and my deadline are are both closing in at the same time).
Please leave a comment below on what sort of trail-prep (and on-trail) posts you would like to see. I am planning on updating everyone on the day and weekend trips that kept me sane while waiting for the chance to thru-hike again. And, of course, there will be a gear list soon, including what has changed between the AT and why, as well as how I’ve managed to save some impressive dollars buying the gear I needed.
And, well, I’m totally, definitely not starting CDT plans, either.
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something that is remarkable and should be learned. Thank you for providing this great information.