Mental Toughness & The Good
From my first day to today, my sixth day, a lot has changed. Every day I’ve felt myself getting stronger, getting accustomed to carrying my life on my back. I’ve been steadily increasing mileage, achieving my goal of adding 2 miles a day until 20 miles/day. Some things haven’t changed, though. Every day is a challenge. Every day I have to push my body to its limit and past that. I still have doubts. It’s hard not to compare myself to others. I know I should listen to the oft-repeated mantra hike your own hike, but when people pass me I question myself, question everything. The blogs I’ve read and the books like Thru-hiking Will Break your Heart, rarely talk about how hard this is. Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild did but that was in the ‘90’s- the gear was heavy and has come a long way since then, she wasn’t physically prepared, and it was impressive for a women to be on a solo hike back then, period. I consider myself an athlete. I’ve always been fit and done sports but I’ve also been working really hard this past year on my rugby game and program in the gym. I didn’t expect it to be quite this difficult. I’ll see anywhere from 6-20 people per day on the trail. We’ll chat during breaks or hike small portions with each other until our paces differ. Most of the others thru-hiking make it look easy. Is it not hard for them? Do they have to constantly adjust their pack from hurting their shoulders to hurting their hips? Do they need to sing in their head to distract from the aching in their feet?
In the desert the weather has ranged from extremely hot and unforgiving to cold, windy, and hailing. The nights have been freezing. I saw snow on the ground near Mt. Laguna and several mornings there was frost on the outside of my tent when I woke up. Pushing through these conditions have required a great deal of willpower and I find myself caught up in the moment and forget to appreciate this experience and find the upside.
I am so fortunate to be able to do this thru-hike. What a luxury to be able to not work for 5 months. This is a huge cost and I am well aware that this is inaccessible for most people. Yes, my body hurts and I have various injuries I’m working through, but physically, I can do this. Many can’t. I get to live every day outside and experience the might of the wilderness. I get to be away from the stress of every day life. I get a break from media and the internet, of being constantly connected. I get to see incredible, awe-inspiring views. I get to start my morning looking out at a sea of mountains that seem to go on forever, and by the late afternoon I get to be on other side of that mountain range- smelling the sagebrush, listening to the chirping of birds, and marveling at the resilience of the cacti in the meantime. I’m doing physical exercise that’s good for my body. Although it’s hard, there are moments throughout the day where I feel strong and am overcome with happiness. The sunrises are delightful and the sunsets are simply stunning. On the rare nights where I decide to brave the cold after sunset I get to see the stars, completely free of light pollution. Those are probably my favorite moments of this journey so far. I absolutely love a good star-gazing- where the sky is a deep dark blue and provides excellent contrast for the stars. Because of this the sky is bursting with stars, many more than a city sky, and the starry sky forms a full bowl, stars coming down to the ground on all sides. I remember one night when the stars were particularly gorgeous and I was camping alone, having pushed past the town others had stopped at so I would meet my daily mileage goal. I was in a beautiful clearing of trees and reveled in the solitude and all the gifts nature was providing me.
With all this physical exertion and extreme conditions, you appreciate the little things. The tuna in my lunch each day is like a feast. Taking my shoes off at the end of the day is heaven. Slipping into my sleeping bag as the chill of the evening is setting in is the most delicious, comforting feeling I can imagine right now. After day six, I had made it 77 miles to Scissors Crossing, and had adjusted my plans to take the next day off in the nearby town of Julian. That night, my first shower in six days was the best shower of my life. The strawberry-rhubarb pie at Mom’s Pie House on my “zero day” the next day was the best pie I’ve ever had. Small acts of kindness, like an unopened water bottle sitting at a trail marker in a particularly dry section, are now the most heroic gestures. My days are full of beautiful moments and I am happy.
The sun is setting on my day off in Julian. Time to hitch a ride back to the trail and start refreshed tomorrow morning. I have so enjoyed my much-needed recharge here, but am eager to get back and for my adventure to continue.
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