What I Didn’t Expect

I expected to lose a lot of toenails out here (but I haven’t actually lost any!!!!). I expected to be really lonely and nervous and scared (all which are feelings I’ve rarely experienced on trail). But there are so many things I didn’t expect… Like acquiring a strange interest in country music. It started when I downloaded a country playlist to feel patriotic on the Fourth of July, and now I have country music hour everyday. This trail is doing strange things to me. Some are a lot weirder than country music hour.

Physical Changes

Off trail, I wore size 9 normal shoes and size 9.5 running shoes. My second pair of trail shoes was a size 10, and now I’m wearing a size 10.5! I think walking so much flattens them out + blisters + swelling = I might turn into big foot. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in someone else’s body because it keeps changing so much. My tan lines are so crazy that by looking at the color of my stomach versus the color of my arms, you’d think I was two different people. My hair has so blonde streaks. My legs are all hairy and muscley. One time, I ate two heaping plates of greasy American-Chinese food at a buffet plus lots of ice cream. I weighed myself 30 minutes later, and the scale still said I’ve lost 10 pounds. That was back in the desert and I’ve been making it a priority to eat way more these days, but it still seems almost impossible to carry enough food to overcome the calorie deficit.

Mental Experience

Despite all the physical stimulation on trail and the explosion of endorphins, this trail is even more of a mental experience than I expected. When I first started, it was hard for me to think about anything that really meant anything. Now this trail is my normal life, so I have to think about more. I’m hiking with my friend Carolyn (AKA “Beekeeper”) right now. Maybe it’s because I’m hiking with her: someone who is absolutely brilliant and hilarious to chat with. Or maybe it’s because after 1300 miles, I need some more mental stimulation. But these day, I’ve been thinking so much. I feel like I’m learning something new about myself everyday. No huge revelations or anything, nothing that’s changed my life – but I’m confident I’m a better person than I was two months ago. Beekeeper and I spent an entire day talking about our flaws, which turned out to be pretty depressing, so then we talked about our strengths for hours too. We’ve spent more hours talking about our families, childhoods, friends, relationships, religion, the legal system, future goals, immigration, politics, dream meals, even the purpose of life. Not all of our conversations are that meaningful though. One day we spent nearly an entire hour talking about breakfast in bed.


The first time I had to pee on trail, I made sure no other hikers were near me, and I hid behind some bushes. Now I don’t even think to look if hikers are around, and I just squat right beside the trail. It seems absolutely crazy to wait in a line for the bathroom when in towns. The lack of privacy is so normal now, and I didn’t expect how quickly I’d adapt to the thru-hiker lifestyle. Hitch-hiking is the first (and usually only) mode of transportation that I think of. I would never even consider eating less than five meals a day. I take so many naps in the dirt. I casually introduce myself as “Hot Fudge” like it’s as normal as “Jackie.” (This led to an awkward encounter when we camped with some forest service rangers. “What did you say? Hot Fudge????” They just stared blankly before bursting into laughter).


I talk and write about this all the time, but I don’t think I will ever get used to how much kindness is out here. So many good humans!!! I’ve never met so many selfless individuals in my life. Three separate times in three separate towns, people have insisted on paying for my meals. People will walk up to us and ask if we need help with anything regularly in towns. Yesterday, I ran into trail magic twice. Once right before the Oregon border where a group was restoring an old cabin that one of the angel’s grandfathers had built in the 1930s. They served us waffles, hot dogs, beer, juice, chips and salsa and homemade cookies. And they insisted we pack out Oreos for the later. Then, a mile later and right after the border, two women fed us fresh cherries and clementines. Today, a man with stage four cancer insisted on giving us a ride to the UPS store and wants us to call back for rides later today. I’m so overwhelmed with all the goodness. I really don’t know what to do with it all. I hope I can learn from it, and even adopt just an ounce of the goodness I’ve experienced so I can pay it forward and pass it on in the future. By the end of this trail, I’m going to be so happily, overwhelmingly, fortunately full of all the goodness people keep giving me.

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