You can’t miss a hitch.
I’m not talking about a predetermined pickup by an angelic hostel owner who comes to your rescue at the drop of a hat (looking at you *Lucky).
I’m talking about the good old-fashioned stand on the side of the road with your thumb in the air hitch. The hitch that saves a zero-mile day from a trek into town.
Don’t get it twisted— I’ve missed a lot of things. From financial aid deadlines to an entire vacation (ask more in the comments) I’ve missed many things, but never a hitch.
I’d argue a hiker can’t miss a hitch, even if they’re like me, because of one simple fact:
It was never theirs to miss.
Not my car, not my monkeys. Is that how the saying goes?
I’ve never filled out an application to receive a ride from a stranger, nor have I pre-registered my spot in the bed of a pickup. Trail angels don’t often swipe my card before offering assistance.
When a hiker stumbles out of the woods ISO a ride to the nearest shower they don’t know if anybody will be there. They aren’t entitled to assistance. They chose to walk.
Rides are like trail magic— best when not expected. When I do have expectations (cue Diet Coke daydreamin’) the magic is rarely there.
Let’s cut to the chase—
I hopped off the Appalachian Trail.
You saw the X-rays. If you didn’t, you’re a blog post behind.
All ten toes are fine, but I discovered the repercussions that come with overcompensation.
I’m not referring to “he bought a big truck” overcompensation. I’m referring to “somebody is jabbing a fork above my kneecap with every step I take” overcompensation.
I tried to ignore my body.
I turned my trek poles into crutches. I was gifted KT tape and arthritis cream by my sheltermates. I walked backward in the rain. I prayed. I stretched. I sent my knee *positive vibes.* No dice.
I thought a few days off trail would do the trick, but my magician’s hat is seemingly void of rabbits. If we’re being honest, I can’t even locate the hat.
Hot. Girl. Bummer.
I’m cracking jokes, while simultaneously experiencing the world’s most intense hiker FOMO. (To save you a trip to the Urban Dictionary, that means Fear of Missing Out.)
- I didn’t think I’d succeed on my first AT attempt.
- I hoped I would.
- I thought I’d hike further than I did.
- I waited to write this due to my bruised ego, shame, embarrassment, and fear of being labeled as a failure.
If I couldn’t catch a ride into town it would simply be a bump in the trail. So what? I’d hike a few extra miles amongst thousands.
On the Colorado Trail, I slept through alarms, got caught in poorly timed thunderstorms, and had to rely on my tramily to drink my dirty noodle water (#LNT queen). None of these “bumps” came with shame.
Why is it then, that I don’t apply the same logic that governs the majority of my time on the trail to the very act of thru-hiking?
The first night on the AT, a hiker’s value was diminished because he failed his Pacific Crest Trail attempt.
Another hiker by the name of Rhetoric jumped in. He. Shut. That. Sh*t. Down.
He launched into an important discussion of how detrimental comments that assign “failure” to hikers can be.
Rhetoric is a comeback kid. He had to leave the AT last year mid-hike. His experience is not uncommon.
Most hikers I met on the AT were attempting their hike again.
Common knowledge stats claim that less than 25% of those who attempt the Appalachian Trail make it to Mount Katahdin.
This group deserves recognition for achieving the unimaginable. Hell, most of my personality is built around the completion of my 500-mile thru-hike.
So, what happens to the 75% of us that are labeled with a capital “F” for failure?
Who didn’t finish their hike? Who missed their shot? Who quit? Who hiked out?
Does the shame placed on the 75% lead to inclusivity in hiking communities?
Do negative mindsets around setbacks dissuade those already scared to step outdoors?
Does the residue from our “Hello, My Name Is Quitter” name tags stick to the clothes of all who read our names?
I am a self-proclaimed outdoorsy girl with a stubborn all-or-nothing mindset. Typically a setback like this would fill me with self-loathing, or I’d still be on the trail pushing myself to the point of severe injury.
My first day in civilization sucked the most. I stopped introducing myself by trail name. I was just Molly. The girl who couldn’t even make it to Neel’s Gap.
Thankfully, after a full week of intense reflection, I reached a realization.
I didn’t miss my shot. The Appalachian Trail was never mine to miss.
The thing is… the trail doesn’t belong to me. It doesn’t belong to anybody. That doesn’t change whether I’ve seen a single white blaze, or touched every tree from Georgia to Maine.
The trail doesn’t care about my StartDateTM, my tight budget, or my need to be with like-minded humans. It isn’t phased that I keep opening FarOut Guides, only to stare at my last check-in.
I didn’t pay a deposit to hold my seat. I wasn’t given the option to add cancelation insurance.
I didn’t purchase a single inch of this 2,198.4-mile-long wilderness.
I did the thing. I left my life. I tried to walk in the woods. And now, I’m in the 75%.
I dreamed of an ice-cold Fanta at Cooper Gap, only to hike miles without water. I metaphorically stood on the side of the road waving my thumb in the air, but a hitch didn’t show.
I don’t know what recovery will hold. I don’t know that my next start will lead to an end at Katahdin.
I do know that I will follow in the footsteps of Rhetoric and Bounce and countless other comeback kids. I too will crumple the label of “quitter.” My name tag still reads Tenday.
How’s that for an outdoorsy girl persona?
Say it with me:
I didn’t fail.
I didn’t quit.
The hike was never mine to miss.
*Lucky runs Above the Clouds Hostel. I can’t express enough gratitude to him and his crew. It was there that I realized I didn’t need ten pounds worth of items in my pack. And it was there I was reminded: “Don’t get your journey too wack.”
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