Trail Name but No Trail Legs: First Two Days on the Long Trail
I’ll start with the good news: I found someone to hike with. In my opinion, it’s much more fun hiking with someone than hiking alone (based on my admittedly limited experience) so I’m grateful! Also, he gave me a trail name: Ivy. I think it’s pretty cool. Like ivy, I tend to hug trees.
Ups and Downs—Literally and Figuratively
On day one, I was SO anxious to get out to the trail and start walking. I’d packed everything up the night before, then woke up early, caffeinated, and drove to Williamstown, Massachusetts, to hit the Pine Cobble approach trail. My best friend came with me, mostly to drop me off and bring the car home, but she ended up hiking with me for a little while. It only prolonged the inevitable: as soon as she turned around to head back, I was Sad with a capital S. It hit me, then, how much I’d miss my friends, my family, and of course my cats, over the next three weeks.
As soon as I was alone, the inner dialogue emerged. I’m not even one of those people who usually has an inner dialogue—mine tends to be song lyrics or nothing at all! Sure enough, it turned negative. “How am I going to walk this whole trail?” or “Do I even want to do this?” Which, to be fair, are dumbass questions for a person who’s been planning to do this for months now and who aspires to thru-hike the AT someday. It just suddenly sounded so much better to be going back home for cat cuddles and Netflix!
But then, just as I was swearing under my breath about struggling up a steep incline within the first three miles of the trail, I came to the summit. I remembered that I’m doing this not only for the beautiful scenery (and it is beautiful) but to prove to myself that I can. I want that sense of accomplishment—the experience that I’ll never forget—that comes with thru-hiking. And then, I decided to hike past the shelter I’d been planning to stay at and went an additional ten miles. I was stoked, and proud of myself for my tenacity.
But That Meant I Set Up in the Dark
Luckily, I wasn’t the only one at the shelter when I arrived, headlamp on, just after the sun set. A few people greeted me and asked if I needed any help getting set up. I took them up on it; one guy hung my bear bag with his own while I hurried to set up my tent. It was starting to get really cold, and I couldn’t wait to get all snuggled up in my sleeping bag. The 15-degree bag I brought did not disappoint. It was supposedly low 30s overnight and I was pleasantly toasty.
In the morning, I made coffee and felt ready to crush miles. My ambitious goal was 18 miles, but—spoiler alert—that didn’t happen. My new hiking partner (one of the guys who stayed at the shelter that night) suggested we try for 14 since neither of us have our trail legs yet.
That Was the Right Call
My normal pace of two miles per hour hits different when those miles include elevation changes. It felt like everything we hiked today was either straight up, or straight down (although I did savor those sweet, sweet flat sections when they appeared). I much preferred the uphills to the downhills, which were steep and sometimes sketchy. I reminded myself to choose my footfalls wisely so I didn’t inadvertently end my hike early, just when I was starting to have fun.
While it was difficult, and I feel like a dumpster fire while I lie in my tent typing this, it was fun. Having conversations with someone else really minimized the mean internal monologue I developed yesterday, and I felt motivated to push through the tough parts because I didn’t want to slow him down. Although, I did leave him in the dust a few times, he admits.
Here’s to many more miles, and to not freezing in my tent tonight!
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