So, I’m a bit over 1700 miles into my thru hike, currently taking a day off in Killington, VT. I recently passed a sign that says there are 500 miles left to the summit of Katahdin (signs no longer say how far you’ve walked – we’re in countdown, not countup mode). Finally, after I made a recent Facebook photo post, my friends commented on the fact that I’ve lost so much weight they think I might disappear if I turn sideways.
As loyal readers of this blog well know, I am a bit slow on the uptake at times, but it has finally hit home – this thru hike thing is really, really hard (yes, I know that many of you will be saying to yourself “well, duh!”).
After months of resisting or worse yet, fighting, the demands of the AT, I have been humbled by it. The real question might be why it took so frikkin’ long to arrive at this state? Frankly, I don’t have a clue. I think it might be an accumulation of things.
In the past 2 weeks 2 hikers whom I met on trail have called it quits – they’d hiked more than 1600 miles, endured snowstorms, thunderstorms, drenching downpours, roots, rocks, steep inclines, lots of mosquitos and more. They just decided that they’d had enough. When someone you know leaves the trail at this point, it really grabs you in the gut and you wonder “am I next?”
In about 40 miles I will cross the Connecticut River and enter New Hampshire. The White Mountains and then the rough backcountry of Maine await. Most people seem to agree that this final piece is the toughest but also the most beautiful part of the entire 2,190 miles.
My attitude about the earlier parts of the trail has also changed. In a previous entry I labelled the trail builder/designer for the AT in northern PA a sadist. Well, I have rethought that. If you don’t bend in response to what the AT sets before you it will eventually break you. I now think about what the AT in previous states has taught me, in order to be able to successfully complete the whole trail. Georgia and Virginia gave me practice with really long ascents. Tennessee and North Carolina? How to do miles under adverse weather conditions. Pennsylvania? How to walk over rocks and boulders for long periods of time. And then, in succession, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont gradually put those things together with Vermont adding a lesson in how to walk in lots of mud. Of course, there was also great beauty in the outdoors in all these states. Once I realized this, I stopped fighting the AT.
I’ve stopped pushing out 12 hour hiking days to get in 20 or 22 trail miles. I’m going off trail more frequently to get to “real” food at restaurants and I am taking days off from hiking more frequently to rest up and load myself with calories. I no longer care about the arbitrary schedule I set for myself 6 months before I set foot in Georgia. And, after actively resisting hiking together on the trail, I’ve discovered that, with the right people, walking the AT at this stage with a hiking buddy has some really significant advantages.
I’m hoping that all of this means that things are coming together, and right on time, as the last stages of the hike loom just ahead. Somewhere buried in here are lessons that carry over to life off the trail as well. I hope those lessons stay with me once I’m done with the AT, whenever and wherever that may be.