I’m going to take a little hiatus from the day-by-day play-by-play to give a little insight and some musings into some of the things I’ve learned and felt during my Appalachian Adventure.
I did an entire post on this already, but everyday I feel so much gratitude: for this beautiful world, for my friends and family’s support, for my new friends and strangers that help me on the trail, for my eyes that allow me to see all of this beauty, for my strong body that allows me to get into these far off places. There are so many things to be grateful for! I do believe this level of gratitude has changed my life.
Along with gratitude, it feels so good to give. I can’t explain how little things go such a long way out here. Giving someone an extra cliff bar, a half sandwich, or a little uplifting encouragement talk goes a long way in turning a bad day into a good one. Most people out here are extremely generous, and it’s very contagious. It feels great to be surrounded by like-minded people. I just want to walk around and make everything better for everyone. I know that isn’t realistic in the real world- but I know I will still try.
I have a lot of philosophical moments. They usually occur when I’m struggling the most, and I always see a way that struggles out here reflect struggles in real life. I have a lot of time to think, and with all of the clutter of daily life and “little things” out of the way, a lot of really deep thoughts take over.
I’m exhausted. A lot. I still thoroughly enjoy most days, but exhaustion is a real part of each day. My feet are unrecognizable, it’s super hot, and water has become hard to come by. Dehydration makes me crabby, and I recently got to a point of exhaustion where I needed to take a break from the trail. I didn’t want to quit (although it definitely crossed my mind), but I knew I needed a break to keep myself from becoming miserable and losing the joy of the hike. Some people pass judgement on this and feel you shouldn’t have to “take a break from your break”. I don’t think I’m here to suffer and make myself miserable, so I’m going to do what I need to do to keep my body, mind, and spirit heathy and happy.
Even a loner can feel lonely out here. I don’t say this for sympathy, but only to be realistic for anyone considering tackling the trail. I love being alone because I can leave when I want, stop when I want, etc. I did travel with a group for a day or so, and I found that I was terribly impatient and inflexible. I’m still alone 90% of the time and haven’t found my “trail family”. I meet a lot of new people, but I don’t “connect” with many of them- and I would say this is very reflective of my real life. I’m reserved and don’t like to be vulnerable, which isn’t exactly the best way to form relationships. I’m working on it.
If you have read any blogs about the trail, you will have noticed that a lot of people have to quit because they run out of money. I read this myself and thought “Not me, I’m a couponer!”. It’s really easy to blow a budget. I’ve already gone through 4 pairs of hiking shoes, which has been a large part of my spending. I’ve also had to replace a few gear items, but the main money pit is definitely entering a town.
Many towns are far from the trail and require a paid shuttle back and forth. Some places charge you to pick up your mail. Sometimes the weather is so bad that the call of a hotel/hostel/motel is simply too strong to ignore. I’ve also found that 4-5 days is about the max I like to go without a shower and laundry. Some places will allow you to shower and laundry for a fee without staying the night. I realize life in the woods comes hand in hand with being dirty, but I prefer cleanliness when I can get it. Remember, I only have one outfit to wear hiking and one to wear to bed- so the stank is real. I also only have two pairs of underwear, so you do the math on that!
But I think where I have lost all will power in town is on real food. I made my own trail food, and I still enjoy it- but there is nothing like the draw of a giant fresh salad, fruit, a burger and a beer in town. My hiker hunger has finally arrived, and I usually find myself wanting a second dinner. In small towns it is easy to spend over $20 per meal- even being frugal. And instant coffee sucks- so when I get to town I always want a coffee. And a refill 🙂
Town days aren’t really what I thought they would be, and they actually give me a little bit of stress. I thought it would be all relaxation and a chance to get caught up with my friends and family back home, but they really are just “chore days”.
As I mentioned, with the exception of a few towns that the trail crosses straight into, I have to find a ride or walk far from the trailheads. Then I have to pick up my resupply package- which I often have to time out correctly before places like the post office close. Laundry, shower, food, and then finding a place to stay. By the time these chores are through it is often hiker midnight and time to get everything packed and ready to head out the next morning. There isn’t nearly as much free time as I expected- often there is no free time at all.
It’s also very strange to re-enter the world full of fast moving vehicles. One of the most overwhelming things for me is when I enter a store- there are so many things! So many choices! So much food!
It’s hard to blog-
See above about town days. I rarely have service, and when I do it’s often spotty. Right now I’m in a “town” and there is a little wifi but no cell service.
Minimizing and Freedom-
Like I said, I have the bare minimum of clothes, food, and luxury items. I love it. Within the first month I realized how freeing it is to stop worrying about all the clutter of “needing” things. For example, before I left I was becoming obsessed with expensive skin care, workout clothes, and my weight. I’ve been washing my face and body with a teeny tiny bottle of Dr. Bronners soap for 2 months now and my face hasn’t fallen off. I’ve been wearing mainly the same clothes; no one else cares and it’s freeing to not have to stress about what I’m going to wear and how I’m going to look. And, although it physically hurts me to admit this- I have lost weight 😂😂 But even before I realized it, I stopped caring and worrying about how much I weighed. And no one else cared either. Beginning to release myself from judgement of others and judgement from myself has freed me. The trail is not a completely judgement-free zone; one girl in particular passed judgement on me for wearing a bra and shaving. Although I’m not sure why my choices on those matters affected her, her judgement didn’t alter my decisions in any way.
Of course, when I go stinking it up in town I still feel quite self-conscious. But I love that most hikers don’t give a crap what I look or smell like and still like me anyways.
I’ve also realized how much fear of judgement has dictated my life choices. I’ve made a lot of decisions based on what I think other people want and expect me to do. Sometimes I still do it here, but I’m also really breaking free and being more of myself and making choices based on what I truly want. This is another reason that it’s hard for me to assimilate with groups of other hikers.
Although I have had some injuries, for the most part my body feels great. In the real world, I have had persistent back pain since I was a teenager. I was worried carrying a 30lb pack would exacerbate that, but I have had almost no back pain AT ALL since I started. I also have a ton of allergies and usually take meds at least twice a day- I am down to once a day here and sometimes I even forget to take it at all.
The biggest problem I have is running out of breath going up the mountains, and I give myself a break and recover quickly. There are times when I stand at the base of a mountain and think “You’ve got to be kidding me”, and once in a while I feel like there is no way I can possibly make another ascent. But I have finally found that little place where I think I have nothing left and I “Dig deep” and find a little bit more steam to get me through. I do get sore and my feet are still indescribably hideous, but overall I feel amazingly strong.
Inability to Relate-
There is absolutely no way that anyone can relate without going through this. It can be appreciated, but not fully understood. I can tell you how sweaty and stinky I am, how hard a climb was, how beautiful a sunset was, but without being here there is no way to fully understand. I don’t say that to be condescending in any way, it’s just a truth and a wish that everyone could feel and see all of these things.
It also came to my attention that there are people that can’t understand why I go to towns “so much”. Another thing that’s hard to understand without being here, but I’ll refer those folks to the paragraphs above. I didn’t mean to convey that I would be living in the woods 100% of the time for 6 months, and I am truly sorry if that was somehow misconstrued.
I’m also beginning to have a difficult time relating to things back home. I mentioned this above a bit in the minimizing- but it’s really hard for me to care about the “little things”. I’m really worried about how I will fit back in to normal life, and I’m not sure I want to. And I still have 4 months to go!
Please don’t take offense to the following paragraph. I don’t want to hurt any feelings, but I want to describe my own feelings for you.
I love that Cheryl Strayed opened the doors for many women to get outdoors, however her journey is not my journey. I get asked all of the time if I am “doing Wild”. I am not doing Wild, I am on my own journey. I understand that Wild is something that people can relate my trek to and that most people (especially my friends at home) mean it as a compliment, but no one asks the males out here if they are doing Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”. It’s almost like throwing me in a pigeonhole for being a female. Although many have walked this path, I’m not following in anyone else’s footsteps.
Before I left there was a lot of discussion about fear for safety in the woods, and of course being a female. So far, I have never had any fear for my safety, and I believe that if anyone tried to harm me on the trail other hikers would not allow it. I haven’t had any negative encounters in 2 months- when I walk 2 blocks in Minneapolis or Detroit I get heckled and approached by at least one person. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more safe and secure than I do out here.
I’ve always been a planner. I like to know what’s coming. I like to know what I’m getting into and have at least two backup plans. The impossibility of this level of planning on the trail is indescribable. There is always a new and unexpected obstacle. Although I still have a stubborn level of inflexibility, it isn’t close to the magnitude of when I began my hike. I’m slowly easing up and rolling with the punches instead of punching back. I’m writing this post as I sit waiting for a ride- I just received a message that the ride is going to be at least 4 hours late. 4 hours is half a day of hiking! Normal Trish would be panicking and looking for a new ride. Trail Trish is grabbing another coffee while I wait.
Anyone can do this!
There are people of all ages, shapes, and sizes out here. There is a trail saying “Hike your own hike”, I’ve heard it used in two ways. The first is pretty negative and reminds me of the connotations of the southern saying “Bless your heart”. I prefer to always think of it in the other way, the way in which it means my current favorite mantra “You do you!”. Do it your way, do what’s best for you, and enjoy it. If you want to do this hike you can, and there are a million ways to do it and none of them look the same. You can Yellow blaze, aqua blaze, stay in all hostels, or spend every night on the trail. If you are thinking about doing it and want to know more, message me and I’ll give you the nitty gritty. You do you!