Lately, in between washing cars, filing taxes, and tying up a dozen other loose ends, I’ve been thinking about the mental element of hiking. On the way to Maine, we will encounter cold, hot, wet, dry, sweat, blisters, dirt, and ticks. And even if none of these scourges were imminent, we will navigate our own shifting moods. In my experience (and, from what I’ve read, in others’), a good attitude is as important as physical strength.
Yet, here are a few pre-trail facts to consider.
1. I am a wimp. When presented with the option of either a warm, dry, fluffy bed, or a chilly, cramped tent with a rainy walk to the “bathroom,” I confess that I lean towards the first choice. I don’t like pain, or even discomfort.
2. My toes are a mess. They are prone to athlete’s foot, resistant to the kindest fondling and rubbing in of creams and ointments and tea tree oil. They suffer from Raynaud’s phenomenon, in which the slightest damp breeze (to say nothing of total and repeated submersion in cold rivers and muddy puddles) causes my toes to instantly turn to numb, white chunks of ice and not thaw out without several hours spent buried in a sleeping bag, even if the rest of my body is warm and even sweating. These issues are physical, but even so they may make keeping a strong attitude a bit more difficult.
Oh… and my kneecaps ain’t so fabulous, either.
3. When encountering any challenge, be it scrambling over a splintery log or unzipping an ornery zipper, I’m obnoxious. I complain, whine, get hot-headed, and cuss like a middle-school student. (That is to say, frequently, loudly, and with an emphasis on the scatological.) I live in the moment, and so any struggle seems that it will be eternal, and I’m not one to keep my woes to myself. In short, I can be a bit of a buzz-kill.
So how am I ever to do this? Well, I’m foolish enough to post several hypotheses before even setting foot on Springer Mountain.
1. I’ve set myself up for success. These are the words of a former art professor. Kevin would despair at our cheap canvases, paint and brushes. “Set yourself up for success!” he’d shout. “The good stuff may cost more now, but your results will be better later.” To that effect, here’s what I’ve done. Using FutureMe.org, a website that allows a person to send oneself emails into the future (but not to edit or view them after writing them), I’ve written myself twelve notes of encouragement and love, mental care packages, to be delivered at random intervals along the trail. And I loaded my mp3 player with my favorite music, and will not have it sent to myself until (or unless) I find myself antsy, discouraged, or in a rut.
2. I am not the type to say “Yes, I WILL hike the entire trail.” There are greater forces swirling around in the world, and it seems dishonest to plaster a self-centered assertion over top of them and assume they will cooperate. But I’m stubborn. I trained for, and ran, a marathon. I tend not to quit. When a serious problem arises, I can tap into a small reservoir of grace and courage.
This doesn’t mean I will cease to be irritable (or irritating). There’s always going to be bullshit, and mistakes will be made constantly. Things will be lost and destroyed. And I may be a grump, but I will keep walking.
3. This is a pilgrimage. It’s a spiritual journey. My higher power will be with me all the way. And in fact, I’ve already begun hiking it. We started years ago, when we began gathering equipment, saving money, and hiking every weekend. It’s all the Trail. The trip from Montana to Georgia through ice and wind was the Trail. A person’s life is a trail, and the Appalachian Trail is a trail within it. It’s manifesting what it is to be alive as a human on earth.
I have always loved to walk, the rhythm of it, seeing outside myself, exploring, learning, taking in the smells and sights and energies. And now I’ll be doing this with my traveling companion, my love of nearly nine years. There is so much to learn. These are my deepest motivations. They are powerful.
Maybe I’ll look back on these hypotheses later and laugh. As long as I also learn, I don’t mind eating my words. Who knows, maybe by Maine I’ll even be able to rebut a couple of the first three “facts” contained in this post. For now, I won’t dwell further on the challenges to come. They’ll come. So today, I’ll enjoy that warm, fluffy bed, the company of family and friends, and short hikes with my sweetheart in this beautiful, temporarily barren country of longleaf pines, rolling foothills, the Trail of Tears, and the present moment.