Monday, October 07, 2019

Appalachian Trail: The End Of An Adventure ... (?)

My 1,893.7 mile path.
I called my first Appalachian Trail (AT) attempt in 2017 a failure.  I was embarrassed, ashamed, and full of regret.  This time I am disappointed but I'm proud of what I did accomplish and have few regrets.

The AT was not what I expected.  My body gave out.  I expected that I would get stronger and have greater stamina the more I hiked.  This seems to be far from what happened.  It seems I peaked physically after the first couple of months then plateaued before declining after Pennsylvania.  Some of the decline was due to trail conditions (i. e. rocks) but I saw little improvement after the trail conditions improved. It was a bit demoralizing not to be able to do longer days like I could earlier on the AT.  The result was my plan, which assumed me getting stronger, was too aggressive.

Next I was also surprised by my interactions with other thru-hikers.  I was hoping for a more social experience with a group of new friendships that would last for years.  That is what I got out of my first Camino.   Why would the AT be any different?  It was different.  I met many people and formed fleeting friendships but they were always a bit superficial and never ended with any long term friendship.  Sometimes it was my fault for not trying harder to participate in social situations but when I'm exhausted I often become quiet and self-isolating. This often made my hike a lonely one especially after the midpoint when the number of thru-hikers thinned out.  This can drag on a person's mental state.

Lastly there was a lack of physical contact.  During the almost six months on the trail the only physical contact I had with another human being were fist bumps (the traditional thru-hiker greeting), the occasional hand shake, a massage I paid for in Waynesboro, VA, and a hug I got from George.  This can also drag on a person's mental state.

Not everything was bad.  The parts of America I saw along the way were beautiful and varied.  While parts of the trail are the proverbial green tunnel, where there were views they almost always made me pause to take it all in.

The people I met, even if for a ephemeral moment, were always wonderful.  You rediscover that there are incredibly nice people out there looking after you.  Your faith in humanity is bolstered with every encounter.

So, why did I quit when I was so close?  It was the unexpected aspects of the AT that forced me to quit.  Me not getting stronger meant I had to add more days to my plan which pushed my arrival at Katahdin to after the mountain would close for the winter.  This was exacerbated by the shortening of the days reducing the time I had to hike.  The lack of social interaction started to push me towards depression (they say hiking helps depression ... not necessarily for me, I guess).  Spiritually ... well at times my spirit was curled in a ball rocking back and forth in the corner.  All these things were often balanced out by meeting milestones that boosted my spirit but they all reached a critical mass near the end that overcame any high I got from reaching another milestone.

Now that I'm home, I have decision to make.  Do I return and do the last three hundred miles?  Obviously the thru-hiker title is out of the question now.  If I did come back and finish it I would be a LASH (Long Ass Section Hiker) which is not a bad thing.  The problem is I know what is waiting for me in southwest Maine and I have to decide how much of a masochist I am.  The mountains of Maine are said to be similar to the Whites in difficulty.  I guess my decision will hinge on how fast bad memories fade.

2 comments:

  1. "I hiked the Appalachian Trail!"

    That's it. You did it Bruce, and even if you ended it a little sooner than planned, you did it! This is an amazing accomplishment! AMAZING! You are awesome!

    I mean, LOOK AT THAT MAP. You're frinking awesome.

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