Thru hiking is full of challenges. There are the physical kinds, the mental kinds, and the challenges that push you to your limits as they are both physically and mentally challenging. We were well aware we would face these but I didn’t realize how much we would swing between them and going from highs to lows and back again in a single day would be so extreme.
On Being “Turtle”
I love my trail name but it also sums up my weakness as a thru hiker. I am always towards the back of the pack and often am the caboose by a quarter of a mile or more. I am usually the last to camp. I also struggle the most with going up any hill.
There is a bit of isolation in always being in the back, your breaks are shorter if you want to leave at the same time as the others, and even when you are only 5 minutes behind the rest there is a pressure to catch up.
Hiking in a Partnership
A marriage or relationship is a challenge in any circumstance, but the trail can add even more positive and negative sides to it. Communication is often more critical than in everyday life as are any decisions that need to be made. There also isn’t any time to be angry as the minutes after a frustrating encounter occurs there are a whole new set of circumstances that need to be dealt with. Arguments are often quick, heated, and then over instantly.
The highs together are also intense as supporting each other through tough stretches , getting to a peak together or accomplishing a milestone, and laughing together as you both realize how comically crappy a situation is while not being able to do anything about it brings you closer together.
If you have ever gone on a multi night backpacking trip you know how beyond gross you get quickly. With virtually no privacy and individual sleeping bags our relationship on the trail has morphed to one where a hand squeeze, hug, kiss, or leaning one’s head on the other’s shoulder is the closest form of intimacy tolerated. It becomes more important to make sure to take these moments and say “I love you” as often as possible. Greg also draws hearts on the trail for me to find which always make me smile, no matter the stretch, and know that he is thinking of me.
Hiking as a Parent
My relationship with Maddie hasn’t changed too much but I notice we connect more as our days are now filled with the same challenges and triumphs. I love when she comes into cuddle even if it is just because she is cold or wants a soft place to lean against. I have seen her overcome obstacles and mature more than I could of imagined but am reminded of her youth on occasions as well.
As a parent I sometimes struggle watching her tackle challenging terrain, hit her limit on long days, and see her go months without interacting with kids her age. While I firmly believe this is the best thing we have ever done I often find myself second guessing some days or wondering what she will face when we reintegrate into society.
Her endurance, strength, and wit have kept me going on more than one day while I also struggle with how much easier it is for her on some climbs and water crossing despite her carrying a full pack.
Her smile assures me frequently how we are on the right path. Her growing independence and ability to help with planning food, water, and campsites allows me to see how she will be successful no matter what path she chooses. Her humor, kindness, and love let’s me know that we also have a friendship growing as she ages. These thoughts give me the energy to hike a few more miles.
Hiking with Strangers
New people scare me. There is so much pressure in my mind to make sure they aren’t offended or inconvenienced. Although this was an issue in the beginning I find that the longer I’m out here the less I worry. What caused me so much mental stress in the early days has now become the least of my worries and that growth alone helps me save energy to hike a few more miles.
What helps me on the hard days
Some days things go wrong, some days are just physically hard, and some days I wake up and don’t really want to pack up and hike.
Having my family out here is incredibly helpful, the messages and comments from friends and family encourages me every day, and sometimes belting at the top of my lungs to my favorite songs or listening to the book I spent months wanting to find time to read is enough to get me up the next hill.
Life is hard sometimes, both physically and mentally. I have a feeling after this adventure I will be better equipped to handle both on a daily basis. For now, I just take one mile at a time.