What you’re about to read are the rantings of a crazy person. whether this is tl;dr to you, to me it is an account of why I keep trying. This is my way of sharing with myself what’s going around in my head and where I’m at.
I’m sane to a degree in most facets of my life, but where the crazy person emerges is my never ending quest to hike the Appalachian Trail. It’s that time of year when I will attempt once again. Why am I doing this to myself? Most people would either succeed or give up – but not me.
To understand the why, I need to look back how I became obsessed with the Appalachian Trail (AT for short). Growing up as a kid in Saskatchewan, I never enjoyed the outdoors. My dad would basically force my brother and I to go fishing and hunting with him. Into my 20s, 30s and 40s, I still had never spent time outdoors camping or hiking.
I did enjoy jogging in my 20s and 30s, probably stemming from my time in the military when jogging/running was a daily thing. Being forced to wear a pack and run with a rifle isn’t what I’d call hiking, but it was good exercise.
My job during my 30s and 40s allowed me to play golf with clients 3-4x a week. Most of the time we’d be driving around in golf carts. Only exercise we got was looking for our tee shots in the bush or walking on the green.
My interest in hiking began when I read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayd. The author had had a rough life both growing up and a drug addiction. The turning point in her life was when she walked into an REI (US based outdoors store similar to MEC in Canada). She decided she was going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT for short). The book is a wonderful story of her challenges hiking 2,650 miles which runs from the Mexico/California border all the way north to the Washington/British Columbia border. And she did it!! The book was so successful it was turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon won an Oscar for best actress.
I remember sitting and thinking: could I ever do something like that? Would I like hiking and spending time outdoors even though I’d never done it.
Thanks to John being so understanding and encouraging, he said why not. The ball was in motion. Before I could consider backpacking, I had to buy gear. I did a bit of research and visited a few outdoors stores in Ottawa. After a few weeks I had my gear and was ready to head out.
My very first solo backpacking trip was Algonquin Park. My plan was to hike a backcountry loop that would see me hike 30km. Looking back, it may not seem like much now, but back then 30km over a couple days was a lot. And, adding to the hike was carrying a 48 pound backpack.
I laugh because what I know now versus then is night and day. Back then, I thought I needed 8 days of food for 4 nights. I thought I would need a fishing rod, hatchet, hammock and a short wave radio to name a few items that were totally unnecessary. I still remember that feeling leaving my car, throwing the backpack on and beginning my hike.
Then, the reality set in when I was facing my very first uphill climb. I can still remember thinking how out of shape I was. I continued on and spent the next 5 days having a great time. Driving back to Ottawa, I knew I was hooked. I knew I wanted to hike more. I also knew that if I wanted to hike more that I would need to revisit my gear. Everything I carried was too heavy.
Most of 2018 saw me pouring over websites, YouTube, gear review guides, blogs, Facebook…anything and everything that would help me lower the weight on my back.
Flash forward to my upcoming attempt, all my research has paid off as I carry approximately 13 pounds – without food and water. For a 4 night trip, I’m carrying about 22 pounds – so half of what I carried my first backpacking trip. That makes a huge difference.
So, I have the right gear, I’m relatively healthy for my age. It begs the question as to why I haven’t hiked longer or further on the trail. There are a lot of keyboard warriors (people who sit behind their computer and judge) out there. I got off Facebook and deleted my account because of the toxic environment. I’m a big believer in “you only fail if you don’t try.”
When I first considered the Appalachian Trail in 2019, I knew it’d be hard. Coming from northern Ontario in winter, nothing prepares you for climbing mountains day one. Living off grid as we do, I don’t have the luxury of a gym, or stairs, or a mountain to train on. It sounds like excuses, but when I think of other people who can get on a stair master, or go out for a day hike, I’m jealous.
Sure, I could look back at my attempt in 2019 and dwell on failing. Instead, in my mind, I see myself having travelled from the bush to Atlanta to the start of one of the greatest hiking trails in the world. I stood atop Springer Mountain to begin. I hiked 8 miles the very first day, which for me was beyond what I thought I could do.
And sure, I did quit early. I came home feeling ashamed and felt I let everyone down. I had a few negative comments thrown my way, but I buried those deep and was down for a few months. Somehow I let it get to me.
And last year, I attempted again…and failed. But this trip was an eye opener. I hiked further than last time which is not saying a lot. Am I happy I quit? Heck no. Will I come back? Yep.
So here we are – 2022. I’m 3 months away from trying again. This time, I’m feeling different. More confident. I’ve lost 19 pounds which should make a big difference. My pack weight is lighter by a few pounds. And, I don’t have the problem with plantar fasciitis as I did last time. Now I have orthotics and my feet feel great.
I think the reason for me for wanting to keep trying is I foresee a day finishing the trail. I feel I need something in my life that I can look back on as an achievement and that I overcame something. Maybe I want to hike to shut down the naysayers who question me and suggest I just give up. No, I’m doing this for me.
So unlike last year where mentally not strong, I feel much different. More confident. Healthier. Lighter. But still crazy 😏