I guess a better question is could I have continued? I probably could have but for how long? Other things besides my feet were also flowing through my thoughts. I had lost 30 lbs. I didn’t feel bad but others had noticed and had said so. It seemed my lack of calories effected my total miles each day. My legs seemed strong enough to continue but I didn’t seem to have any energy at the end of the day. I was trying to eat all I could but it just wasn’t enough. I estimate I was taking in 2000 to 2500 calories a day. I will need to add double that going forward. In the northern half of Shenandoah I was able to supplement my diet with burgers and fries. This seemed to help with my energy in the afternoons. My nutrition needed a reset as much as my foot. I started to take look at some other things as well.
I’d missed some important milestones in my grandchildren’s lives. This affected me more than I anticipated. My retirement had given me the opportunity for the first time to spend all summer with them as well as both of my daughters who work in the school system. As for retiring I now think that I left for this hike a little too hastily. Although there wasn’t any other acceptable option, I could have used more time to settle into my new life as a retiree.
I thought about my decision to start this journey. What was the journey all about? The injuries, weight loss, and these other concerns needed answers. I am the type of person that benefits from time and separation to evaluate things when making difficult decisions. Some experiences in life aren’t fully grasped until after the fact. The trail is one of those. Looking back at my 5 reasons for wanting to do this hike revealed some answers. These are thoughts that began on the trail and continued as I reset my journey.
#5 Challenge This was harder than I expected. The hikes I had done last year proved to be mostly for testing gear. Nothing I experienced last year prepared me for the daily mental and physical effort required to keep moving forward. The amount of ups and downs is staggering at first. Week three was my hardest and I almost quit right then. The toll on the body, not just the feet is real and persistent. Many of the aches come and go as you walk. But especially at my age you expect some discomfort throughout the day. It’s just a matter of degree and if it warrants special attention. I don’t mean to imply that hiking the AT is only about the pain to get to Maine. Many moments of each day are simply exhilarating. The body will generally recover and adapt to what is being demanded. At the end of each day when the climbs and miles are done there is satisfaction and pride in what was accomplished. The ups and downs are emotional as well. I think that is what makes this endeavor so enticing. A day on the trail can be filled with more life than a month back home. I need to process that thought some more as I reflect on the experience. I travelled 415 miles in 40 days of hiking. I feel the challenges I faced and experience gained sets me up for an even more meaningful journey ahead.
#4 Adventure My whole time hiking was filled with adventure. Every hour new people were met and even though we might have different goals for the day a comradery was understood and appreciated. The shared experience created a friendship despite few words. The scenery was always changing and new. Trail life though routine required constant evaluation as the conditions changed. Moving forward each day insured that today would be the first for something. What would that be?
#3 Relationships This is a hard one. I am disappointed because my intention was to be gone for six months and though I knew injury was a possibility, I didn’t entertain that it might actually happen. I had hoped to meet like minded people on the trail and I did. Because of how and where I chose to start this hike, many of the people I met had many more miles and experience then myself. They tended to know each other and hiked twice as many miles each day. I learned from all of them and received kindness and encouragement. Some were hiking a similar hike as myself and these I got to know really well. I also was surprised how small interactions with section hikers influenced my hike. These hikers were only out for a couple of weeks yet just by our conversations over lunch we connected. I appreciated their approach to the trail and came to see their experience as a bridge between my first backpacking trips and this attempted thru hike. Each has it’s benefits. All of these relationships were very special.
I mentioned earlier family relationships. These especially were on my mind. I knew by the end of Shenandoah I needed a break. I knew I had to leave for at least a few weeks and sort out all my physical issues. How could I accomplish all of my goals? I started to look at the positives of changing the journey.
The first thing you learn about Mindfulness is that it is intentional. Hiking insures that one stays in the present by focusing on one step at a time. It’s the next step that is most important. Then the next step becomes the present and the last one becomes the past. What is important is always the issue facing you at the moment. When hiking the mind tends to wander and this isn’t bad if there is also a constant coming back to the present. It is in the present that decisions must be made before moving on. If the past or future are littered with worry, doubt, or fear how can one make good decisions. I tried to make the decision to change my hike with these things in mind.
#1 Spirituality I hiked mostly alone with time to open my mind to what the Spirit had to say. It centered around faith and trust. There were many new experiences and possibilities that might go wrong. I worried about my pace, my capabilities, even getting lost. This happened to me several times though thankfully not for long. Water was at times in short supply. The terrain was often unsafe, it seemed a fall was only a step away. Two or three times a day an ankle turned or a foot slipped without incident. Storms presented their own set of worries and concerns. Also being alone at these times left me feeling vulnerable. Like most of life we do not have control of these things. I responded with humility and thankfulness. I leaned heavily on my faith and trust that I wasn’t alone. I felt the presence of the Spirit always with me. Jesus was there beside me reassuring and guiding me. The hours each day spent open to this message fostered a deeper understanding of the nature of God and my relationship to him. It also gave me confidence not only on the trail but direction as to what I should be doing when I go back home.
I’m still disappointed about leaving the trail but it was a tremendous experience. It touched on each of my 5 reasons for wanting to make the attempt. In fact by resetting my journey I’ll realize my goals more fully. Spend more time with my family and have an opportunity to reach out in the community and start walking my journey here at home. The trail will be there when I am ready to go again. The new plan for the trail has benefits the first one ignored. I’ll explain these in my next post. I thought of each of you while on the trail and used your encouragement along the way. Wishing you well as continue on your journey!