I’m now a week removed from the Appalachian Trail, and wanted to write down my final thoughts about the AT experience as a whole before I get too far removed and too deeply involved in the next adventure.
It is amazing what time does to memories, and how quickly time passes. At this point, the AT feels like a drop in time, yet felt never-ending as I went through it. Also, in the thick of the AT, I was cursing its existence out loud, crying on the worst days, and vowing to never thru-hike again. I will say that it would take a near miracle or a big paycheck to get me to thru-hike the AT again, but I can’t say I’d never thru-hike again in general. There is still that elusive triple crown that would only take the CDT to complete, so I can’t retire just yet from long distance hiking. Also, Optimist doesn’t like the word “never”, so I’ll avoid using it here in the context of never thru-hiking again.
I also can’t say that only being a week out from the AT has erased all my bad memories of rocky terrain, vicious mosquitoes and black flies, extremely poor hygiene and diet, or the overall feeling of just plain exhaustion. Heck, the scabs from falls and bug bites on my knees, ankles, calves and lots of other random spots on my body haven’t even healed yet, so I have a daily reminder of all that was negative on the AT. Though the negative memories are still very much front and center, I can tell they are now making room for the good ones. Memories of amazing trail magic, cool people that we met along the way, and favorite town stops (admittedly due to food such as baked goods) are still very fresh in my mind and replacing the bad memories rather than completely erasing them. It is what happened with the PCT as well, which is probably why I was so positive at the start of the AT!
That being said, I feel the need to clear my name, in several senses. I’m sad that my name, Stopwatch, and my blog posts, such as Disaster Recovery, may give the impression that I hate every moment and aspect of thru-hiking. If that’s the case, my name may as well be Pessimist. There are pros and cons to every lifestyle, especially to thru-hiking, and the second half of the AT was full of more cons than pros, at least for me. Yet, the pros were still present, just in small doses, and I did manage to find the silver lining in many days that could have otherwise been just miserable for most. I’m certainly glad to be done and happy to be in the regular routine of sleeping in a bed, bathing, eating fruit and vegetables, and exercising less than 10 hours a day. Who wouldn’t be excited about accomplishing a walk of over 2000 miles after living the complete opposite of those aspects for over 3 months? Yet, I feel no malice towards thru-hiking or the AT, though I feel improvements could be made to the AT to make it a better experience (pandora’s box here, so let’s not go there).
I’ll always stand by the fact that it’s my choice to begin a thru-hike and my choice to continue a thru-hike even when I want to quit. Optimist certainly loves my company, but in no way am I just going along with his choices simply because we are married. I know I make it harder on myself during a thru-hike, as I probably take on too much stress and mileage pressure. There was no reason we had to average over 20 miles a day, but I felt I was letting myself down if we did any less than 25, and was definitely disappointed if we hiked less than 20. I woke up each morning with a heavy weight on my shoulders to get moving, to use the daylight, and get in as many miles as possible. I felt that if 25-30 miles was within my potential, why wouldn’t I hike that? Optimist never had the same stress or mileage pressure, and he’s capable of hiking at least 30 miles a day, so we are very different here. I’m not sure how I could let myself let go of the miles and just wake up and hike each day, never worry about the daily destinations, but just know that if I hike each day, I’ll eventually get to the finish. That is definitely something I need to work on within myself.
Nearly every day that I hiked, I promised myself, “Never again.” Never thru-hike again, never deal with such discomfort again, never drive myself mentally and physically into the ground day in and day out. Knowing that the word “never” is not an option for Optimist, I can’t keep this promise. I will again say that hiking the AT ever again is so far out of the question that I may as well use the word never, but won’t just for Optimist. But again, there is the CDT.