recalculating

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Maybe I should just play “Let Go” by Frou Frou on repeat because that is clearly the primary lesson at hand the last few weeks (and likely to be the main lesson moving forward). For example: many months ago, when I was in full on obsessive mode, I had visions of cooking and dehydrating all of my own dinners for my thru-hike. I went down the intertubes, found backpackingchef.com, bought a dehydrator and dehydrated exactly 1 pear before going in to full-on relationship tailspin, thus abandoning all forms of preparation in favor of painful discussions, crying, dating, and general escapism.

Turns out you can’t really dehydrate over a hundred meals in about 3 weeks while also moving out of your apartment, finalizing gear, socializing, and wrapping up clients and mountains of paperwork. Who knew. The other day I had a conversation with a friend about how I love doing things in extreme ways, and I originally wanted to make all of my own food because it felt like the hardest thing to do (I also happen to LIKE my cooking and try to avoid a lot of the fillers in packaged foods, but if I’m honest, those are secondary reasons). I told my friend I felt like a failure because I was considering giving up on the dehydration projection. She looked at me and said, “I’m pretty sure hiking the Appalachian Trail is already an extreme thing to do, and you’re not failing if you don’t make all of your own food.” So simple, but I couldn’t get there on my own. I needed permission to let the dehydrating go. This, by the way is very different than saying I am “giving it up,” which feels rooted in a failure framework. Then I paid my friend for her clinical services with chips (she’s a fellow therapist and we were eating lunch).

What am I doing instead of listening to the drone of my dehydrator 24/7 while swimming in vats of black beans? Well, I can’t bring myself to throw ALL caution to the wind and just buy food as I go (madness), so I ordered a small supply of prepackaged dehydrated food from Mary Janes Farm and dehydrated spinach, sweet potato, butternut squash and cabbage from Harmony House. I’m going to divide the veggies into smaller batches and include them along with the prepackaged meals in whatever mail drops I end up doing (still TBD). This way I can add a bit of nutrition into whatever gourmet grocery store concoction I happen to be eating when I’m between mail drops. I forced myself to only order a small amount of supplies so that I can adjust strategies on trail if need be. If things are working well, I can ask my parents to order more of everything to keep this system going. Of course, this requires learning the next lesson I keep butting up against: asking for help. Ah yes, the dreaded H word…

Picture: Red pleading with our friend to share her chips during a lunch break at the Riga Shelter in CT, Canon Tlb (film), November 2015. Note the blurry wagging tail, which is his primary strategy for overloading you with cuteness so you won’t realize your hand is slowly moving towards his mouth with the bite you were about to put in your own mouth.

let’s try this again

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aaaand I’m back… Apparently, I’m going to have to pretend that you’re all close friends who give me the nose tingles in order to document this experience in a public manner because anxiety and scrutiny (mine, not yours) have gotten the best of me since my last post. I also took a nose dive into a suffocating, exhausting, and exciting puddle of life circumstances that shall remain mostly nameless. Long story short, the last several months have not been pretty (inside or out, because winter). I don’t really recommend imploding your life while concurrently planning to hike 2,190 miles. In terms of the hike, the primary change is that my mail drop support system has shifted from my partner (now former partner, heretofore known as “FP” because I hate using the phrase “ex”) to my parents. FP will continue to take care of the farmily, for which I am extremely grateful. She’s also patiently fielding a steady stream of tedious logistical questions that started about a month ago when I realized I had better put one foot back on the planning wagon or risk injury/failure due to operator error.

To my real-life friends who wandered here from my recent social media announcement: welcome to my attempt to not bore you to tears on those platforms! If you’re interested in my planning process (logistical and emotional), stick around and check out this post. If you just want pretty pictures with varying degrees of coherent commentary, come back sometime after April 24th, which is the day I’m starting my northbound flip-flop hike from Bear’s Den Hostel (VA).

Picture: Red, the chipmunk chasing maniac, overlooking the Hudson River in Harriman State Park, NY, Canon Tlb (film), 2015

try not to should yourself

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view to the left of Humpback Rock, near Rockfish Gap, VA (Leica M6, Ektar 100)

Is it too soon for a doubts post? Should I keep the gung-ho honeymoon narrative alive a little bit longer? Sadly, I am not that person and this is not that blog. I’m here to discuss the nitty gritty of thru-hiking and internal conflict is inevitable when making such a huge decision. How you relate to feelings is just as important as their existence. Sometimes I let mine do a jig on my chest while I try to sleep. Other times, I politely tell them to f* off and leave me alone while I take the risks necessary for personal growth and mold prevention. Here are a few of the feelings I’m contending with at the moment.

I have a partner who can’t join me on this particular thru-hike*. She has expressed mild interest in the concept, moderate fear about the realities, and a firm stance that she is not able to freeze her artistic career to tromp around the woods fleeing bears and getting Lyme (her ideas, not mine). Thus, she will remain in charge of two cats, one dog, a car (in Brooklyn, this means moving the car for street cleaning twice a week, minimum ), and all of the cooking/cleaning/life shit that we have shared for the last 10 years. You single people can pat yourselves on the back for adulting all by yourselves while I feel sorry for my partner because she has to do what you’re already doing. We’re used to having help! Her perspective: “I will make it work.” My perspective: “She’s going to curse my name, hate for me a loooong time, and/or ask me to come home.”

I worry about delaying certain life goals that we share as a couple. For example, we’ve been daydreaming about owning a small piece of land for about five years. I could use some of the time, energy, and money I’m dedicating to the hike in pursuit of land instead. Enter guilt for prioritizing my goals over our goals.

I also keep realizing that I won’t be around to share “next year” experiences. “Oh, we should go to California next summer to visit so-and-so”… Oh right, I will be pooping in the woods with all of my new smelly friends instead.

Then there’s the “responsible adult” guilt, which usually comes in the form of shoulds. I should be accumulating hours for my therapy license instead of walking ten hours a day and eating fritos by the fistful. I should be saving money for the aforementioned life goals instead of spending it on all you can eat pancake breakfasts (which I might not do because gluten and I are not really friends most of the time). I should be attending to family and friendships instead of debating whether to take a picture of that pretty view or that pretty view (who needs to choose? take both!). Excuse me, I seem to have shoulded all over myself and need to clean up this mess.

Will guilt stop me? No, but I do plan to pay attention to it for cues about what’s important to me (my relationships) and what I’m afraid of (being seen as irresponsible). Anyone else out there questioning their decision to thru-hike?

 

*note the implication of future thru-hikes

 

resistance is futile

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Appalachian Trail blaze, a few miles south of Kent, CT (Canon Tlb, 50mm, Portra 160)

I thought I could ignore it. I figured a semi-regular day hike would be enough to satisfy the itch. Hell, I even took my partner on a three-week vacation to Australia and New Zealand based entirely around hiking (and coffee) hoping to relieve the burn. These strategies were akin to scratching a burgeoning case of poison ivy. I have now contracted full-blown thru hiker rash (not to be confused with hiker trash). So here we are. You’re picturing angry hives, and I’m counting down the days until I can start my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in April of 2017. Yes, welcome to yet another hiking blog. If you were hoping for cats vs. cucumbers, go here.

I’m somewhat loathe to create this space because I am plagued by the idea that it’s all been said before, and there are some very opinionated folks out there who would like to say it all again, and again (and again). But it seems wrong to avoid the conversation given how much I have already learned from other people’s writing (shout out to the many writers of Appalachian Trials, Clarity, and members of the 2016 thru hiking class who somehow manage to hike endless hours a day and keep a trail journal). So I’m going to attempt to drown out the noise* and blog my own blog (BMOB) while I navigate this insane experience. Maybe some other thirty-something, mid-career, relatively-content-on-paper, queer individual will find this space and feel like they’re not batshit for making the same decision.

For now, I will leave you with my answers to the three lists recommended by Zach Davis (yes it’s worth it, go buy the book, and no, he didn’t ask me to say that)

I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…
– 
I can’t stop thinking about it, so why wait?
– It will force me to be flexible in ways I find difficult.
– Experiencing it from the safety and comfort of a screen is no longer enough.
– I thrive on mental and physical challenges and problem solving gives me goosebumps.
– I need a break from running marathons.
– I want distance from my everyday life to remind myself what’s important.
– I want to hear people’s stories.
– I want to share people’s stories.
– I want to take an ass-ton of pictures/make art while sweating my face off.
– I can’t imagine life without having at least tried.

When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…
Continue to post pictures and stories from the trail until my friends cry uncle.
– Feel more confident in my ability to adapt.
– Revel in the success longer than a day.
– Encourage other people to do it!
– Figure out ways to reduce post-trail depression so I don’t drive my partner bonkers.
– Feel like a total bad-ass (with gnarly feet).
– Have more clarity about how I want to structure my life.
– Be proud of myself for pushing the boundaries of social, emotional, and physical comfort.
– Have a giant set of new skills that I can apply to future adventures.
– Have a huge body of work that will remind me of the challenges I overcame and the people I shared them with.

If I give up on the Appalachian Trail, I will…
– 
Nurse whatever physical injury caused me to give up because that is the only reason I am allowed to quit.
– TRY AGAIN.
– Be disappointed and sad, but understand that I did the best I could with the resources I had.

I could list shame-inducing responses like public embarrassment or loss of confidence in myself, but I don’t respond to that type of motivation. As with all other physical challenges to date (namely 7 marathons and the many, many training runs involved), quitting isn’t on the table. Injury is the only reason I would give up on the trail. I can do my best to make wise choices to reduce the risks, but a lot of circumstances will be out of my control. Mental state, however, is something I can (and do) work on every day.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading! Feel free to share your own motivation for whatever adventure you’re planning in the comments or something else of interest (e.g., what you had for breakfast). Or don’t. Be a lurker. I don’t mind. Lurker is my middle name.

 

*While I am going to attempt to ignore naysayers, I plan to keep an eye out for fellow internetters who are curious, compassionate, experienced or helpful in some other way (e.g., dad humor or Back to the Future quotes).