I don’t know if I just need a change of scenery or if I’m actually seriously considering doing this….
But for YEARS I’ve talked about wanting to thru-hike the AT. For those less familiar, I’m talking about a 2200 mile-long hiking trail through the Appalachian Mountain Range (otherwise known as the Appalachian Trail) – the longest ‘hiking-only’ footpath in the world. It meanders through fourteen different states, beginning in Georgia and ending in Maine, and takes a thru-hiker between 5-7 months to complete. That’s 5 to 7 months of non-stop hiking, Every. Single. Day.
For an avid hiker this would be an arduous task. For me? Well, let’s just say it would definitely be challenging to say the least. Let me give you some background.
I don’t hike every chance I get. I don’t backpack, day-hike or wander through the woods on a regular basis. I don’t own an RV, or visit campgrounds. When I go to the park, I sit in my car and read. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy being outside (probably more so than the average person does) and can happily wander aimlessly from place to place taking photos, jotting down ideas or just listening to the sound of the wind for quite a long period of time and be perfectly content doing so. But I’m definitely not what you would consider an ‘outdoorsy’ person.
Here’s an even better description. Several years ago, on a whim, I picked up the January issue of Sierra Club Outings magazine. For months I poured over all the descriptions of the trips they offered; all the beautiful images of blue skies, snow-capped mountain ranges and wildflowers really spoke to me. It was so inspiring. The Sierra Club offers trips for every type of outdoor enthusiast too; whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned backpacker, if you prefer day-hikes or want a guide-led outing – they have trips for every level of skill and/or interest.
I decided that I wanted to do this.
But strangely enough, no one I knew shared my interest of roughing it in the wilderness to experience this kind of beauty up close and personal. Weird, right?? So, obviously, if I really wanted to do it, I’d have to do it alone. And, since I wasn’t sure I’d get another chance, I decided I needed to do it “right” the first time. You know, skip the day-hike nonsense or Sherpa assisted style trips and sign up for one of those week-long, cross-country, backpacking expeditions – into the wilderness – at elevation – in the Sierra Nevadas – oh, and with total strangers and with absolutely NO EXPERIENCE WHATSOEVER. And when I say I had no experience, I mean I had NO EXPERIENCE. I had never even camped in an RV, much less carried all my belongings in a pack on my back for a solid week.
Now, you might think this sounds a bit crazy and, honestly, I would have to agree with you! But, I was not to be deterred.
I spent a considerable amount of time reading up on all-things-hiking, compared products and did my research, then bought all the gear I needed. I ordered hiking boots from some far away outfitter (hoping they’d at least fit) followed the instructions that came with the tent for weather-proofing the seams, practiced setting it up once, stuffed what needed to be stuffed into stuff sacks (those things are TINY!), packed up all my new gear – including the external-frame backpack (that I actually did try on before purchasing) and stuffed that all into a huge canvas duffle bag and flew to San Francisco to meet up with the group of total strangers that I’d be spending the next 7 days with. Fortunately for me, at least, some did have actual hiking experience.
But, at the top of my list, and what I considered to be THE most important reason for the whole trip – was that we were about to explore the beautiful Ansel Adams Wilderness!! I’d even bought a tiny, new camera to document it all with.
It was all so exciting!
In the car.
On the drive up to the mountains.
Within 30 minutes of leaving the parking lot, however, while on the steady, altitude-climbing-elevation-changing switchback from hell, and while carrying approximately one-third my total bodyweight on my back, I quickly realized I had made a horrendous mistake.
A seriously, horrible, horrendous mistake.
Panic began to set in.
My mind was spinning, my legs were wobbling and I was feeling more than a bit faint.
I immediately began to formulate a plan.
IF I TURN AROUND NOW I COULD MAKE IT BACK TO THE PARKING LOT BEFORE DARK AND HOPEFULLY FIND A PAYPHONE TO CALL A CAB TO TAKE ME BACK TO THE SAN FRANCISCO AIRPORT.
That was my plan.
I am not exaggerating in the least when I say this. I wasn’t worried about the distance or the cost – I was only concerned with getting back to the place where the airplanes were that could take me home, while there was still some glimmer of hope of being able to do so. I truly believed taking another step up that trail might would have very well killed me. And if it took me ten years to pay off the credit card I would have to use to pay for that cab ride (roughly a three hour drive) well, it would be worth every single penny.
without any fanfare at all….(no trumpets blowing, no angels singing, no parting clouds)
a miracle happened.
One of my trail-mates noticed I was wearing my pack all wrong. In less than half a minute she’d cinched up my pack’s lower strap so that all the weight suddenly shifted from my shoulders to my hips allowing me to carry the weight much, much more easily. And when I say it was like a weight had been lifted, I really mean it – a huge physical, emotional, metaphorical weight had been lifted right off of me – just like that.
And it quite literally made all the difference.
There. Was. Hope.
I’m not saying this turned me into a super-hiker or anything like that – but I am saying the relief was palpable; I was actually able to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel; it wasn’t necessarily a bright light….but at least I could see it! And although I still had a couple of days ahead of me before I would begin to feel even somewhat capable (as hiking goes) I was at least able to keep up with the group. (I had also read that mountain lions, on prowl, would seek out the weakest and slowest member in a herd…) — but….I really do believe it was my new-found optimism that spurred me along making that week one of THE most memorable ones to-date (dare I say life-changing) and one that I would not soon forget!
It. Was. Amazing.
And that leads me to the point of this post…