Plans for 25
I have not written in some time. Here, in my journal, just in general, I have not been putting pen to paper. This probably means that whatever I get out on this post won’t be my best. It might be a little forced, simply writing because I feel like I need to again. But that happens to be the circumstance under which I’m writing, and I can’t do much about it. So I’ll press on.
My last post was a reflection on my failure to set a yo-yo FKT on the Arizona Trail this past March. I don’t think anything I have to say is going to tie in with that. I kind of did the reflecting I needed to on that whole experience and was able to leave it in the past relatively easily. Not sure if that’s healthy or lazy but to be honest I don’t really care either way. I’m still very happy with my AZT experience, but it didn’t take long at all to be ready for the next thing. So there’s kind of just going to be a three-month gap in this blog. I’ll get into those three months a little bit but probably not too much, they’ve been weird. What else is new.
I got back from AZ in April and went back to work right away. I usually run on a pretty big energy high right after a thru-hike for about a week or two. It’s usually really fun, but the crash coming down from it is often difficult. Nothing changed this time around. Shortly after getting home I had shaved my hair into a Mohawk, dropped almost a thousand dollars on trail runners, bought a few other impulse purchases, all on top of working 50 hours a week and sleeping maybe 4 or 5 a night. It was fun. Then it ended. I dragged through the last few weeks of work before starting my summer job, at a scout camp in Pennsylvania for which I also worked from 2013-2017. I’ve been working here for five weeks now, running the mountain biking program and helping out with the high ropes course. It’s been a decent summer here, but things are hard. Really hard for me right now to be honest. My mood swings are more unpredictable and aggressive than ever. I’m finding myself to be irritable with people I usually quite enjoy. I’ve been lazy, something that I’ve never really been, sending me into a vicious cycle of guilt leading to more laziness leading to more guilt. I’ve only been able to maintain a genuine friendship with one person most of the summer. My brain is doing a lot of the things it used to do to drive me crazy, some even predating the beginning of my hiking career.
A lot of things are overwhelming me this summer. My future feels more uncertain than ever, my self-confidence is teetering on the smallest of fences at all times, my loneliness can be crippling one moment, and non-existent the next. The whiplash of switching between the two is so emotionally exhausting. All of this is to say, it’s probably about damn time I got back on trail. My only solace throughout my most difficult moments, the ones full of self-doubt, fear, lack of confidence, dependence, is knowing that trail is out there, waiting for me. It is the only thing I’ve found in my entire life that I can rely on fully to support me. And I mean fully. I can rely on trail without fear of rejection, without the chance of becoming truly irritated by it (other than the usual daily gripes that I often end up loving, type-2 fun that is), and without any doubt about who I am or what I’m doing. So it’s pretty relieving to know how close I am to returning. Every day is still hard, but each day gets easier the closer I get to returning to my best life.
I’ll be returning in full this time too which is awesome. The AZT was always going to be a sort of reprieve from the difficulties I deal with in off-trail life. A month to take a break, take a breath and refill my soul with the nourishment of trail. Of course, in a lot of ways it didn’t end up doing that in full. That’s on me, and I learned a good lesson from the amount of pressure I put on myself for that hike. I don’t regret what I tried to do out there, because I think it will help me return to the type of hiking I truly need. But still, it’s been basically a year since I was truly in it on trail, in the headspace I find so calming, on which I rely so fully. This time around it’ll be a real commitment again. The upside of the last 10ish months of working, grinding, and generally being not happy is that I am financially set to fully commit to backpacking again for a while.
So here’s the plan. I turn 25 on August 11, coincidentally my last day of work at camp. On August 13 I’m flying to Reno, NV for a quick thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail. I had no plans to do this until that super high energy period post-AZT I mentioned. I booked the trip and made the plans on a total impulse. Somewhat in reaction to cutting my AZT hike short, but also just because I miss California so fucking much. Even for just 170 miles and 5-7 days, it’ll mean so much to be back in the Sierra. I’m excited about the whole trail, but I know the West shore section that is shared with the PCT will be incredibly special. Touching that dirt again will mean the world to me. A bonus of this trip is that one of my best and oldest friends recently moved to Lake Tahoe full time. I’ll be able to hang out with him and see the new life he’s building for himself out there. It’s so rewarding at my age to see my friends laying roots and doing new exciting things. Hopefully we’ll get some mountain biking and hiking together in, but regardless I’ll just be happy to chill with one of my favorite people again. My buddy Bones from the PCT/AZT is also out there in the area, hoping to get some miles in with him on the TRT, or at least see him for a bit. Seeing old friends is important.
I’ll get back to MD from the Tahoe trip on August 22. The plan is to take a week to relax, ground myself, and prepare for a 1000ish mile hike on my home trail, the AT. I’m hoping to hike from Harpers Ferry, WV SOBO to the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, GA. Why hit the AT again having already hiked it three years ago? Why the hell not. I love that trail so much. I have more of a real, emotional connection to those mountains than any others. They did so much for me in 2016 on that first thru-hike, I’ve got a feeling they’re ready to do a lot for me again. Those old hills are calling me again, and that’s a call I will probably never deny for the rest of my life. I should be done with that half-a-thru-hike by early October. I’ll spend a few weeks back home helping out my dad post-knee-surgery and just generally relaxing. Maybe I’ll pick up some work for those weeks but that’s a decision I won’t make until I’m back. Not worried about it right now.
On October 29 I’ll be flying to Los Angeles but I won’t be staying long. Just a few days to see my sister and a few other LA friends and also break up my trip to New Zealand. I’ll fly from LA to Auckland on November 1 where my biggest thru-hike of 2019 will be. I’m going to be hiking Te Araroa, 3000 km from the tip of the north island to the tip of the south island over the winter (er, summer). I am so damn stoked for this. It’ll be the wildest, unexpected and different thru-hike of my career and I am just so ready for that. The challenge, the people I’ll meet, the culture I’ll experience, and of course the mountains I’ll trek. I can’t really anticipate what it’ll be like very much, but that’s a good thing. The discoveries that come with every day are the best part of any hike. I can only hope that Te Araroa will bring me new surprises every day, helping me to grow as a hiker, and a person.
My plans become much more tentative when I return stateside sometime in early 2020. Right now I think I’ll go for the northern half of the AT to finish a weird multi-season flip-flop of the trail, hopefully around June 2020. If I’m still feeling it, I’ll head right over to Montana for a Continental Divide Trail SOBO.
Honestly though who knows. If there’s one burden I want to save myself from going into what will be my 26th year, it is that of expectations. I have grown quite weary of my tendency to generate fantasies and detailed thoughts of how something might turn out. It has been a part of the way my brain functions for as long as I can remember, and even thru-hiking has not been immune to it. I’m tired of it and ready to try better to just be. Earlier tonight a co-worker asked me if I’m excited to hike again. I thought for a second and responded as honestly as I could. I told him I’m not really excited to hike. Not actively at least. I don’t spend big chunks of every day imagining what I may discover once I hit trail again. I’m not eagerly talking to everyone in my life about my upcoming hiking plans. But I do know that I need trail right now. And so in that way, I am comforted in knowing I’ll be back on it soon. It sounds almost silly like I’m running away from things, neglecting to deal with some shit I have no excuse to not deal with anymore. But I just know that all that shit isn’t going to bother me when I’m out there. That’s how I know I need it. I know what it feels like to live out there. I know the calmness of it, the quietness it elicits within my head. It is exactly what I need right now, and it has never let me down. So I’m ready to be out there. With no clue of how it’ll go specifically or what it may bring, I’m just ready to be walking a lot every day and sleeping outside every night. Through all the shit and confusion and cringes of the months since I ended my last journey, I still feel so intensely that going backpacking is just what I was made to do. Nothing has ever come close to fitting me as it has. There’s a problematic statement if I’ve ever written one. Right now I could give a shit.