Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Letter to someone on how to keep going

Someone asked me how to deal with emotions on the trail and how to keep going when the desire to quit comes over you. Since I had said that I got emotional quite often on the trail, I was contacted for advice.

I don't know if I have useful advice or not. I don't really consider myself too terribly emotional, but something about being on the trail I felt more of everything. Everything was so magnified. I would cry most often just because I finally had something good to eat or somebody was nice to me! So many times I would be blubbering over a plate of food in a restaurant. It was embarrassing.

I guess what helped was that I wasn't hanging around anybody, especially not 25 year old guys. The only person I had to prove anything to was myself. I did hike with people a few brief times and that was helpful, too. But I preferred to go it alone.

As for wanting to quit? I wanted to quit only twice. Once was in the High Sierra. It's just too rugged there or maybe the high altitude messes with my mind. I gave up before Muir Pass and actually hiked out to Bishop, rented a car and drove home. I cried the whole way up and over Bishop pass. When I got home I was like, what the heck am I doing home?

My boyfriend said let's go back to the trail and hike a small section together so we drove back and hiked from Mammoth to Yosemite. Along the way he said to me that I had to keep going, I had to finish what I started. My story didn't have a happy ending and he was living vicariously through it. He said it was the only thing making his work stress manageable. So I agreed, but no more High Sierra. He bumped me up to Sonora Pass and I hiked north from there.

I have since completed the section between Yosemite and Sonora Pass, but I have not completed the 60 miles I missed between Bishop Pass and Mammoth. Hike your own hike. My hike just doesn't include that part and I'm at peace with it.

The other time I wanted to quit was after putting up with the mosquitoes for several weeks in Oregon and then being rained on for a couple of weeks in Washington. But I didn't want to quit enough to actually quit. I knew that if I quit so far north I would never return. I knew if I quit I would feel disappointed and angry with myself. So I just kept going.

Little things kept me going, things like knowing that I was doing something I had always wanted to do, feeling at home in the forest and hating how awful it is in cities with all the cars and ugliness, and being able to eat as much as I wanted didn't hurt! The beauty of the wilderness and knowing it was my home, feeling so completely at home in it, was uplifting.

Taking rests helped. I spent 3 days out of the mosquitoes in Oregon and after that I was able to laugh at them a little more. I spent 4 days out of the weather in Washington and after that I was ready to keep going. Anytime I wanted out of the wilderness I just got out and rested. I was so strong I could look at 60 miles ahead of me and know I could be out tomorrow if I wanted. As long as I never went home, I knew I could continue. So that was my rule. Never go home. I carried a Canadian flag on my pack to remind me.

The kindness of others helped. And having people be really interested in my experience helped. They would help me remember that what I was doing was worth completing.

What I wish I could have done differently was have a better attitude about the mosquitoes and rain (actually, it was the overgrown, wet bushes on the trail). I wish they hadn't ruined my morale. I was having the time of my life until then, and then I let those things get to me. I couldn't snap out of it. I wished I could have changed it, but I don't know how. So I just kept going no matter what.

I have to say when I got to the last day on the trail and I wasn't able to find the sign-in register at the Canadian border, the idea of going back the 8 miles to sign the register was something I turned down. I was ready to go home. The time when I had gone home from Bishop I hadn't really been ready. The times I was miserable with mosquitoes and wet bushes I wasn't ready. But when I got to the border, I was ready. Even now, with my boyfriend planning to hike from Campo to Kennedy Meadows I have no desire to do all that with him. I am very happy that I completed it. Knowing that I would be happy with the completion is what really kept me going.

Good luck and I know you can make it. Just don't go home no matter what. It's totally worth it to have this kind of achievement. You will carry around a secret understanding of how powerful you are, what you are capable of, that nobody, no mean boss, no petty co-workers, no abusive people can ever take away. You will know where the hole in the fence is and that this so-called "real world" isn't real at all and you know where to go to find the true real world. It's incredibly powerful to have this knowledge.

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