TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Last year, as I got off the trail, I remember thinking that it was just a really tough year for a thru-hike. Too little rain, to many years of no rain. Too many fires, too much smoke. And while there were hikers who finished the trail, they were either just a little ahead of me, or just a little behind me to catch a better hiking window through Oregon and Washington.
This year, as I got back on the trail, I remember thinking "What a great year to finish this hike!" A snowier winter meant more water and fewer fires. Great weather meant a longer window for good hiking. And my start date for hiking could not have been better. It put me right at the center of the herd with folks whose hiking speed seemed to match up with mine over the last 2 weeks on the trail.
You don't always get great timing like this. You end up getting somewhere just a smidgen too late to get that great deal. Or a tiny bit earlier than opening time so you end up shivering in the cold. My timing last year was like that more often than not. I spent a lot of time trying to catch up with people or waiting for somebody else to catch up with me. I spent a lot of time waiting in towns for packages. I spent time trying to wait out fires. This year, the timing was so perfect, it seemed almost pre-planned. And while I'd like to take credit for it and say it was my perfect analytical hike planning ability, that would be a complete lie. It feels a lot more comfortable to say that things all fell into place because that's how things were supposed to work out.
WORK WITH THE WEATHER
I talked about this before in a different post. I'm still so amazed at my weather luck, though, that I'm gonna talk about it again. Three big storms during my hike. All three hit as I was walking into town. All three storms blew out after a zero day in town. The time between storms was exactly enough time to get to the next town. Perfect!
It wouldn't have been perfect, though, had I been too attached to predicted milage and spreadsheets or felt the need to adhere to a rigid schedule. I actually hiked into town in these storms with other hikers who stopped only long enough to pick up a package and then hitch back out to the trail during the worst of the storm. Hikers who purposely climbed up to 7000 feet, above the snow line during the storm because they wanted to finish on a certain date or a certain time. More often than not, the bad weather they encountered held them up longer than if they had just stayed in town. More often than not, they got a bit hypothermic. Hypothermia sucks!
So it really was a combination of good luck plus good choices. Whenever you are faced with the choice of altering plans to accommodate the weather or sticking to your original plans - to hell with the weather-- make the smart choice. The weather always wins.
Your dreams will wait for you
Unlike the weather, which is a narcissist, your dreams are kind and gentle and patient. If you get sidetracked or thrown off course, your dreams will still be there for you when you get back on track. (See TIMING IS EVERYTHING, above)
This was advice I was really good at giving, but not so good at following before this year. I don't know how many times I said to people "Don't worry, the trail isn't going anywhere", "The mountain isn't going anywhere", "School isn't going anywhere" when their plans were changed. For myself, though, I always felt like I had to finish in one fell swoop.
I started the AT with a hiker who had to get off trail at Harper's Ferry because of a family emergency. The next year, when she was finishing the trail, I got to meet her in Virginia and then again in Vermont. I remember thinking that 2014 was a much better year weather-wise than 2013. I remember actually being a little jealous that she got summit views that weren't all fog. I remember thinking that even though it was really important to me to complete the AT in one stretch, that this half and half approach was no less of an accomplishment. It actually seemed a bit more fun.
Then I got to experience that scenario firsthand. You know what? Two really long section hikes are just as grand as one really long thru hike. And possible a bit more fun.
HIKER TRASH ARE THE MOST WONDERFUL PEOPLE
One thing I was a bit nervous about restarting this year was that I would be solo far more than last year. That since the other hikers would be in groups established far earlier in the year, I would not fit into any of those groups. That maybe I'd be a bit lonely. Silly me!! I forgot all about hiker trash culture.
Hikers are the most accepting, helpful, friendly people you could ever hope to meet. We look out for one another. We make sure everyone is okay. We share what we have. We have a good time, laugh, make memories and become friends for life. I am never lonely on the trail.
I know other people who have found their hiker-trash tribe off the trail. They find them in running clubs or dog training or cross fit. They find them in book clubs, cooking classes, music groups. Life is so much better when you find and connect with your hiker trash friends.
SHORT CAN BE SWEET
Okay, let me say first that I know that 850 miles isn't exactly a short hike. But compared with 2200 miles and 1800 miles, it's, well, kind of short. Long enough to lose the excess weight I put on over the winter. Long enough to get my hiking legs back. But not so long that I became obsessed with miles. Not so long that I just wanted it to be over, already.
That was kind of nice.
I love long distance hiking. I love it. But this year, I learned that I love-- well-- medium distance hiking, as well. When I'm not obsessed with miles, I take a bit more time to swim in lakes or sleep in when I'm extra tired or take an extra long lunch at a scenic peak. That's pretty nice.
So even though everyone says that my next logical step after competing the AT and the PCT is to conquer the CDT, I'm savoring the idea of a medium distance trail.
With all these trail lessons fresh in my mind, I can't wait to start planning!