About the Author: Madeleine Burke currently lives in New Zealand and works as a stargazing guide. She is a hiker, skier, climber, artist, writer, and knitter. She grew up in Portland, Oregon but the Sierra Nevada mountains are the closest thing to a home she has found so far. You can follow her adventures on instagram @mad_dog_adventure.
My toenail grew back weird after it fell off during my thru hike. It was twice as thick, like it was trying to protect itself for the journey. But then it went back to growing in a normal thickness. One part was raised up above the next part, like a set of stairs. Stairs that lead into a deep dark pit of depression.
Hiking parts of the Hayduke and Arizona trails, spending six weeks almost entirely alone, and tramping through some of the most challenging and beautiful scenery I’ve ever experienced was a high to beat all highs. The period following it was—-is—-has been— a low to beat all lows. This is the kind of low where the bargains I make with myself go like this: “If you go to the store today, you don’t have to do your laundry. You can just wear dirty clothes.” “If you go to work today, you can spend the rest of the day in bed.” “If you get out of bed today, you don’t have to leave the house.” I have not gone hiking.
It’s strange that for years most of my identity revolved around hiking and climbing. My job was hiking. My free time was spent hiking. Last winter all I did was work to save money for my hike, plan my hike, and ski—since there was too much snow to hike. I had a reputation. When I went into HR to hand in my resignation paperwork, the clerk said, “Oh, you’re the woman who’s doing the really big hike.” I was the woman who did the really big hike. People had heard of me around town, too. The woman doing the really big hike. I did the really big hike. I was the woman who did the really big hike.
But then six months passed. I moved to a different country. I got a job where I don’t hike for living. I stopped hiking. I don’t want to be the woman who can barely get out of bed to go to work. I don’t want to be woman who has gained 20 pounds. I don’t want to be the woman who is filled with insecurity and debilitating sadness. I just cut my nails and trimmed off the last piece of weird, damaged toenail. So, I think it’s time to fight the Big Sad, to build some new stairs out of this pit of depression.
I think I’ll go for a hike. Maybe not today. It’s not that easy. But I think today I will put on my socks and shoes. Maybe I’ll even stand outside. Maybe I’ll walk to work the long way. Before long, I’ll grow back into being The Woman Who Hikes. And my sense of self will be twice as thick.