I knew I could climb a mountain. I climbed Katahdin last summer. But could I climb several mountains every single day for 5-6 months? Turns out, it’s a lot more difficult than I ever expected.
About the Author: Amy has three amazing sons who have all served their country in the US Air Force. Andrew is currently serving as Tech Sergeant. Alex served as an Air Traffic Controller before being hired by the FAA. Evan is currently attending THE Ohio State University with an AF ROTC scholarship and will become an officer upon graduation. Amy married her husband Doug in 1987 after graduating from High School. Their marriage included the entire 25-year span of his military career. She and her husband have sold nearly all of their worldly possessions and live in their 39-foot fifth wheel RV with their two dogs, Archer and Louie, and their cat-that-thinks-he’s-a-dog, Apollo. They are retired and are full-time travelers, adventurers and explorers. Amy began long distance hiking in 2015 and will be thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail with a start date in April 2019. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook.
The first two weeks of my Appalachian Trail thru hike are a blur. My anxiety was through the roof. I watched as other hikers jumped up eagerly out of their sleeping bags every morning, chomping at the bit to get out there and destroy some miles for the day. I was the polar opposite. The mornings were the worst! I lay in my hammock full of fear, dread, and self-doubt. Classic “deer in headlights” paralysis overtook me. But every morning, even when it was in the 20s, I dragged myself out of the warm coccoon of my hammock and forged on.
Once I got up and moving, my anxiety calmed a bit. I knew I had specific tasks to get through and concentrated on each thing, one at a time, to get my day started. Pee, change into my hiking clothes, fetch my bear bag, choke down some food (I’ll get to that more later), pack up my gear, gather some water, etc.
Once my feet hit the trail each day, I started to feel much better. Until I realized how physically unprepared I was! I knew I wasn’t in the best shape, but I was so embarrassed by how slow I was and how often I had to stop and catch my breath. I must have looked ridiculous out there pausing every 40 steps on the ascents (literally 40 steps; I would count them out). I think I joined about three tramilies those first couple of weeks, only to lose them after a few days because I couldn’t keep up.
Unfortunately for me, my anxiety manifests itself in stomach issues. Stomach issues are an absolute nightmare on the trail. For one, you kind of need food and water in your body in order to function. I’m pretty sure I hiked malnourished and dehydrated for two weeks straight. Secondly, excessive stomach acid can cause the need for frequent bathroom breaks. The trail doesn’t always offer convenient, easy-to-access, private potty locations. Hiking for miles while you’re about to explode is extremely uncomfortable. I am now an expert at digging the infamous cathole.
Then, a couple weeks into my hike, my body fell apart. I was climbing the ascent to the Albert Fire Tower and the much anticipated 100 mile mark. I had thrown up my Powerbar that morning. I stopped for bathroom breaks several times up the mountain. I got three tenths of a mile from the tower and vomited again. NORO? Or just the effects of that pesky anxiety?
I was dizzy and could feel the beginnings of “disoriented” starting. I stopped, hung my hammock and called my husband to come rescue me.
I took a few days off to regroup. I got my appetite back and replenished my oh-so-weak body. My best friend drove down to join me hiking for a few days. I was starting to feel less cloudy-headed and more determined than ever.
I got back on trail and whipped out a 16 mile day. It was slack packing, but I felt strong and it boosted my confidence immensely! I knocked out another 40ish miles hiking over the next few days with my bestie, feeling relaxed, happy, and HUNGRY (I could finally eat… and eat A LOT!).
I am now coming up on one month out here on the trail and I’m getting ready to head into the Smokies. At the pace I’ve been going, I’ll only get halfway to Katahdin. But I have faith that I’m getting stronger every day, and I’m not giving up. I’ve been weak, sick and exhausted, and I’ve taken EIGHT zeros and few nearos. I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll probably need to change plans from NOBO to flip flop in order to succeed.
Mentally, I’m as determined as ever. Physically, I feel the strongest I have in decades. Spiritually, my soul feels fulfilled. Regardless of my rough start, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on.
~Punky, 2019 NOBO for now, but ready to adjust to whatever is needed to succeed