I've thinking a lot about challenges and struggles lately. I know I mentioned it in my last post, but I think a combination of heat, super rough climbs (relative to early VA), and finding myself in a strange place amongst thru hikers where I'm typically the only person I'm around most of the day has got me thinking more about this.
Before I started my hike, I wrote a post about needing to be challenged. While that may still hold true, I wrote that from a place of having no clue what I was getting into. Now that I'm almost 2 months in, I have a better idea.
Thru-hiking the trail is harder than you think. Even as someone who had a lot of prior experience with backpacking, I still say this. I'm impressed with the many people I've encountered who literally never stepped foot on a mountain until Springer Mountain in Georgia. And here they are almost 900 miles later still trucking strong!
But each difficulty makes each simple pleasure that much more real. I think a lack of any real struggle, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, you name it (the AT is all of the above), numbs us. I love comfort, but I don't want that to come at the expense of truly living. I would love it to be 70 instead of almost 100, but that splash of cold creek water on my sweat salty face invigorates me in a way cooler weather would not. Even a cool breeze takes on such significance. Why is the Olympic athlete's story so compelling? Because of struggle, conflict. We are better people when we're on the other side of a struggle.
But being in the midst of the storm is terrifying and these are all physical struggles, which as hard as they may be, always seem to have an end point. The emotional and mental toils are harder to define. Ephemeral ghosts floating at will through the heart and mind. How do you defeat the intangible?
In one way, physical triumphs strengthen mental fortitude. You look back over the ridge and see how far you've come in such a short time. The inner demons shirk back just a bit. But they remind you that you're not even halfway, it's so hot, AC is nice. But you keep moving forward. Always moving forward.
Downtime has helped me tremendously. I took an unplanned zero day at Devil's Backbone Brewery. The combination of good food, good beer, and trail magic certainly boosted my spirits. As I write this, I'm neroing in Waynesboro, only hiking 7 miles later this afternoon. What? That's only 27 miles in three days! But who cares. I'm actually ahead of schedule and the trail isn't going anywhere. The downtime has helped tremendously, and mostly mentally.
Are we lead through storms to overcome fears? Do we find ourselves in the desert, dry, thirsty, and sunburned, to learn perseverance? Does doubt dwell inside our minds, moving about like a mist or a fog, water drops of uncertainty clinging to every surface until all becomes saturated? What should we learn from this? Maybe sometimes clear vision actually hinders us from confronting what's right in front of us, the rocks and roots that grab for our wandering, tired feet. And when that maddening gray finally ascends to the heavens on wispy stairs built by unseen angels, our weary eyes lift from the dirt of the earth, our origins, and we see a beautiful magic unfolding, alive and real. In that moment, we find ourselves mysteriously thankful everything transpired exactly so, full of wonder and a new found appreciation for life.
I am a filmmaker. I am an adventurer. I believe in children. My friends are obsessed with my beard. I am obsessed with beer. I want to embrace and fully live this life I’m blessed with. I want to be known as someone who loves deeply.
On May 16, 2017 I set out on my dream, the adventure of a lifetime: a 2,189.8 mile trek of the Appalachian Trail. I want to push people to live their dreams and pursue their passions.