I’m calling it a funk. There’s some double meaning possible in the name: me, and every other hiker, smells terrible most of the time. We don’t notice it usually but the hostels, hotels and restaurants do — many request that we shower before entering their establishment.
Funk. out of whack. Off. Meh. That’s how I felt for about 200 miles after Harper’s Ferry W.Va.
Understandably some of these emotions are connected to losing Sadie as my trail buddy. This is still difficult for me, but less so than the day I hiked out of town without her bringing up the rear. I’ve got a trail family that looks out for me, includes me in their town plans and keep me company while walking.
Passing the halfway point of the trail ushered in a new stage of this hike. Completing 1,095 miles marked the last , or what feels like the last, milestone before the end. Reaching the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine feels like the next thing. Except, there are two months and almost 900 miles more to hike.
The questions that burned in my mind and heart at the start of this hike are still present: why I am I hiking? Why do thousands of people attempt this each year? What are their stories and how do they shine light on this journey?
What I lack for these questions now is context. Seems odd, after hiking over 1,000 miles that I do not have context. But there was a shift in the last few hundred miles and I’ve been trying to work through it both personally and in terms of this project.
The beginning of the trail feels like the start of college. Everyone is eager to introduce themselves, share information, invite you along, pile into a hotel room six deep and drink beer until late.
Today there are less people on the trail and the ones that remain have their own routine. They have mailed home pounds of possessions they realized they don’t need. They have trail families; a group of people that sticks together for the connection, the support and the entertainment — for reasons beyond the technical and logistical aspects of hiking.
The journey feels less romantic and fresh. This has become our routine, our job, our daily dedication.
They say that the first part of the trail is physical, the second part is mental and the final part is spiritual. It takes your spirit to get you to the very end.
I have reached the mentally treacherous section of the trail. My body is strong, my legs are accustomed to 18+ miles each day. The terrain has been easy compared to some of the more southern sections that began the hike. Physically I have nothing new to overcome.
After, now 1250 miles, the question of ‘Why’ has morphed into ‘Why continue?’ I’ve hiked these miles, I have the skill set, I’ve got recorded conversations and now people seem less eager to talk, so now what?
In Duncannon, PA I ate breakfast with Beats. He’s an energetic solo hiker from New Jersey. His name comes from the large speaker he often straps to his pack. The speaker blasts music and Beats absolutely flies down the trail.
Over a breakfast of fresh toast, eggs and coffee we talked about this half-way funk.
I hear the lack of energy in both of our voices and I’m grateful to feel more positive now, in this present moment. The lull after the initial blast of a new project, journey, job, house, town — whatever stimulates your days throughout life — is inevitable for any long-term endeavor.
Living with a decision such as hiking the trail, or with a craft, such as writing, requires a commitment beyond the passion. The flame that ignites fire of inspiration to pursue something requires a lot of work to maintain.
These moments of work, introspection, doubt and fear do steal the romance of a thru-hike. No longer does this feel like an amazing gift all the time. This is choice and now I am confronting the various faces of a thru-hike. I have the opportunity to turn this over and look at it from all facets.
This is where deep knowledge and experience live. When you are able to see beyond, no, when you have put in the work to get past the idyllic, potentially deceiving, shiny surface of a thing. Being a writer isn’t always coffee, cigarettes at an antique typewriter in a remote cabin by a lake. Being a thru-hiker isn’t going to feel like a poetic scene from Thoreau’s Walden.
I’ve pushed past those stages. I’ve circled back around to my decision to hike. This began, as does anyone’s journey, with my decision to pursue, to say yes. That’s the hardest part, to decide. You cannot move until you answer the question- Will I do this?
I’m faced with this decision in a new way. So this isn’t a true circling back to my decision. I realized that my hike was solely based on my decision and desire one Tuesday afternoon in my burnt orange tweed armchair on Washington Avenue in Winston-Salem. Now, I must choose the same answer every day I wake up to hike. So this is not a circling to the same moment, this is a spiraling loop that brings me to a similar point but at a deeper, or higher level.
P.S> Beats is still on trail. Despite the tone of our conversation, we’re both still hiking! Here’s a bit more of our conversation that speaks to the future, his desire to continue hiking other trails and overall leaves this entry with a tone of the future. Keep it up. Keep going.