Motivations for the Final Push
Rendezvous points along the trail are always difficult to orchestrate. I’ve heard it said that you can choose the place, or the time, not both. That’s so true I have found. My friend and I got an Airbnb so the time and place were both determined. I had to sacrifice miles to make this meetup work. Normally I average about 100 miles a week. To make this visit work I had to slow down and halve that number. I found myself hiking 1.8 miles into Unionville, NY and then staying the rest of the day.
I zeroed at Graymoor, where Friars have allowed hikers to camp for years. This was closest to my meetup point. I was excited about seeing my friend and relaxing for a bit, but it was hard to watch hikers come through and hike out, hike on while I stayed put.
Getting back on trail after seeing someone drone home was difficult. This rendezvous point was at mile 1,411. Hikers are at the point of counting down the miles rather than counting up. It’s close, but not close enough to completely let go of your resolve. There is still danger of losing motivation and interest at this point.
The day I got back on trail it rained. I knew, from weather rumors overheard, that this was only the start of almost a week long stretch of rain. I saw one hiker during my walk that day, and he wasn’t feeling well. He only spoke of negative things and talked of getting off trail. I was glad when he decided to take a break at a road crossing and not hike on with me. I couldn’t handle that energy when I myself felt tired, alone and out-of-sync.
I stealth camped that night. The overcast sky, unsettling wind in the trees and the ghost-like encounter with that one sick, negative hiker made it seem like I was in some sort of hiker purgatory and not the real trail. My friends and familiar faces were all ahead of me. I was in between a bubble.
Reunite with Friends
My trail family was about two full days of hiking ahead. I’m not built for chasing. Chasing, on the trail, is pushing bigger miles to catch up with friends. I don’t enjoy putting myself through miserably long days just to catch up. You can catch friends even by doing 1 or 2 miles more a day, but that long-term strategy often discourages me.
In Salisbury, CT I stayed at a trail angel’s home, had some great coffee and good food. The company of fellow hikers also staying at the house gave me new energy.
That night I decided to put in two 24 miles days to reach my friends at Upper Goose Pond Cabin. The cabin added to the incentive. Upper Goose Pond cabin is an AT shelter, but it’s a true cabin experience. The building is fully enclosed, full with a front porch, fire place, real furniture, kitchen and bunk beds upstairs. The pond is below the cabin and hikers can take out canoes or swim in the clear water. In the morning the cabin caretaker makes coffee and pancakes.
The A.T. Is Social for a Reason
That night in Salisbury I had a tough phone conversation with someone back home. Sparing readers a romantic tale here’s the gist: I’ve got someone special back home that I was excited to return to in September. Unfortunately it’s complicated (isn’t it always) and we increasingly found ourselves on different pages of the relationship and the phone call didn’t end well.
I felt alone, or solitary. Getting back on trail meant that I had to dig for resolve and motivation to keep hiking. I now feel a solid commitment to finish this trail, but my heart has turned homewards.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about relationships in this green tunnel.
Every year there are those thru-hikers that you meet once and never see again. Their miles are big, regularly pushing 30 mile days or more. They are often thru-hikers of other trails, the PCT, the CDT or the Long Trail. They are ultralight and while you’re drinking coffee in Massachusetts you see their Instagram post from the top of Katahdin.
One of these hikers was texting a member of my trail family. The super-fast hiker was feeling lonely ahead on the trail. He’d hiked past most bubbles and now found the trail to be boring. He was unmotivated to hike.
The Appalachian Trail is a very social trail. The longevity of its existence, the proximity to towns and an intricate ecosystem of trial angels and hostels contribute to the social aspect. This is no accident.
The AT sucks without people.
No offense meant. I have lived my entire life within these mountains, and I’ll never feel a sense of home like I do amongst rhododendrons, humid sunsets and screaming cicadas. But the Green Tunnel is real. There aren’t the sweeping views like the PCT and there aren’t logistical challenges to keep you on your toes, like the CDT.
The Appalachian landscape does not offer many rewards for miles of sweaty, bug-filled miles.
Relationships as a Motivator
Whether you have someone at home cheering you on or friends on the trail (hopefully you have both) these relationships are key to keeping up motivation when the miles dwindle down the the hundreds.
Sometimes I feel that I am ‘weak’ or immature for altering my hike for other people. I thought that I would not ever find myself chasing other hikers.
I’ve got a great community at home supporting my hike. Each week I email over 100 people with updates, blog posts and pictures. My parents have supported me from the beginning and continue to be my primary trail angels.
I’ve got a trail family out here, and hiking friends that allow me to feel the best version of myself. Hikers are often escaping aspects of real life: drudgery of a 9-5 job, constant ties to social media, or daily responsibilities that can feel overwhelming. But there are aspects of our existence that are important in the real world, and the trail world.
A desire to establish a community finds its way into a hikers life, with more importance than it does at home. Every hiker has a their own threshold for how much socializing they want to do out here, but the desire to connect always makes its way into this experience.
When I decided to thru-hike this year, many people voiced their support and gave me encouragement to follow through. Since this hike began, those people continue to send words and gifts that make me feel seen and confident. Yesterday a trail angel parked at a road crossing and handed out drinks and snacks. I thanked him not only for the food, but also the recognition. I don’t want any award for this hike, but knowing that others see what I’m doing and recognize the difficulty is such a confidence booster. We all want to be seen and understood.
The community I’ve established out here also plays a role in motivating my hike. Having familiar faces that are excited to see you at camp — even knowing that people expect you to show up that evening — makes the trail feel like a home.