I have a few rules for myself when I go on a long distance hike. For example:
- If it’s a clear night, I have to count 3 shooting stars before I’m allowed to close my eyes.
- I must try and say hello and smile to every person I cross on trail.
- There is ALWAYS enough time for a photo op.
- Don’t forget to turn around; if the view is stunning ahead, you might be missing something equally beautiful behind.
- The first 14 days suck!
Allow me to elaborate on this last rule. I guess it’s more of a reminder, but oh so necessary for my mental wellbeing. You see, months of preparation go into planning a thru hike. You have to establish a route, get the maps in order, confirm water reports, check weather conditions, buy food, estimate your speed and distance capabilities, send resupply boxes, refine your gear, train your body, say your goodbyes and rethink everything a million times. As prepared as one might be, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can really get you ready for what you’re about to experience. 20 pushups a day and walking a treadmill with ankle weights might give you a .04% physical advantage, but don’t expect much more than that.
It's my experience that I feel so much of the struggle during these first 14 days. Even with a few trails under my belt, I expect that almost all of my planning will be wrong. This is when I realize I can no longer stomach the 50 favorite cliff bars I packed for a full month's breakfast. Climate change suddenly brings me record high temps when the last 3 years of weather reports were laden with snow. I used to be able to reach my water bottle from the side pocket, but my shoulder flexibility is now completely out of whack. I forgot an essential piece of gear. I lost an essential piece of gear. I'm carrying a useless piece of gear. Oh, the raw, open skin… on my hips, shoulders, ankles and toes… PAIN… Lots of pain… Sleepless nights from all the excitement and PAIN! Lost... utterly lost even though my GPS shows me dead center on trail. I start to question myself; "Were they right when they said I would never make it? Am I capable? Is it going to get easier?"
The other side to this 14 day rule is that I must hold out. I can cry, complain, question and whine all I want, but I am not allowed to quit until I reach the 14 day mark. Once I've passed these critical 2 weeks... BING BANG BAMB! Congratulations! It's time to find a cape because I've officially become a super human. I can now hike with my eyes closed, feet floating an inch above ground. I can do anything my little heart dreams up. I will make it til the end. I have transformed back to my hiking Alter Ego - Bloody Mary.
Thank God I had this rule... because Day 3 was a bit concerning.