I had a plan. There’s always a plan. Then adventure happens. This is a brief (ha, sorry, no, it’s long as shit actually) collection of thoughts I had in the wake of my trip. Thanks for reading through all these posts. It means a lot to me to be able to share this experience with you. Digest what you like at your own rate, and feel free to offer your own thoughts. I’d love to hear them.
So what’d I take away from this whole thing?
I didn’t drink enough water. I didn’t eat enough food. Everyone knew that before I even started. Moving on.
When I started this hike, I had only climbed around half of the high peaks. I wasn’t familiar with the trails or the conditions on the peaks, and being unprepared cost me. I probably hiked over 20 extra miles just backtracking or taking wrong turns. That’s almost a whole day of hiking. That’s way, way too much.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but I had set a time limit for myself on this hike. I wanted to finish in seven days, and I pushed myself too hard early on to stick to that time estimate. I love the idea of conquering the unknown, but trying to conquer the unknown on a deadline is dumb. It’s something Zapp Brannigan would do. I should have been more clear with myself which way I wanted to approach this adventure. Take my time and explore, or…buckle down and race, really.
One super awesome thing about the hike was that it gave me genuine feelings of joy, panic, fear, and giddy relief. Whether things were going wrong, right, or I was just being emotional, the raw honesty of the things I felt was refreshing. The night after I finished the hike, I walked out to the edge of a thirty-foot cliff, sticking my toes off the end, and looked down. The vertigo shook me, and I had a brief rush of adrenaline, but they weren’t as strong as the ones I had felt in the woods. You can’t create those feelings, they have to happen to you.
It’s taken me a long time to recover from my time in the mountains. Physically, I was fine. Aside from a lingering discomfort in my foot, I recovered very quickly. The biggest hit I took was a mental one. I’ve all but stopped running. I ran the relay to Boston, and have sprinkled a few other runs in here and there, but for the most part, I haven’t been able to get myself going. My goal of doing 4,000 miles this year is all but sunk, and who knows how Twisty Branch is going to go (I ate another DNF at mile 28).
Battling your inner demons is never fun, and can be pretty intense. The idea of facing down my worst fears and insecurities used to get my blood boiling, but not anymore. It’s not cool, or dramatic. You might win, but you don’t walk away a winner. It just sucks.
I was forced to come face to face with a young Jeff, who wrestled with some pretty brutal self-hatred, and vague threats of suicide. He got better, and became me, but I guess I didn’t expect those feelings to linger. I don’t like to think of them as part of who I am now. I like believing in the probably mythical me, just an absent-minded, adventurous screwball with a tirelessly positive attitude. There’s no room in there for shaky self-doubt or dissatisfaction. But…
I guess the reality is that we’re all human, and many of us have to deal with these things on an almost daily basis. Accepting them as part of who we are, good or bad, I think that’s the way to find contentment. Fighting so hard to be people we’re not can’t be good for us. What did Mertsock say to me? Hang on, let me see if I can find it.
Good one, Mertsock. I don’t have to act like that lonely kid from 2002, I don’t have to act like that arrogant prick from 2006, and I don’t have to act like the huge wuss I am today, but I do have to accept them as all being me. I can learn from the people I’ve been, and become the people I want to be. I don’t care what the story of my life reads like so far. I’m the author! I can write whatever I want moving forward. Who will I be next? Who cares?
I owe so much to my friends and family, who are endlessly, tirelessly supportive of my shenanigans. Jason lent me the precious DeLorme unit, and met me on the trail, sacrificing his own grand plans to hike with me. Laura did the same thing, hiking with me despite a neuroma flare-up in her foot and a race a few days later. Everybody who sent their well-wishes through the airwaves to reach me in the depths of the mountains kept my spirits lifted. Jan and Angela shared their experiences with me, and gave me valuable advice that I only heeded about half the time, to my profound detriment.
So what now? I’ve got Twisted Branch and Ossian coming up, but after those, I think I’m going to stop racing for a while. I’ll turn my focus to building a solid foundation for 2017, and planning trips and adventures for that year. I’ll still be doing fun things this year, but probably no more big stuff for a while. I’d like to do the beer mile again in January, and the Wegman’s (ultra?)marathon. I don’t know, I’m spitballing at this point. Moving on.
I’m very happy with my life right now. In fact, I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. That’s thanks to you, probably. Thank you. I appreciate your friendship, your patience, and your genuine, honest effort in life.
I’ll try this hike again, without a doubt. Next time through, I’ll be able to finish. I’m sure of it. I’ll be stronger, faster, better prepared. Many of my friends want to give it a shot as well – perhaps enough to race a bunch of two-person teams. And after we finish, I’m sure it won’t be long before we have some other crazy scheme cooked up to top that one, because that’s just what we do. Maybe Jason had it right all along. Who needs a reason? Just get out there. Just do it. Just…