Proof Positive

It's been raining. For weeks.

There have been a few days of sun. I have photographic evidence, right here in this post. But the view outside my window and the weather forecast from the last four weekends, and many days in between, tells a different story.

I'm tired of outdoors in the rain. I know what we said, go out anyway. I changed my mind.

We're not hiking today. My rain jacket forgot it was supposed to repel water and I'm just tired of being wet. (A new rain jacket is on the "new gear for the AT" list). Damien is working today and we switched our schedule to go hiking this Tuesday instead. I'm crossing my fingers that the sunny forecast will hold.

With the AT being a reality on our horizon (vs. the someday-maybe box where the idea was previously stored), every time I wimp out about the weather, I question my sanity in saying yes to hike the AT.

Truthfully, I question that decision every day.

The feedback I've gotten from people about our plan to thru-hike the AT ranges from "I could never do that" to "I'm so jealous" and everything in between.

I can understand almost all of the reactions except, "I'm so jealous". "Really?" I wonder. "You want to thru-hike the AT?" Because I don't!

At least not right now I don't.

Thru-hiking is a huge commitment and a test of physical and mental fortitude, and I'm not always keen for those type of experiences. It sounds like giving birth for six long months.

I've been reading hiking stories now for a couple years and meeting and talking to other thru-hikers. It feels like I am going into this adventure more skeptical and wary than the majority of newbie long distance hikers I've read or heard about.

This is not a starry-eyed college dream, an "I don't know what to do with my life" quest, or a hiking "vacation". Snort.

Thru-hiking the AT is not a lifelong dream of mine but it is something I want to do. I will share more of this in the coming months. I've thought long and hard about this decision and I have very clear reasons for wanting to do this, in spite of my internal resistance. Perhaps that is the reason?

But when it's raining for days on end and I have hard time getting out of bed in the morning just so I can plant my bum on the couch to read and write for a couple hours, I seriously question whether I'm cut out for this.

For the most part I have to put aside these thoughts. They are defeating. I return to my "I am strong, I am resilient..." mantra that I wrote this winter to get through another difficult time.

I know that I will only have the courage to thru-hike the AT, even in days of rains, when I am faced with actually doing it.

Of course right now, in my dry house, I can't imagine hiking for days in the rain - wet feet and wet clothes. I can't imagine the mental gymnastics of keeping my spirits up (rainy weather puts me in a funk the best of times) while trying my best to motivate our kids. Maybe, if experience proves true, they will be the ones motivating me.

I wish I could know ahead of time that I will face rainy days with grace and humor. Ha! Who are we kidding here? (As I sit on my bum this morning and read someone else's thru-hike story, thankful the rain is on the other side of the window.)

The proof positive that I can thru-hike the AT, in all the conditions we will face, will come only from doing it.

I imagine I will face rainy days and weeks on the trail the same way I face them in my "normal" life; with a heavy dose of shouldering through (putting on my big girl panties, even if they are rain soaked), doing my darndest to focus on beauty and light, sometimes changing plans and schedules, and of course drinking as much hot tea as possible.

(No rain photos in this post. I'm not photographically inspired by rainy weather.)

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  • Lauren

    Lauren on June 9, 2013, 7:28 p.m.

    What I wouldnt give for some rain! In Arizona every day the forecast says "abundant sunshine" yuck! I want some clouds, some moisture, some humidity. Granted, its more the 110 degree weather then bums me out vs the sunny days. But a rainy day sounds heavenly.

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    • renee

      renee on June 9, 2013, 8:38 p.m.

      Isn't it interesting how different our perspectives are, based on our experiences? I'm tired of rain, you're tired of sun!

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  • Brynn

    Brynn on June 9, 2013, 11:49 p.m.

    The hiking is the easiest part.  It is the coming home and returning to everything you left that is the hardest.  It is the parenting after your kids have changed completely and there is no guide to help you because no one else does this with kids. It is watching them recognise they have to be completely their own people and losing all innocence.  It is the complete lack of ability to have any community anywhere or communicate effectively with people at all.  Trust me, the rain will be easy.

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    • renee

      renee on June 10, 2013, 12:23 a.m.

      Brynn, I'm not sure about the "losing all innocence" part and "the complete lack of ability to have any community anywhere or communicate effectively with people at all". I think the outcomes really all depend on your own experience - the mix of your personality, the hiking conditions, the trail itself, the people you meet etc.

      Are you suggesting this is the post-reality for children who thru-hike or people who thru-hike? Or simply your experience? I've met really grounded post thru-hikers. I have hope this will be the same for us since I think we're pretty grounded going into it. 

      I do expect we will change, that's why we're doing this, but I'm expecting the change will bring good outcomes to our life - more community, more faith in humankind and connection with people - not less. 

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      • Brynn

        Brynn on June 10, 2013, 8:38 p.m.

        I did not say in any way that the trail was bad, or that our returning was.  It was just extremely difficult.  You write quite frequently about how difficult doesn't mean bad.  If you chose to embrace the trail, it will change you.  The same is true for your husband and your children.  Everyone just has to go in knowing that.  All of you might not open up to the trail, so some might change and others might not.  That is the reality. When you come back, you have to re-learn each other and your life. You have to re-accept these new people and they have to re-accept you. It will increase your faith in humanity, because it is strong on the trail, but then you have to come home to a place where you thought there was humanity before and realize it wasn't what you thought.

        No one told me these things because no one writes about them.  The trail is easy and it is a comfort you return to because of that.  It is just a really extreme form of therapy and religion.  It will make you who you are, but it will also force you to realize that you weren't that person before.  Those in your life (including yourself) will have to adapt to that new reality.  I have to accept my new husband and my new child.  They have to accept me.  The rest of your life is the same way of constantly re-accepting. 

         

        What I meant by losing all innocence is that, things are really raw.  They aren't cute and pretty.  People only want to hear about the cute and pretty most of the time and it is usually all they talk about.  It is very difficult to have your child recognize that most of what has been portrayed to them for their entire lives is just one, really small, really sugar coated experience.  It causes massive trust issues with most of the outside world.  It is extremely isolating.  It was an incredibly religious experience for us, but that was just as isolating.  People don't talk much about Job's God.  You don't return the same person on any level, but people want you to be the same.  We have grown greatly, but we can't share that with anyone.  It took us almost a full year to be able to share it with each other as a family.  My son still won't talk about it. You cannot have a community if you purposely decide to dramatically change your entire prospective on life in a way that only a tiny portion of the world has. To give you some perspective, the number of people who have thru-hiked the PCT are smaller than those who have climbed Everest. There are similar stats to the AT. You are choosing to do something which changes your perspective in a way that very few others can understand.

        Most of the experience is something that is not able to be communicated.  It is too emotional.  I mean this for an extreme degree with the outside community, but also within the family.  My experience was completely different from my husbands, and from The Barracuda's.  It took us weeks of extreme struggle to be able to communicate it or anything else. It would be like trying to explain love to someone who has never had a child, or trying to understand love in the same way you did before you had that baby.

        If you look up Scrambler, she won't talk about it.  She desperately kept it from her peer group and only mentioned it on college applications.  There are interviews from her in 10th grade discussing it. We have talked to Sunshine, she lost many friends, and has commiserated with The Barracuda. If you read their trail journal of the AT, you will see that they began to kick up their mileage to out-hike others and be alone again with the exception of those they new from the PCT. We have talked with Chili on the trail, he had the same experience and became homeschooled.  Look around online and you will find these things.  The re-entry is remarkably similar.

        It has definitely aged my child out of many childhood experiences. Others he sees as completely empty or ethically negative. He isn't a “kid” anymore. Neither are Sunshine or Chili. They can't be treated like children, but at the same time aren't adults. It can't help but do that. But there is no manual for that, it is a level of parenting that doesn't really have anyone you can talk to about it.

        Secondly, it has aged me out of most adult interactions.  I can be friendly with people.  I can definitely "talk the talk" if I want to, but most all people I know from the trail have to split into two distinct people: who you really are now, and who you show people because that is who they want you to be.  You just learn to live two different lives.

        This is not singularly my experience. Jules worked with more thru-hikers than many people have ever known. Jeff and Dorothy Hansen (who built Mt. Crossings at Neils Gap and are considered the parents of ultra-light backpacking) are some of our closest friends (they married us). They both dedicated their lives to the trail long before "Trail names" and "Trail Angels." This is one of the realities of thru-hikers. It is why there is the term “Re-Entry.” You are re-entering society as someone new.

        Again, that this isn't bad. It has made our family stronger than it will ever be and we are finally planning another hike. Jules and many others have said that each progressive hike gets easier because you know what to expect to some degree when you come home. However, it is an extreme struggle that needs to be prepared for. I merely write to say preparing mentally for the rain, isn't where you should focus your energy. 

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        • renee

          renee on June 10, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

          Thank you Brynn. I really appreciate you taking the time to clarify your point and stand your ground (smile). Do you think it's even possible for me to prepare for the outcome you've experienced?

          Maybe the fact that our kids have so few peer relations is a good thing then?? Less friends to lose at the end?

          I haven't written about the "deep" concerns I have about the trail, along the lines of what you're talking about, in part because I feel no one can relate to what I'm contemplating going into this. When I think about all the things I question going in, all the ways in which I know I will change, I lack the words to express that right now. So, I pick the rain as something tangible I know I will deal with. Something I'm not looking forward to and that other people, regardless of hiking experience, can maybe relate to. 

          Don't you think we all live two different lives in someway? I feel this with my faith. Something so foundational to who I am but something I can't discuss with everyone on the level of my belief and what it means to me because they wouldn't want to be my friend anymore if I kept going around talking about Jesus. We also aren't a part of local faith community. I'm not the average church going North American, hanging out with mostly Christian people who share the same worldview.

          Your very articulate comment gives me lots to think about and consider. I don't know that I can mentally prepare for the change in our family life. Do you think I can?

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    • Sarah

      Sarah on June 10, 2013, 2:27 a.m.

      I've read your blog a bit, Brynn... and I'm inspired by your story. I have spent a lot of time doing challenging things outdoors (smile) but never a full-on thru hike (and I recognize there is a difference). I am also 17 and would consider myself much more mature than many of my peers. I sometimes feel isolated by that and I have realized (many years ago, in fact) that I must "be completely [my] own person." I think that is part of growing up--and perhaps that is simply something that has come at an earlier age for the Barracuda. But other people grow up, too. (Okay, maybe not to the same extent... but I believe we can all find kindred spirits.) What is isolating now may prove to be binding later on. 

      Renee, I am one of those people who is jealous. (And inspired!!) I love the outdoors because of the beauty, and because of the growth it induces in me, and because it makes me feel alive. But mostly I love it because of the connections it fosters. I think those connections come from, in a large part, the challenge. That's what I will be writing a college app essay on over the next few weeks, actually. 

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      • renee

        renee on June 10, 2013, 2:34 a.m.

        Thank you Sarah. I think what you share here: "What is isolating now may prove to be binding later on." is both hopeful and yet acknowledges the gap of life experience that can exist between someone who has a life changing experience (such as a long distance hike) and his/her peers. I can see this in what Brynn is saying. 

        This is one of the main reason I want us to do this all together as a family (and why I want to do this, even though it hasn't been my lifelong dream) vs. Damien doing it alone at some point in our marriage. I want to change and grow together, not apart. 

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  • Nana

    Nana on June 10, 2013, 12:17 p.m.

    As Mom (and Nana) I read this blog with great interest and I know you and I will be sharing many thoughts and concerns (on both our parts:) about your AT adventure in the months to come. A few quick thoughts here off the top in no order of priority....

    I remember the day you told me you were pregnant and you were going to have your baby at home with a midwife. That day was over 14 years ago: I was a bit anxious but not surprised to hear it. Did you do it? Yes, and with flying colours. More than once.

    There's a post-it with this Irish Proverb taped on my computer: "You'll never plough a field turning it over in your mind."

    Take things in chunks. Pre-planning is a huge chunk, fraught with so many unknowns - if you weren't anxious about it I'd really wonder if the AT is something you should be doing. 

    The responsibility of "putting your kids" through this adventure isn't a trite one but none of parenting is trivial. I have my guess there are many other experiences children have been through which have greater potential for long-term mal-adjustment with community and culture, etc. Take confidence that you do have a Guide and of course, there's always Nana and Papa to come alongside in that nurturing department.

    To be contd...

    Love, Mom

    P.S. I just killed a spider dangling in my house (sorry, Laurent) - I accept the blame if there's a few more rainy days at your house...

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    • Melanie

      Melanie on June 10, 2013, 2:57 p.m.

      Karen:  Are you guys hiking the AT with Damien and Renee?  Just curious....

       

      Melanie

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      • renee

        renee on June 10, 2013, 3:05 p.m.

        Melanie, They are joining us for a couple sections. At least that's the plan right now. (smile)

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        • Melanie

          Melanie on June 10, 2013, 3:58 p.m.

          Well that sounds exciting for you all!  You will look forward to those times for sure!  Will you have the ability to communicate with family and friends while you are hiking?

           

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          • renee

            renee on June 10, 2013, 4:15 p.m.

            Oh yes! Though there will be periods of time (3-4 day stretches or so) where we will be unreachable. Kinda' looking forward to that. But of course friends and family can send e-mail etc. and we can respond when we're in town. 

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  • Misti

    Misti on June 10, 2013, 5:39 p.m.

    I am so thankful that we did not encounter more rain during our 2010 hike. so thankful We had a couple of doozy days, including one in which we decided to call it a day at 14 miles and sit under a bridge in PA for the rest of the day. Initially it was to let the rain let up but it never did and we found ourselves still there by dinnertime. Oh well, some days are like that. And some days you are dodging lightning at the top of Mt. Everett in Mass. shrugs

    The mental game is the hardest game on the trail. 

    I've been very interested in Brynn's post PCT hike through reading her blog, it is very different from what I've seen and experienced. I definitely think having a kid(s) in the mix changes things up and for that I cannot bridge the gap there to understand it. There is definitely community if you seek it, in my opinion, but there is also still the standard '8-5 do things as they have always been done-working-for-the-man' crowd that will never understand. However, y'all already live outside of this box so I don't think the transition will be as difficult when you return. There are definitely barriers I feel since I have come back to play the game that everyone else is playing in life, but I find other ways to push beyond the barriers and hope that eventually I can structure my life as I felt it on the AT and FT. 

     

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  • Alaina

    Alaina on June 10, 2013, 11:35 p.m.

    This is interesting, and also interesting to read the comments.  I laughed at your comment about giving birth for 6 months!  Sometimes I also compare life's challenges to giving birth (and also postpartum).

    I would think that because you already live the way you do, that coming back from your AT trip will be no different than any of the other adjustments you've made in life- hard at times but also very doable.  From reading your blog I think you will be able to do it.  You've got the ability to work through these types of things and come through it stronger in the end.  I think it will be an amazing thing in the end.  I think you have it in you to meet any challenges that come your way and figure out how to deal with them- on the trail and afterwards after returning to "real" life again.  You've given birth, you've raised your kids to this point where they are very independent, you've moved, you've built community...this is just another thing that you will also come through. :)  Anyways...just my thoughts.

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  • Danielle

    Danielle on June 12, 2013, 3:36 p.m.

    Perhaps you read it already, but I really enjoyed Bill Bryson's A Walk In the Woods.  It's been a bit since I read it, but I think he even touches somewhat on that re-entry disconnect mentioned in the comments above, although he doesn't hike with his family.  Bryson does have a particular style that might not be for everyone, but I find him quite humorous.  

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  • Danielle

    Danielle on June 12, 2013, 3:40 p.m.

    Also, I'm totally inspired by reading this, and am so interested to continue to read about your experience.  Our children are very young, so a hike like this is not really feasible now, but we're working our way up.  My husband in particular would love for our family to do a section of the PCT.  Someday. . .  :)

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  • Lee

    Lee on June 17, 2013, 5:05 p.m.

    Hmmm...some thoughts here.  We are also considering this adventure for our family, though it is not yet on the calendar (our youngest is 8).  We are a military family living overseas (I'm always amazed by how similar our lives are sometimes despite so many differences!) and as such live outside multiple communities.  We are not fully integrated in our German community, nor are we a big part of the military community because we live 30-45 minutes from all activities related to post.  My kids are already growing up being "different" than most kids, they already feel this strongly as the military tends to encourage conformity.  When my long-haired, vegetarian, Unitarian, homeschooled kid first meets new kids, they always focus on the differences. The gap in maturity, interests, etc already exist without the potential benefits of completing a through-hike.  Sometimes, it's good to know what you can do, even if you never want to do it again!  To use your childbirth analogy, I adopted my second child.  I always tell people who ask about the difference that "it is much easier to get over jet-lag."  And that's about it!

    Kinda rambly, but the short of it is don't worry about harming your kids with this, and trust yourself to handle whatever life throws at you, on the trail or otherwise.

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