October 2, 2018
Continued from my last post.
Why was the Appalachian Trail so hard for me? There are obvious physical and logistical reasons. Only 25% of people who attempt to complete the entire trail are successful. It's not an easy endeavour. But the trail is so much more mental than physical, and I struggled mightily with that aspect.
One of the most difficult mental aspects of the trail was our timeline.
Our goal in hiking the Appalachian Trail was to complete it. We didn't want our legacy to be that we "attempted" the trail. We wanted our family legacy to be that we completed this bad-ass thing together.
After two years of preparation and planning we had created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hike the trail as a family.
As Canadians we had a limited window of time for our hike because of US regulations for visitors but also because of Quebec's rules about health care coverage and extended travel. When you're out the province for more than 183 days in a calendar year you have to re-apply for the provincial health care plan, providing residency etc.
When we initially moved to Quebec seven years ago, we had some difficulty with the bureaucracy regarding health care coverage and child care assistance payments (you get money in Canada from the both the provincial and federal governments to help raise kids, dependent upon income).
In addition, we were reported to child protective services from the provincial government agency that manages child care assistance because we couldn't submit school records as proof of their existence. It was a mess and was very stressful for me and I didn't want anything more to do with Quebec bureaucracy in terms of proving our residence or the care and well-being of our children.
I wasn't messing with that 183 day limit on out-of-province travel for the year. We were going to follow the rules and not invite further bureaucracy, home visits, and possible financial repurcussions into our lives.
We had six months, minus our travel days on either end of our hike, and although a six month time period isn't unreasonable for hiking the trail it created a summit deadline for our hike. On Day 100 (I know because I recorded it in my journal) in Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania, Damien did the math on a spreadsheet and figured out what our average daily mileage needed to be in order to finish the trail in time.
For the next 77 days we needed to follow a disciplined and scheduled plan in order to complete our goal. And that plan was not dependant on weather, trail conditions, or how we felt, but the number of miles we needed to complete each week to reach Katahdin before our time was up. (The plan did include one full day off trail every week for resupply and rest. The kids rested and played and Damien and I worked our butts off to get all our work done to get back on trail the next day.)
Those numbers, that deadline and our schedule did not energize me, it did not motivate me. It caused a deep level of stress and anxiety.
I felt trapped. I was physically and mentally worn down. The word "despair" shows up a lot in my journal during this time.
So much for doing a bad-ass trail. That trail kicked my ass.
Our AT hike was what it was because of our situation, which was somewhat unavoidable once we were in it. But I decided after my family finished the hike that I would never willingly put myself in that kind of scheduled hike situation again: lots of miles, a tight deadline, and very little margin. I don't operate that way in my real life and to feel that squeeze on the trail sucked so much of the joy out of the experience.
I wasn't sure if I'd ever do a long distance trail again.
Then late last summer, as we were returning from our 9 week road trip, my parents shared their plans to hike Vermont's Long Trail this year to celebrate their 65th birthdays and 45th wedding anniversary.
The idea of two weeks with my parents in Vermont was too good of an offer to pass up. When Damien secured a new job in January we knew it was definitely possible for us to accompany them since Damien could take paid vacation time (this is still a novel reality in our lives). I agreed to join but with one caveat, the focus of this trip would be fun, not miles.
The hike with my parents was open to anyone in the family who wanted to come but as parents of experienced thru-hikers we laid the following conditions for our teen and young adult kids. We're doing this hike as equals. If you decide to come you'll have to vet and prepare your own gear (we'd help replace gear if necessary but kids might have to spend some of their own money potentially to get outfitted). As parents we would pay for the food and transportation but the kids would be equal participants in planning and the town chores of grocery shopping, food packing, and laundry.
Although no one was particularly keen on staying home without us for two weeks (the longest stretch our kids have been independent), for personal and varied reasons they each decided to forego this adventure.
I'm so pleased my kids have their own developing lives and interests. And in the end, none of them wanted to set those aside for two weeks to go to the woods. Whereas Damien and I were thrilled to say "good riddance" to all the responsibilities of our normal lives and go to the woods!
I had one intention for section hiking the Long Trail with my parents: to enjoy myself, I didn't care how many miles we hiked, or how far we got.
The four of us, Mom, Dad, Damien and myself planned our start and end point to allow hiking days of 10 miles per day, a totally manageable and easy pace for all of us. We built in extra time for rest and town stops. We had margin.
We parked a car at Route 125, Middlebury Gap and drove another down to the southern end of the trail in Williamstown, Massachusetts. And then we spent two weeks walking north.
We did a couple longer hiking days of 15 miles, followed by shorter days. We spent rainy afternoons huddled in a shelter with other sojourning strangers who fast become trail friends. We got up at a time that felt good (7:00 am mostly), left camp after a leisurely coffee and breakfast routine (8:30/9:00), hiked till the afternoon when we made a new camp and relaxed for the late afternoon and evenings.
On our two resupplies in Manchester Center and Rutland we took our time, no rush. We lingered in coffee shops, perused and supported downtown businesses, had cold beer, went out for supper. Our motel in Manchester Center had a hot tub and I decided then and there that I could definitely do more long distance hiking with a hot tub break every week or so.
It was a different pace than our thru-hike. It was exactly what I needed to remember why I fell in love with backpacking to begin with.
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