In my last blog entry, I shared the struggles and frustrations that I encountered during the first part of my hike in the White Mountains. The grueling terrain forced me to slow down, drastically cutting my daily mileage. Prior to this section, I was able to look ahead and plan with reasonable accuracy how many miles I would cover in a given week. In the Whites, all my plans – no matter how short-term – were chucked out the window. At first, this led to extreme frustration and even some anxiety. When I expected to cover at least 15 miles one day, I was dejected after realizing I had only covered 11 miles after hiking hard for the last 10 hours. The spirit was willing, but the body was weak…and then the spirit, too, became weak.
I had no choice but to accept the fact that I would not be hiking big miles. Once I embraced that fact, I finally felt at liberty to relax, even in the midst of perhaps the most physically demanding challenge of my life. No longer following a self-imposed schedule, I enjoyed a very simple but satisfying way of life, much like Forrest Gump during his great run: “When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know, I went.” While this new mindset did not make the physical effort any easier, it did alleviate the psychological burden I had encumbered myself with.
It also helped me to prioritize my safety. The weather in the White Mountains can be extremely volatile. Severe storms can pop up suddenly, putting hikers – especially those on exposed ridgeline – at risk. While bad weather cannot always be avoided, there were several instances previously where I would hike through a storm I could have averted by taking refuge in a town, but I chose to hike on because I wanted to get the miles in. I could get away with this on other sections of the AT, but I had a healthy fear of adverse weather in the Whites. This fear and my newfound self-leniency led me to take a “zero day” in town prior to tackling the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington due to a dire weather forecast predicting severe storms. To say I was content while watching the torrential downpour from my hotel window would be a gross understatement. When I reached the summit of Mt. Washington the following day, the weather was perfect – it was clear and sunny with a gentle breeze. Had I pushed on despite the bad weather, I would have at best had a miserable time on the summit and ridgeline with zero visibility and high winds, and at worst could have put myself in danger. Indeed, I later heard reports of a hiker who was struck by lightning near Mt. Washington on the day the storms rolled through.
It took me much longer than I had anticipated to complete the New Hampshire section of the AT. It was much harder than I could have imagined. It was also much more beautiful than I could have imagined. And like every other challenge I’ve encountered on the trail thus far, I came out with a new understanding of myself and of life itself. These lessons in life continue to benefit me as I move forward, now entering the last state on my AT journey, Maine, which promises new challenges in terms of trail conditions and logistics. But I am eager to see what still lies ahead and what more there is to learn and experience as I press on towards Mt. Katahdin.
Until our paths cross again,