Taking it Easy

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.

The Presidential Range, with Mt. Washington in the background.

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.

This warning sign was posted before the summit of Mt. Washington.

 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,

       Ashley Sylvan

4 thoughts on “Taking it Easy

  1. Thanks Sarah for your wonderful stories of your adventures and lessons on the trail. Acceptance is such a key word and attitude. I’m glad you made the decision to stay in town. Waiting on God’s timing is hard sometimes. You saw the beauty because you waited.


  2. Your journey and beautiful writing of your experienced on the trail have been like picking up a good novel! Glad you have the good sense to stay out of the rain. Even Michigan weather can be unpredictable. The past few storms here have been packed with high winds, torrential rain, and lightening strikes.

    Bless you Ashley!


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