I have often lived in places surrounded by people who are doing much more interesting and, quite frankly, more badass things than I am doing. My current home is no exception. If I run a marathon, someone is running an ultra. If I do 20-mile day hikes, someone is doing a thru hike logging 40 miles a day for weeks on end. If I make it back from Bike to Beers without wiping out, someone I’m chatting with is headed off to ride the Tour Divide. Seriously. But I love being surrounded by people who challenge the limits of what I see as impossible or, alternately, as achievable.
Years ago, I was brought along on my first backpacking trip. I was nervous as hell. It was a relatively short hike mileage-wise, not too far from where I lived in Anchorage. Since I hadn’t backpacked before, I was a bit nervous, but my hiking partner/fiance was encouraging. And kind enough to carry a much larger portion of the gear so it wouldn’t be so hard for me, which is honestly probably why I agreed to go in the first place. Still, the hike in was tough. I had never carried a pack before, and I’m certain my (whole other kind of ) pack-a-day habit sure wasn’t helping anything. But after getting about ten miles in with some significant climbs and descents, we set up camp in a valley about as picturesque as you can imagine in Alaska. I took off my boots, put sandals on my weary feet, and ate the first meal I felt like I’d really earned in a long time. I was content.
About that time, the wind picked up. And the rain started. Overnight, it consistently blasted against the tent in what we’d later learn were 60+mph winds. When we woke in the morning, we didn’t bother to try to cook a warm breakfast and instead started packing up our waterlogged gear. I’m not proud of the things I mumbled under my breath, but I was not a happy camper. And now we couldn’t go out the (much shorter) way we’d intended as it was now snowed in. We’d have to go out the same route we’d come in. At the peak (valley?) of this experience, with my foot stuck solidly between two rocks, my boots filled with water to overflowing, and cold rain slashing at my face, I screeched at my at-the-time-fiance-now-ex-husband (shocked?), at the top of my lungs, “YOU NEED TO MARRY SOMEONE WHO LIKES TO DO THIS STUPID SHIT!” I’m pretty sure he has looked back on that day more than once and thought he should have listened more closely to me in that moment.
All that to say, I’ve not always really been the outdoorsy type. I have always loved and appreciated nature even while being a city gal at heart, but sometimes photos of nature were juuuuust fine by me. Gradually, though, I’ve been getting out into it more and more. I’m lucky enough to live in a town that is known for its access to trails, and when I got divorced and only got to see my dog when on walks, I started hitting the trails. Hard. I’d log hours at a time every day after work to be able to spend time with my Maggie Mutt. And I set a goal with her to cover every inch of the Superior Hiking Trail. She didn’t make it (she died this past fall), but I still intend to make good on that.
People close to me have heard me say that The Trail healed my heart over the past year. While this is true, it’s also a place where I felt safe enough to let my heart completely shatter. There are places on the trail where I’ve sobbed uncontrollably, tears freezing on my cheeks in -20 degree weather, my cries luckily being heard only by the woodland creatures. But logging the miles helped me put it all back together. And the endorphin bath for my brain surely didn’t hurt, either.
I’m minutes away from getting on a plane for a several-week trip to England, Scotland and Iceland. I’ll then return for three weeks before going to Cambodia and other random places for nearly six months. This made me realize that there’s no way I’m going to be able to cover all the rest of The Trail this summer as I initially thought I could, but I wanted to see how much I’d already done. Using some rudimentary math, my well-worn Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail, and trail maps with completed portions highlighted, I calculated that I have traveled almost exactly half of The Trail.
While initially disappointed at how little I’d covered so far, I realized that (1) the miles I counted are only a portion of the trail miles I’ve logged since this fall when I started this project, (2) I’ve gone out-and-back on all of these miles so I’ve really done twice that number, and (3) this means I’ve still hiked OVER 300 NOVEL MILES on this particular trail in less than a year. Now, I know many people can say that they’ve done so much more than that. So much more. I mean, now that I’ve calculated that, I’m sure I’ll meet some joker who’s done twice that in a weekend. But for a gal who used to have a pack-a-day habit and scream angry words about never hiking again, I’d say it’s not been a bad year on the trail.
I’m already excited for the next 300 miles or so that will be here waiting for me when I get back. Maybe I’m becoming “SOMEONE WHO LIKES TO DO THIS STUPID SHIT!” Whaddya know…