A few weekends ago, my brother and I finished hiking the 229 mile Pennsylvania portion of the Appalachian Trail. Thank you so much to everyone who supported and encouraged us! It was an out-of-character, very difficult goal for me, and everyone who asked about our progress really helped to motivate me.
Since we wrapped up our journey (on the bridge to New Jersey), I wanted to wrap up my thoughts on it as well, with some concluding words in the what-learned/how-I-grew genre. I'll try not to be too sappy, but be forewarned that some rays of encroaching enlightenment may attempt to poke through.
So what did I learn?
I learned that my brother is an excellent organizer and hike-master. He deciphered all the maps, determined meet-up spots and car-drop offs, and found us food, lovely tasty veggie food. He put up with my sometimes-whining, my almost-crying, and my hauling-butt-up-a-rockface grunting that would have gotten me kicked out of Planet Fitness. He was our statistician, keeping track of all progress in mileage and elevation. He was an epic pillar of patience, weathering issues such as my inability to contain my backpack strap in the car ("Why is my car making that rattling noise again?"); my obsessing about books I was reading and babbling about them for hours, and my oversharing about chafed body parts and wardrobe malfunctions. He was more trail magic than the beautiful mixed fruit plate someone left in the woods a few hundred feet from a (thankfully shy) rattlesnake. I'm so grateful that he is in remission from his Crohn's Disease and that he can enjoy his health by helping me become healthier, too.
I learned that in terms of exercise fantasies, I default to mid 80s video games. I'd wish for a Super Mario Brothers one-up that could turn the rocks into clouds. I'd wish for alpine--slide warp tubes that could transform a sharp downward incline into an amusement park ride. I'd hear Mario uh-oh whoopsie music when I wiped out on boulder and beached in a bramble bush.
I learned that my body can do amazing things, and, by extension, that all bodies can. I'd peer down from a huge hill at the bridge we had walked across an hour earlier, at cars that seemed almond-sized. I'd climbed on my own power! No elevators, no escalators, no Mario magic from the previous paragraph. My body can do things I never thought it could. So can yours!
I learned that trail-dogs are awesome: the lickiest, the boundiest, the love-iest. They have the styliest bandanas and the softest fog-misty fur, and the stinkier you are, the more they adore you.
I learned that uphill isn't as bad as I once thought it was. Wet rocky downhill in the dark is much scarier, although the twinkling lights of the town below you are Christmas-card gorgeous.
I learned that rocks aren't as evil as I once thought they were, as long as they are not-wet. Dry rocks have traction. Wet green-slime covered rocks are instant devil-sliding-boards.
I learned that socks sometimes still smell funky-feety even after you've washed and dried them aggressively.
I learned that ProBar makes the tastiest chewies and protein bars, and that I'd resent the bought-in-bulk Cliff Bars that were my former favorites. If you'd like some, let me know, as they are still trapped in an endless melt-and-reform cycle in my car's trunk.
I learned that eating outdoors can be OK, much to the annoyance of my husband and best friend, with whom I've refused to dine alfresco for decades.
I learned that other hikers are usually awesome. They encourage you; they fist bump you even though you are a sniffy-cold-mess; they admit the slope you are about to climb is "exactly as bad as it looks."
I learned that nature is gorgeous; hiking shoes are mortal, and the rumors about Pennsylvania being rocky are absolutely boot-busting true.
I learned that I won't stop hiking, and that my weird winter goal is to treadmill-train to jog/run a 5K.
Oh, and next year: New Jersey! It's only 72 miles of Appalachian Trail, after all....