It’s funny how I blow up certain fears in my head leading up to a big event. It’s as if I can imagine all the things that go wrong, I can somehow prevent myself from being surprised or control the outcome. The things I felt afraid of going into the Long Trail ended up being complete non-issues. I didn’t emphasize in my recap how nervous I felt about the idea of hiking up Mt. Mansfield alone at night. First, it ended up not happening because I started the day later than planned. I hiked it in the heat of the day, wishing it were still nighttime. The steep drop-offs I felt worried about were still there, but were totally navigable with some steady, careful steps, regardless if it were by daylight or headlamp. Second, the next morning I summited Camels Hump in the dark (also not part of the plan), which was part-frightening but mostly thrilling. In general, hiking in the dark was fine- not worth the energy I had spent worrying about it.
I felt worried about my left big toe, the infamous sausage toe which had gotten infected and blew up to the size of a golf ball in the last five or so days of my Appalachian Trail hike the summer prior. While it’s back to being mostly functional (with the new addition of a tiny little bone spur), I noticed that during my longer practice runs on the Long Trail that it would get a little achey toward the end of each day. I thought for sure if it was feeling a little bad in my practice runs, it would feel a lot bad for the real thing. I realized several days after completing the Long Trail, while on a run in Colorado, I hadn’t thought about my toe once since before even starting the hike. It was the last thing on my mind, and it hadn’t bothered me at all.
When embarking on a long distance journey of any sort, there is very little you can control except your attitude, your decisions, and your own preparedness. Focusing on the big, scary, “what ifs” that are out of your control anyway can even be a distraction from the more straightforward, logistical preparation that would actually serve you in a much more meaningful way. While there’s nothing groundbreaking about those statements, they’re lessons that I’ve needed reminding of over and over again all the same.
Now that I’m out of the mire of the long, hot, and sweaty days, the impossible decision making, moving up and down mountains all day long, focusing on the singular task of moving forward; it feels a bit jarring to so suddenly and easily have access to luxury comforts like air conditioning, takeout, a hot shower, a cushy bed, and a good night’s sleep. On the trail I had spent hours fixated on the thought of a cold can of ginger ale. Hours! In the throes of a long hike, those comforts feel a million miles away, yet in reality, they’re hardly ever more than a few hours’ hike away if you have the means for them. Mikaela Osler, who broke the women’s unsupported record on the Long Trail this summer, shared that she thought about quitting a thousand times during her hike, and she easily could have. A native Vermonter, she actually crossed a road that would have taken her straight to her own home, yet she somehow found the strength to pass up the creature comforts awaiting her in a near instant, and kept going.
All that to say, the window of opportunity to set a record on, or thru-hike, a long distance trail is fleeting. The trail, if preserved and maintained, will always be there. Those simple comforts I enjoy, though not to be taken for granted, will be waiting in the “after”. To be able to make the time in your life, to have the physical ability, to have people available and willing to support you (if that’s what you desire), are things that are never a guarantee. I think that’s why I felt a sense of urgency in hiking the Appalachian Trail as planned in 2020 (a decision that was made not without a great amount of thought and planning in terms of health and safety). I think it’s also why I still have a great deal of curiosity in seeing what I’m capable of in these long distance ordeals.
Jennifer Pharr Davis recently wrote, “The truth is I don’t follow FKTs (Fastest Known Times) anymore. It’s an unsustainable sport to participate in long term – and my term is over. I did what I wanted to do, I said what I wanted to say (aka.. “The Pursuit of Endurance”) and now other interests occupy my time.”
In a way I can’t wait to put this particular type of pursuit to rest, but that time hasn’t come for me yet. I don’t think I’d be feeling so unsettled and a little upset right now if that were untrue. The silver lining in this is that the crew and I came out of this experience perhaps a bit frayed, but in one piece. While the challenge was very physically demanding, my body handled it very well, with exception to the “death by a million paper cuts” chafing. My big toe is functioning and my spirit is on fire.
The next adventure is a backpacking trip with KT, aka Raven, through the White Mountains in New Hampshire in September. The next race is the Hellgate 100K in December. I’m throwing my hat in the ring for Western States 2022 (of which my chances in getting in are extremely slim) and Boston Marathon 2022 (of which my chances in getting in are quite good). Coach K and I had a good debrief about Vermont and he’s going to build a schedule for me leading up to Hellgate. I’ve got a great community of lady runners in Portland to train with and a close circle of family and friends that I feel supported and loved by regardless of what I do or don’t achieve. I feel thankful for many things and the future is looking bright.
Thanks for reading. In case you missed it, I recently published a short story called “A Long Trail Tale” recapping my supported FKT attempt on the Long Trail. This is accessible only to newsletter subscribers. If you’re visiting me here on my website or only receive updates through WordPress, please take a moment to sign up for my official Mercury on the Run newsletter. You will receive a link to the story upon subscribing.
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Photo: Glenn Kasin