Raving mad and somewhat slightly dazed

Well… T-minus 30 days until this puppy hits the desert!

The Mexican border, where there’s a big fence! But not a giant wall!

Ten other raving mad and somewhat slightly dazed wannabes will be joining me at the home of trail angels Scout and Frodo in San Diego on the 19th — and ostensibly 50 of us are starting at Campo on my start date. April 20, April 20, April 20. April 20!

Things could still fall apart. The first long hike can be a gift, apparently, but as it turns out, you really really really have to work for the next one. Frankly, I’m afraid to entirely commit, emotionally speaking. It could all swirl down the drain up until the minute I get on the plane — which would suck in ways that I can’t even begin to describe.

But, you know, if it does, it does; in the meantime… onward! Onward. One step at a time.

All stories start with a question, and I guess my question this time around is, Can I make it all the way NOBO in one season? I don’t know. I’m nervous as hell. Technically, I didn’t have to flip on the AT; I was still within range when I got to Harper’s Ferry. But I’d fallen so far to the back of the herd that it had become depressing, and I needed to shake things up to recharge and make the walking fresh again by going north and hiking home SOBO to Pennsylvania. It was a great decision. I loved seeing so many of my buddies again when we crossed paths. But this time, I won’t flip; if I can’t finish, I’ll do it in two years.

(I say that now.)

(It’s not as easy to flip on the PCT anyway, logistically.)

(That assumes that the High Sierra will be passable in this snowy year. If wildfires or high snow force some sort of a workaround, I’ll have to deal with that when it comes up.)

I’m wiser now, so we’ll see. I’m also slightly lighter (although not by much). I’m starting a lot later, so it won’t be as relentlessly frigid all day (plus, hey, desert!). My systems are pretty much dialed in, and I’ll tweak what I need to tweak when I learn about hiking in the hot and dry versus the endlessly wet, and as my legs and body remember what it feels like just to walk.

I wanted to train more, but the winter weather and work have thwarted me. Well… it’s a bit of a myth, anyway. After the decision’s made, you champ at the bit to get going, but you really can’t do any of the actual suffering ahead of time. Once your gear and habits are dialed in, you’re still going to suffer at the beginning regardless. Kind of like boot camp, I think (never having been booted). (And I feel pretty OK that I’m in sufficient shape to avoid the worst of the overuse injuries; and if not, I built in a time cushion.) Unless you’re an athlete going for a record, if you’re just a regular Jo who’s trained to be in good shape at the beginning, the Trail will simply find some other way to smite you. Because that’s what the Trail does — it smites. It laughs at your silly preparations. Yes, my friend — it’s laughing at you, not with you.

The trick is to be OK with the smiting and suffering. To make peace with it and soldier on, and float (in a walking sort of way). It’s only suffering, right?! It’s only a little pain. It passes! Embrace the brutality! When my training time began to be gnawed away by snow and ice and work, I notched back an aggressive starting schedule to allow some extra time to ease in. Fingers crossed, people! Fingers crossed.

Things are much better planned out this time. The details will be out the window on day one, of course, but at least I’ve painted things out in broad strokes. On the AT, I more or less winged it — the classic mistake, like moving from one apartment to the one down the hall. Because it’s close and you’re used to it, you don’t pack, you underestimate things, then BOOM! It’s moving day and you’re so, so screwed. Not this time. I attacked this like a military operation. I can rattle off city names and mileages, hostel and hotel names, average and high and low temperatures, sunrise and sunset times, probably even a zip code or two if I think hard enough. I know what things look like. I’ve pored over photos and journals, especially photos, and read book after book. If they said a stream crossing was bad, I spent an hour checking google images and youtube videos. I’ve got apps! I’ve got maps! If I saw a map on the AT, it was probably on a placemat at a really cheap diner, hidden under a cheeseburger. And, of course, there’s no guarantee I’ll finish at all. This could end up being half a trail in five months, or only a two-week trip and then I’m home again. There’s always the uncertainty. The smitage.

So there we are, at T-minus a month.

I’m eventually going to put up a care package link, in case anybody’s inspired and I last that long. I loved my AT care packages, once I figured out how to get them! Thru-hikers love care packages! And now that I understand the ins and outs of mailing things and my hiking pace, I’m more confident about sharing the towns I’ll be hitting and when.

Special thanks in advance to my brother, John, who’s sending me my gear and shoes, and bear canister and ice axe when I get to the snowy and beary bits. And to my friends Janet and Karen, who are fabulous for agreeing to cut my grass. And to my sister, Sharon, who’s going to be opening my junk mail and taking care of my car. And to all of you, who are coming with me! 🙂 (Although I won’t be blogging as regularly as I did on the AT. I’m also thinking I’ll switch to Instagram for photos instead of embedding them in the weekly journal; that’ll be easier, I think, although less… journaly. I don’t know yet. It’s one of the four-thousand-and-seven things I still have to figure out. Just like moving!)