Summoning the Strength to Wuss Out
I think the biggest display of strength during hiking is one of the least expected moments. It isn’t the high altitude hiking of Mt. Bierstadt or any of my longer treks on the Appalachian Trail. Instead, the moment I believe I exercised the most strength and combatted the most temptation occurred on a short little, innocent-seeming hike.
Sometime during the spring of 2005, I woke up anxious to hike. I also awoke with a head cold, but I figured I’d hike through it. I packed up the dogs and drove about an hour to Bland County to knock out the southern most portion of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) maintained trail. It was going to be an eight mile round trip.
Well we finally arrive at the trailhead and I must have walked 50 feet on the trail before I realized (much like G.O.B. on Arrested Development):
“I made a huge mistake.”
I was congested. I had a headache. I felt feverish. But I’m stubborn when I get on the trail. It’s true that I often doubt my own abilities (refer to People Get Held Back By the Voices Inside Them). But probably one reason I’ve consistently trumped those doubts is because I’m so stubborn and determined to make it to my destination and back. And maybe the stubborness is in turn fed by the notion of spiting the doubt.
So back to Bland County. I’m sick and on the trail. In this case my stubborness was amplified by the sunk cost of driving all the way down there. So what do I do? I keep going. I hiked a piddly 1.3 miles before fortitude finally came my way. It was at that point, I made the decision to turn around and return to my car. I wanted so much to continue– to knock out the full eight miles– to accomplish what I came out there for. To further complicate matters, this would be the first time I’d given up on a hike. I know it sounds counterintuitive– but it would have been easier for me to continue and suffer through it than it was for me to turn around.
So… the strongest thing I ever did hiking was giving up.
Well tonight, I’m mustering a similiar strength. Tomorrow morning, I’m picking up a visiting hiker from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and dropping him off 20 miles away from his car so he can hike back. It’s a favor numerous people have done for me (Sean, Bill C, Larry Bowman, Mike E) and I’m happy to assist another hiker. The particular section he’s doing is Peters Mountain with Rice Fields. This is a section of the trail that I’ve never done before and it connects the two RATC-maintained sections. It’s 20 miles, a mileage I would love to accomplish in a day. I really, really, really want to go along on this hike.
BUT…. not only do I have a list of chores I hope to accomplish this weekend, on Wednesday I injured my left shin running hills with Jimmie (Get this– I was targetting hills because I want to improve my hiking ascents!). Today at work, I could still feel the pain in my shin even on a short journey— say to the restroom and back. Logically I *know* it is not the time for me to attempt a 20 mile hike. But boy, my heart and soul craves it. I know I’m injured. I know that it would only get worse with added mileage.
But still, I daydream about that hike. I rationalize that hike. Maybe my leg will feel better in the morning. Once I ascend that first 1500 feet, it’ll be flat! My daily doodles (prominent when I’m waiting for someone to do something on the phone like reboot a server or run an install) were centered on the hiking theme.
I get home and even though my decision has supposedly been made– I still look at the maps and the AT guide and think about the hike and the logistics. How much water. What food should I bring along.
But– it will be an unfulfilled dream. At least for tomorrow. I will have to be content with a different type of exercise– exercising my will power.
Summoning the strength to wuss out.