Two posts in one day!? Yeah, just making up for last week, I was moving guys, give me a break. This week I took my very first steps on the AT. It was beautiful and everyone was so much nicer there than anywhere I’ve ever hiked. Seeing the sign that read “Appalachian trail” was magnificent. The overlook at Weverton had my heart all aflutter, despite the couple making out a few yards away. For the precious moments that I had with only three others, it was very affirming. Unfortunately we were soon overrun by what appeared to be a field trip and I had to dodge photo bombing a bunch of selfies.
Back to the beginning. A friend of mine, J, invited me to go for a hike on the Monday following a Memorial Day cookout with our friends. If you’re following my story, you may remember in The Big Reaction I spoke about a friend who doubted my prowess in hiking. Well, they all did, this hike felt very much like a test, I went in knowing that J thought I was going to do poorly, or be very slow, or display some other shortcoming. Anyone who knows me knows that I am stubborn as fuck, and if there is one thing I hate, it’s being told (whether explicitly or implicitly) that I can’t do something. So I set out that day to prove not only to my friends, but also myself, that their doubts don’t mean anything.
After staying up well past 2 and moving all day Saturday and most of Sunday, I begrudgingly rolled out of bed at 8am. From there I drove to pick up a fairly hungover J from the house where the cookout was held. I brought him home to change and pack a quick lunch (turkey, cheese, and butter, GROSS), and we headed on our way. Not long before we reached Gathland State Park, our starting point, we made a quick stop at Sheets. I went in the bathroom and had a quick talk with myself. I looked into the mirror and saw a face with dark circles under the eyes and a look of fear. This was the longest hike I had ever been on and I was already feeling pain down my right leg due to my back injury being irritated by my move. But, I wasn’t going to fail.
We arrived at the park, me with my day pack and water bladder, wearing hiking shoes. J in goddamn Jordan’s and carrying a backpack that contained 2 water bottles, a pack of cigarettes, and his turkey sandwiches. Away we went. I find that the first mile is almost always the most difficult for me, my muscles are cold, my body hasn’t adjusted yet, the beginning is still reasonably close enough to turn back. Finally, I’m starting to hit my peak when suddenly I feel like someone is knifing me in the gut, like I’m about to vomit and shit my pants at the same time. For those of you not familiar with what an ovarian cyst is like, this is how I experience them when they rupture. I’m lucky, my polycystic ovarian syndrome, or shit ton of cysts on my ovaries, presents with hemorrhagic cysts, so basically a slow leak rather than a sudden burst. What this means is I’m in pain but probably don’t need to be hospitalized. The joys of womanhood.
So here I am standing in the middle of the woods in quite a lot of pain trying to prove myself with this hike. I’m proud to say that I didn’t even consider turning back, I stood for about 30 seconds and calmly explained what was happening to J. He watched me with a mixture of concern and a clear attempt to suppress the thought that I was probably being a drama queen. I probably was. We began walking again and I made it about half a mile before I needed to rest again. Leaning against a log I went to battle with myself.
Now for my nonsequitor, but my tangents almost always have a point, so be patient. There is a concept that I use frequently in my professional life. Imagine your mind is a house, with separate rooms dedicated to the separate parts of yourself. For example, a woman might have a room for her motherhood, her role as a wife, her profession, her obsession with some band or TV show, her humor, her depression, and so on. The number of rooms is pretty incalculable, everchanging, and totally unique to the individual. If done properly, this can help close the door on parts of yourself not helpful for certain roles. For example, your mom room should be away from your professional room. I doubt yohr boss would appreciate being talked to like a toddler. I use this in my social work practice because it helps to isolate the parts of me that wouldn’t be helpful to a client. The room with my potty mouth gets closed, my personal experience that may influence how I view a client is sealed, there is a room for my judgement, and one for my shock and strong emotions. This allows me to treat a client in the best way possible because my mind is clear of the factors that could impact my professionalism. This also helps maintain boundaries between worker and client and allows me to disengage from the more shocking or terrible things I hear. This may seem cold, but it it’s necessary to protect myself and provide the best treatment I can. Another wonderful concept you’ll find I’m social work fairly often is mindfullness, for those not aware of what this is, here is the Google definition:
” a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. “
Back to the original story as promised, I got through the remaining 12 miles of that hike through the application of these mental tools. Anyone telepathic would have thought I was an idiot, my mantra was “close the door” as I repeatedly forced my mind away from the pain. I practiced mindfullness by focusing on my present. I listened to the sound of mud squishing at each step, the feel of rocks under my feet and the strain of muscle in my thighs, I smelled sweat and the pungent odor of J’s cigarettes (seriously! Who smokes while hiking!?). Through this constant mental battle and a hand placed firmly on my abdomen, I made it to the overlook. At one point during the trek, I told J that I was taking the lead because I knew I would be slower and I thought it would be easier to set the pace, he informed me that he was content with this and that we were actually hiking at the pace he would normally go. I smiled then with what must have been feral ferocity, luckily J didn’t notice as he was both behind me and preoccupied with mushrooms or his cigarettes or some such nonsence. Either way, I don’t think he understood that significance of the exchange.
We made it to the overlook and sat down to enjoy sunshine and lunch. I removed socks and shoes and began to scale the rocks barefoot. The view from Weverton is amazing, the river and the train tracks make quite a scene. Eventually perturbed by the amourous couple and gaggle of teens, I made it back to my sunning rock. I shoveled a bunch of walnuts down my throat and we were off again. The half an hour rest had allowed my muscles to cool so the first mile back was excruciating. I had lost my mental focus and my whole body was sore from the first 7 miles. But I did it, and we hit our stride once more, making mile 11 our fastest mile, a fact I find rather astounding. We spent the last few miles in amicable conversation, both of us elated to be so close to the end and preemptively proud of our accomplishment. When I walked out of the woods in was awash with relief… because there was the bathroom. Guys I still haven’t gotten the courage to pee in the woods.
Before I close this post with something adequately inspirational I have one more story to tell. As we started the hike I rolled my ankle a few times, apparently I’m blessed with flexible ankles because this is a near daily occurrence and I’ve never sprained one. Due to this, J was certain I was going to faceplant into the mud. I had the reciprocal certainty because of his ridiculous foot wear (Jordans, really!?). Guess which one of us took the tumble? I haven’t laughed so hard in quite a while as I did when I watched him stagger to his feet all muddy, cranky, and flushed with embarrassment. I felt a bit guilty about the laughter, but there was some definite triumph mixed in with the guilt. Here is this guy, an avid hiker, who doubted my ability, and I’m the one who stayed on my feet.
I’ll admit that my confidence in my prowess was a bit dampened by the fact that J probably had a bad hangover, but still, I made it through my longest hike yet, exhausted, sore from moving into a third floor apartment with no elevator, and doing war with my ovary. I know it will be different with more than a day pack, but God it felt good and I’m taking a step in the right direction. We finished our day off with a bit of reckless speeding on the hour drive home, gotta make that turbo whistle, and like a lot of chipotle. Overall I’d say it was a success.