I hiked alone for the first time yesterday. As part of my make-it-up-as-I-go-along-with-some-help-from-more-experienced-folks training regimen for my first backpacking trip in June, I’m hitting trails at least twice a week. Before I decided to learn to backpack, I only hiked casually a few times a year. I actually remember hiking the easy part of the trail I hiked yesterday a couple years ago and thinking Welp, time to turn around! when I hit the strenuous section. And turn around I did. Back then.
But I didn’t turn around yesterday. I did melt into a slumped over pile on the trail about halfway through the strenuous section and wonder at my thunderous heartbeat while I tried to keep from vomiting, but I didn’t turn around. I did question whether or not I’d ever be able to be a real backpacker, but I didn’t turn around. I did tell myself it was too hard and I wasn’t fit enough and I couldn’t do it and I didn’t want to do it and I was too fat and I was too lazy and I was stupid for ever thinking I could be different, but I didn’t turn around.
When I hiked the same trail with a friend last week, my hiking time was quicker and I made it through the hike without my mind turning on me. But alone? Alone I had to contend with an inner voice shaped by whispers and shouts of negativity heaped on me by myself and others. And it sucked. And I almost cried. And I almost quit. But I knew I couldn’t quit right on the trail, so I kept climbing. And man, the rush I felt at the top of the climb, when I knew the trail was about to get easy again? That felt unbelievable. Even worth it.
It’s no secret to me that my adoration of nature is not the only reason I’m learning to backpack. I carry a load of heartache heavier than any backpack I will ever take on a trail, and I find it quite apt that exorcise and exercise sound so similar. Maybe backpacking will not heal me. I might even discover that I hate it after a trip or two. But pursuing it is making me stronger, mentally and physically. I’m surrounded by a group of wise and encouraging people. So I’ll keep hiking. I’ll keep learning. I’ll train for my trip in June. And I might even get rid of a demon or two along the way.