No, I don’t mean tapas the food. Though that would be great. I mean the yoga kind: spiritual fire, endurance, withstanding. I thought I knew what that was all about before I came out here–getting up early to meditate, doing some yoga every day, not saying the snarky thing I really want to. But hiking the Appalachian Trail is the tapas-iest thing I’ve ever done, hands down.
It’s one thing to talk ahead of time about hiking every day, camping every night, going without showers and good food and clean spaces to put your things down. It’s another to be here doing it.
Here’s honesty: I cried many times, usually in the morning when I wanted a hot shower and could not have one, during the first week and a half or so of this endeavor. Before we came out here, this was all I wanted to do. Once we were here, I could not remember why the hell I had abandoned homes and comfy beds and flat ground for half a year.
I expected that at some point I would question this idea or my ability to do it. I thought it would be in the summer, in the middle, maybe because I was bored. It caught me totally off guard how difficult it was straight from the beginning.
We came here as backpackers. With what we thought was experience. We thought we had this. But this isn’t backpacking. This is thru-hiking, and it is different.
This trail is tearing me and my notions down. All the way down, the way caterpillars dissolve inside their cocoons and have to regrow into entirely new things. I’m that, that’s me. And it is hard to allow yourself to be broken down. Things I thought I needed (like lotion, like washing sunscreen off my face at the end of the day, like more than an inch of space between me and the stranger I’m sleeping next to), it turns out I don’t. And some things I thought I didn’t need (like supportive shoes, like town), I do. I can eat things out here I never could before, but I can’t keep the same mindsets. Yes to beer now. No to comparing our plans to other people’s.
The intensity of it caught me off guard, and the duration is difficult to think about too. I started pushing our mileage too quickly because it scared me. I didn’t think I could withstand this for very long, so I thought we’d better hurry up and get to Maine.
We’ve slowed down now, and that’s its own kind of tapas. To do your eight or nine miles and be content when everyone else is talking big about their fifteen. To enjoy this part of the trail and not rush to get to town. To calm down the mind that wants to do miles and get places, and honor the knees that want to stop in the early afternoon.
We’ve also started staying around shelters more. I’ve always been reflexively defensive about other people, and have certainly carried that baggage out here. I hoped to meet some humans who could bolster my faith in humanity, and I have. For the first little while we avoided the crowds and camped alone mostly. But we’ve loved meeting up with Katherine and Brandon (the couple who saved us during the freezing rain) at the end of each day and camping together. And we fell behind the party group we’d been stuck with and found ourselves in a new bubble. Now we hike mostly alone during the day and have plenty of camaraderie at night. I especially enjoy The Doctor, who is like a constant stand up comedy routine, this dude with a serious Chicago accent who carries coffee, powdered creamer and sugar and lets everyone who wants one make a cup of coffee. There’s also Ronan, Aladdin (so named because of his pants), Black Dog, and G-man. Plus some others we leapfrog with from day to day.
So. It’s hard. But I’m getting the hang of it, and it’s also fun. At first I lost sight of why we came out here, but now I’m remembering. I wanted this change. I wanted to be torn down. Now I just need to let go, enjoy the journey, and hope something admirable emerges at the end.