What the fudge am I doing?!
There were little moments of panic that would randomly occur during what was a normal work day. My heart would drop in my chest when someone, something, or some event would trigger a sudden bout of introspection and consideration of what I was about to attempt. Mexico to Canada on foot? This is the worst idea you've ever had!
The first footfall on trail put all of those fears to rest. I was still nervous, and not at all prepared that very first day on the PCT, but I was so distracted with my immediate goals—stay walking and find a place to sleep—that the distant goal of Canada wasn't so daunting anymore and didn't matter so much compared to what I was doing right now.
After a thousand miles or so, I had experienced enough of life on the trail to be comfortable in a variety of conditions and situations. I could cope with bad weather, ornery partners, as well as my own occasional ill-tempered mood. After the PCT, I now knew what thru-hiking entailed and I figured I would try my luck on the AT. Making that decision didn't feel as monumental as the decision to walk the PCT. There were no sudden panic attacks and no "WTF" moments. They were replaced with a calm I can do this because I've done it before attitude. In a word, confidence.
I had over prepared for the PCT. I still have boxes of food at home that were never mailed out. I have still more food that was never packed into a box at all. I have gear that I never used. I think one of the reasons I would panic or stress out before the PCT was because of my inclination to plan everything and leave nothing to chance. When I commited to walking the AT, I was convinced to plan almost nothing.
But now I'm watching YouTube videos from AT 2018 hopefuls and reading the Subreddit /r/appalachiantrail. I watch as these people go through the same thing I did before the PCT. I watch them create the requisite Gear Lists, the Why-I-Am-Hiking-The-Appalachian-Trail videos, the requests for pack shakedowns on /r/ultralight. I watch them panic, then relax, then panic again. I watch them get lost in the minutia and cut a toothbrush in half. I watch as they explain the reasons for taking five, one-pound batteries with a total of 37 USB ports to charge a phone and a headlamp. "There might be other people out there that need a charge, so if you see me out there, I got you, bruh." I watch as they "review" their brand-new, ultralight, less-than-a-pound backpack and proclaim it the best pack on the market—having never actually used it. Then I watch them stuff it with five pounds of batteries, a four-pound tent, two pairs of pants, town clothes, and three flashlights, only to negate any weight-savings from their uber expensive pack. I see their naiveté and I can relate to their overly excited gushing about this or that, but I am so over that stuff—or so I thought.
I've worked up an immunity to the Gearia Listorious and the Packia Expandamonium bugs...
Their anxieties and worries are infectious. One person announces that he is carrying an 18" long massage rolling stick (it weighs only 13 ounces!), and within hours, other hopefuls are updating their gear lists to include—you guessed it—an 18-inch massage rolling stick and a little spiky ball to massage their feet. There must be a package deal on Amazon or something.
I've worked up an immunity to the Gearia Listorious and the Packia Expandamonium bugs, but apparently I'm not immune to all of their fears. Weather, mud, cold, rain, bugs, rocks, miles-per-day, resupply—these are all things that I became comforatble with on the PCT, but now, after watching these AT hopeful's posts, I've noticed that sinking feeling coming back again. Can I still do 20+ miles per day? What about 30? What is that twinge in my knee? Am I out of shape already? Will I find friends out there or will I be alone?
I thought I was so far above all of this, but it turns out that I'm still human and I still let things bother me. I'm still thinking about my gear. I'm still adding up the weight in my head. I'm still anxious. Maybe that never goes away. Maybe I need to let go of the idea that I can let go, that I will get to a point where these things don't bother me.
Ooh! Someone posted another gear video! Gotta go!