Tag Archives: failure

After the Trail

3 weeks of pain, misery, and trudging long after I wanted to stop because I couldn’t find a place to stop has left me with tendon damage and relief that I finally made myself stop.

I listened to more than a few hikers talk about the incredible amounts of ibuprofen they took every day to keep getting their miles in. Hikers who talked of “open wounds on their heels that shot pain up their legs with every step,” who kept walking because they had to get so many miles in. Is it worth liver damage, blood that may or may not clot properly if they sustain an injury, just to get to Katahdin?

I felt shame, the inevitable sense of failure, until the day I actually stopped walking, standing on feet that could barely hold me up and said “I hate this!” Then, relief. I have lived for years with the sense of panic that I might not make the rent, that my car won’t get me to work and back, that I won’t sell the art I’ve put in shops, that something I do won’t work out as I hope. That same sense of constraint, of being in a type of prison, was with me every step of the trail. I couldn’t stop when I saw something beautiful (oh, I did, sometimes, but not with the usual feeling of awe and satisfaction) or even when I was tired and my feet hurt. I couldn’t tell how far I’d walked and even though I knew how far the next shelter was, I couldn’t tell how far I’d come, how far I had to go. I knew I needed to find a campsite before full dark, with a water source, and I went through long stretches where I couldn’t stop because of terrain. I was carrying about a quarter of my body weight so uphill was slow going. I met every step with a growing sense of panic. Where could I stop if I didn’t make it to the shelter? At the shelter were campsites, water, and the safety of people, even though I wasn’t interested in lots of interaction. The point is that I found every day meant nothing more than walking, constantly, for 10 hours to get to the next shelter.

I had trouble eating. Trail food was so far removed from what I normally ate that I really had trouble getting it down and keeping it there. When I’m really tired, and anxious, I can’t eat. If you walk with a pack on rough terrain, uphill and down for hours and hours, you use a lot of energy. I needed to eat and I couldn’t. That added to my panic, and of course, made eating even harder.

Many days I encountered no one until I got close to the shelter. That didn’t bother me, and it gave me hours and hours to think. I realized that my life on the trail was not so different from the life I’ve been leading for years. Getting from one rent day to the next was a lot like making it from one shelter to the next. Wishing I could stop and just look at the sky was a lot like wishing I could spend a day making art instead of going to a job that would leave me exhausted, physically and creatively. I had no more freedom on the trail than I did in real life. Less, in fact. In real life, I did find time to write, to make art, just not nearly enough. On the trail, I couldn’t draw, or write. The longer I went without doing those things that have always sustained me, the harder the days became. I couldn’t sleep, no matter how exhausted, because of the pain in my feet and my heart. I wanted to draw. I wanted to write. I wanted to read.

The trail taught me, in far less than 6 months, that I wanted to return to my life and refine it, enjoy it. I learned that freedom is a concept more than an actual environment, and we often make our own. When I go into the woods to get away from noise and work, I feel refreshed and grateful. I left the trail because I don’t want to spoil my relationship with the woods, with Nature. She doesn’t care, of course, but I do. I will still go hiking, backpacking, and spend the night out when I want to get my fill of stargazing and peace. But I’m not going to do more damage to my feet and ruin my love of the outdoors so I can say I hiked the AT.

I hiked the AT long enough to realize that I can find what I need here. I can’t speak for what other people find, or don’t find, on the AT. What I found is that I need to write, to make art, to eat fresh food and stop walking when I want to stop walking. I found that I want to get back to making my own life again, constraints and all.

I have art bouncing around in my head, stories weaving themselves in and out of random thoughts, and I can’t wait to get busy. My feet still can’t hold me up, but I can write. I can draw. As soon as I can walk, I’ll be back to work. I’m looking forward to rebuilding my life. I have a lot more appreciation for my humble building blocks.

Advertisements

Countdown

It’s February 15. Mid February. I’m counting in weeks now, instead of months. I have my tax refund, but other things have made serious dents in the money I’ve worked so hard to save for this trip. I don‘t  care. I’ll make every effort to have enough to be comfortable on this trip but if there isn’t much money, I’ll make do with what I have. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t been doing that for…how long now?

In the past few months, I’ve been living in other people’s homes. I try-very hard-to be a good guest and pay my way with housework, errands, cooking, anything to make up for paying with  actual cash. I’ve been more successful at some times than others. I don’t have nearly the amount I thought I would have by now but then, none of us can predict the future. I also would never have predicted some of the situations living in someone else’s home have created.

In fact, I feel terrible even hinting that there has been anything but graciousness toward me. To that end, I won’t post specific incidents, but I will say that I’m never going to do anything like this again. It feels like something else I failed at.  I have spent a great deal of my life feeling like a failure. Failing at marriage, love in general, my graphic design career. Owning a home, keeping a job, I’ve failed at pretty much everything we do as adults to build our lives. Don’t go leaping for the keyboard to tell me I shouldn’t feel that way. Should or shouldn’t has nothing to do with it. Feelings are feelings. We can’t control them. We CAN control what we do. So, every day I just keep getting up and doing my best. Every night, I hope it’s enough. When it isn’t I keep going anyway. I cry, I cuss, I blame the universe, I feel sorry for myself that all my work doesn’t matter…and then I get on with it.

This trip has actually given me hope, a goal, and a chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do, something that can help me define myself in terms other than what I didn’t do.

My art, my writing-my creative life-has helped me see that the other failures aren’t any more important than I let them be. Of course, failing to keep a job can certainly affect where you live, what you drive, etc., but I’ve also learned to just accept being poor and never having anything extra. I don’t want a big house, an expensive car, new shoes every week. I want to be able to keep a little money aside, I want to buy art supplies when I need them, and I want to be able to keep my car running. I have no desire to ever own property. I want enough to spend my days writing, making art, without worrying about rent.

So that’s my long term goal, I guess. A small, simple life that no one can interfere with, or judge.  The past few years have disconnected me to the point I find myself staring at people, wondering why they do it. Old, poor, miserable, panicked. Why? Why do I do it, is the logical sequence and too many days I have no answer. I ache for this time on the trail when I can stop and stare at the sky, listen to birds, drink from a Spring, feel the muscles in my body strain, hear my own breath, open myself to cold and heat and rain and hunger. Feel alive and connected, something I haven’t felt in a long, long time.