Steps Toward The Trail

25 May

I simply love to walk and run. I used to run fast. Many years ago I raced track and actually had talent. I ran a very respectable 400m in 60 seconds at the ripe old age of 12. Unfortunately I also had a bit of anxiety. So every time the pressure would build and the race would be about to start I would be nauseous. The gun would blast and I would run my race and feel great for 60 whole seconds until crossing the finish line, usually in first. Then the nervousness would build as people gathered around to congratulate me and then… I would vomit. I had everyone fooled into believing I just ran “so hard” but really it was the attention. All of the people and the pressure had me so nervous and anxious that I would literally toss the banana that my coach had me eat prior to the race right back up and onto his shoes. By the time I had made it into high school I was actually found and recruited by the girls track coach on the first day! One of my middle school coaches had also transitioned to high school, and the pressure was on. Eventually, I said no. I used the excuse that I wanted to explore other extracurricular activities, but really I was already hating the attention. I simply wanted to blend in, not wanting time in any sort of spot light. I hated both school and attention, so I found a respectable group of misfits and explored the joys of late night coffee and all day music venues. These saw me successfully through my high school and college years.

Many years later I found myself missing running. I had been backpacking and camping for quite some time and the sport of trail running was starting to grow. One day I took to the trails to run. It was so hard! I had not run in years and the terrain was tough. This was not a flat round track! This had hills, mud, rocks, and roots. It was completely foreign to me, but I was captivated. While it was hard and I was walking more than I was running on that day, I was alone. I was alone running in the woods and I was happy. Truly happy. I did not care about my time and had no one yelling at me or talking to me about my performance. I did not have to do drills because the trail naturally has hills and hurdles, so as I ran for fun I grew stronger. My first trail race was run with friends and again I was smitten. Here I was in the middle of a race and I was alone in the woods! I was in heaven.

Keep in mind the moments I am talking about were many years ago. Since then my running has of course waxed and waned with the ebb and flow of life. One thing however remains a constant. I love to run in the woods. If I can’t be running due to a pack or terrain then I am just as happy walking. I like to cover the trails faster than the average hiker but I really do love the fast-ish walking. I am never really upset after a hike or a run. It may not have gone as planned, or my performance may have been less than I was hoping for; maybe there were miserable moments caught up in there as I crawled up a hill or twisted an ankle, but for the most part I am happiest on the trail. I like the absence of pressure and the solace of the woods. Even when I sign up for a race, I am there just to run on the trails. I truly don’t care if I win or lose as long as I run my race. I have placed in my age group and I have finished with the sweepers. It doesn’t matter, I am only doing this for me.

So it is this selfishness and desire for simplicity and happiness that I think calls me to the trail. I grew up hiking and running in the woods of Va. and I don’t think it is possible to go for a long run or hike west of Charlottesville without crossing the AT. I have followed those white blazes for many a mile and every time I have wanted to keep going. I have always wondered about how awesome it must feel to know that your only job is to get up and walk or run. I have always dreamed of following those blazes for 2,000 miles exploring the mountains of the east coast. One can have the extreme experience of the Whites and the peaceful rolling hills of southern Va. all on the same trail, part of the same hike. I also like the history of the trail and the community that exists solely because of this foot path. The AT is maintained by volunteers with a love of this tradition. No one ever intended for the trail to be hiked in its entirety and yet there is now an entire subculture devoted to doing just that. I want to share in their knowledge of knowing how it feels to have traveled that far by foot with my daily needs on my back. I want to follow the white blazes in their entirety.

So on June 28, 2012 I will begin my journey. I will get up everyday with the only thing on my “to do” list being to walk, or run. I am aware that there will be moments where I will be crawling up a hill or swatting at biting flies,  and I know that at the end of the day I will be tired. But even as I type and I think of all these things that may make me uncomfortable, I smile.This year I get to hike my hike. This year I hike the AT. Image

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