There are two types of hikers…Part 1

June 8, 2018. I was standing on the side of the trail, not having even gone a mile yet, and I was completely pantsless. Or shorts-less, rather. I made a half-ass attempt to look for other hikers before I began to wash my shorts out with my Dr. Bronner’s. At that point, I had a feeling that any other thru-hikers would just give me either a knowing look or understanding nod. This was my life now: carrying my belongings in a pack, cooking meals in the dirt, sleeping in a bivy, and going with the flow after I’ve shit myself.

A photo of Smidge in front of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy office in Harper's Ferry, WV.  Harper's Ferry is considered by most hikers to be the "psychological" halfway point of the AT.
Smidge at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harper’s Ferry, WV. It’s considered by most to be the psychological halfway point of the AT.

I began a journey last year that changed me forever. I traveled from Georgia to Vermont on the Appalachian Trail (and sometimes off of it). I was gone from “real life” for 5 months. It was the most freeing trip I have ever taken. And while I began my trip with the intention of hiking the entire AT (~2190 miles), my journey only took me around 1600 miles. It pains me a little to type the word “only”, because long distance backpacking is hard. Really, really hard. The thought of quitting my hike didn’t even cross my mind until about 2 weeks before I did. But I walked away feeling that I succeeded in my failure. I succeeded because I said “yes” to opportunities that led me to having crazy adventures with relative strangers. I succeeded because I brought home valuable lessons in appreciating the simple things and time management (probably not what you think, either). But most of all I succeeded because I left behind a way of life that was slowly killing me. And this blog is dedicated to sharing the stories and lessons of my adventures. And lesson one is that there are two types of hikers: those who have pooped themselves, and those who have lied about pooping themselves.

I am a lot of things: in addition to being a long-distance backpacker, I am also a runner, a skier, a yogi, a registered nurse, a warehouse stocker, a cat lady, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and also a human who lives with an anxiety disorder. It took many years and many different mental healthcare professionals to come to that diagnosis, but at least I had something to work with finally. And about 4 years ago, my anxiety was peaking as the rest of my life was falling apart around me. WTF?! I knew that I had to figure something out or I was at risk of never getting off of what I called “the slide”. I started seeing a psychologist in Santa Fe who not only helped me understand my anxiety, but he also helped explain to me how our subconscious minds can lead us to believe all sorts of bullshit. I was literally my own worst enemy when it came to negative self-talk and self-imposed guilt. I had been a bend-over-backwards people please for decades. But as everything around me was slowing falling apart (my career, my finances, my relationship), I finally felt like I had a grasp on how to become a person who lives with anxiety instead of one who suffers because of it.

Smidge takes a selfie with three other coworkers in the operating room
Smidge and coworkers in the operating room

For work, I’ve been a nurse in the operating room for nearly 20 years. It was my passion for most of my career. But in the last few years, I had noticed that I was no longer as eager to go to work each day. In fact, I was starting to dread each shift, and looked for any excuse to not go. I complained a lot while I was there, and I brought that attitude home with me more than half the time. It was starting to become very clear: I was burning out. But I didn’t have any other skills except being an OR nurse. I had tried a few years ago to leave healthcare completely, but even with an MBA it was looking to be very difficult to leave. So what’s a burnt out single girl to do? It was fall of 2017, and my lease was up the following March, and I had a very meager savings. Certainly not enough savings to move to Tunisia (that’ll be its own future blog post), but enough that I could do something. I can’t recall the exact moment that I chose to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, but once I had decided that I wanted to do it, it seemed like time sped up until it was time to leave New Mexico. I had no clue what I was getting myself into. But I also knew that if I didn’t leave, I was going to become more unhappy at work, which translated to that unhappiness poisoning the rest of my time. I needed to get away from everything to gain some perspective. I had no idea what I’d find on the other end of my hike, but I was ready to dive in not knowing exactly what kind of swimming I’d be doing.

Fast forward to June 2018. I ended up with what was most likely a giardia infection somewhere before Roanoke VA. I spent a few days recuperating in a cheap motel before getting back on trail, ahead of my friends so that I could hike slower to get my hiking legs back and to allow them to catch me. Anytime you leave a motel/hostel/trail angel’s house, you most likely have clean everything: socks, shorts, shirt, snot rag, etc. It was no different that morning as I hiked into the forest near Troutville VA. I was elated to be back to hiking again. I had been missing the sounds of the trail and the feeling of my legs working hard. About half a mile in, I distinctly remember getting a small cramp in my stomach, and thinking to myself, “Oh no, I thought I was done with this shit!”. I mean that literally- I had had diarrhea for 5 days when I got off trail for a trip to urgent care for some antibiotics followed by three days at the Motel 6. So I stopped walking and allowed myself to feel out the situation. In other words, I was going to attempt to slowly decrease the pressure in my bowel by carefully allowing my sphincter to relax and then gently push out what I hoped was merely a fart. I knew this was risky. I had heard the tales of those who had pooped themselves. But I also couldn’t hike with that stomach cramp. So I did it, and was prepared to deal with the foul consequences if the worst happened. I bore down gently and *POOT*!! IT WAS ONLY A FART!!!! YASSSSS QUEEN!!!!! I had won! I was confident that my colon was mended and I began hiking again with pep in my step again. I was nearing the top of the switchbacks and about to enter a beautiful open field. Life was divine.

Smidge takes a selfie in the exam room of an urgent care facility in Roanoke VA where she was treated for giardiasis
A big thank you to the staff at the MedExpress Urgent Care in Roanoke, VA. They were clean and courteous and happy to help me feel better.

And then it happened. The slyest little cramp that I just knew was going to be a small bubble pop of a fart was, indeed, a small jet of diarrhea. It was unmistakable. And I was instantly mortified. But only for approximately 10 seconds. And then I started looking for a place to pull over and get things sorted out. Because that’s what you do on trail. You deal with things. And then you get back to hiking. I was now a hiker who had shit myself. Big deal. Not that I wore that badge with honor, but I didn’t lie about it like the other type of hiker mentioned above. No, in fact, I have told almost everyone that story. Because I choose to live my life authentically, without apologies. And sometimes in life you shit yourself. But it’s all about cleaning yourself up, and getting back to what’s important.

I ask you to consider the following questions: what is the most important part of your life right now? Is it what takes up the majority of your time, or is it what you wished took the majority of your time? Cleaning up my life and reprioritizing what used my time has made a huge difference in my overall feeling of happiness and contentment. What have you done to bring happiness and contentment to yours? Please comment below! I’d love to hear from everyone!

One thought on “There are two types of hikers…Part 1

  1. You are awesome, Smidge!
    It’s nice to hear the tales from your adventure. My husband and I watched you walk through that arch and often wondered what you were going through, out there. Thanks for writing about it.

    Like

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