Mary Badass Is Back
Her new challenge—to visit all 251 Vermont towns by bicycle—begins today
Mary Anderson completed the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail on September 14, 2021. You can follow her posthike journey here and on her Facebook page.
By Mary Anderson
Before I say anything else, I want to say thank you to those of you who have been reaching out and asking me how I have been doing. I appreciate those who have been staying in touch and feel I owe it to all of you who have read my writing to give you an update.
Truly, the time when the hike is over is the hardest in many ways. There are many articles written about posthike depression, though recently it is being seen as posthike grief and mourning. I agree that it is more like grief, though for me, I was grieving even before I started the hike, so in some ways all the end did was put that grief right back into my face.
So what did I do? I tried to live by the words I posted. I allowed myself space to sit in the emotional place I was in, regardless of how difficult or scary it was. I hoped I would not sink into a hole too big to get out of, and I just allowed myself to be. I stopped writing and was in minimal contact with people. After so long in the public eye, feeling I had bared my soul, I needed some time alone. I did not want to be fully exposed in my internal struggles.
I spent some time farming in Nebraska with a friend kind enough to just allow me the space I needed. Then one night I woke up remembering that since I had purchased an ebike about three years ago I had thought it would be fun to try to do the VT 251 challenge on it. That is, to visit all 251 cities and towns in the state. In the dark of the night I thought, why not? Why not set out and try to do it in one go? Immediately, I felt a renewed sense of direction and so decided this was the next thing for me to focus on. At the very least it would get me out of the stuck place I was in in Nebraska.
Within a few days I was driving back east, visiting friends along the way. I have fallen into the pit some since my return to Vermont. Focusing on this trip helps me crawl back out, although I have one looming question. Just before the hike ended I was aware something felt really off for me physically, and it has gotten quite a bit worse since my return to Vermont. After doing my own research, I think I know what the problem is, but I can't even get in to see a medical person until the end of November. I have spent hours on the phone trying. I don’t know what it will be like to bike in the shape I am in, but not trying is not an option for me.
So tomorrow, October 6, I set out on my bike. I have no real idea of how many miles it will be. I estimate somewhere between 1,700 and 3,000. My biggest concern other than my ability to even balance on a bike with my current health issues is where I will be able to recharge my battery each night. Without it, the bike, which is a large, heavy cargo bike, will be really difficult to pedal on the uphills.
My biggest concern—other than my ability to even balance on a bike with my current health issues—is where I will be able to recharge my battery each night.
When I was hiking, I could sleep almost anywhere. Finding places to set up my tent on a road trip when most campgrounds are closed may also be a challenge. I am trying to live with the trust in the future that hiking the Continental Divide Trail helped me solidify. I've planned what I could and am letting the rest pan out as it may. On the plus side, water and food should be easier to access than they were on the CDT.
I know it sounds crazy to a lot of people just by the responses I have gotten from the Facebook bike groups I have posted on. I am shocked by how many—mostly men—have told me it is too big a task. I was asked if I knew I might be in below-freezing temperatures, on windy dirt roads. I will say I have felt some glee in responding by talking about the challenges I faced on my hike.
I have become aware how much of my life was limited by the messages I internalized telling me I can’t. I am trying to live from a place of “I can”—or at least I can try. If I hate it, I can stop. But in the meantime I will at least try, because when I sit with myself it feels like the right next step. And after this I want to ski the 300-mile Catamount Trail in Vermont. It is another of those things I have wanted to do for years but thought might be too daunting for me alone. I expect I’ll keep going as long as it feels right to do so, and when the time comes I will die with no regrets.
Above: Photo, far left, by Jon Kaplan