When I did my first long thru-hike in the 1970s it was all about the miles and the end goal. I sometimes skipped great views if I had to walk an extra mile to get to it. I was fixated on completing my goal.
Luckily, it did not take me too long to realize that the inner journey was at least as important as the outer one. I learned to slow down when need be and enjoy the beauty of the hike. I spent time with people I met along the trail and stopped making daily mileage the most important thing. I worked on mastering finding something to enjoy in each present moment.
I've heard it said personal growth is never linear and never stops. I admit there are some days I want to say, "Enough personal growth already. Just let me live a simple life." I suspect that is not what I really want, but this last week has really put me to the test. This is the first time in over ten thousand miles of backpacking that I have a following. Ironic that it is also the first time I am facing an on-trail injury that might limit what I get done. Even though I was in a lot of pain I was not ready to go silently off the trail.
When it became clear that a few days off wasn't going to have me back in the saddle I came up with the brilliant (???) idea to hike the alternate 36-mile-plus road stretch of trail south of Rawlins on crutches. As much as I wanted to, I quickly learned I could not focus on how many miles I was making. Each step was a challenge. How do I hold my leg so my knee doesn't hurt? How do I manage to balance when the wind is so strong it blows the crutch wherever it wants each time I lift it off the ground? How do I control my speed on a substantial downhill? And what do I do with metal crutches when lightning appears?
I did okay for a few days. I focused on the kind people stopping to ask me if I was okay. I drank their beer and Gatorade. I tried to really let it sink in when a 30-something-year-old man told me I was the bravest person he had ever met. He said he would think of me when things got tough. Then he called his 5-year-old son over and said, "Hunter, I want you to remember this woman. If you want to do something, you don't have to give up just because it is hard." This kind man then noticed that my hands were taking a beating and he gave me his awesome gel-filled work gloves.
Still, I was weary. The gloves helped, but I had one large blister on one hand. My mileage was down to about 1.5 mph, and I couldn't seem to push past 9 miles in a day. I realized it was time to do some deep soul-searching and take my own advice. I asked myself, "If it is so painful that I cannot find beauty in the present moment, why am I continuing?"
With the help of supportive friends, I made the decision to take up to two weeks off. I don't know what will happen in that time except that more snow will melt in the mountains. I am icing my knee and stretching the muscles. I am trying to make the most of the present moment, learn what I can from this experience, and not give in to dispair. I'm not finding it easy, though there is some satisfaction in knowing I am following my own advice. And there are some interesting "miracles" happening, but they will be the topic for a later blog.
Mary Anderson, 63, is attempting to complete her solo thru-hike of the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail. Mary hiked the southern half of the trail, from the U.S.–Mexico border (the trail's southern terminus is shown above) to southern Wyoming, in 2020 and is undertaking the northern half this year. On May 27, she began crossing the Wyoming desert but was slowed by a knee injury. We wish to thank the many friends who have supported her through email and satellite messages, hospitality and encouragement on the trail, and contributions to her GoFundMe account. Those donations will more than cover her stay at the Butterfly House, a hiker-friendly hostel near Salida, Colorado, leaving her with a few bucks for transportation and other guest stays. Her own vehicle encountered a deer on the highway as she was driving west and has been taken off the road, perhaps permanently.
Scroll down to leave a comment.
Click on the link to send a satellite message to Mary. The link takes you to a map that shows Mary's location. Click the "Message" icon on the upper left side of the page and fill in the pop-up window with your email address or phone #, type your 160-character message, and hit "Send."
Buy Mary an ice cream cone. The link takes you to our GoFundMe campaign, "Help Mary Conquer the Divide." You can chip in any amount. We are almost at our fund-raising goal. If we exceed it, we will put the extra funds toward guest accommodations between Montana and Wyoming and for transportation. Mary still has to get to northern Montana to begin her southbound 1200-mile hike, and she still has to get home. The guest stays will be overnights in places where she leaves the trail to pick up supplies, bathe, do laundry, and buy herself an ice cream cone, a pizza, or a cold drink.