Over the past five hundred miles that I have been absent from my blogs, I have experienced a number of new and exciting things. I encountered my first rattle snake and my first bear, I hiked in the rain for four days straight with my puppy Springer, I camped alone and endured the last snow in the Southern end of the trail, and I was ran in circles around by a bear..just a few examples. As I near the halfway point at three months on the trail, I have done plenty of reflecting on my time spent living the trail life and my normal life at home as well and have come to the conclusion that learning to “embrace the suck” is the most valuable lesson I have had the opportunity to learn.
Embrace the suck, it sounds super appealing right? The first time I was introduced to the phrase was leaving Erwin when a sweet lady named Morning Glory showed me it written on her little satchel on her hip. Well, embracing the suck is a phrase now often used here on the AT as a way to basically deal with or make best of the circumstances handed to you. Yes, hiking in the rain for four days straight does drop my spirits greatly, but when the sun shines again I remember back to the rainy days when I was thinking “man I can’t wait for it to be nice again” and I appreciate the sun that much more.
I believe I truly began to grasp the concept of embrace the suck when I left my friend Rylie and began the trek up Jane Bald around mile 400. I remember leaving Rylie at Carver’s Gap feeling lonely and homesick but excited to be hiking again. Little did I know, there was a snow storm moving in my direction. I walked up Jane Bald into a cloud where I could hardly see fifteen in front of me it was so foggy. I stopped for a break at the summit on a big open rock face and under the clouds caught a glimpse of the valley with little houses scattered. I was hiking alone for the first time on the trail; I felt strong and brave. The coming night stole that from me quickly though. When I headed back towards the trail there were a few paths leading from the rock so I chose one and followed it thinking it had to lead back to the AT. I walked for an hour before reaching the end of a trail with a huge ridge below me. I looked around for signs of other hikers having gone through but saw nothing but a deer pick up its head and stare at me a few feet from me. I could have reached out and grabbed it! But it also could have found some way to push me off the ridge or kick me in the face or something dramatic like that so I turned the other way. I wandered that area still filled with fog for an hour before deciding to pitch camp where I was, hoping that in the morning I would be able to see the trail and continue moving north.
As brave as I like to think I am, sleeping in my tent with no one around spooked me. I talked on the phone with my mom for and hour until I fell asleep just to not feel so alone. I woke up the next morning unable to get the zipper on my rain tarp down more than halfway, confused I crawl under and behold..about three inches of snow and an even thicker layer of fog surrounded me. “This sucks!!!!” was the only thought running through my head. I begin to rip down my frozen tent when I realize my elongated tent poles are frozen together, and I can’t get them to come apart. I strap my snow covered rain tarp to the outside of my backpack because it is too frozen to fit in its bag, grab my two trekking poles in one hand and my two tent poles in my other, and begin trudging through the snow. Thanks to Dirty J I found out I had gotten off on the Grassy Ridge trail by mistake the day before and now wandered trying to find any trail as the snow covered the whole bald. After about two hours of back and forth and throwing short temper tantrums to myself, I find a shelter that I identify with my AWOL Guide as one on the AT. Thank goodness I had found the AT again! With my hands frozen under the roof of the shelter I begin to breakdown my tent poles, store them in their spot in my pack, and eat some breakfast. I was so relieved. That day I saw only two other hikers crossing the balds with me while the snow fell upon our shoulders and the wind threatened to blow us all off the trail. I guess we were all crazy. I walked all day soaking wet and cold in order to catch up with Bones and Dirty J to save myself another night of being scared, but I did indeed catch up and it was good.
This day was the worst day on trail for me still to this day five hundred miles later, but while I was walking you want to know what I was thinking? “I wish someone would pass me carrying my tent poles in one hand and my trekking poles in another; it would make a great laugh” and “Man this would make a great blog post” and “Dang! Too bad no one just saw me wipeout in the muddy snow”. Embracing the suck is what I was doing and to my surprise it wasn’t as difficult a task as I had once thought. Instead of being mad or sad or contemplating getting off trail, I took a good look at my circumstances and thought about the moment I wanted to be at- in my warm dry sleeping bag with my friends tented a few yards away after filling myself with a warm meal and having laughs around a fire-and I began to move towards this moment with spirits lifted as high as possible.
If I have learned anything in my almost nineteen years of living, it is that life will never be all good. Life itself is good and bad, and this thing called living we are all doing together is never going to be easy or perfect or all good. So instead of wishing for it to be swell all the time and being bummed when it’s not, rather embrace the sucky parts because, hey, you’re still living. If every day were a great day then they wouldn’t be great, they would be just another normal day. It’s similar to if there were no strenuous climbs to the peak of a mountain the valleys would seem just average, but because the mountain tops sit in the clouds looking down upon us the valleys are a treat to our tired legs.
This past week marked one year since I lost my brother Elan and dealing with this loss is still the hardest thing I have ever done; however, the trail has opened my eyes to the life I was headed towards after his death and one that I plan to live now. Before, the bad overwhelmed me causing me to feel the need to numb every feeling that hurt me. Now, when I think of my brother I embrace the feeling of loss while it strengthens my love for those who surround me with support and love and feel joy in the opportunity to carry on as well. My desire is to no longer numb out the bad feelings in life, but to embrace the suck, deal with it, and move on to better things because there is so much good waiting for me to stumble upon it.