All day I have this unsettling feeling, kind of like the one I have every time I’m sitting on an airplane as it taxis down the runway before take off. You know the feeling, when the plane starts picking up speed, everything rattling and vibrating as you lurch forward faster and faster, holding your breath until the moment the wheels lift off the ground. As I’m walking down Mason street with a grocery bag slung over my shoulder, weaving in and out of clusters of tourists, the unease hits its crux and I feel all panicky. My parents’ apartment is only a few blocks away, so I hightail it through the throngs of people and the beeeeeep-beep-beep-beeeep-beeeeep-beeping of traffic that bounces off the big buildings like some citified birdsong.
I’m slightly out of breath by the time I make it up the four flights of stairs to my parents’ apartment. I turn on some music, catch my breath, put away the groceries, when suddenly I’m hit with the realization that much of this anxiety is due to my desire to hike the AT superfuckingfast and finish in less than four months. And that I’ve been being a jock lately. This realization sort of soothes me, but it also sort of freaks me out too, since I really don’t like jocks.
So I decide to try and figure out the root of this newfound jockiness, and right away am taken back to last summer on the PCT, and of how incredible it felt when I finally realized I was able to hike fast. Maybe it was a mental thing and the speed was in me along, or maybe it was my body getting stronger and physically adapting to all of the hiking. Most likely it was a combination of both elements coming together one day when everything just seemed to click.
I had been hiking with Dewey and Masshole for over a month, but had always felt like the weak link. I would usually show up to a stream right as they were packing up their things and finishing a break. Most nights I’d be the last one to arrive at camp. More often than not, I’d be bringing up the rear, exhausted and defeated. Day after day of this, my confidence began to dwindle, my morale dissolve. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to find my stride.
But around Yosemite, I could feel a fire growing inside my belly (no, it wasn’t a trail baby.) Somewhere deep down in my sore, stiff limbs, a shift was taking place. And eventually, on a day when the fire was hot and massive, I passed Masshole. Granted, he was dealing with some nagging overuse injuries, but still, it felt good for once to not be the last one to show up to camp.
Now don’t get me wrong, Masshole is a mile-crushing beast of a hiker (and quite possibly one of the funniest humans I’ve ever met), but the moment that stands out to me is the very first time I passed Dewey. It’s like there’s something super human about his hiking abilities. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that he’s 27 and agile, but he has this way of hiking superfuckingfast and making it look so easy. On numerous occasions I heard day-hikers (and even other thru-hikers) make mention of Dewey’s speed. So the day I was cruising up granite-strewn switchbacks near Donner Pass and Dewey said, “Whoa, Speedracer,” then stepped aside to let me pass, will forever be etched in my memory.
From then on, the fire in my belly continued to burn. Hiking fast was fun and the rush from pushing myself was addictive. Almost halfway to Canada and over 1,000 miles in, I finally found my trail legs.
With the groceries in the refrigerator, my heart rate back to normal, and only a few days until my flight to Georgia, it’s clear to me that I don’t ever want to feel like the weak link again. That I want to hit the trail running (or, you know, hiking superfuckingfast) with that fire in my belly, to crush miles all the way to Maine. But I try to give myself permission, if only to quell this gnawing unease, to go slow if I need to. Because there’s always gonna be someone faster. And when the time comes, hopefully I’ll be able to pass them.