My motivation has been flagging more and more these last few days, today more so than ever. Sore feet, 90 degree-pus weather, unbearable humidity and buckets of rain have made me doubt how far I’ll make it. I thought seriously about quitting today for the first time when every step made my feet scream. I’ve worried about food and water and getting lost but if my feet don’t work, none of that other stuff matters. I plunked down on the trail and did some surgery on my shoe to alleviate the pressure on my left big toe and things stopped being so dire. But still, I crossed a line- I actually considered quitting!
I set out on this trip without defining an ending. I figured I’d take the Forrest Gump approach and go until I’m ready to go home. I’ve considered various finishing lines, some geographic, some symbolic: hiking to the “End of the Road” in Copper Harbor is the original dream but I might not make it that far; going 500 miles would be really cool; hiking until I’ve been “symptom-free” form bulimia for 4 weeks would be great; or maybe I’ll just keep going and going until I get to Wisconsin or Minnesota or Canada and hitchhike on a sailboat all around the Great Lakes. With no set finish line, there is a danger that I’ll give in to a moment of weakness and quit before I’m really ready but I gave up so much of my life back home for this trip, I think I’ll stay awhile.
These obstacles wouldn’t be so bad except for that they are impacting my daily mileage. I don’t know how far is “far enough” but if I don’t go at least 20 miles in a day I feel inferior. I did so little preparation for this trip that I haven’t established a standard for myself, so I base my progress on other peoples standards than my own. Because I don’t have much of a reference point for daily backpacking, I use other people’s experience to guide me.
I think of Cheryl Strayed who made a passing reference to travelling 20 miles per day, I think of the guy in the outfitter store who told me I’d put in a bunch of “marathon-length” days. And I choose to compare myself to the all-out aggressive I’m-gonna-write-a-book-about-this people instead of most humans or, god forbid, myself.
Even if I went as far as I think I’m “supposed to,” I would probably still feel guilty know ing that my path is flatter than most people’s or that I have more access to the comforts of civilization if I really need them.
My head is swarming with judgements and comparisons and inferiority. Logically I know that I can’t go further every day than I did the day before, logically I know that they can’t all be marathons. Logically I know that I am doing more every day out here than any day back home. But I compare myself with the select portion of people who I think are doing it better and find a way to feel bad about myself.
That same mindset is what made me measure myself by my weight and count calories for so many years. It’s what still makes me vulnerable to the power of food, that ubiquitous standard I carry with me every day. It’s unsettling to see it chasing me even here on the trail.
The thing is, I know there are people out there who have travelled much further much faster for longer periods with more weight in more dire conditions. But this isn’t about them. A new goal for this trip: to create my own standard. to chip away at that impressionable self-conscious part of me that attaches itself to quantifiable measurements and then uses them to undermine what I know is worthy regardless of its metric. To practice listening to myself.
I used to be a legitimate adult with a well-paying full-time job and an apartment and a husband and a life and now I have none of that. In leaving my job, my measure of the value of a day has changed from “how well I did my job” to “how many miles I hike.” But neither of those is right- I need other metrics for success other than mileage!
- Days Without: make-up, shaving, using a real toilet, seeing the face of a single person I’ve ever seen before, purging, spending money, looking in the mirror
- Days With: sleeping in a tent, making my own decisions, doing something new, doing something that I’ve done before but never alone, wearing the same clothes
- New places I’ve seen
- Writing, in my journal or to others
- Bug bites!
I took a picture of myself today because I haven’t seen my face in awhile. Still me. When I take pictures of myself, it feels incredibly awkward to smile in a normal way. It just feels fake to grin the way I usually do. I like that I am in a state of mind where I not only notice what’s unnatural but actually can’t bring myself to act that way.
One of the new things I’ve never done alone is skinny-dipping. Yesterday I swam naked at a small lake in the heat of the day. There was absolutely nothing sexual about it- it was just me and my body. I liked it. Experiences like that might cost me a mile or two in distance travelled but they will make this trip memorable, and build something in me other than toned calf muscles.
Continue to the next entry in the series here: Day 13: Wilderness State Park to Mackinaw City
Go back to the last entry in the series here: Day 11: Crooked Lake to Cross Village