What trekking the AT and the South Pole have in common:

Perseverance is directly related to the

intensity with which we seek the (particular) reward.

I’ve been reading the blog of a fellow AT hiker: I stopped and she kept going. I read her entries with the same attention that I’d give to trying a new food: minding the details of the food and the reaction of my senses. I try to determine what she is really feeling between the relaying of other sensory information; her persistent but not heavily dosed complaints of foot or leg pain aren’t enough for me. I’m seeking a comparison, one in which I can feel completely in one emotion or the other: envious or relieved (yeah, sometimes it’s all about me).

Of course that is not even logical but we all do it. My experiences are as unique to me as yours are to you. Period. The comparison comes because we all have the bad (perhaps, human) habit of justifying our feelings or actions in comparison to another’s – as if we are the same: one falls short of reaching the goal due to, say, pain while someone else continues despite the pain. But here we can’t compare pain as if how and what one person feels is the same as the other. And if we feel better believing that we are tougher, better or in any other way ‘supieror’ to someone else, well – that is simply because we need to feel that way; that need is a flaw in our character; feelings of inadequacy and fear.  If we are stable and emotionally healthy, it is irrelevant what another person does or doesn’t do.

I am both happy for her in her journey and I feel her pain. I am both satisfied that I stopped and I feel some regret…but mostly I am content. My journey – as I’ve written about almost exhaustively but I will continue to do so as long as I am deriving some growth and lessons from it – was unique to me based on my uniqueness as a human being with all my history and my hopes for the future. I do, however, miss – and very intensely – the experience of the trail and the tramily that I became a part of and, because I know it’s true, the tramily that I contributed to as an individual. So when I read my friend’s blog, I have the intense feeling that I am missing out on something that only being there will give me.

My perseverence held fast until I knew – in my heart – that the reward was not ‘completing the trail’ but what I needed to learn about myself: my perceptions, my misunderstandings, my priorities, etc. Once the intensity to ‘finish’ the trail, the alledged ‘goal’, faded and was no longer in my long-range vision, my perseverance in tolerating the adversities (I’m just going to call it that, without being too specific about ‘et al’) caved.   If the goal is no longer the get to Maine, then flip-flop to Georgia, then why continue? Just to be able to say; “Yeah, I thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail”? Who gives a fuck? If I don’t, then neither should anyone.

I suppose one could argue with mild success that my lingering thoughts of the AT, my attention and emotional attachment to the stories of those still marching along that eastern coast-line path through the woods is indicative of some regret. Well, yeah, I loved the simplicity of hiking/backpacking, the woods, the tenting, the people, the solitude & seclusion, and being a part of a unique and small sub-community of people. I mean, who wouldn’t? Okay, many wouldn’t but if you love THAT then you’ll miss it. Eventually, all who successfully finish, goal completed, feel the same thing (except they finished) – they miss it, they want to get back ‘out there’. So, my feelings are not altogether unique or different than those of a ‘successful’ thru-hiker in that regard.

Succintly put: I miss the experience. I don’t miss the idea/goal of completing the trail. I don’t have the drive to do it – at least not now – and that’s what’s needed to persevere, to continue, to push through all the challenges of backpacking the Appalachian Trail –

the GOAL has to be the completion of the entire trail.

Period. That was never my goal, whether I realized it or not in the beginning. And if it wasn’t my ‘goal’ then I didn’t ‘quit’. As much as that sounds like ‘justification’ for my actions/inactions, it is what it is: my goal was to get away and DO something I enjoyed for an undertermined length of time and hopefully find something I knew I needed. I did that and I am so glad and proud that I did and I learned and grew and suffered and persevered until I didn’t have to, until I needed to move on and, simultaneously continued, to grow and learn.

Here is a partial quote from a TED talk by a man who trekked 1,800 mile round trip to the south pole, successfully. He learned what I learned, the italics are mine, but I didn’t need to go to the extreme to do so.

“…I still stand by all the things I’ve been saying for years about the importance of goals and determination and self-belief, but I’ll also admit that I hadn’t given much thought to what happens when you reach the all-consuming goal that you’ve dedicated most of your adult life to, and the reality is that I’m still figuring that bit out.

   …that cliche about the journey being more important than the destination? There’s something in that. The closer I got to my finish line, that rubbly, rocky coast of Ross Island, the more I started to realize that the biggest lesson that this very long, very hard walk might be teaching me is that happiness is not a finish line, that for us humans, the perfection that so many of us seem to dream of might not ever be truly attainable, and that if we can’t feel content here, today, now, on our journeys amidst the mess and the striving that we all inhabit, the open loops, the half-finished to-do lists, the could-do-better-next-times, then we might never feel it.” 

~Ben Saunders; To the South Pole and Back, March 2014 TEDtalk

“…that bit…” I got that figured out and it allowed me to move on in my own personal journey, albeit off-trail. The trail will be there and there are other trails. I’m glad I have had the oportunity to experience a portion of the AT and I’m glad I learned the lessons that I needed.

Be the judge of your own journey; let not others determine your self-worth and successes.  ~BuzzCut

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