I’m writing a book about being a successful adventurer (more about that in the coming weeks), based on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike 20 years ago. Part of the research has been to look back at journal entries and letters that I wrote at the time. Sometimes it’s inspiring reading, and other times sad. Here’s a few paragraphs that’s a little bit of both.
11 May 1990 — Got to get to Damascus, VA to see a doctor about a possible foot infection. I do know one thing, the foot hurts like hell and I can’t walk with a shoe on my left foot. I’ve walked a few miles (about 8-9 miles) with a flip-flop on my left foot and a boot on my right …
When I was walking yesterday and decided the pain was too much to walk with my boot on, I was seriously depressed. I knew it was more than a blister, but didn’t know what it was — except that it hurt like nothing I’ve felt on the trail.
But after putting on the flip-flop and getting over the fact that I would finish the Trail despite the problem, I felt really pumped. For a while I thought, “oh, no, this is it,” but remembered the vow I made to myself, which was that I would finish the trail no matter what — only a serious broken leg would stop me. So, remembering my personal vow got me pumped again; “I’m going to finish, even if it is with a flip-flop and a boot.”
I can’t describe how good I feel about my attitude and fortitude in the face of this situation. I will finish, not despite of the foot problem, but because of it; the problem and my adapting to the situation has given me greater powers. That’s one thing about getting depressed out here is good for — becoming stronger. No one is by your side to comfort you — unless you talk to fellow hikers — you’ve got to find a way out of the depression yourself, or else just quit. Probably three or four times I’ve been really down, then found my way out, only to become stronger. When I’m back in the real world I’ll be an animal — nothing can stop me after finishing the Trail.
After all, what’s harder than testing both mind and body seven days a week, for four and a half months? I got a ride from an older gentleman in Erwin, TN and he asked, “How’s the work going?” Nobody has ever expressed walking the Trail that way who has never walked the Trail themselves. I thought, “how’s the work going” was great, because it is work, for me at least. I like the fact that I’m working out here. Certainly I’ve never been tested as hard.
One thing I liked about wearing the flip-flop (that is, if there is anything to like about it) is that I changed to confront the challenge in front of me; the Trail wasn’t going to become any easier just because I was hurt. I had to adapt to the situation and do the best I could with limited resources. I didn’t beat the Trail, but I worked with what it gave me.