I started to write this yesterday, ut never finished it, thus the strange title.
Wow, it's New Years Day already! I remember last year on this day I woke up and the first thing I said to Jodi was something like "This is the year of my thru-hike."
Since I finished my hike I have tried to write about it a bunch of times, but I have a terrible time trying to find the words. As I think I said before, it seems to be the kind of thing that reveals itself slowly, over time. One not so great effect of my hike seems to be much less patience with the daily annoyances of life in a large metropolitan area. Aggressive drivers on the road really get under my skin. I don't deserve to be treated badly by someone who doesn't even know me. And I seem to have even less patience than I ever had for large crowds of people.
On the plus side, a lot of things just don't bother me the way they used to. I don't fret quite as much about a lot of the kind of stuff we all seem to spend too much energy fretting about; money, jobs, the future. I don't mean that I don't think about these things, and plan, and work to make those plans come about. But I don't fear them like I used to. I know just how much stuff I don't need to be comfortable and happy. That is really quite empowering.
Well, I said I have trouble putting these thoughts into words, and I still am. I don't seem to be expressing what I want to very well at all, so I think I am going to give up for now. I will mention one thing I remember someone asking about; how the hike affected me physically.
When I finished my hike, 6 months and 9 days after I started, I was the fittest I have ever been in my life. At the same time, I could barely walk. The ridiculously steep trail in New Hampshire and southern Maine destryed my knees. Jodi joined me on the final day to climb Katahdin, and when she saw how much I suffered descending, she told me that if she knew how bad my knees were she never would have let me get back on the trail after I had almost quit back in New Hampshire.
But my cardiovascular fitness was awesome. I could hike 20 miles per day, day after day, carrying a 35 – 40 pound backpack. It had been my plan to try to hold onto that fitness, and quickly transition from hiking to running after I returned home. Unfortunately, my knees prevented me from running at all for quite a few weeks; in fact, I could barely walk. Meanwhile, I continued to eat like I had on the trail. Many of my breakfasts included a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. I quickly gained back every one of the 20+ pounds I lost during the hike. By the time my knees would allow me to start runnign again, I had lost most of my conditioning. I have always had a hard time dealing with the cold and dark of winter, and just maintaining fitness is a huge challenge. I find it pretty much impossible to build fitness over the winter. So, the longest run I've done since my hike was about 6 1.2 miles, and most of my runs are 3 – 4.5 miles. Not very impressive for a marathoner. The good news is that my knees seem to be back to normal, I am running a few times a week, and once spring rolls around I plan to start training for another marathon. My feet actually got bigger during my hike, and they have stayed bigger. I have a closet full of running shoes that are a bit too small for me now. I think I can make them work by switching socks to something that takes up a bit less volume.
I think the basic thing I want to say is that the hike has made me a better person. I feel a bit more confident, and a bit less intimidated by life. I feel even closer to my wife, Jodi. I think — but maybe I should ask Jodi — that I am a bit calmer. And I have a lifetime of wonderful memories stored away in my head.
Happy New Year, and the best to all the aspiring thru-hikers in the class of 2010!