I’m standing in the kitchen staring out the window eating cashew butter straight out of the jar. That’s normal, right?
“How am I going to get through this day? I don’t know if I can do this again.” That’s what Liz Anjos asked herself this summer on her journey from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine, in her attempt to set a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail.
At the end of her long days—which sometimes stretched to 20 hours—she’d fall asleep exhausted and relieved: “I did it!” And so the cycle repeated day after day.
Despair into relief. Sound familiar?
In my fantasy life, I would solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. That’s why I was super-excited to talk to Liz about her AT adventures with Sarah for the AMR podcast. I got so fired up that later I drove up to where the AT crosses New Jersey into New York to do a 5-mile hike—mom version of Big Adventure. (My eye-rolling teenager was at her dad’s, or I would’ve dragged her out with ice cream bribery.)
What’s so appealing about long-distance hiking? I ask myself while staring out the kitchen window on CV Day #197, scraping out remnants of cashew butter and licking the knife clean.
When Nina was 5-ish, we listened to the entire Little House series (awesomely narrated by Cherry Jones) at least 5 times (patience!). Remember “The Long Winter,” when Laura, Mary, Carrie, Ma and Pa endure blizzard after blizzard, descending into a fugue state, becoming increasingly hungry, lethargic and less than cheerful? And Almanzo and Cap Garland drive their horse-drawn hay-sled across the frozen tundra to fetch wheat to save the town from starvation?
“Few groups may be as uniquely prepared for life in a pandemic as competitive hikers,” the New York Times recently reported. “Isolation and uncertainty about what’s ahead are nothing new.” [They said “competitive hikers” but what they really meant was “mother runners.”]
“I’m interested in the human experience and all it encompasses,” a competitive long-distance hiker told the Times. “The good, the bad, the light, the dark.” The human experience and all it encompasses!
Despite crippling shin splints and a toe so infected and swollen it became a minor Instagram celebrity, Liz Anjos completed the AT in 51 days, 16 hours and 30 minutes, setting the women’s northbound FKT. Huzzah!
On my 5-mile hike, the human experience encompassed families with small children stopping to investigate every last leaf. (Patience is so much easier to admire than to practice.) Groups of millennials dancing downhill, message masks firmly in place. Middle-aged couples, with whom I loved chatting—from a safe distance!—about where they’d been and where they were headed (on the trail, not life). It was glorious.
Small pleasures feel so much more meaningful these days: cashew butter, crisp fall days, the random camaraderie of chance encounters. We take our joys wherever we can find them.
Read more Seven Months into the Pandemic essays.