Friday, August 1, 2014

Ironjen's Appalachian Trials Lists Part 1: Why am I hiking the Appalachian Trail?

I'm sitting here looking at a post from Appalachian Trials congratulating the hikers who have finished their thru-hikes this week!  I noticed two reactions as I scrolled through the photos.  First, I get really giddy and almost teary every time I see a photo of the sign atop Katahdin!  Second, I'm noticing that today is August 1, and I can't imagine wanting to be done this early in the hiking season!  I even had trouble finishing AWOL on the Appalachian Trail!  I put the book down for a couple of weeks when I had two chapters left, because I wasn't ready for the virtual hike to be over.  I wanted the experience to last.

Of course, that's no guarantee that I am going to feel the same way after walking over 2,000 miles!  Who knows, maybe by then I'll be tired of sleeping outside, walking through rain, communing with bugs and not being able to get away from the stench of myself, my gear and my husband! (Just the smell of you, hon!  I won't want to get away from you!)  It's that not knowing how I'll feel once I'm deep into the experience that makes me a little nervous, and I suppose that's at least part of what makes a thru-hike appealing.

I see the experience a little bit like my first Ironman.  When I decided that I wanted to do an Ironman, I was still sick with dermatomyositis.  I had just started running, as part of my "do everything they tell you you can't do" plan to get well.  I watched a friend do a sprint triathlon, because he insisted that I would love the sport.  I mostly went to make him shut up about it.

Back when I was sick

By the time he crossed the finish line, I was dead set on doing a triathlon.  I didn't want to do a sprint.  I had done the math in my head already, and I could have pushed my way through that distance that day if I had wanted to.  What was attractive about the idea of an Ironman, was that there was a big question mark on that.  The most I had ever run was 9 miles, I had no idea how to actually swim with a real swim stroke, and I owned a steel mountain bike from 1996.  Nothing about my situation in that moment spelled guaranteed success in my attempt to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles in under 17 consecutive hours.

Ironman Swim Lake Placid 2008
Ironman Bike Lake Placid 2008

Ironman Run Lake Placid 2008

In Zach Davis' book, Appalachian Trials, he writes about anticipating challenges, and being mentally prepared for them.  Part of the strategy is making lists prior to leaving on the trail.  I never wrote the lists on paper when I did Ironman, but I did catalogue the thoughts in my head, and I wrote a lot on my blog about why I was doing what I was doing, the benefit of crossing the finish line, and the drawbacks of quitting before.  When weather on race day turned into a downpour that lasted over 15 hours, when I faced the killer climbs of the Adirondacks on the bike and run courses, and when the midnight finish cutoff loomed less than 30 minutes ahead, I reminded myself what the finish meant.  It was a nail in the coffin of a disease I wasn't supposed to be able to defeat.  It was me claiming control over my life.  It was proving to myself that I am capable of anything. . . It worked.  I did all of that.  I went on to do it three more times.  I'll eventually do it again.  First, I need to do this other thing. . . this thru-hike thing, and I need to be prepared.  (Muskrat does too, but he's been busy with budget spreadsheets!  He likes that stuff!)

Ironman Finish Lake Placid 2008
Ironman Finish Coeur d'Alene 2009
Ironman Finish Arizona 2010

Ironman Finisher Medal Cozumel 2011
My reasons for this thru-hike are not as clear cut and easy to define as my reasons for doing Ironman.  Dermatomyositis is far behind me now that I have been well longer than I was sick, and my confidence in myself is miles beyond what it used to be.  My physical fitness is pretty stellar.  So, why DO I want to do this?

Here's the first draft of my first list:

I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because:

  • It has intrigued me for the last 25 years.
  • I want a grand adventure.
  • I want to make a photo book of the trip.
  • I want to share an epic adventure with my husband.
  • I want to live in the woods.
  • I want to see if I can.
  • I want to try a new kind of endurance activity.
  • I want to take Magnuson Photographic in a commercial outdoor direction.
  • I want to see New England, and on foot sounds good!
  • I want to have something awesome to remember the east coast by.
I'm sure I will add to it, but so far that's what I have!

©2014 Jennifer Magnuson, All Rights Reserved, Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

1 comment:

  1. it's funny, jen, even though i've never been what anyone would consider an avid backpacker, i am also very intrigued by the idea of thru-hiking the AT. someday i'd like to do it, too. and i've decided that someday i will complete an ironman (no small thanks to you and your positive example.) -amanda f