Quitting (and Un-Quitting) The White Mountains Trace
In my last post I was grieving the loss of the 100 Highest part of my 15 month hiking project. Today, I am within sight of the end and have a lot to catch everyone up on.
To summarize what I’m working on, from June 19, 2022 to September 19, 2023 I intended on hiking the 653+/- trails in the White Mountain Guidebook and the 100 Highest Peaks in New England. This would require driving to and from trailheads all over the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. Only 93 people have hiked every trail in the White Mountain Guidebook and it takes most people years to complete this hiking list.
From June 19, 2022 to September 19, 2023 I had completed 91.5% of the trails in The White Mountain Guidebook, as well as 8 additional hikes towards the 100 Highest Peaks. Over 2,000 miles of hiking, 600,000 '+ of elevation gain, tens of thousands of miles of driving, and 16 months since starting this attempt, I have experienced things I never imagined, pushed through some of the worst conditions, and expected my body to perform day after day while working part time and maintaining a household.
I hiked through the wettest summer on record, snow that lasted well into May, and in temperatures well below freezing. My feet have been rubbed raw, I’ve sprained both my ankles and continued hiking on them, and the number of bruises and scrapes total in the dozens. Pack rash, bug bites, muscle soreness, knee pain, and stairs are now the bane of my existence. I had a biopsy to rule out a cancer recurrence in February, a mammogram in September that came back clear (buying me another 6 months of blissful ignorance) and managed to squeeze in two weekend-long vacations with family. But on day 186, after hiking nonstop for the last 4 years straight and through a 19 month cancer journey, my body gave out on me.
I set my alarm four days in a row and each of those four days I shut the alarm off in my sleep. I reached the point where my body said, “enough.” At 93.1% complete, I hit a wall and quit my attempt. I shoved the final 10 hikes away in a binder and began anxiously trying to move on with my life, telling myself I could finish next summer. That it wasn’t worth continuing because I missed my 15 month deadline. That I failed because I didn’t reach September 19, 2023 and 100% at the same time. And while my body waved the white flag, my mind kept on spinning.
I had trained myself to keep going at full speed for 15 months straight, and coming to an abrupt halt was like hitting a brick wall over and over again. I couldn’t let go of the fact that I still had these 10 days left but I was physically exhausted. So while resting and working I planned out the final 95 hikes that I would need to complete in order to finish round 2 of tracing (I’m at 58.1% for round two). I stuck all of them onto the calendar, along with the 10 remaining for round one, and it hit me. I thought, “I don’t want to do 3-4 days a week of hiking all the way through next fall and finish round two the way I did round one. There are so many other hikes I want to do that are not part of tracing and if I commit another full hiking season to tracing then I can’t do those hikes for another year and that sounds miserable.”
It was clear that I would either have to make peace with putting off the final 10 hikes until next summer (because they can’t be done in winter conditions) or hammer out the final 10 before the snow begins to fall in The Whites. The week of October 15th the Presidentials saw their first snowfall of the season. We are down to 11 hours of sunlight per day, and temperatures are starting to drop below freezing on higher summits. I anxiously set my alarm for 4:30 am Monday morning and prayed that I wouldn’t turn it off in my sleep. Time was almost up if I wanted to make a last ditch effort at my goal. Yesterday, as I walked across the large suspension bridge over the Peabody River, relief washed over me.
In the last five days, I have hiked three, worked two, and completed the two most time-sensitive of the remaining hikes. I’m hesitant to say I am in the clear and can pull this thing off quite yet, but if all goes to plan over the next seven days, I will be able to say with certainty I am going to set the first female FKT of the White Mountain Guidebook, while working part-time. It’s not as fast as I had originally planned, but when I think back on how I spent the last 16 months, I can say that I have given everything I have to finish as fast as I can while working and maintaining a household.
There are many people who are more qualified than I am and could blow my elapsed time out of the water and I hope someone does just that. But in the last 16 months I have hiked an average of 3 days a week, while working 2-3 days a week, and did all of this less than 3 months after finishing 19 months of cancer treatment (something that takes on average 6 months to 2 years to recover from). I’ve proven to myself that I can do this and hopefully in two weeks I can say I am finally done.