THE TRAIL PROVIDES. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?
Words and Photos by Abbigale Evans @Abby_Evans
For me, the trail was generous at providing a multitude of experiences—cold rain, jagged rocks, relentless mosquitos, boredom, and loneliness. But just as often, a new hiker friend, sunlight through the trees, fun rock scrambles, a beautiful sunrise. The common phrase, "The trail provides," took on new meanings for me throughout different stages of my thru hike.
AT THE START
When I first began my thru hike, I was unsure of my start date. I was unsure if I would even be able to hike due to an unforeseen hip injury from an ultramarathon. I had a constant feeling that I was already too late and that Katahdin would close due to inclement weather before I got a chance to get there. I was nervous I had already missed out on making friends since I was behind "The Bubble." As I continued to hike, I began to realize that there was no other perfect time for me to start out because I was where I was, and I had to accept it. There was no changing it, so I might as well be grateful for where I was, try my best to finish, and be happy just to be outside.
CHANGING MY VIEWPOINT
I began to think of my hike through the lens of "The Trail Provides." Many hikers use this phrase on serendipitous occasions—such as an unexpected hitchhike into town during a rainstorm or trail magic when you run out of food. I realized it was useful to apply this phrase to difficult situations as well. It helped me to find the positives in my experience and to be grateful for the present moment. There were many rough sections along the trail–rocks in Northern Pennsylvania that stretched on for days, inescapable mosquitos in New York, and endless mud in Vermont. When my feet would be sore from stepping on sharp rocks every day, and my clothes would be soaked with sweat, I would sarcastically say, "The trail provides," gesture at the never-ending rocks, and laugh. But, even in my bitter mood, there was some truth to it. If the whole hike was easy, it wouldn't feel worthwhile for me to do it.
Before I started my thru hike, I listed out some different wishes. Among those was that I wanted to be pushed to my physical and mental limits and find strength in myself. The rocks, mud, and mosquitos pushed me there and past it. I found myself knee-deep, stuck in a bog, and screaming every curse word I knew at how dumb the trail was, and I didn't know why the hell I was out there. Then, I'd take a breath, give the mud a few pats, and say, "Thanks," haul myself back out onto the bog board, and keep walking. If the trail didn't provide me with tough times, I wouldn't know that I am strong enough to get through them.
BEING GRATEFUL FOR THE LITTLE THINGS
The sheer amount of time you spend outside on a thru hike allows you to be placed in the way of natural beauty more than the average hiker. More salamanders came out of hiding during days of cold rain in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Even though I couldn't feel my fingers and I was wet and miserable, I still got extremely excited by the tiny creatures. I looked at it as the trail providing me with little reminders of why I was out there. In the rain, I got the chance to experience the child-like excitement of seeing red efts line the trail or seeing a spotted salamander appearing from under a rock. There's something peaceful about walking through a misty forest in the rain. It feels sacred, undisturbed. The moss and ferns all turn a more vibrant green, and white blazes swim in and out of the fog. The only sound you hear is your breath and the faint pattering of raindrops on your rain jacket. There is beauty to be seen even in the most dire conditions—the trail will provide it; you just have to look for it.
COMBATING BOREDOM ON TRAIL
There were a couple of times I found myself bored out of my mind while I was backpacking. If all you're doing is walking every day, dragging yourself up similar mountains of lichen and rock, closed in by a green tunnel, you're going to get a little tired of it. In these times, looking at my experience from the lens of "The Trail Provides" was especially helpful. I walked along, trudging through the mud, thinking things like, "I'm so bored. Why am I here? I could be at home, on the couch, eating some Chipotle. Or maybe dumplings. Mmmm, dumplings. These rocks are so dumb. If I see another uphill, I'll scream!"
In those times, I tried my best to switch my thought process to be more introspective. "Why am I here? What do I want to remember about how I got through this lonely and boring section?" The boredom I felt allowed me to become more at peace with being bored. Human beings try so hard to avoid being bored. Boredom means restlessness and, sometimes, leads to negative thoughts. In those moments, I started to do random things to entertain myself, just because I could. I would start singing all the lyrics to American Pie that I remembered since it was such a long song. I'd laugh at the ways I would mess them up. I'd talk to myself about interpersonal struggles and try to make myself comfortable in my boredom. Boredom means that nothing dangerous or alarming is happening at the present moment. It was something to be grateful for. It meant I was comfortable being outside on my own—an awesome feeling. I would assess my condition: Was I hungry? Tired? Thirsty? Injured? Was there anything I could do to fix those problems?
When I couldn't escape any of the negative thoughts, I would just allow myself thirty minutes to complain. To say all of the negative things I could imagine for a little bit, take a breath, and move past them. "The trail has put me in this situation for a reason," I would imagine. "What can I learn from it?" In those situations, I often realized that it was fun to be alone and entertain myself with weird ramblings. Usually, I would run into a stranger-turned-new-friend at some point throughout the day. I would realize all over again how much I enjoyed meeting new people and listening to their stories. It's incredible to share the beauty of nature and the strangeness of thru hiking with a friend—whether they're out for a day hike, section hike, or the whole deal. I met a bunch of interesting people, and the trail led me to them often when I most needed a friend.
If you attribute the reason for your existence in a certain difficult moment to a larger force beyond your control, such as the trail, and believe that it has given you this moment to learn from it, it becomes easier to accept what's going on. On some level, you still are conscious of the fact that you exist in that difficult time because you made decisions that led you there. However, you can't predict the weather every day or the conditions the trail will be in. The trail and life are unpredictable, and they seem to be senseless and without reason in serendipitous or difficult things that happen. However, it's helpful to find ways to be grateful for the difficult situations you find yourself in—even if they're as simple as a salamander on a rainy day or just the fact that you now realize you're stronger than you ever thought you were.
Abby Evans (Sh*twater Fireball Queen of the Salamanders) hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2023 and loves to write about gear and outdoor misadventures. They look forward to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this coming summer and hope to triple crown before they're thirty. You can find them cutting their toothbrush in half, eating cold ramen, and embracing the struggle on a trail near you! You can follow their journeys through their Instagram: @abbigator53