Like many people who are either avid hikers of the Appalachian Trail (AT) or are passionate about running, you have heard of Scott Jurek and his mission to break the speed record for hiking the AT (supported). He has until around 5:15pm (eastern) today to do it, and by the map I’m looking at right now, he’s about 5.2 mi from his dream (and it’s 11:30am eastern).
Only a rock scramble up the side of the mountain to go.
But then what? I was thinking about this last night, and I wanted to write a letter to Scott about this. So here goes:
First of all, just wow. I can’t imagine how you have done this. The AT is not an easy trail to traverse, which is why so few people accomplish that feat every year. Yet you are doing something even more incredible–running it day in and day out, 50 milers on almost a daily basis. I also understand that you are hurt, an injury which happened early in your ‘masterpiece’ effort. So wow. Just wow.
I saw you in a photo today, where you had your first look at Mt Katahdin. I remember that feeling, as I spent 79 days hiking 1318 mi of the trail in 1998, after I graduated college. It was a time for me to spend alone and discovering things about myself, meeting others and enjoying not having a summer job for the first time in eight years. When I did my hike, I was on the verge of being accepted into the Peace Corps, and had received my assignment while in Caratunk, ME. I climbed Katahdin on 16 August 1998.
I wish someone would have written a few words of advice to me about this momentous event. That is what I am hoping to pass on and share with you.
1. Enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. You will have just hiked the AT! Holy moly! Impressive. On top of that, you will have broken a record for doing it in the shortest time. I can’t even imagine how that would feel! I just know how jubilant I was when I took those last steps to the hallowed sign at the top of Katahdin.
2. You will feel lost. You complete your AT journey on the top of Mt Katahdin, touch the sign and take the photos. (I also had a shot of Jack Daniels that I did on top of the mountain to celebrate my journey’s end.) But what no one told me was how sad it would be. How lost I would feel. For so long–months of planning and anticipation and months of actual hiking– my goal was such an arbitrary point in the future, a place that was more of a concept than an actual place. And suddenly (not really suddenly, but it felt like it), I was THERE. I reached my goal. And I had nothing beyond that.
The group I summited with and shared in that special moment at the top of the mountain all felt the same. In fact, we looked at each other and said something like, ‘I guess we still have another 5.2 mi to go down the mountain. That wasn’t part of the deal!’ But we were all faced with a sense of ‘what next’ as our goal was finished and we hadn’t yet been able to process what the next thing would be.
I hope you can enjoy the moment and have a new goal in mind.
3. Watch what you eat. Yes, you have just run the length of the AT, and it looks like you can stand to put a few pounds back on (hey, they say that the only people to finish the AT are strong healthy women and scrawny white guys). But be careful. That voracious appetite you have from the constant running up and down mountains will bite you! I went home and would still be able to eat a whole pizza in one sitting. Yeah, that doesn’t work so well when you aren’t burning 5000+ calories a day anymore! So enjoy a few extra goodies, but do be careful over all.
4. Reach out to the people you met. I know you zipped across the trail at a crazy speed, but you seemed to also take a decent amount of time to meet the people who shared the trail with you. Reach out to them, as they are part of your AT journey, and you are part of theirs. Sometimes, the people you meet on the AT become lifelong friends. I am blessed that I have a few of those. Don’t let these people, some of the few who ‘get it’ slip away from you.
5. Write your story down. Sadly, the adventure and experiences will fade from your memory. Be sure to write down any and all of the crazy, amazing, scary, sad and incredible things that happened to you along the way. I for one would love to read about your journey.
6. Get back out there. I was so nervous to go hiking again after my summer of backpacking, as I knew it would never be the same. Nor could it match up to what I experienced in 1998. And that is OK. When you get back out there to run or hike the trail again, you will meet different people, and it will be just as great–only in a different way.
7. Don’t listen to anyone who criticizes you. There are many hikers that are all about preaching ‘hike your own hike’ but basically they want you to hike their idea of a hike. Just don’t listen to them. You did it the way that meant the most to you. But don;t be afraid to try it another way, as every way to hike teaches you something new.
8. You will smell for a while. It took me more than three weeks to get rid of the ‘hiker funk.’ Good luck to you.
9. Frame that photo. Put your summit photo in a prominent place and remember the feeling of being on the top of Katahdin. That photo symbolizes your hard work and determination. Be proud of it. And when things get too hard in other areas of life, draw strength from that photo, remembering that you are stronger and tougher than you may realize. After all, you hiked the AT.
VA –> ME 1998