The plan: Sam’s Gap to Hot Springs

I sure do like to hike. People have commented recently that it seems to be an obsession. There are reasons for that, I guess. 

  
For one, I like the physical challenge, as I explained in my last post. This weekend I’ll be doing about 44ish miles. That’s a lot, considering I’ve already taken a Dynamics of Machinery test this morning before I left. But I spent all week in the library, first studying for Materials and Processes in Manufacturing and then for DoM. And doing Heat Transfer homework in between. I’ll spend next week coding MATLAB for Mechanical Engineering Analysis (and not understanding any of it) and studying for a Heat Transfer test. After all that sitting, it’s good to move and remember that my legs can do more than just refill my water bottle and go turn in tests. 

For another, the people I’ve met have impacted my life in ways that are hard to describe. That late-night conversation with I Am seems ages ago, but I remember pieces of it vividly (and I’m so glad I keep this blog, so I can remember even more of it). Carpenter and I only spent maybe 3 days actually around each other (and that’s a stretch) but I’d do anything for him and would trust him with my darkest secrets (and have trusted him with things I’d rather not talk about). Kris, the German woman, and I still keep in touch, texting each other about the trail. She says I helped her with an emotional adjustment that changed her hike; I’d say she did much the same for me and my attitude about section hiking. Gonzo, of course, is Gonzo. I still don’t know how to characterize what an impact he had on my life. I met Dr Love on a weekend section hike and while I can’t say that everything about our smokies hike together was fantastic, I wouldn’t have met Kris if I’d been hiking alone. And my conversation with I Am would probably have been a lot different. Everything and everyone for a reason?

Accomplishing something is nice, too. It’s been a rough semester. I’m 90% sure I’ll pass all of my classes but in the meantime I often feel like a big old failure. Being able to do something, anything, successfully helps. Even if it’s just hiking for a while. It makes me feel like I’m chipping away at self-actualization or something. On Wednesday, I worked on heat transfer homework with a classmate. We worked a problem differently and got different answers. He asked the professor how to work it and it turned out I had solved it correctly. Y’all, I was so shocked that I actually managed to do something right that I could hardly believe it. That’s how rough this semester has been on my self-esteem. I am not alone in this. It’s a common problem among my classmates. We have also recently discussed our mental health issues and things are looking bleak. I hike, they tend to hunt. We all need to escape and do something that doesn’t make us feel like idiots. 

And studies have shown that spending time in nature is good for your stress levels. Lord knows mechanical engineering students probably need help with stress levels. Especially me, the biggest overthinker on the planet. 

*****

I saw this in an article on thebillfold.com:

  
 
Sorry that screenshot just abruptly ends. But you get the point. People are selfish jerks, blah blah. Being on the AT, meeting mostly incredibly generous people, I like the reminder that there are places you can go where people aren’t animals. The animals are animals and the people are people who look out for each other, for the most part. They share food and pass on warnings and if you need help most of them will go out of their way to help you. Sort of like Austria, but smellier. I loved Austria. When I was traveling in Austria we (Chris, the guy I was traveling with, and I ) stopped a busy looking guy for directions, asking in my very, very bad German. The guy stopped, looked at our map, explained carefully in English, then said, “perhaps I can simply show you?” Then he turned in the OPPOSITE direction of where he was headed and walked us several blocks to our destination. That was Austria and that is the AT. Mostly. That is not my life, except for maybe engineering school and sometimes work (people like to look out for co-ops) but both of those situations are generally so fraught with stress that I can’t appreciate the generosity right now. I need to recalibrate in order to appreciate humanity again. In fact, just writing this blog entry has made me realize how much that’s true of my school friends and work friends, so there. Even *writing* about hiking makes me a happier person. 

  
This is a page from Les Misérables. My older sister marked it to show me and I liked it so much I took a picture. I’ve reread it several times. I need more space than a little garden. I like to move and explore and find things and people and places and stretch my limitations. And I’m crap at growing plants, honestly. But I understand wanting the time and space to contemplate and study and meditate. I like having the opportunity and excuse to do that. Sometimes I burden myself with school work when I hike and that’s a real shame. Sometimes I indulge myself wth books and that’s a real treat. But usually I like to sing or think or remember or just be. And that’s easiest when there are trees and flowers and stars. At church sometimes they’ll use a labyrinth, so you have a path to follow while you pray or meditate. Here, I just follow a very long, very brown path that sometimes goes over and down mountains and sometimes wants to kill my knees. Same thing, really. 

So sure. Maybe I am a little obsessed with hiking right now. But I’ve survived most of the semester and haven’t quit school and I’m going to credit hiking with getting me through this crap semester. 

That and some really great study groups. Love my boys (and Casey and Dakota, who aren’t in my study groups but are essential to survival nonetheless).

This is possibly why the whole section hiker/thru hiker thing has bothered me so much. Hiking has been a place where I felt capable, where I escaped the “giant idiot” label (or could at least embrace it in a safe space), but the crowding of the trail with thru hikers changed that. Now I’m getting moved into a classification of hiker that I don’t want to be in, something approaching “less capable.” And that feels like school. 

It’s possible I’m overthinking this. 

*****

I’m driving to Sam’s Gap and hiking south to Hot Springs. I’m not planning shelters this time. I’ll get there when I do, and grab a shuttle back to my car on Sunday. 

*****

Only 4 more weeks and I’m done with this semester. Hard to believe. One more year of engineering school left! (Pending grades.)

I spent some time talking to Carpenter the other night. I hope y’all are all excited for fast-approaching adventures with him. I know I can barely wait!

*****

I left my house at 5:45am this morning for my 7am DoM test. I got home from the library at 1am last night. I bet I sleep pretty good tonight. 

  

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