NOT a Vacation
Remember when I told you to file away the MILEAGE detail? And remember when I said that Tess planned the trip all by herself and decided 15 miles a day would be a good number? Yeah, well 15 miles a day in the mud and rain and Minnesota ridges was incredibly arduous for me (although neither Jet nor Tess seemed to think so). I really wanted to do it, and I tried really hard not to complain about it, but I was not enjoying my hiking at all because I was just trying to survive. The inclines were the worst; every time I had to climb up a steep ridge –which seemed pretty often to me—I felt like my heart might explode because I was breathing so hard. Sometimes, I even started to have tunnel vision as I went up, presumably because all my oxygen was being used by my lungs and heart and not my brain. If I could work it out, and if Jet hadn’t run ahead by this time, I would put his leash on and let him give me a little pull as we went up together. He really disliked this as it slowed down his natural instantaneous ascent, but I made him do it anyway. I did bring a hiking pole and next time I will bring two (did I actually say “next time”?!); this helped me gain footing, but what helped me more was the system I created to assist me with my climbing; as I started the climb upward, I would count to 10—usually in my head since I had no extra air—and then I would stop and lean on a tree or my hiking pole for a moment. I would repeat the entire sequence until I was done with this grueling task. Tess would often wait at the top for me, cheering, because she knows I really hate anything mountain-like. She said things like “It will get easier!” “You are getting stronger!” and “You’re almost there!” (when I really wasn’t). Aside from the inclines, another part of the trail that was especially challenging was the walk along the shore of Lake Superior. Now I know what you are thinking, “That sounds really beautiful!” But it wasn’t. Picture yourself trying to hike through a six-inch deep pebble beach against gale force winds. It was brutal. And exceptionally freezing. Compared to this “lake walk”, the mud seemed pleasant.
Seriously guys, the hiking was hard.
|Tess and I on the shore of Lake Superior trying to act like we were not struggling to walk|
Anyway, learning about my difficulties on the trip thus far will give you a little background for this next section.
When Tess and I took a zero day in Grand Marais, we had already completed somewhere near 75 miles, and I was so incredibly grateful for a day off because I could tell I WAS APPARENTLY NOT IN VERY GOOD SHAPE. As we sat on the bed and ate our Sven and Ole’s pizza and watched The Food Channel, I said, “Tess, I’m super glad you asked me to go on this trip with you, but I am not enjoying our little vacation at all because I am struggling to complete the miles each day.” I tried to say this without bursting into tears; I felt like such a loser because I couldn’t keep up with her. Tess' response helped me understand that our expectations for this trip were vastly different,
“Mom, this isn’t a ‘vacation'. It’s a thru-hike; thru-hikes are supposed to be hard.”
This explained a lot; I had visualized our hike as a fun girls’ trip. She had visualized accomplishing a goal together.
If I had grasped Tess’ goal at the beginning, my mindset may have been different; I’m not sure why I didn’t since it was it was a thru-hike and all. I understand challenging oneself with a difficult physical feats; I have completed a handful of marathons and plenty of halves. I even, once, had to hike the 25 miles that we had left of our backpacking trip ON A SPRAINED ANKLE WRAPPED WITH DUCT TAPE because there was no other way to get back to civilization. But, I had started out this journey not realizing Tess' determination was to finish the entire thing, by golly. And to do that, we would have to stick to our original plan. This was somewhat of a conundrum for me. I guess I had defined "thru-hike" as finishing as much of the trail as we could in three weeks. (I am not as goal driven as my daughter and apparently not as fluent in hiking talk.)
Once Tess had shared her expectation, I tried to convince her that it was okay if we didn’t actually complete the trail, and that I would really enjoy our trip more if I could hike less miles each day. She hesitantly agreed not to push as hard, and we both came to the conclusion that we would probably have to leave a portion of the trail unhiked (we had already planned to stop in Duluth and not complete the mileage that goes through the city, but this meant we would lose more miles). I was fine with this, but I knew it really bothered Tess, and I felt incredibly guilty that I had made her dream unachievable. Even though this was a bummer, from that time on, I think we had a little more grace for each other as we each made some compromises so our vacation/thru-hike could be fulfilling for both of us.
And, as an added bonus for my faithful readers, we located a rare picture of Jet, humiliated, and wearing his bright orange coat.
Stay tuned for the next chapter in A Very Long Walk in May to learn about the fascinating Harriet Quarles, the tiny and peculiar shuttle driver who helped us get back to the trail...