Max Patch to Hot Springs ~ 20.6 Miles Section Hike: Hitting the wall, cursing, pushing through.

Over the Labor Day long weekend, a group of us set out to hike from Max Patch in NC to Hot Springs in 3 days.  It’s just slightly over 20 miles and I don’t think it is a hard section, but it would be better for the hiker to be “conditioned” before taking on these 20 miles in a short period.  If one is less than “conditioned” (and I was), then it might be better on the knees to take this one over four days.

Maybe I should define “conditioned” first. If you haven’t hiked in 3 or more months and you are overweight you probably need to get your knees and quads prepared for this one.

Max Patch was wonderful as always.  Since my last trip there in 2017 (when I popped two tires – yayyy, that was fun) they changed up the approach trails a bit.  They no longer have that huge uphill hike in the center of the mountain to get to the top of the bald.  Now, you can either go left or right from the parking area (the sign to the left said it was easier)  Both ways will lead you to the summit.

The Hike

Things started out wonderfully.  The weather was great, the trail was great, nothing seemed unusual.  I was going by AWOL’s map and had full confidence in what laid ahead.  The only challenge I expected was the distance per day that was planned.  I had not been hiking on a regular basis this season, so my trail legs were not as developed as, say, last season’s.  

With each day planning on being 7 mile days, two of the three days held big uphills.  What got me was that the 2nd day appeared on the map to have 2 uphills, with one being 2 miles up and the 2nd just a little push and then easy peasy to the camp site.  No stress, right?

The map failed to display the 2nd hill as being another 2 or more miles and I mean UP.  I don’t know, maybe I read it wrong, but even after consulting with other hikers around me, everyone was surprised by what they went over.  Me?  I got trail rage.  I cursed like someone had wronged me big time.  I mean, I landed at camp like a an angry tornado in a trailer park.  I’m sure if anyone thought I was a sweet fat girl struggling up the hills earlier, they now saw me as a fat girl with a tantrum problem.  I was pissed!!  And on top of it, I was so exhausted I asked for help putting my tent up.  

I had hit a wall twice on that 2nd day, which was a first for me.  On the second wall I hit, I was climbing log steps up the trail and literally sat down on one and leaned back against my pack and fell asleep.  Surprisingly, no one came behind me, but I was thankful.  I would have been a little embarrassed.

By the time I reached camp, I had little time to set up before the sun went down.  And thankfully one of my hiking partners was kind enough to help me set up and get my bag hung.  I could barely eat too.  Any remaining energy I had was seriously spent spewing every explicative I had ever learned.

What did I gain?

So looking back, I feel a little ashamed at my response to an unexpected trail condition.  No one else appeared to have been tempered by having to hike uphill an additional 2 or more miles (I feel like it was 4).  Everyone else had arrived at camp in plenty of time to set up and relax before the sun went down, so the issue really was my own problem.  Both mentally and physically.  Yes, everyone else expressed surprise and discomfort at the effort it took, but smiles were on everyone’s faces.  No one else appeared to look as though they had been wronged.  

I don’t really know why I took it so personally.  I admit I often wind up in a cussing storm when the trail has too many switch backs, or a 3 mile hike DOWN takes 3 hours.  I know I am slow, but I shouldn’t be that slow!

In hindsight I understand it is I who is responsible for being in a mindset that allows for the unexpected.  I know for a fact had the additional miles been flat, I would not have been so sour about it.  Why did I feel misled and why did this get the better of me?  

At this point, if I dig deep I feel like I am more angry with myself for not being able to handle the trail condition.  For being out of my league physically.    I felt that somehow my situation was unfair.  Which presents a chance for good news in the future.  

Since I am in charge of how well I am prepared for the trail (or nearly anything else in life for that matter), I do find motivation and satisfaction BOTH in knowing that I don’t have to be the last one all time.  I don’t have to lose my shit if I am faced with a hill too high (or two), or one more switchback (I f@kkn hate those so much).  

As the hiking season closes for me for a few months – mainly because I have mono as I write these words – I will reflect on the trail season I just finished and plan for the next one to reflect me having more choices rather than the trail deciding what I can do… in as much as I can.  Obviously nature is who she is and the trail is not going to change for my sake, so I have to be the one who adapts.  

Happy Hiking All!  Get dirty!

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