Over the weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the ALDHA-West Gathering at Lake Wenatchee. It's been 2 years since I last spent time with "hiker trash" and I honestly didn't know how much I had missed it until yesterday.
It's been 5 years since I finished my Triple Crown. With the passage of time and more and more of my life becoming devoted to running and work, my identity as Anish–as a thru-hiker–has waned. I haven't been out for over a week in more than 2 years. I have no thru-hiking goals in the near future.
This year I have been struggling with the question: Who am I?
Am I a thru-hiker? A bad-ass backpacker who puts in long days, long weeks, and long months?
Am I an ultra-runner? A hardcore trail runner who logs races every month, long runs ever week and tops out with 100 mile events?
Is it possible to be both?
I have been feeling torn this year. With my dedication to training for Cascade Crest I hardly went hiking/backpacking. The runner in me was fighting the backpacker in me...and winning. The two times I went out with my pack nestled against my spine, imparting a sense of comfort, the backpacker sent the runner into retreat. Self-sufficiency in the mountains was winning.
At the Gathering I got to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones. It was different being there alone. I've always gone to hiker Gatherings with my partner of over 5,000 miles. It didn't take long to realize that I fit in here, even alone. There is a way of looking at the world that only thru-hikers have. Being surrounded by those who affirm my unorthodox outlook has made me confident and calm. All is well. I can make my life my own every day. Just as in the past when I went into new adventures without fear, I no longer feel trepidation about what is next–either on trail or in life. I started my journeys on trail walking, then I started running. I am a hybrid. Who cares that many ultra-runners are not backpackers and vice versa? With a pack I'm faster. In hundreds I don't get tired as quickly. 17+ hours on the feet isn't unknown to my body.
Do I want to focus on running?
Do I want to focus on backpacking?
I want to do both. I want to be in the mountains. I have realized that I can do both. There doesn't need to be a war within: Anish is a runner, too.
Thru-hikers know how to savor every moment, whether it's hailing or a blue bird day. Blisters the size of Texas can be funny. Filthiness can be a badge of honor. They know that in the midst of commercialized, consumerist, over-stimulated society that the things that truly matter most are easily loaded into a small pack. They know how to simplify. Wholeness is found when you are no longer inundated with the need to gain and attain. A friend at the Gathering has a catchphrase when he is out on the trail: "I am winning". It's funny, but it's also true. Those who can leave fear and insecurities behind, who can step out of societal norms, to find something more fulfilling are winning. They are winning healthier bodies and minds. They are winning victories for decreasing their carbon footprint. They are winning at life by returning to something humans have always done: walked over rough terrain for days on end. They are winning over the repression of what is natural by satisfying the instinct to travel and use the body physically.
As a thru-hiker, as a runner, as someone who derives her greatest joys from the attendant bliss of the steady rhythm of footfalls on trail tread I know that I am winning...at life.