Shortly before I left for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2016, I kept fantasizing about how my body was going to become “better” as a result of exercising all day every day. This is embarrassing to admit, but I was honestly imagining that within weeks I would become a toned, tanned warrior princess of sorts. I pictured myself with no more cellulite, my ample thighs shaved down to pure muscle, strolling happily through the forest with my new super-lean body. My day dreams revolved around how my body was going to LOOK thanks to thru-hiking.
Then, I started hiking…and how my body looked immediately became irrelevant. Thoughts about body image went out the window and were replaced by urgent physical sensations of stiffness, soreness, cold, hunger and exhaustion. Like never before in my life, responding to how my body FELT became the most pressing thing on my mind. When I would go into towns for my weekly shower and resupply, I would glance at myself in a hostel mirror and note with bemusement that my body had not shed weight but instead had created an extra layer of fat—probably as protection from starvation. As the months passed, I did see and feel the muscles in my legs becoming more defined—but they were also always in pain, which captured my attention more than their appearance did.
Thanks to thru-hiking, I stopped seeing my body as something that other people looked at and started to really live in it.
I’m not suggesting that if you have body image issues, you should drop everything and embark on a 6-month-long hike across the continent to become more embodied. But is there something you can do this year that pushes every fiber of your being and tests every inch of your mental resolve? Is there something you can do that will get you out of your head and into the “soft animal of your body”—even just for a moment? If so, my friend, I urge you to do it. The world around you will be better for it.
- I will be blogging about my PCT 2018 thru-hike here as well as on The Trek,
- vlogging on YouTube,
- and posting to Instagram as @janelgazelle.
I would be honored if you would follow my journey. Thanks for stopping by. Hike on!