The Best Hiking Partner

Over the past two weeks I’ve sat down a half dozen times to write some version of a “things I learned in 2019 post.”  Of course, I wouldn’t call it that, and I’d try to find some more clever way to lure a reader into it.  The problem is, I end up spinning a web of tangents, and the other night this went on for five hours.  Obviously, many events of this year still require more time to settle.

There’s a mistake I often make, where I’ll start writing something before I really have a clear rearview perspective on it.  Long before the emotional shit-storm has fully settled, I’ll try to piece things together, and form a cohesive narrative.  Those passages, while incredibly useful in journals, are best kept there.  I’ll to my best to spare you guys that kind of mind-spew.

The past month has been interesting.  I have been all over the place emotionally, feeling very stuck, and disempowered.  My job search has netted a few “hey we’ll talk to you after the New Year!” email responses.  It’s a tough time of year to find work, everyone is on vacation, and I’m just trying to have patience with that.  Going from physically and mentally moving everyday to a complete stop, that’s probably the most difficult aspect to being home from my hike.  I just want to start moving forward again!

Given so much stillness, the only reasonable thing to do is to use it.  I’m back to meditating every single day for the first time in probably a year.  Like minimalism, the benefits of meditation seem vague to people who haven’t tried it.  Dan Harris, in his 10% Happier does a fantastic job explaining the hows and whys of the practice.  For me, now entering my 29th month of sobriety, mediation has been life-changing.

During tonight’s sitting I decided to throw a little mind-spew into the mix.  Every major lesson I took from this year has had to do with relationships, how I act in them, and the type of women I tend to attract into my life.  The conclusion I came to, is that writing about it is pretty useless at the moment.  The best way I can gain much needed perspective, is just to take what I’ve learned, and have another go at it.  Just as each job I’ve had feels like it’s getting me a little closer to my ideal one, so too have my relationships taught me what I will and will not put up with.  In fact, I’ve only just started expressly asking myself what I will, and will not put up with in a relationship.  That’s telling!

There were a few events that occurred during the hike, which I chose not to write about.  One was a blowout I had with my first hiking partner in the latter part of Pennsylvania.  Tension, which started building before we even hit the trail, eventually came to a head.  I found myself closing the door to the shuttle which took her off the AT.  Because the Trail provides, and has a sense of humor, five minutes later I opened the door of another shuttle van containing TaterTot.

I was headed back to the trail, and she needed another night in town to heal an ailing knee.  This was perfect, because it gave me a few days to brood, and eventually let go of frustrations that had built up since Harper’s Ferry.

On a balmy summer’s day, while eating lunch under the shade of a shelter roof, TaterTot reappeared.  Within ten minutes the Oregon native taught me a new slang adjective: “ratchet.”  A few days later, after spending a night in Palmerton with my new trail family, I began to walk with the best hiking partner I’ve ever had.

We were on trail for much the same reasons.  She had just gotten out of a relationship with a complete narcissistic asshole, and I was still healing from Molly.  The previous hiking partner blowout began to make more sense, as Tater pointed out where I had been baited and then reinforced the negative behavior.  It never before occurred to me that my hiking partner might be intentionally emotionally manipulating me, but this was soon obvious.  I never realized how much I complemented and unconsciously encouraged that behavior either.

What I love about Tater more than anything, is her complete lack of a filter.  She was unfailingly honest, and pointed out red flags so obvious, that in hindsight they might as well have had neon flashers attached.  The year before, my therapist had been pleading with me to see reason with Molly, but I was too blind.  I was too in love, and defended her by default.  That the relationship itself sent me back to a therapist should have been my first clue.

In great contrast to my first hiking partner, and the constant tension between us, hiking with Tater felt light and easy.  I learned what it was to hike and laugh all day.  We compared notes on life and careers.  Being a microbiologist, she (tried) to explain things about microbes to me, which at least once sent me running away with my hands over my ears.  Really, I don’t need to know just how many “friends” I am sharing my keyboard with right now.  I damn sure always close the toilet lid before flushing though…  Thanks Tater.

It was a great dynamic, and not one I wanted to fuck up with attraction.  I got the feeling that she, like me, was still in a healing phase anyway.  We had both been hurt pretty badly.   Truth be told though, I was attracted, and I’ve never wanted to date anyone so badly in my life.

After some gracious slackpacking on the part of her mother, Tater and I bid farewell at the Connecticut border.  They were headed off to Maine.

Her mom made a few observations about me, which stuck.  One is that I try to please everyone, often to the point of failing to please anyone.  A simple example occurred when I tried to be both at breakfast at camp with her and her daughter, while at the same time also sharing coffee with Joe, a kind trail angel a few sites away.   Telling people “no” is something I’m still awful at, but I’m learning.

She also noticed how much I had allowed other people to affect my hike.  Her parting wish for me was to truly allow myself to hike my own hike.  After returning to Harper’s Ferry, and leaving town alone to start the southern leg of the trip, I endeavored to do this in earnest.  I never found anyone who hiked at my same pace for more than two days.  I was slower than most SoBo’s, and so I spent a lot of time alone in the Southern AT.  I wouldn’t trade it, it was liberating.

Back in the north though, I continued my search for relationship answers.  A huge fan of Mark Manson’s blog, and his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, I decided to read one of his earlier works, Models.  Models is a dating book.  It’s the only one I’ve ever read, and it’s likely the only one I will ever read, not because it sucked, but rather because it was so comprehensive.  The premise is this:  Get off your ass and pursue the life of your dreams; then, when you have real confidence and know yourself, start dating.  Robert Glover’s No More Mr. Nice Guy was referenced enough times that I decided to read that as well.

Glover’s book was like reading all of my deepest darkest secrets in print.  Here I quickly found the deep and underlying reasons both of my previous relationships failed.  I read why I attract women like Molly and my previous hiking partner, and why I try to please everyone.  A total game changer, it’s probably the most important book of adult life.  I’ve since read both of these titles a second time.

With a little more bearing, and more confidence, the Ryan who was walking through New England felt ready to date again.  Also given that hiking does crazy things to a man’s libido, that’s where my head was at.  I had been texting back and forth with Jelly since PA.  I caught up with her in Great Barrington, Mass, and a short romance ensued.  I wrote about that though.  Perhaps I wrote too much about that…

There was a marked difference in the healthiness of that relationship.  For one thing, it ended in a friendship.  Jelly and I talk almost daily.  Still, and she sensed it, I’m not where I need to be with this stuff yet.  It takes time, vulnerability, and practice.

In taking the first part of the advice given in Models I’ve decided my focus this year will be on a new career path.  Not having a job I am proud of is my greatest insecurity, and I feel it’s time to address that.  I spent a recent Friday morning crawling in and out of heavily modified Gulfstream jets, the kind used for advanced medevac operations.  The smile didn’t leave my face for hours.

So, while I am still unpacking the events of this year, I feel pretty stoked for the one to come.  Have a happy New Year guys, and as always, be kind to yourselves!








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