Starburst (Jennifer)

Mile 2,591

 
 
 

(1) Where are you from?

I am from Reno, NV, but currently reside in Seattle, WA.

(2) What day did you start?

I started April 14, 2018.

(3) What day did you finish?

I finished October 3, 2018.

(4) Do you have a trail name?

Starburst

(5) If so, where did it come from?

I got my name fairly quickly because of my colorful clothing and gear.

(6) What did you dream of when things weren’t going well?

When I was having a tough time, the only thing I dreamt of was what it would feel like to stand at the Northern Terminus.  I knew that I couldn't give up because the feeling at the end would be worth it all.  I also tried to imagine how I would feel about myself if I allowed myself to quit.  Would there be understanding and peace?  Or would there be regret and shame?  Quitting was not an option.

(7) Did you experience anything miraculous?

For me, the miraculous experiences were always in the little details.  Like catching a spider spin it's web and being able to watch it work for 20 minutes.  Or getting lost and having to bushwhack and stumble across the largest mushrooms I have ever seen in my life.  Or sensing someone or something behind you, only to turn around and see a deer following you on the trail.  It was always those "insignificant" moments that made the trail feel miraculous.

(8) Any memorable encounters with the elements, or wildlife?

I had many memorable encounters including being followed by a bear cub for roughly half a mile, watching spiders spin their webs on foliage deep into the woods, to even being ambushed by chipmunks for my crumbs.  But the most memorable (and terrifying) was when I was fairly certain I was being stalked by a mountain lion for roughly one week.  My first known encounter was camping alone in the Desolation Wilderness when a mountain lion came to visit me as I was in my tent getting ready for bed.  I heard a large animal sauntering around my tent and at first I thought it was a deer.  It wasn't until the woods went silent and this large animal jumped onto a dead log next to my tent that I knew it was some sort of cat.  My heart froze and I actually started to cry from fear.  I yelled and clapped my hands to scare it off, and surely enough, the cat jumped from the log and left.  Then the noises from the woods resumed minutes later and I somehow calmed my racing heart and fell asleep.  The next encounter was the following evening when I was starting my climb up to Tinker Knob and actually saw a mountain lion.  I was so shocked and terrified that I quickly set up camp 1/3 of a mile after my sighting.  I stopped so soon because I met a group of five women camping and didn't want to camp alone that night.  Then around 12:45am, we were all woken up to a mountain lion in heat, which is the most terrifying sound I have ever heard.  (Look it up if you dare.)  And if this wasn't enough excitement, a couple nights later I was camping alone once again and it was already dark.  I got into my tent to get ready for bed and almost immediately I heard a large animal come out of the bushes next to my tent.  I thought it was a bear going for my food (which was outside of my tent).  I exited my tent and looked around for a bear or a deer, and saw nothing.  I slowly turned around and saw a mountain lion sitting on the trail, staring directly at me with it's large, green eyes.  Let's just say, I didn't even try to sleep that night.

(9) Think back to your “pre-hike self.” Now think of yourself here at the end. Has anything changed?

I have become so much more confident than I was before my hike.  I have faced so many of my fears, and continued to face them for months and months, and that really does something to your self-esteem.  A lot of people, especially women, ask how I can backpack and camp alone as often as I do and not be scared.  The funny thing about that is I am still scared to camp alone most nights.  Some nights I was completely fine and didn't think twice about any dangers, but most of the time I was always scared to some extent.  But I promised myself to hike for me, and only me.  And that meant doing the amount of miles I wanted to that day, even if it meant being alone.  I would have been upset with myself if I compromised my hike just because of my fears. 

I am also extremely proud of my body and how far it has taken me.  So often we can stand in front of a mirror and pick out every single imperfection and flaw and "reason" to not like our bodies, but doing something like this does the exact opposite to your mind.  Instead of standing in front of a mirror and possibly feeling insecure, I stood on top of mountains with a euphoric smile, all thanks to my strong legs.  I will (hopefully) never dislike my body again, because for every flaw it may have, it has so many more beautiful aspects in comparison.

(10) Now that you are off the trail, what do you miss most about it?

I miss the peace it brought to me.  How uncomplicated everything was.  Sleep.  Eat.  Drink.  Walk.  And repeat.  In a nutshell, that was it.  I rarely knew what day it was, or where I was on a map, or even what time of day it was.  I just had to walk and keep my body nourished and protected from exposure.  The rest was easy.

(11) Before you started, what were you most afraid of?

I was most afraid of getting hurt and not being able to finish.  It seems like a shallow fear, but I was so worried I wouldn't be able to finish this hike on my own terms.  Thankfully, that fear dissipated the more I hiked.

(12) Now that you are finished, what are you most afraid of?

I am most afraid of never feeling the kind of peace and euphoria I felt on trail almost every day.  I didn't thru-hike to run away from my life before, but I definitely made it hard to re-adjust.  Post-trail blues are a real thing, and I am currently struggling with them as we speak.  I sit in meetings and wonder what the point of all of it is, and that is what scares me the most.  How can I contribute to society if I so badly don't want to partake in society?  Maybe soon I will have answers.

(13) What’s the difference between life on the trail and life off the trail?

There are the obvious differences of course, like being thirsty and not being able to go straight to the faucet to drink.  I must know where a water source is and ration my water until I am there, then filter the water, then I can drink.  Same with using the restroom.  Those little ways of life "in the real world" take up a lot of thought and intention for thru-hikers.  However, the main difference between life on trail and off trail for me is perspective.  I woke up most days on trail with a valuable goal and a purpose and intent and excitement of the unknown.  Every step I took felt important.  Everything I did was intentional and meaningful.  No wasted food.  No wasted water.  Just the right amount of possessions to keep me alive.  Nothing more, nothing less.  All things had purpose.  In my life off trail, there are many things I own that have no purpose whatsoever.  No real value to my life.  A lot of wasted space.  Wasted food.  Wasted time.  Life on trail provided clarity whereas life off trail seems to breed confusion.  My hope is that I can learn to take everything from my trail life and implement it into my off trail life.  That is a gift I want to give myself.

(14) Would you like to add anything else?

The best advice I was given before I thru-hiked was to never quit on a bad day.  And that advice stuck in my head so much that it actually got me through those moments when I wanted to quit, because there were those days.  I plan on using that mentality in my life off trail.  Emotions are valid and real and sometimes what makes this life so special.  But I have learned to not make important decisions based off of my emotions.  Feeling emotion is not wrong, but how I handle that emotion is what is important.  Learning how to embrace the unknown and the often times uncomfortable state I was in has given me a lot of strength I didn't have before.