Meeting Your Body on a 77 Mile Hike: Emily Star Writes on Pain, Attachment, and Acceptance


As some of you know, I was recently in Glasgow to hold the huppah up at a good friend’s wedding and extended my visit by hiking the Great Glen Way, a 77-mile trek running along the lochs from Fort William to Inverness…in five days. The first few days on the trail were amazing – it had looked like there would be heavy rain every day on the forecast, but the clouds only drizzled here and there (ok, one time I got pretty soaked), and it was exciting to feel strong winds in the mountains propelling me forward. I’m fairly new to solo travel, and it felt like Mother Nature was protecting me and supporting my journey. {Yup, that’s the most woo-woo sentence I’ve ever written. It was a really good vacation.}

But the 16 miles – many uphill – on Day 4 did a number on my left calf. When I arrived at the tiny bed & breakfast I was to stay in that night, a cramp deep in the muscle and unlike anything I’d ever experienced was throbbing in pain despite many china gel applications, stretching, and massaging. I moved to icing and elevating, and it still felt like my calf had started a mutiny when I put weight on my leg. I started planning other things to do – getting Tylenol once the gas station opened in the morning (this was a very small town, and it was the one thing I didn’t have in my first aid kit!), different variations of yoga poses that might help, anything that would fix things up. All of this obsessing was keeping me up later than the early bedtime I had instituted on the trail, and I noticed how attached I had gotten to the idea of hiking most or all of Day 5’s 18 miles. I investigated my attachment - Was it really necessary? Would not hiking the last leg actually devalue all the experiences I’d had on days 1-4? Who am I doing this for anyway?!? ME! And my leg is a part of me, and it clearly doesn’t want to go hiking anymore!

This was when the real self-care started. I imagined what I would do the next day – taking a bus to the next town instead of walking there and viewing the scenery out the window (something I really enjoyed on the bus ride up to Fort William from Glasgow), drinking hot chocolate and reading more of my book, exploring Inverness on foot if my leg felt better in the afternoon, which is something I wouldn’t have time for if I walked there. It sounded great! I finally fell asleep.

Well, what do you know, but in the morning, my leg felt better. Not perfect, but better. Good enough after more stretching and yoga to walk to a bus stop four miles out instead of one very close by…and then miraculously, still good enough to keep walking. But I know that none of that would have been possible if I had not met my body where it was with acceptance the night before, and part of me even missed the experience of exploring Inverness that I had planned out (particularly because Inverness has two vegetarian restaurants that close at 5 p.m. :( ).

In the journeys that we are on – whether it’s as small as an afternoon hike or as big as attempting to heal our past or create our future – it’s tempting to force ourselves into a certain narrative. To feel that we’ll be incomplete if we don’t do something all the way through, or the ‘right’ way, whatever that is. There will be times when we can make choices, and times when we’ll have no control over what happens.

I hope that in whatever stage of whatever journey you feel yourself on right now, you can meet your body with acceptance for all that it is doing and has done, and can welcome your experience, whatever it is, with compassion.