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He’s been part of me as long as I can remember. Stubborn, angry, fierce, an emotional rollercoaster when his back was up against a wall. He was my alter ego. The mule confused me. He seemed to be destroying me. He filled me with rage and hate for myself. He made me blame others for my faults. He fed on my insecurities, hurt me and convinced me there was no reason to go on living. I feared him and I was ashamed of him, this stubborn mule inside me. He never had a name until a fellow hiker, Little Giant, anointed me with this title during my Appalachian trail thru hike in 2015.
It’s custom to take on a trail name once you’ve earned your stripes as a thru hiker. The birthing of my name was a simple affair. You’re from Boston? Yes. Your favorite cocktail is a Moscow mule? Yes. Well there it is, you're the Boston Mule. Though to be honest, if we really want to nail down the facts, I should be called the Cambridge Old Fashioned, but Boston Mule has a better ring to it.
Part of the reason I embarked on the AT was to bury this mule alter ego and emerge--somehow, someway--different. Perhaps as a unicorn or a dolphin. I wanted to be happier, fuller of life--to feel a sense of calm within.
However, I’d soon learn that the calm and tranquil state I sought would not help me get me from Georgia to Maine on foot. I needed the mule’s stubbornness and ferocity to survive the difficult days of storms and unpredictable temperatures, the tedious ups and downs, the grueling mountain climbs, the blisters, sore knees, and aching muscles. Not to mention the brutal mind games the trail would play on me, its demented way of saying, “don’t ever allow yourself to get too cocky because I will hit you with a hail storm to bring you back to Earth.”
I just had to make the mule my ally rather than my nemesis. If I let him steer my thoughts towards misery and depression, he would run me off a cliff. But if I got him to work in my favor, we were powerful together. In fact, we needed one another.
As it turned out, the mule wasn’t all anger and rage as I’d thought; he was tenacity and perseverance. The mule got my ass back on the trail when I wanted to stay in town an extra day or two soaking up the luxuries of a soft bed and cold beer. The mule pushed me across the ragged rock fields that pounded my feet into submission, making my shoes feel 2 sizes too small. The mule drove me across 13 state borders to the finish line in Maine.
He understood me and what I needed, but he also knew he couldn’t survive on his own. I was there to talk the mule down off the ledge on days he wanted to snap my hiking pole on a boulder. I was there to tell the mule to take a deep breath or two while he cursed out a tree simply because it was the only thing around on which to take out his frustration. Sometimes I just had to covince the mule that we needed that extra day, that warm shower and that cold beer, because what was the rush? We were no longer on society’s schedule. We had catching up to do to make up for all our misguided ways. Think about all we were learning about ourselves. The mule and I were learning to just be. To live.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I realized mule and I could live in harmony, but I’m grateful that he is me and I am him.
I remember sitting at the top of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine a half hour or so after we’d reached the famous sign signifying the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I had snuck away from my fellow hikers to have a moment alone with myself--and my mule. I remember saying, “we did it mule.” In that moment, I was overcome with emotion for completing my thru hike, and I couldn’t have done it without the mule.
I may have thought 6 months prior that by the time I reached Maine, Mother Nature would have completed her exorcism to rid me of this mule fella for good, but what I came to understand is that the mule and I couldn’t be without one another. We had both needed healing but hadn’t known where to turn. We found it in the wilderness, yes, but she was just the sweeping backdrop to our inner work together. We healed ourselves, the mule and I.
By becoming friends with my mule, I was able to peer into my darkness and bring it into the light. To accept the parts of myself I didn’t like and turn my perceived demons into my strengths.
Nowadays, the mule keeps me honest. He challenges me to be who I am, not who I think I should be. You want to wear a cowboy hat? You want to listen to bluegrass? You want to cut your neckties in half and drive a beat up campervan around the country? You want to strap on a pack and hike for weeks at a time without a shower? You want to feel comfortable being a “cryer” while hiking through mother nature’s wilderness? Well, does it make you happy? Then that’s who you are. You’re the Boston Mule.
When I experience moments of self doubt and think about giving up, the mule tells me, “Nope, not today. Not tomorrow, Jesse. You’ve hiked the AT and thousands of miles beyond. Just keep going. Just keep hiking the good hike.”
Hike the Good Hike
I came to the Appalachian Trail in 2001 and 2003 to see what I was made of. I’m tickled pink that you are from my old stomping grounds (I grew up in Arlington) and I love that you are trying to help people with your experiences.
Way to go !!!!!
Love this story. Fills in some of the background on Instagram :)
Oh shit, yes they did! Stone Age mistake.
Oh shit, yes they did! Stone Age mistake.
My comments did not post.
Yeah Tap Dancer, I had a similar epiphany where I had to kick my own ass and make myself ignore all the bullshit that was holding me back. All this worked for the best placing me into a good place.
Thank you Jessie for sharing this wonderful part of you. Way back when I knew you were a special kid. Now a special human being.