Probably, I’ll lose a toenail or four and I’ll almost certainly end up shitting in the woods in the rain hating all of my life choices. I’ll cross paths with venomous snakes and stand on the side of a road, thumb in the air, cursing the unfortunate necessity of hitchhiking alone despite promises to myself and my father I’d do no such thing. More than once I’ll cry from pain, from exhaustion…I’ll want to quit – no, that’s not quite right. “Want to quit” sounds a bit pitiful, easy to overcome. I imagine it going more like this: my body will scream with every breath and step and bruise and blister…my brain will plead in agony, in boredom, sick to damn death of it all: GET OFF THIS FUCKING TRAIL AND GO HOME. Please, please, please – for the love of god, no more! – prayers like a dying fellow.
Imagining the hardship seems, to me, a logical mental training exercise. In about a year, I’ll begin walking north at Springer Mountain in Georgia and, Lord willing, six-ish months later I’ll summit Mount Katahdin in Maine. Two thousand one hundred ninety miles (give or take a few).
I don’t remember the first time I outwardly acknowledged my desire to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. I don’t even remember the first time I heard about the Appalachian Trail. Examining it today, I realize the decision never felt like much of a decision at all…more of an inevitability, really.
Mostly it felt like recognition. Oh yeah…that’s part of me. I’m going to do that. Total sense. Undeniable. Never spent a proper night in the woods before, but that’s really neither here-nor-there because I was made to do this thing.
The recognition began in 2013 when I read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. How I stumbled upon the book I don’t remember, but the knowing was immediate, if not somewhat convoluted. What I knew was largely unclear, but a seed was planted – recognition of a piece of myself took hold. Cheryl’s writing stirred my insides, woke them up at a time when I was working hard to keep myself asleep:
“Uncertain as I was as I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing, as if the effort itself meant something. That perhaps being amidst the undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant I too could be undesecrated, regardless of the regrettable things I’d done to others or myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me. Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.” -Cheryl Strayed
I didn’t experience that kind of clarity when selecting a college or career or relationship, but we don’t get to choose the things that excite us and call to us from beyond the realm of logic or reason.
To say I never feel unsure or insecure about my plans, this path, would be a lie and an understatement. I’ll be homeless / couch-surfing beginning in December 2018…I plan to quit my job in February 2019…cash out my retirement plan and spend every penny I’ve saved in pursuit of this journey.
Every time I hear about someone’s promotion, engagement, baby, or home purchase…my heart constricts and my breath catches for a quick moment. Refocusing my attention, staying in my own lane, is a forced effort some days.
The fear is real. My god, there’s so much to be afraid of…so many reason to not take another step in the direction of a thru-hike. As soon as I start to consider the abandoning of this life-goal, my heart tells me it’s not an option. Doing so would be abandoning the thing that will bring me closer to myself than I’ve ever been, the journey that will alter the filter through which I experience the rest of my life.
And so the reading, researching, list-making, budgeting, scheming, and planning continues. We’re in the final countdown, now. Less than one year to go.
I started working on “the list” (alternately titled, “stuff to remember when you’ve hit the wall and want to give up, go home, or quit”). It’s the list I’ll turn to when I’m knee-deep in muck, soaked to the bone, convinced this is the dumbest idea I’ve ever had and I miss my sisters and Netflix and the ability to sleep in a bed. I’ll read it when it’s 90+ degrees and the mosquitoes have drained most of my blood and I smell like a rotting pile of garbage and it’s time to climb another mountain.
Undoubtedly “the list” will grow and change over the next 12 months, but here’s what I’ve got so far:
- “The things that excite you are not random. They are connected to your purpose. Follow them.”
- I want to practice and learn how to stay – even when I’m extremely uncomfortable. Stay with myself, stay with the discomfort, stay with the pain.
- Imagine summit day…imagine the top of Katahdin…imagine the feeling of awe and strength.
- I want to prove to myself I can do this.
- I want to meet new people, open myself up, experience new things, be brave.
- To gain clarity around my purpose.
- To let it all go…to see what stays.
- “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
- I want to push myself to the physical, emotional, and mental limit. And then I want to take another step.
- “It’s impossible,” said pride. “It’s risky,” said experience. “It’s pointless,” said reason. “Give it a try,” whispered the heart.
- To feel God.