Five months after life on the AT: the ripple effect

“Kindness Rocks” found along some trails in Concord, NH


I came downstairs in my comfortable fleece pajamas, opened windows to the cool, damp air outside, picked up my laptop and thought:

“I hope the (WP) prompt is good today, I feel like writing”.

It couldn’t have been better: “gratitude”

It’s almost November and my whole year has been memorable. In my past life, I usually passed from one day into the next and by the year’s end it’s all a blur. This year started with me working the night shift at a job I hated while planning my resignation date to backpack the AT. Once I finally quit, I commenced my AT journey. That lasted until early June, which then began a period of abject disappointment and recovery and that diverted me into exploring new socialization areas, new friends and some self-discovery. When I began, albeit listlessly, looking for new employment in September, my plans were derailed with my daughter’s atypical pregnancy which felt like another bitter disappointment and simultaneously an opportunity. Now I am full-time guardian or care-taker of my grandson while my daughter is in hospital and my son-in-law works full-time; this situation will last through the end of the year.

Each obstacle, every less-than-ideal situation, once I readjusted my perspective, became a stepping-stone to another opportunity, which then became another failure, which then required me to reframe it into another crossroad. I’m not sure what this means for me, what I am supposed to learn.

A dissection of obstacles turned opportunities – lessons learned:

  • I had a job I hated but depended upon for almost twenty years. The last four years I endured harassment, mobbing, and ultimately quit just before a large layoff in which I was told I would have been included had I not left.
  • I found another job which was a lateral move: not a better situation, not a worse situation, just a different situation. I decided to make the best of it while simultaneously planning my exit. I utilized every waking (and sometimes dreaming) hour to plan my next but first “selfish” endeavor.
  • I started my Appalachian trail journey in the middle of April. I was excited and I anticipated a difficult but rewarding, successful experience of a lifetime. I knew I was going to be away from the life that I no longer wanted and I was hoping to discover a new me and a new life…somehow.
  • The whole enterprise was difficult and fraught with hurdles but I was savoring the unique adventure and expecting the hurdles to pass with time. I was making friends – my “tramly” = trail-family – and focusing on all the reasons I was out there.
  • By June, my knees and my resolve were crumbling into grinding pain. Without going into detail, the time had come to go home and admit to myself that I was not going to be completing the AT. I had failed at the one thing I had done just for me, the one thing that I thought would be my life’s turning point from the stagnant, dysthymic existence to rising above and finding my life’s passion and purpose.
  • I spent over a month healing physically, wondering if I’d done permanent damage to my knees and feet. I also re-examined my trail experiences and over-layed them on my “normal” life to compare; to see what I’d gained – or lost – with my decision. The uniqueness of trail life crystalized what’s really important, my brain focused on what’s close to my heart: my family and my friends. It also made me re-think what constitutes “priority” in my life.
  • I decided to take the time that I would have been on the trail and use it to rest, replenish and refocus. I tried some new things, went to some new places, met new people, made new friends. I worked around my house, renewed my joy in my hobbies that I’d given up years ago and just enjoyed each day of freedom. I gave a lot, A LOT, of thought to my AT interlude – I missed it, I missed my tramily, I missed the adventure but I also gave much weight to what I’d learned from that brief time.
  • With all the local adventures I was having and all the socializing I was doing, I began to know that I am more of a solitary creature; prior, I had been feeling like I was ‘missing out’ on what “life has to offer” because I perceived that others were doing and having what I was not. The glossy veneer on images of people ‘enjoying the good life’ is a glaring indictment of a life not well-lived when in truth, the reflective glare should turn us away from the deception. Life is unique and individual and I have learned that mine is doing the simple things I enjoy, spending some time with a few friends and ‘being there’ for my family.
  • I turned down a job that I had really, really wanted so I could take care of my grandson. I felt like I missed an opportunity – again – to change the direction of my life because it was a position that was completely new and different from my previous occupation. I had an emotional melt-down and instinctively resorted to an action that appealed to my soul: I packed my backpack and headed into the woods – impulsively and without reason. I tented, slept poorly and woke to a beautiful sunny morning. I thought. I brooded. I decided to do what I felt is best for my family and leave the rest to the universe – I can’t use energy worrying about what I can’t control and I can’t, in good consciousness, not be there for my grandson while his mom is away for months.

This is where I am:

  • I am unemployed but I am enjoying spending quality time with my grandson everyday, strengthening our relationship while my daughter is confined to her hospital room but without the additional worry of her son’s welfare.
  • I have a small cluster of new, good, supportive friends who are always checking up on me.
  • I have the freedom, with undertermined outcome, to play with my grandson, walk my dogs, exercise my creativity with my hobbies, and socialize – a little – with my friends and family.
  • I have this opportunity to reinforce my hope that this will all work out for the best…as long as I prioritize what’s best and healthy for my family and myself while seeking what can be learned from each experience, each step in my life’s journey and be grateful for what I have and the possibilities that each day brings.

Taking a risk leaving my job to backpack the AT, although the physical journey was short-lived, has had ripple effects on my life – in particular, my perspective. Getting back into “real life”, as it’s ironically refered to, means being more vigilant so that the toxicity of the civilized environment slowly seeping into my subconsciousness doesn’t take root and become entrenched leading me back into the suffocating despair that I’d once endured but escaped. I now have my trail experience as a resource; a tool to utilize against complacency, as a reminder to what’s really important and the affirmation that opportunities appear in all forms – sometimes even as obstacles. The best lesson that I learned is striving – because it sometimes takes effort – to seek joy in each day and being resourceful in the ability to overcome, what appears to be, challenges but what in reality may be just another chance at grace.

*note: I have another blog on WordPress in which I write regularly. This post on “The Trek” will appear first, one day prior as per agreement as a “The Trek” blogger*

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Comments 4

  • Shoemaker : Oct 30th

    It sounds as if there is an unfinished conversation, inside of you, that began on the trail. Of all the things that come together as “reality” or “the way it is” vs. what you want to be and do… But the nice thing about the position you are in, is that you can redefine YOUR “reality”. Additionally, being in NH(guessing) affords you the opportunity to get out on trail in so many directions, not just THE TRAIL.

    I hope you find time to continue these internal conversations. The world/community has a way of asserting priorities, thought patterns and STRESS, that can be much louder than your voice(inside you) Being on trail, in the woods, along a river,etc. sets the stage for YOUR VOICE to speak. Let it!

    Boots are made for walking, and I hope that’s what you’ll do!

    • BuzzCut : Oct 30th

      Shoemaker, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Your last paragraph is what I blogged about today (on my blog site) because I woke this morning thinking about the trail lingering in my mind: yes, the noisy world is overbearing and I “talk to myself” all the time. 😉

  • matt : Oct 30th

    Nice post. Good for you.

    • BuzzCut : Oct 30th

      Thanks Matt!


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