Muddy Soles and Clean Souls: Plunging into a Thru-Hike
So, as it turns out, I’m hiking 2,190 miles over the course of the next few months.
I’m loading my life into a small backpack, tying on my trail runners, and disappearing into the woods. I’m living in a hammock, walking under skies bright or blustery, and waking with the sunrise (OK, maybe less of that last one). I’m diving headfirst into a world of muddy soles and clean souls, a mess of mental and material morasses.
In short, I’m thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
But the question remains: why?
In many ways, this isn’t the most reasonable time to thru-hike; I’m in the middle of college at an intense, beautiful liberal arts school in Vermont. As a hopeful pre-medical student, I should be doing medical-school preparation things like getting real internships with real doctors, or at the very least putting my EMT certification to good use. And, honestly, I sort of already used up my adventure quotient for the year, sailing on a tall ship this past fall and trying my hardest not to get too seasick. So, again, why?
I Thought It Would Be a Nice Lark
Don’t get me wrong, I do actually know that hiking isn’t all sunshine and butterflies and frolicking woodland creatures. I’m pale enough that I burn after 0.3 seconds of direct sunlight, butterflies probably won’t be around when I start this trek, and I have a nagging feeling that a lot of the cute, fuzzy animals will probably only see me as a food source. That’s fine. But the truth of the matter is that I absolutely love being outdoors, and I can think of nothing better than waking up every morning for the next five months surrounded by trees.
Making the Invisible into the Visible
Confession time: I am, in fact, a cyborg. Literally. As a type 1 diabetic, I depend on a horde of small, clever robots to help me stay alive. And because some folks don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a crash course on type 1. At some point (April 2011, to be precise) my pancreas decided that it had worked for long enough and just quit on me. Specifically, it stopped secreting a hormone called insulin, which allows your body to turn carbohydrates into forms of energy that your body can actually use. No insulin means no energy – unless your body breaks down fat and muscle cells, which is honestly less than ideal. But fortunately for my little malfunctioning internal organ, the technology to treat type one diabetes has moved way beyond hourly shots (which is good, since I am terrified of needles). I wear an Omnipod pump system for insulin infusion and use the Dexcom G5 to watch my blood sugars, and neither has failed me yet.
But diabetes is an invisible disease in a lot of ways. Unless you see the robots, you wouldn’t know that the reason I’m pale, shaking, and sweating halfway up a steep slope is that my blood sugar is too low for me to stand. You’d never guess that my slurred speech comes from a serious lack of sugar in my body, or that the excessive amount of gummy bears in my pack isn’t just the sign of a serious sweet tooth. And that’s OK – I don’t expect people to know. But I’m hoping that by getting out there and hiking my own hike, gummy bears and all, I can increase the visibility of this chronic condition. More than that, I’m hoping that I can encourage other diabetics or so-called “unlikely” hikers to get out and hit the trail.
A Little Bit of Je Ne Sais Quoi
Seriously, though. I don’t think it’s ever possible to know every reason that we do anything, let alone something as huge and wild as a thru-hike. I guess that’s one of the reasons I’m hiking; maybe, by the end of all of this, I’ll have some idea of why I did it.
And maybe I won’t. But either way, thanks for joining me on this journey.
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