Alcohol-Free on the A.T.: Why I Will Forgo Ales on the Trail
Not too long ago in a galaxy not so far away, Virginia’s own Devil’s Backbone Brewery announced their Chief Hiking Officer contest. The gig promised to take “’go for a hike’ to a whole new level,” with one lucky cat earning all the gear and funds necessary to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2021 and throw “big ol’ beer parties along the way.” Devil’s Backbone was my favorite beer to sell (and drink) when I was slinging shellfish at The Walrus Oyster and Alehouse in the National Harbor during college. So, you can imagine my initial excitement when they announced this Chief Hiking Officer position, especially as I was already dreaming of attempting the journey in 2021 – and I know I was not alone! I’m sure many of you also ogled the opportunity. Who wouldn’t for $20,000 and a complete set of gear (even though researching gear is part of the experience itself!) I viewed it as a scholarship. If I was planning on hiking anyways, why not try to get it paid for by a brewer I love?
Yet, the more I flirted with the idea, the less inclined I felt to apply, especially as I began to reminisce on my time in undergrad. College for me was an adventure soaked in alcohol and anxiety, not that that was abnormal, but it caused me to forget my roots. I was the child day-dreaming of dribbling with Mia Hamm, proudly playing with the pigskin in the only plaid skirt amongst the boys at St. Peter’s, and anticipating the daily top ten highlights on ESPN after school. My favorite story is one where my mom received a call from my Pre-K teacher, insisting she pick me up early because I had bloodied my hands with blisters from attempting the monkey bars too many times. I adore a challenge that I can chase until conquered, and the muse of my life seems to be movement and activity. Neglecting this in college caused an incredible amount of pain and regret.
Don’t get me wrong, I still found myself in the midst of challenges (literally), playing my college’s own version of Survivor and joining the ranks of intramural sports. However, my priority above all was the party. Excitement was matched with exhaustion, “happiness” with a hangover, and before I knew it, I was out-of-shape, overweight, and blaming my disconnection from sports on my lack of cable – a lazy excuse. I felt like a shell of my self trying to find joy in all the wrong places, chasing what I thought was the thing everyone does in college when in reality, I was cruising down a one-way street of self-inflicted damage. Luckily, I know how to do three-point turns.
In 2020, my adventures started smelling like less of Busch and Burnett’s and more like B.O. as I logged over 700 miles on runs, built my strength by joining a Crossfit box, chased sunrises and sunsets at Shenandoah National Park, and completed my first ever journal. I like to think of the pain-tinged memories of my college experience as my divine moments – a concept coined by Julie Piatt on Rich Roll’s podcast here – because they ended up catapulting me into a realm of self-awareness I had lacked previously. I wouldn’t change my trajectory for the world because I needed to experience these hardships to catalyze growth. I experienced immense healing from the humdrum.
All around us exist minute miracles masquerading around as the mundane, and I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been able to see them if it wasn’t for my sobriety these last few months. In 2021, I am going completely alcohol-free because the most potent preparation I can do for myself before the trail is mastering a positive attitude. For me, that will never be found at the bottom of a bottle.
To all my thru-hikers who will be imbibing – ENJOY! I’ll be there to give you plenty of cheers – I simply ask you don’t try to convince me to join.
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