Those Behind Me: Carrying More Than a Pack While on Trail
As the year starts to approach its end and the start to my AT thru-hike edges closer I’ve found myself frantically searching for my “why.” I have plenty of good reasons to tackle the trail when I am. The timing works well since I’m taking a college gap, my month-to-month living expenses are already really low, the pursuit of writing works well in combination with an adventure as massive as a thru-hike, but these are just framework. They are why I can do the trail now, but they aren’t at the heart of why I would want to do something like this in the first place.
The Myers are a very tight-knit group, and even though they don’t all “get” the importance of a trip like this or the amount of planning and effort it takes to complete a thru-hike, they are incredibly supportive and have made countless early-morning drives to get me to trailheads this year so I can train. My brother tackled his very first thru-hike on the 32-mile Art Loeb Trail, and dad walked beside me on the 76-mile Foothills Trail during that freak heat wave in September. I carry all the effort they’ve put forward to help me make this trip possible.
When I was somewhere around seven years old my family joined my older cousin for a day hike near Franklin, North Carolina, amid his AT attempt. I only remember snippets from that day, but what I remember most vividly is how happy he seemed. He bounced while he walked and he told me how free it made him feel, how much good hiking had done for him. and how excited he was to be striving for his longest hike to date. I sat beside him as he cooked us potatoes for lunch, and he let me keep the wooden spoon he packed in with him. A mixture of heavy snow and a missing shoe forced him off trail in the 100-Mile Wilderness, and while I’m certain he appreciates the experiences from the trail, I can imagine how hard it was to walk away so close to the finish. He introduced me to the world of backpacking, and so I carry him with me on the trail next year.
Technically my best friend, but I’ve known this guy for almost my entire life. He left our small-town school after the sixth grade, but we never lost touch. When I learned to drive stick I took off two days later down the mountains and across the interstate to see him graduate from boot camp (I had to use the e-brake to take off every time), and then made the four-hour drive home back up the next day. He did the same for me when I graduated high school, and we’ve had plenty of adventures in between, from axe-throwing competitions to a rather poorly executed ice-climbing trip. He’s always down to go exploring, and I strive to live up to his example in a big way while he’s overseas serving our country. He keeps a childhood picture of us on him, so he literally carries me every day, but I’ll be carrying his motivation and unstoppable work ethic.
While I do keep everyone who’s inspired and helped me work toward the AT very close to my heart, this trip is mine, and I have to walk every step of it. Many people whom I respect consider their 20s to be pivotal in setting up their life. I’m in a transitional period, and so this trip is not only one of adventure but also a trip of growth. I want to test how hard I can push and how much I can weather. I want hard rain, bitter cold, long days, and every other hardship the trail offers because I consider it my great journey. My Hajj. I’m excited for the changes and trials to come, and that is my “why.”
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