Chasing my Appalachian Trail Dream
Its funny how looking back on one’s life there are certain memories that stand out as if burned into the mind and never to be forgotten. When I was about 6 years old, my family took a trip to northern Georgia where we stayed in a cabin not far from the starting point of the famed Appalachian Trail. There was a small outdoor and supply store located on the premises. I walked around it, checking out everything I could- picking up trekking poles, examining stoves and flexing hiking boots. At that moment, three young men walked in the store. They were dirty and slightly disheveled looking with packs on their back. I quickly noticed those packs contained all the equipment I’d just spent the past few minutes completely absorbed in. I overheard them talking about hiking the ENTIRE Appalachian Trail. “This can’t be so!? I said to myself “Walking the length of the whole country!?” As a skinny kid with asthma and glasses, those Hikers seemed larger than life. It was as if three superheroes had just walked in the door and stated, “Why yes son, you can indeed fly.” And then just as quickly as they arrived, they were gone. Nevertheless, from that very brief encounter, my Appalachian Trail dream was born.
As the years passed and life continued, I never lost my love of the outdoors, but I fell into lock step with most everyone else my age. I went to school, got a job and worked as much as I could. I moved out from home, but close enough I could still do some laundry or enjoy a nice meal. I was more or less content with the life I’d begun to build – except when I was truly being honest with myself. I once heard a statistic that most people are born, live and die within a very small distance of each other. That meant that most people would never leave what is known and comfortable. With that thought ingrained in my mind, I could deny who I really wanted to be no longer. I wanted to see the world, to explore, to visit the places I’d only read about in books. I wanted to live. At the age of 25, with a great friend, I embarked on a 6-week cross-country road trip from Philly to California. We camped every night but one. We saw the Grand Canyon, Joshua Trees, Sequoias and Redwoods. We camped on the beach in Carpentaria. We drove the entire coast of California into Oregon and then back. On our return home, we stopped one more time at Grand Canyon National Park. Just before we left, I sat briefly at an overlook, thinking about all that had transpired in the past month. For the first time in my life, I was truly alive. I also knew, I could no longer be the person I was before I left.
Upon returning home to Pennsylvania, I worked 2 jobs and 6 months later moved to Arizona with a resolute determination to continue chasing my dreams. In the 6 years since moving, I lived just outside of the Phoenix area. I was now only a 2-hour drive from Sedona or less than 30 minutes from the rugged Superstition Mountains. I was outdoors hiking, camping or golfing just about every weekend. Yet towards the end of my time in Arizona, I became much more focused on work and technology and acquiring ‘things’. I was becoming the person I set out not to be. I had stopped chasing dreams. I’d taken a job working in insurance for a well-respected company. Within a year I got promoted, and began to settle into my new role. I didn’t dislike my work or the people I worked with. It was a good and safe job that could be depended upon. But as the weeks and months went on, it slowly became clear that I was at a major turning point. I could stay in Arizona, and I’d probably live a happy life. Sure I wouldn’t love my job, but most people don’t – It’s a job, its work. I thought maybe I’d meet a nice girl; maybe I’d get married. Or maybe, just maybe, I’d listen to my inner voice – The one that told me to take that road trip, to move cross-country, to seek the unknown. Each and every time I’d ask myself “What do you REALLY want?” The answer was always the same because the dream has always been the same. It’s been the same dream since those three hikers first walked past me with their mud caked boots and stories of adventure. The answer was the Appalachian Trail.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
This spring I will set out on a 6-month journey to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from Springer to Katahdin. A thru-hike of the AT will be the single hardest thing I’ve ever done, but in doing so… I’ve come alive. It took me many years to get here, but I now know, some dreams are worth chasing.
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