Last night, I walked out of work to find a black puddle under my car. The same 20 year old car which recently hydroplaned out of a lane on the highway, resulting in a $400 investment in new tires, is now leaking gas from its tank. As I watch the narrow margin between my “real life” money and my “Appalachian Trail” savings and gear money dwindle, I face my next Appalachian Trial: doubt.

Perhaps instead of fulfilling this seemingly whimsical dream of conquering the eastern seabord, I need to stay home, fill out more job applications, save more money, and be a better grown-up. Perhaps I should get rid of the old car and invest in a new or lightly used model. A car payment would probably cost less than repairs at this point. Perhaps if I put the AT on hold and instead focus on finding a way to acquire the accoutrements associated with a materially successful life (the house, the lawn, the car, the matching furniture with no futon in sight), I will find another time to hike. After all, the trail will always be there and I (hope I) won’t always be a pauper.

And that is only part of the doubt.

I am a moderately experienced dayhiker and novice backpacker. I haven’t lived alone in three years and yet I am attempting a solo hike. Though I will be First Aid certified when I leave, that training will be insufficient in the face of any true emergency. What if there is too much snow? What if I just get plain bored? Perhaps it is less disappointing to myself and those I have told about my hike if I just don’t go at all. “It was too expensive to leave my life for six months,” I could say. “It was one car breakdown too many,” I could say. It would be so easy.

And so the doubt keeps talking, whispering insiduously in my ear. “Don’t go. Stay,” it says. “It will be cold. You will be tired. You are weak. You are going to fail,” it says. I can’t turn it off or turn it down and it gets louder every obstacle I face. Every 16 hour work day, every missed weekend, every opportunity I pass up to go on this adventure (this farce?), doubt looms its ugly head.

Who am I to attempt something this big? Who am I not to play by the rules of society – not joining the rat race, but looking outside the box instead? Who am I to tackle 2000 miles of wild trail with nothing but the pack on my back? Who am I to accept poverty in the name of a greater journey? Who am I to know if this is the right decision to make at this juncture?

Even as I type this I don’t know if I will win this battle of wills with myself. All I’ve learned so far is that it’s a funny feeling to know I have total control over my own failure, but not to trust simultaneously that I  have total control over my own success as well.

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Comments 7

  • Crash : Dec 6th

    Go anyways! Even if you run out of money and have to come back early. Living life “successfully” is expensive, but the trail will change your definition of “successful” pretty quickly. It will also teach you that you’re stronger than you think and that no amount of snow/rain/exhaustion can keep you down. Good luck and I hope you make it out there!

  • Alix Hinnegan : Dec 7th

    I had to memorize this quote back in high school, back then I hated it. But lately it has been resonating with me a lot. I’ve been having some of the same feelings you’re describing about my own future adventure. But maybe these words will make you re-think settling for the rat race, re-think telling yourself “It will be cold. You will be tired. You are weak. You are going to fail.” I can’t tell you what is right for you, but I hope you follow whatever desire is truly in your soul…I hope you stay true that.

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?…
    Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…
    It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

  • George Turner : Dec 7th

    If it were easy, everyone would do it. Real like always is in the way; there is no perfect time. Poop or get off the pot!

  • George Turner : Dec 7th

    I swear I typed life rather than like!

  • Christopher "Smokey" Bingham : Dec 9th

    Rachel, I just got back from a thru-hike from Maine to Georgia and faced a similar dilemma. Last year I had some issues with substance abuse and I felt if I didn’t get out I would probably no longer be here. I gave up everything I owned and I mean everything except a bag of clothing, a few instruments and my cameras. I even gave up my apartment so I knew id have no where to live when I got back. The calling of the trail was overwhelming and I didn’t think I’d have another chance to do it so I went. I do not regret a single thing. It was the best, most exhilarating, hardest, miserable and amazing experience I’ve ever had. Do it, you’ll be surprised how well you’ll adapt by about a month in. You’ll be eating up mountains and walking 20 miles a day. Good luck and happy trails.

  • Paul "Bronco" Fuzinski : Dec 10th

    The jobs and broken cars will always be there. Don’t worry about how sufficiently prepared you are for the trail and don’t nit pick over gear. The trail is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. You can come home and worry about being broke and all that stuff later. I’ve met so many people who wanted to hike the trail and never did, so don’t let yourself become one of those people. You will inevitably develop the same worries you have at home while hiking the AT such as, money, broken gear and so on and so forth but you will be accomplishing something so awesome that it will trump all of your worries. My best advice is DON’T THINK ABOUT IT JUST DO IT. All you really need it guts, food and bull-headed determination.

  • Rachael : Jan 9th

    Thank you for all these wonderful comments! Hearing from some kindred spirits certainly helps alleviate some of the fright and reinforces my (still-standing) decision to go on this adventure.


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