Figuring Out My Next Step while Walking Five Million

In a little less than four months, I will be setting out on the adventure of a lifetime. I will spend approximately six months hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Six months.  That’s half of a year.  Twenty-six weeks. One hundred and eighty days.  It will be the biggest physical undertaking of my life thus far.

Am I Crazy?

Some people think so.  I, however, don’t call it crazy.  I prefer ambitious, motivated, determined, or driven.  Passionate.

But I’m not crazy.

I’ve spent the past 30 years falling into society’s schedule. After high school I went to college.  After college I went to graduate school, which landed me a pretty great job.  The great job was followed by my beautiful wedding and a short time later my husband and I bought a house.  I’m happy with all of that; but there came a time when I felt like I was doing less falling into life’s schedule and more getting lost along the way.

My Job…

..is to help.  Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I spend a large majority of my time helping others. As my beloved grandpa reached an age when he needed help with more things than not, I spent as much time with him as possible.  I spend five days a week working with behaviorally challenged and emotionally disturbed elementary school students.  I get kicked, hit, bit, called names, and spit on far more than I care to sit down and think about. But it’s OK, because, mostly, those kids need someone to throw shade at and I can both take it and help them through it. And, most days, I love it.

Recently, however, I noticed myself not loving it nearly as much as I once had.

20 Months

In February 2017, two of my nieces suddenly and unexpectedly needed a place to live.  For the next 20 months, I spent every ounce of my time and energy figuring out how to be a parent, how to take care of two little girls, and how to give them everything they needed.  As is usually the case in the foster care system, we spent our time dealing with caseworkers, family advocates, social workers, counselors, court hearings, and just the general ups and downs that come with this kind of a situation.  It was exhausting and the longest emotional roller coaster ride I’ll ever care to take.  But immediately, my husband and I loved them.  They are our nieces and we always loved them but this was different.  Suddenly, they were our responsibility and we had an obligation to someone other than ourselves.  And also very suddenly, they felt like our own.  And we loved them like so.  For 20 months.

And Then

At the end of September, the girls were reunited with their mom. She’s in a position now to take care of them, and while that makes my heart happy, I am also very sad.  Our house is quiet now, much cleaner.  And sometimes the quietness and the lack of a mess and the much smaller pile of laundry hurts me in a way I never knew my heart could be hurt.  As much as I give their mom credit for working hard, getting her shit together, and taking responsibility, the fact of the matter remains: her success doesn’t take away my grief.

And Just Like That…

…just like that, helping people and taking care of others does not appeal to me.

Right now, it’s time to take care of myself.  For a little while, say maybe six months, I want to worry only about me: what I will eat, making sure I have enough water, setting up camp.  It’s time for my life’s work to revolve a little more around me.

Explaining This…

I recently broke the news of my AT trek to my parents.  They took it very well considering it’s kind of a curveball. They asked me a lot of questions, but they didn’t ask me why.  “Why is this something you want to do?”  They didn’t ask, but I think you might be interested, so I’m going to lay it out for you. Also, putting it out there will help keep me more accountable and give me more ownership over this dream of mine.

I’m hiking the AT Because…

  1. Life is short.  I may never have a “good time” again so I’m jumping at the opportunity.
  2. In the past, I’ve let other peoples’ negative feelings about what I’m doing stop me from doing them and I won’t be letting that happen again.
  3. I need time to re-evaluate the direction of… everything.
  4. Postponing happiness just isn’t something I’m interested in anymore.
  5. I feel very happy and very at peace when I’m surrounded by nature and, especially right now, happier and more peaceful are things I need to feel.

Is a thru-hike going to be scary? Yes. Am I going to be pushed to my limits (physically, mentally, emotionally)? Yes.  Am I going to long for my bed and my husband, and my Netflix list? Absolutely.  But am I going to come out of this with an unshakable self-confidence and extreme badassery? Umm, definitely yes.  This is my time and I don’t want to waste it.

Pam from The Office once said, “Be strong, trust yourself, love yourself, conquer your fears, just go after what you want and act fast because life just isn’t that long.”

And she’s right.

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Comments 4

  • Clay Carpenter : Nov 7th

    Katherine wow just wow! This fascinates me so much. Have you read any books or a good long blog of peoples journeys on the AT? I would appreciate that information. Enjoy every minute of it. Yes it will be a difficult challenge at times but I know you will.

    Reply
  • Michele Brosius : Nov 7th

    I am so freaking proud of you! Putting yourself at the top of the to-do list is so important! LOVE YOU GIRL!!

    Reply
  • Connie Kennedy : Nov 8th

    I am so excited for you! This was something you talked to me about before the girls came to you. I look forward to following you on this adventure. Would love to see you before you start.

    Reply
  • Tom Davis : Nov 10th

    Katherine- These are beautiful words. It sure sounds like you owe yourself and all in your orbit this walk. If my plans work out, I’ll turn 67 during my hike in 2020. Or 68 in 2021, depending on retirement.
    Be proud, stay safe, feel the community behind your trek.
    I’m looking forward to your posts.

    Reply

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