Now Is the Time to Find Your “Because It’s There”
“Why are you hiking the AT?”
Am I prepared to answer this question a million times? I may not have a choice in the matter, but I’m definitely not prepared to answer the same way twice. Some people can pin down their exact reason for embarking on this monumental journey. Others can’t give a reason at all. I fall somewhere in the middle—I know why I’m hiking, but despite my English degree and years of writing experience, I can’t seem to eloquently express why I’m doing this. The following answers are attempts.
Possible responses I’m currently prepared to give:
“Because it’s there.” George Mallory gave this famous response when asked why he climbed Mount Everest. I feel that. I mean, a lot of things are there, but, for whatever reason, the Appalachian Trail has always been my “because it’s there” thing. I remember learning about the trail in school, seeing a map of the eastern United States and a red line that wove throughout 14 states from Georgia to Maine. I recall daydreaming what it would be like for someone to hike the whole thing in one go, not realizing then that many people had already had accomplished such a thing and that I could be among them. Over the years, the task first seemed impossible, then tempting, then magical, and then impossible not to do.
Because I need a break from my husband. OK, that’s a joke. But I do anticipate having to answer to friends and family why I’d set off on a months-long journey so shortly after getting married. Believe me, being away from Alex for that long is not going to be easy. I already know I will cry a lot for missing him. But when we discussed our lives and what we’d regret never doing, this was it for me. It’s with his full encouragement and endorsement (and periodic visits) that I will accomplish this endeavor.
Because now is the perfect time. I taught high school English for 4.5 years. Before that I worked in politics, returned to school for my teaching license, and worked as a server in an Irish pub. Since graduating college in 2013 I’ve never gone a day without employment. In June 2019, however, I packed as many belongings as I could into my Subaru (that’s a lie, my dad packed it for me), said goodbye to the house Alex and I bought together, and drove from Indiana to California to rejoin him in our new home. He earned a wonderful opportunity in the Bay Area we felt we needed to take advantage of. It’s been great for him professionally, and we love the area where we live. However, it turns out transferring a teaching license to California is a long and tedious process. While waiting for my license to transfer, I’ve been tutoring and trying to be a busy housewife (apartmentwife?). The change has been hard on my mental health. I’ve felt directionless and confused. I know I won’t be the only person on the trail between jobs, or feeling lost in life. The time to do this is now.
Because now is not the perfect time. Unless you’ve inherited a boatload of money, have a job lined up for when you return, and have no serious relationships or commitments, is there ever a perfect time? I’ve started building up a tutoring clientele and really enjoy what I’m doing. The schedule is flexible, the pay is good, and there is far less stress than with teaching. I’m married and therefore part of a team now. By leaving for five months or so, I’m putting extra responsibilities on Alex. That’s hard. On top of it all, I’m only just now able to run and hike again after spending about six months healing severe cases of plantar fasciitis in both of my feet. Despite my strengthening and stretching routine, I can’t imagine the amount of hiking I’ll be preparing for is going to help my feet. If plantar fasciitis returns, it has the power to end my hike. Nonetheless, these obstacles provide me with more motivation to hike the trail. I’ve been stuck inside and on my butt for too long. I’m tired of waiting for the right time, a time that will never come. I don’t want to take capable feet for granted ever again. I can’t guarantee I will always be physically able to do this. Now may not be the convenient time, but no time is convenient for something like this. Now just has to be the time.
Because I’m trying to be OK with failure. There, I said it! I’ve always been afraid of failing and letting people down. I’ve always been afraid of letting my parents down by taking a risk like this rather than the safe and smart bet (i.e., employment). I could make it to New Jersey and then contract Lyme disease (seriously, you guys, this is my biggest fear). I could undersupply one week. Worse, I might not make it to Maine as planned. I might fail. On the trail and in life, I have to be OK with the likelihood that things will not go as planned most of the time. I will fail often on the trail. This is my chance to embrace that.
Because I want to test my limits, physically and mentally. At the end of the day, my favorite qualifier is “runner.” It’s been my greatest passion since the age of 11 when I realized I could beat boys in a race. Running delivered me through tumultuous teenage years and allowed me to travel to exciting places and meet incredible people in college and beyond. Since running and winning my first ultramarathon, the Huff 50k, in December 2018, I’ve been hooked on the ultra-endurance lifestyle. Tests of endurance are chaotic and beautiful. They try your will, tenacity, grit. Thru-hiking the AT has the power to break me and teach me, and I live for that.
Because I secretly hope that this will lead to possibilities beyond the thru-hike, or that I may find a new calling that inspires and uplifts me. This is not my full reason to hike the trail, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t factor into the decision.
Because I’m excited to have a trail name. I bet it feels like being a superhero, or a widow with a dark secret.
Because there’s a magic about the AT.
That’s what I’ve got so far. This is my “why.” For now, at least, because if I’ve learned one thing it’s that life can change quickly. Perhaps a more succinct mission statement will serve me better in conversation, something like, “Because it’s there and now is the time.” Or maybe I’ll just direct people to this blog. If they make it to this point they can either empathize or never want to ask me another question ever again. If they’re lucky, they’ll have stopped after the first reason why and are now seeking their own “because it’s there” thing—dreaming, setting goals, making plans, finding childlike joy as we all deserve to do.
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