Why I’m Hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2020
Where I’m from and Where I’ve Been
Growing up somewhere beautiful sort of takes the wonder out of the “real” world. This may be why there are no professional sports players from Maine, but we celebrate our most famous persona for having made our home state somewhere people are afraid to travel. Stephen King can coerce the tiny hairs on the back of your neck to dance on end, but just one deep breath in the majestic outdoors of Maine makes it somewhere to miss desperately when you’re away.
But grow up here I did, talking to hikers coming off of the Appalachian Trail and spending countless hours seeking out small outcroppings of nature to escape into. If it weren’t for some other, significantly less storybook-like details, my childhood was pretty OK. It wasn’t really a kind childhood in any sense, but I could always escape into the woods where nobody could find me and I would always be safe.
I always find myself in awe of a new city and enjoy exploring new places. I’ve lived in areas like San Antonio, Seattle, and Las Vegas. After a short amount of time in each place I would find myself exhausted by urban life and ready to run again. Washington state was somewhere I had settled for a pretty substantial chunk of time, but the east coast kept calling out to me. The Trail. THE Trail!
Where My Story Began
When I was 20 years old I boarded a plane in Portland, Maine, and moved to Texas with just a backpack. As the years played out, and I fought back against the unkindness from my childhood, I lost even more. I’ve heard it said, on a meme for sure, that toxic people will try to control how others see you if they can’t control you.
Distance, and my need to retreat, made it easy for my abuser to convince my whole family to cut me off. That sounds dramatic, but it’s the shortest way I know to explain it all. I’ve spent over a decade trying to figure out how to explain the kind of darkness even Stephen King wouldn’t go near, but I am also tired of letting those early years of my life define me. I am more than the bad things that happened to me. Maine is more than the unkindness that happened there. The endless hues of nature started to heal me long before I recognized I was being broken down.
I worked really hard to not care, but the loss of my family was a devastation. The years that she, my abuser, took from me on top of the damage she inflicted—it’s all very complicated. But my cousins weren’t to blame, nor my siblings. We were children. We were all children. We made so many mistakes with each other because the longer you go without picking up the phone to call someone you love the harder it is to do. We always say that we will get around to it, but then the call comes, or a text message, to tell you that someone you love is gone.
He’d been battling cancer for ten years, but for some reason I thought I’d always have the chance to catch up with him.
Todd was my cousin and the first born of my generation. He wasn’t perfect, and he probably could have been nicer to his little brother when we were kids (because his brother is awesome), but he was the kind of person who tried every day to be better and to help people out along the way. He gave all he could of himself, but the cancer won in the end.
Suddenly, in the midst of this loss, I realized I hadn’t been using my time wisely—a realization not uncommon among aspiring thru-hikers. I had lived for so many years just trying to recover from my past that I hadn’t done enough to invest in my future. I lived my life afraid of losing, afraid that time would run out and the people I loved would continue to leave. I realized, after losing someone I avoided so I wouldn’t have to lose him, that I was catering to my fear.
Todd worshiped nature, and he had always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail someday, but someday never came for him. I have always wanted to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, somewhat inspired by him and also by the culture I grew up in, but now I understand that someday is not a guarantee.
My cousin passed away due to complications resulting from colon cancer in February 2019. He was 39. One year later, in February 2020, my partner and I will begin our hike at Springer Mountain in Georgia—the first stop along the trail that will bring me home to Maine—to myself and who I am capable of being without the fear I have learned to be so comfortable in.
This is more than just a journey toward myself, or a reckoning of the past I’ve been running from. This is a deeply spiritual endeavor intended to usher in the next, more fearless era of my life.
This is my walk to Mecca.
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