Insert Inspirational John Muir Quote Here.
In high school I would get butterflies in my stomach before every cross-country meet. The sensation was one of dropping, nigh on pain, then a lifting that made me feel lightheaded as I stepped up to the painted line in the grass, waiting for the starting gun to crack.
I never got used to the feeling. Every time I knew to expect it, and every time it took me off guard—a different shape than expected: stronger, more abrupt, shooting like someone had punched me in the gut, dizziness like I had smoked a fat blunt.
I was never particularly “good” at cross-country. I was never fast enough to be in the top seven, the varsity A team. I rarely placed in the next seven of my school, whose times counted towards the scoring of the varsity B team. The consequences of my races were low, outcomes predictable, but I nevertheless always found myself toeing the starting line, gut clutched and head floating, eager to jump like a hare before a dog race. And every time I told myself, “Don’t do it,” and every time I did, shot out of the gate and held the lead for 100 yards, a bat out of hell.
Today, the day before the anchor goes up so to speak, I have a similar feeling churning in my stomach. It has been like this in the past. I’m ready to go. My pack is set, no more planning to do, I might as well start already. It’s a difficult feeling to sit with for a day or more. Imagine the last time you changed jobs, moved locations, or prepared for an exam.
This is it: the time for training, studying, or packing is over. Now it’s a matter of beginning. A matter of fixing problems as they arise, when they arise, if they arise.
There is no real way of preparing to hike 2000+ miles. Sure I stayed physically active this winter, skied, practiced yoga, and hit the gym until March. I packed boxes, addressed resupplies, let my dentist know that no, despite the fact that I should have a check up in July, that is going to have to wait until the fall. I’ve tested out my hammock sleeping system, run a few time in my new shoes, shot a roll of 120 film on the medium format camera I’m taking checking for light leaks.
Attempting to anticipate what lies ahead for the next five or so months is reasonable, maybe more than some people do. I tell myself this to make myself feel prepared. But the thing about beginning a new trail, or any other new undertaking in life, is that I really don’t know what it’s going to be like out there. I’ve never walked these miles, never explored this terrain. In brief, tomorrow will be a new day, a day that I have never lived.
In time it may seem routine. I’ve read about people becoming bored with hiking, like they would with any other job. Wake up for the grind, the quotidian, the office coffee at 9:00 and morning glory dump at 9:45. Nothing special, simply how life works. Right now, however, it seems like the interview, or the first week: trying not to fuck up, trying to make friends, trying to find a place under the sun. I’ve previously written about the night before. The last night of familiarity, the night before the plunge, or before life changes pitches and direction. It’s romantic to some extent, mostly because despite any amount of planning in any situation, there is currently no known method to accurately forecast with certainty what will befall in even 2 minutes from now. The future is always speculation.
I’m trying to stay calm about it. From this hotel room in Dahlonega, I can see tall hills to the north. The parking lot is choked by weeds and invasive kudzu
vines. The mountains are hazy, largely due to the gasses and organic compounds exhaled by trees. The breath makes these mountains look further away and feel older, and in truth, the Appalachians formed some 400 millions years before the Rockies grew. They are resultant of the same tectonic forces that cause the Atlas Mountains to rise in modern Morocco, collisions between what we know as North America and Africa, but which at the time had no names.
Mountains move slow, grow and erode with such leisure and apathy. Thinking like a mountain requires a beyond-human ability to see with a spyglass through millennia into geologic time.
I try to calm the fever sparrow in my gut and chest with slow ruminations like this. It works, but only to an extent. Tomorrow I’ll begin walking, slowly ambling North, across this timely range.
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