Intentions, Goals, and Resolutions in the Months Leading Up to Springer

The new year is finally upon us, but I probably didn’t need to tell you that. We’ve burst boldly into the month of January and the new decade simultaneously. The seemingly endless week between December 24 and January 1 when you don’t really know what day it is or when you showered last has finally passed. The last of the pecan pie is gone, which means you actually have to start eating real meals again. The stack of items that you need to return or exchange is still sitting in the same corner that it will stay until late February when you finally convince yourself that yes, you will fit into that shirt that’s far too small for you. And you’ll be able to wear those pants too, damnit, all thanks to your brand spanking new year’s resolutions.

Forty-four percent of American adults polled said they made a new year’s resolution, and 13 percent said their resolution was to exercise more. But you and I both know that resolutions are for the birds. While constructed purely from idealism and good intentions, a vast majority of these resolutions will not live to see February.

But hey, most people who try to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail don’t finish that either.

Because I think that traditional resolutions are destined to fail and are generally self-centered, I have chosen instead to select a single word to focus on, rather than a very specific, targeted promise that I will inevitably compromise sooner rather than later.

My word for 2020 is “intentional.”

Simply put, I am making a commitment to myself that I will do all things intentionally. Furthermore, I will examine my intentions prior to doing anything.

I’ve made it a goal during this transitional period in my life, while I swing precariously from a career to hiking the trail, to spend as much time as possible outside. I try to walk as much as possible when I’m not working, even if it’s just the same paved loop through the park down the street from my part-time job. But I constantly find myself plugging in my earbuds or absentmindedly scrolling through my phone as I walk. I find myself functioning on autopilot.

Why am I so preoccupied with what’s buzzing around inside the little nightmare rectangle that is my phone? Why do I feel the need to be so overly stimulated in my day to day? Why is the quiet and the calm just not enough?

Before I continue, let me say that I am not demonizing those who listen to music or podcasts during their hikes, because I do the same thing. A person can only take so much solitude and during a longer trip I find it beneficial, if not necessary, to have some kind of noise to fill the void and force me to stop talking to myself. The problem is that during these short jaunts into the forest, my goal, my intention, is to listen to the world around me, to interact and feel the trees and the water and the grass.

Too many things in my life have been about the notoriety and fanfare that follows, rather than soaking in the moment. The constant distraction leaves little time for self-examination, which is something I desperately need as Springer Mountain and the adventure of a lifetime creep closer and closer.

The trail overwhelms me with a sense of awe and wonder while also terrifying me, making my palms sweat as my mind runs in circles. I find myself lying awake at night thinking about the long road ahead of me and I find myself quietly rethinking my gear choices while I drive to work. My intention, however, has remained constant during the turbulence of trepidation and self-doubt.

Everyone I talk to about the trail, from coworkers to family members, asks the same question: “Do you think you’ll be able to hike the whole thing?” And the answer is never clear, even to me.

The idealist and the adventurer in me says, “There is no way that I won’t hike the entire thing, even if I have to crawl up Katahdin.” But there is another voice in the back of my mind, one that I can’t shake or quiet, no matter how many how-to articles I read or how much support I get. The realist in me, the one who looks at statistics and figures, the one who examines the data and how my own progress matches up, says, “There’s a good chance I won’t.”

This is invariably met with cries of “Of course you will!” and “You need to keep a positive outlook.” But what many people fail to realize is that every step that I take will be a step toward personal growth. Every night that I sleep in the cold will be a new journey into the discovery of my own endurance. Every moment that I am on the Appalachian Trail will be a moment of development, learning, and change in my life. So, if I wash out in a month or if I become one of the lucky ones to summit Katahdin, I’ll be a better person for it.

Obviously, I want to finish a thru-hike. I’m not hopping on the trail all willy-nilly and just seeing what happens. I have a clear and defined goal for the next six or so months, but I feel that my goal and my intent don’t necessarily have to be the same thing.

My goal is to hike from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. If I can make that happen, I’ll be a happy man.

My intent in my day-to-day life matches my intent for the trail: Be a better person at the end than I was at the beginning. If I can make that happen, I’ll be a happy man.

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