Leap of Faith

How Moving to Hawai‘i Brought Me Closer to the Appalachian Trail

In 2016 my husband, Adam, and I moved to Hawai‘i, trading 80-hour workweeks and rush hour traffic for rural island life on Moloka‘i. No stoplights and few distractions, our attention turned to the sights and sounds around us—an overload of sensory experiences once muted by our urban life.

As we settled into island living, I ventured outdoors to shake off the stiffness of years logged inside office buildings. I snorkeled for hours with manta rays as they danced and turned around me. I woke before dawn to stand on a beach in Hāna and chant the rising sun until the morning mist evaporated. I biked nonstop across the island of Moloka‘i, from the sunrise-filled valley of Hālawa to the clay and sand sifted beaches of the west end. I blazed a path from my front door to every corner of our island home.

The King’s Trail at Wai‘anapanapa State Park, Maui.

Traversing the islands made me question life long beliefs about my physical capabilities. For 20 years, I believed the pinnacle of my body’s performance was to balance on four-inch stilettos in a climate-controlled office while gamely joining in on marathon meetings. Why did I excel at climbing the corporate ladder but feel inadequate climbing mountains?

If Can, Can

In Hawai‘i, there’s a popular phrase: If can, can. If no can, no can. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D, refers to this thinking as a mindset in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  After decades of research, Dweck and her team at Stanford University were able to identify that our belief in our own potential will profoundly influence our ability to learn and, therefore, to grow.

“They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind, and you can change your mind.,” says Dweck. Either we can, or we no can, and we get to decide for ourselves.

In the past, I didn’t pursue active goals because I didn’t want to confront my fears. I was afraid of injury. I was afraid of being smelly and unattractive. Undeniably, I was afraid of judgment. My fear decided for me; my mindset limited the possibilities. I was not athletic.

As I made friends on our new island home and started hiking more, my confidence grew. Flat, dusty beach trails became familiar and mountains started to look like possibilities.

Adam, an ultra-distance athlete, smiled and put pen to paper when I didn’t know how to create a weekly training plan that would improve my skills. I muscled through repeats on the hills around our home to build strength and rock hopped dry riverbeds to improve my stabilizing muscles. I walked to town loaded with my backpack and cars would stop to offer me a ride.

Beach camping in Hawai‘i.

A Leap of Faith

A few months later, when friends suggested a difficult trek into the backcountry wilderness, I found the courage to say yes.

It was my first trip carrying a 30-pound pack over the mountain range and off the grid. In this terrain, the only option in an emergency was a helicopter ride out. I triple checked my gear: hammock, gloves, loppers, enough bug spray to repel every mosquito in Polynesia. “You got this, Amelia!” cheered my hiking buddies. I smiled outwardly and doubted inwardly.

We climbed up a steep incline through lush, rocky terrain and looked out over treetops across the Hawaiian archipelago. I was starting to feel my muscles activate with strength from my training and find a hiking rhythm.

The trail plunged deeper into the tropical forest, making pinball turns through a boggy bloom of green until we suddenly found ourselves along a cliff’s edge. Ahead was a five-foot gap in the trail, carved by a landslide that severed our route. Below, the cliff plunged 1,500 feet into the valley—a riverine with a curvaceous flow fed by hundreds of waterfalls over thousands of years. I was handed a rope, given instructions. My heartbeat accelerated.

As I stood, considering a leap of faith to the other side, I knew I had been limiting myself for a very long time.

Someone from the back of the line cheered again, “You got this, Amelia!” and I jumped.

That leap of faith propelled me across the gap, and into a new mindset about my athletic abilities. Jumping was the final shift in my thinking from no can to can. It led me forward into a valley filled with the history of an ancient Hawaiian colony and out to a remote beach where I would gaze at the stars and appreciate just how far I had come.

Now, I live fully in my new mindset. My body is capable. I will head north, from Springer Mountain to Katahdin, 2,193 miles. It’s simply a continuing trail that started in Hawai‘i where I acknowledged my potential. If can, can.

What was your a-ha moment – when did you take a leap of faith?

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Comments 4

  • Chip Scarlett : Feb 22nd

    Great post. Thanks! Can’t wait to hear about your coming adventures.

  • Aunt Suzie : Feb 22nd

    Proud of you. I honestly don’t think I could have jumped that 5 foot gap – short German farm girl legs and such fear of heights. Love you both so much and look forward to a meeting on the PA trail. The “dumpling aunts” are impressed!

  • Uncle Tom : Feb 23rd

    I wish you and Adam a great adventure. See you in PA.

  • #ProCrew PT : Feb 23rd

    Try you mustn’t. Do you must – Yoda. The AT awaits!!!! See y’all soon!


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