My Very Long Journey (But Not the One You Think)
It’s March, and many are taking the first steps of a Very Long Journey on the Appalachian Trail. As my planned start date approaches, I have decided it’s time to share the Very Long Journey I’m currently in, and why the AT thru-hike I’ve been dreaming of will have to wait.
I wrote in the past about the loving support I had from my husband to chase my dream of thru-hiking the AT, about how we both wanted to live without regrets, and to seize opportunities when we had them. Unfortunately, our situation has changed, and now I physically cannot bring myself to look back at those posts. It hurts. I feel naive, betrayed, foolish, sad. I’m not here to air our dirty laundry. I do, however, want to share parts of my journey, for those who were following along, or for anyone who may (heaven forbid) face something similar.
First, for reference, here is a brief timeline of significant events:
- In June 2019 I packed up my Subaru and drove from Indiana to California to join my then fiancé. He had just started a job in the Bay Area, and the plan was to try living somewhere new while keeping ties in Indiana, where we owned a home.
- In September we eloped in the Santa Cruz mountains. The ceremony was beautiful. I was overjoyed to begin a long journey with him.
- In November we celebrated with friends and family in Indiana. The reception was a blast, though admittedly I knew something was wrong. It was a feeling, something I couldn’t pin down with reason, and something continually brushed off by my husband.
- Two weeks after the wedding, I discovered an ongoing infidelity that had started in October. For ten days my husband strung me along, contemplating his commitment toward our marriage, before ultimately deciding he could not stay true.
- The next day I packed up my Subaru (with the help of two wonderful humans) and drove back east.
Grief is a tricky concept to flesh out. It’s a bag of dozens of emotions—shock, depression, anger, resentment, anxiety, frustration, betrayal, confusion, desperation, resignation, guilt, and more—and you’re always sticking your hand in this bag blindly, unsure which one will come out at any given moment.
Divorce is a bit more straightforward, at least in this case. You hire a lawyer. You realize how expensive lawyer fees are. You attempt to reach a settlement outside of court. This probably isn’t easy because how easy could it possibly be to communicate with someone with whom you associate all the emotions listed above? Whether in or out of court, you (hopefully, eventually) reach an agreement. Every day you work through your grief. You try to get your life together—sometimes succeeding (getting out of bed can be succeeding), sometimes having a panic attack in the middle of a run. But one thing you don’t get to do, while frantically finding employment, a new place to live, dealing with legal work, and trying to sell a house, is spend months in the middle of the wilderness without guaranteed access to cell service.
The Very Long Journey of marriage ended, as did the Very Long Journey I planned to complete on the AT. The dreams have been deferred.
Not hiking the AT this year has felt like a huge loss in itself. I knew, deep down, that I had lost this opportunity the moment I discovered the affair, regardless of how the relationship with my husband turned out. At moments people encouraged me to do it anyway; it was the perfect time, like a Cheryl Strayed situation. But practicality often wins over, and in this case it is simply not the right thing for me to do.
Nevertheless, the Very Long Journey I’m on right now feels a lot like the Very Long Journey I anticipated for the AT. It started with a sort of scared resolve that I deserved a chance to start over, to tackle the unknown on my own. I visited the lowest point in North America—Badwater Basin—at a time when I was feeling my lowest, and I ran joyous and alone around the Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park when I felt my freest. That’s not so different than the highs and lows of trekking the Appalachians. I fight emotional battles similar to what I imagine I’d have faced on the trail. Every day shares potential for excitement, beauty, and pain.
My Very Long Journey may not be the one I’d planned, but it’s the one I’m on. I’ll make the most of it, always remembering it continues onward. And maybe one day the Appalachian Trail will be a part of it.
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