Based on some recent conversations regarding our upcoming thru hike I keep coming back to the same question. Why does everyone think that when you chuck your possessions, give up your comfortable life, and decide to hike 2,185 miles for six months with nothing but the bare essentials on your back that you must be suffering from “mid-life crisis”. What the hell, I call it MID-LIFE COURAGE.
It takes courage to give up all that you’ve worked for and set out on a journey of the unknown. For me it will take courage to leave our family behind. I will miss the little voices calling for grandma and the outreached arms wanting to be picked up and snuggled close. It takes courage to go on sabbatical from our business for the better part of a year to fulfill a dream. It takes courage and faith to believe that upon our return life will be better than it is at this moment. None of this is mid-life crisis, it’s mid-life courage. Now is our time in life to fulfill our dreams that have been put on hold while fulfilling the dreams of those we love. It isn’t selfish to say we deserve to follow our hearts. And most of all it takes courage to walk away from your life to help someone you love.
Our families worry about us and rightfully so. People who know very little about the trail, have a picture in their heads and it isn’t pretty. They envision scenes from the movie Deliverance and no way to communicate with the “outside” world. They simply don’t get why on earth anyone would want to walk 2,185 miles and live out of a backpack eating, by some peoples standards crappy food. No matter how much we explain that there are a multitude of things that are known about life on the Appalachian trail, all of which they have access to. Still they don’t see our journey as mid-life courage, but rather a mid-life crisis. We explain our trail direction, food, gear, and lodging. We show them maps detailing elevation, water sources, hostels, shelters and towns along the way. They still worry and think we’re crazy. We reassure them that as hikers we know there will be days of unrelenting cold, snow, rain, heat, bugs, bears and rodents. Also explaining the guidelines for relieving oneself in the woods. Why we decided on two sleeping pads paired with a warm sleeping bag to keep us warm and off the cold hard ground floor or shelter bench, and of course the essential need to calculate the weight of everything that makes the final cut. Still, they shake their heads and voice their concern. Mostly they question why at ages forty eight and fifty two we would embrace our mid-life courage. I firmly believe it takes courage to prepare mentally and that this is every bit as important as the gear we carry and the food we eat. Even after all the planning and training leading up to the first day on the trial I feel the real courage comes from how we will react to the elements, the physical challenges, homesickness and the monotony of walking day after day.
How we handle all the things we’ve discussed on social media groups is as unique as we are as individuals. We each have a fear of or are apprehensive about something on the trail. For me it is shelters. I plan to avoid them every chance I can for two reasons. The first, people who snore! I am one of them and I’ll feel horrible for keeping my fellow hikers awake while I rattle the rafters. Second, I HATE rodents and I honestly have a fear of one of those beady eyed little bastards sitting on my face staring at me when I wake up. It will take all the courage I can muster to stay in them while in the Smoky Mountains. It will take courage each and every day to walk for endless hours and question your “why”. Why in the hell I am out in these damn woods setting up a tent in the pouring rain, eating ramen noodles night after night. All for what? These are the days to find that mental toughness and dig deep to find the courage within to get up and do it again. Mid-life courage!
But above all else the real courage begins the minute we set foot on the trail and leave everything we know behind. This is not the time to second guess our gear or our sanity. Months, and for some years of dreaming and planning have lead to this minute. So when it’s my turn to summon up the courage to tackle the unknown, my goal is to ignore the pit in the bottom of my stomach, use common sense, put one foot in front of the other, embrace the suck, and go fulfill my dream, while repeating my mantra “Isn’t it great to be able to wake up and do it all over again!
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Do you have any video of that? I’d like to find out more details.