The reason I’m thru-hiking? I will be pummeled and then I will feel alive.
Because taking on the challenge of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is so monumental for those who consider doing it and so ‘crazy’ to everyone else, I have been searching for the real reason I am quitting my job, leaving my home, family and pets to do something so out-of-character for me.
When people ask anyone “why?” they want to do such a thing, the answers usually fall into one of these categories.
The Usual Reasons:
It’s always been a dream
That’s the most common answer. They love hiking and tenting and thru-hiking the AT is a goal they’ve always had – we are a goal orientated society.
I want the challenge
People hear about hiking the AT and decide they want in. The AT has a cult following but many people pursue completing the AT with the same superficial gusto of joining an extended beer-chugging party; it’s all fun and games until you’re starving, cold, sick and sore, then it’s time to throw in the towel and head home.
I’m taking a break to enjoy nature
It’s a long-ass break and it’s not exactly the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, there is civilization all around – especially now that hikers take cell phones, iPads, and sometimes laptops with them. There are also hiker havens almost all along the way committed to catering to the hundreds of thru-hikers that share the same idea: getting away from it all.
I need to find myself
I kinda-get it.
In addition to my life being a series of disappointments, my profession is dealing with the broken, ill and dying population. I’ve been surrounded by the physically and psychologically unhealthy demographic of humanity and I didn’t have an adequate foundation of support and compassion with which to begin. “Care-giving” is a heavy weight and I learned that to survive physically and mentally I had to distance and compartmentalize my feelings. After a few decades of this life-style, I’ve forgotten what feeling feels like.
Over the years I’ve avoided humanity in general because I am just too tired to deal with people and then I realized that my few friends dissipated into the void, unnoticed, likely because my world view has become distorted by my work environment; idealism turns into cynicism. Who needs more of that? I’ve discovered I’ve become a shell of a human being who, if I don’t do something drastic, will either crack from some benign external force like a feather-stroke or implode from the monotony of my thoughts and the lack of a release valve.
*I’m thru-hiking the AT because I want to feel again.
How’s this going to work?
There’s plenty of documentation and corroboration about the cornucopia and intensity of feelings when thru-hiking the AT: misery, euphoria, self-satisfaction, surprise…well, you get the picture. All these feelings are generated by either the impact of nature’s environment and/or the few, relatively speaking, people encountered in it and how we react and deal with them.
Removing myself completely from the toxic environment I’ve been immersed in is the first hurdle. I will be alternately either alone or around people who will be collectively having the same experiences and sharing the same goal – namely I will be surrounded by ‘healthy’ people who have an alive-ness, an enthusiasm and who will be enjoying making the most of their journey. And all the wonderful people that befriend hikers and assist them with rides, showers, food, etc. ~ will renew my faith in humanity. I know this will be a positive and energizing force for me.
I’m not naive, there will be assholes but because they are everywhere, like most viruses, I’m immune to them.
Man Woman vs Nature
Enduring difficult conditions day in and out, month after month will test my patience and stamina and force me to feel all the raw emotions that come with placing myself outside my comfort zone. I already have joint and back issues, I’m not in the best shape and I am not looking forward to sleeping on the ground. I know if I postpone this trip I will unlikely be able to do it in the future.
Equipment malfunctions, not having something I need, being hungry and tired beyond my limit in addition to physical pain and the internal pressure to succeed – these will make me angry to tears, I already know.
Facing my fears and resisting passivity
Who’s comfortable with giving up their job and facing the unknown? Not me. Nope. I’m second guessing myself everyday ~ am I really going to do this? What happens when I’m done, will I find another position? Will I go bankrupt and lose my house? And if I don’t follow through with my hike, how long can I endure this life I’m living? Do I really want to?
I have no doubt that I cannot continue as I am now doing. To keep plugging along just because it’s a job that provides a home is no longer an option for me. I’m 53 and I’ve reached my limit in giving, duty, long-suffering, unfulfilled dreams and my expiration date, though undetermined, isn’t far off now. I’m tired and I’m done with “responsibility” – fuck that, I’m hiking.
Pushing the boundaries of my physical and emotional limits will necessitate readjustment – under pressure – of who I am and what I’m made of and I know this will be the hardest thing I’ve probably ever done. I’m giving up my source of income and potentially my home to seek something closer to feeling alive, nay, living. All things being equal, we do one of two things when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable: we shrink into ourselves or we grow stronger. I know the person I am today will reach the combustion point but I’m stubborn and a survivor, I push myself and I feel certain that, outside extenuating circumstances, I will not give up the trail but be
reborn, like the phoenix. ugh, to dramatic– transformed.
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