Solomon Browne, Stepping Out
Who Is This Guy?
Hi! I’m Solomon, an eighteen-year-old northbound solo thru-hiker with minimal backpacking experience just days away from the adventure of a lifetime. I’d be lying if I said I’ve always been the most outdoorsy person, but over the years it grew on me as I was dragged along to camping trips and day hikes every time summer rolled around. Sometime during high school it finally clicked and since then I’ve bagged 9 of New Hampshire’s notorious 4,000 footers. I’m always looking to learn and grow and the current version of me is a laid-back, relatively introverted teen who’s spent the last three months preparing for my coming journey with hiking trips, weighted packs, and a WFR course. I seem to have chronic bad luck as two of my major prep plans — an outward bound and the first WFR course I signed up for — fell through due to low enrollment and an unfortunate case of covid, respectively. And the whole cancer thing, but let’s not talk about that yet. Due to these constant unfortunate situations, I’ve gotten pretty good at adjusting to change and adapting plans to best fit my unique position, so I’m confident I’ll be able to handle whatever the trail throws at me in case my bad luck follows me to Georgia.
I’m heading off to Emerson College this Fall, so I’m having two brand new adventures back to back. Assuming I finish the trail in 150 days, I’ll have a few weeks of time at home to readjust and prepare for another new chapter of my life, but if I need to take my time, this also gives me a bit of wiggle room to slow down from time to time. I’ve picked up plenty of advice from helpful REI employees as I gathered all my gear, and chief among those bits of knowledge is that you don’t need to stress, the miles will come. This does make me sound a bit unprepared as I field endless questions from curious friends and family — admittedly I probably am — but the trail is gonna be a crash course in backpacking, and I’m used to getting good grades.
That Cancer Thing
Let’s be honest. if you don’t know me personally, this is probably why you clicked on this article. Even though I’m going to college for writing I’m prone to rambling on to make things more dramatic, so forgive me for how wordy this is gonna be as I tell you about my tragic backstory.
About three years ago I told myself that I wanted to take a gap year and hike the Appalachian trail. That was sophomore year of high school and I didn’t really have any grand or profound reason for wanting it. I just thought to myself: “You know what would be really good for you?” That was about as far as my reasoning went. My Appalachian dreams lived in the back of my head for the next two years as I navigated high school. I busied myself with band, math team, newspaper, and as many APs as I could stuff into my schedule. I generally just kept my head down and stuck to my work, living a nice little drama free life where the only challenges I ever faced were academic.
As my senior year of high school drew to a close, the main question on my mind was where I ranked in my class. I knew I was near the top as people would often throw my name in conversations about the Valedictorian. I got my answer on a Thursday morning in the Spring of 2022. I was the Salutatorian and I’d be writing a speech to give at graduation! I wasn’t really sure what I was going to write about, but the very next day a topic fell right into my lap. Onto my right testicle specifically. It was cancer.
My first diagnosis came with all the tears and questions you’d expect from something like this, but all in all it was a pretty mild episode. I had caught the lump super early (check yourselves, guys), so all I needed was one surgical procedure to remove it. My surgery was already scheduled just three days after I got the bad news. I’m not a very religious or superstitious person, so I was able to skip the whole “why do bad things happen to good people” section of grief and go straight to recovery. I was out of commission for around two weeks in the middle of AP testing season, but by some miracle even that didn’t keep me down for too long. My general philosophy was to keep moving forward and put my cancer behind me. I had so much to look forward to in my gap year, so there was no reason to dwell on it.
That being said, I was still under observation in case my cancer came back. I had a lymphovascular invasion before the tumor was removed, so — skipping the technical talk — that meant the cancer was still in my body, it was just a question of if it would start growing again. Every two months I went into Boston for scans and bloodwork. Each of those appointments was a grim reminder that my chance of recurrence was really a coin flip, but I still knew that worrying wasn’t worth it. I went on with my gap year plans and was in the middle of a sailing program when I went in for my third observation checkup, where my worst fears were realized. It was back, and this time surgery wouldn’t be enough. I spent the last three months of 2022 in chemotherapy. It’s hard to articulate what that was like, but the biggest effect it had on me was the loss of my hair. That’s right, those shoulder-length ginger curls from my profile picture up there are no longer with us. They were donated after my second diagnosis about a month after that picture was taken on the Franconia ridge trail. Living with one testicle was something I could handle, but my hair was a different story. I lost a lot of my identity with that cut, and it took a while to even recognize myself in the mirror again.
Throughout my cycle of chemo, the Appalachian trail stood as my light at the end of the tunnel. Well, that and my WFR course along with an outward bound in Texas, but I already told you those fell through. Both of those were still meant to supplement my training and prepare me for the trail, so the AT has been the main thing on my mind for the past three months. To replace those lost opportunities of preparation, I went out to California to shake out my gear and visit my older brother just last week (that picture at the top of the article is a sunset at Crystal Cove), and I’m currently procrastinating online coursework for a hybrid WFR course that I’ll finish in Utah while visiting my aunt. I’m heading straight from Utah to Georgia, so I’m saying goodbye to my home later today as I set out for new adventures. I’ve just beaten cancer for the second time, and the AT is my one-way victory lap to stick it to the universe.
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