“The snow’s starting,” said the woman clearing my table of the empty cup that had bought me a few hours in the coffee shop. I took a glance out the window and forced a smile and a nod in her direction, not really in the mood to talk about it. It’s Chicago’s first big snow – all anyone can talk about, but my mind is far away from that today. I had spent the last few hours studying calendars, paychecks, bills, gear, 2190 miles, and it’s not adding up. I’m sick of giving all my time to employers who won’t pay me enough to save anything significant. I’m sick of a monthly food budget that makes people laugh and shake their heads. I’m sick of being careful not to get too close to anyone, and sick of worrying if I’m missing out on the expensive fun that a 20-year-old should be having.
I’m in this weird state of limbo, of anticipation and obsession with a goal, of a mind constantly wandering from Georgia to Maine, of spending way too long making a decision about a purchase that involves just a few dollars, of counting down the days until spring. I’ve been here before, in the months leading up to a big trip. I’ve survived it. It’s difficult to describe to people why I chose this. On days like this, when I’m miserable and frustrated and obsessing over whether I’ll be able to afford my next plan, it’s even difficult to describe to myself why I chose this. Every so often I’ll encounter someone who gets it immediately – a traveler, or a hiker, or a dreamer, whose face lights up as I describe my current situation, looks me straight in the eyes, and says “It’ll be worth it.” And I know it will be worth it. I chose this the first time I bought a plane ticket for myself when I was 18, and I continue to choose this as I fight to stay awake through another day of a minimum wage job.
But the question remains – why? It’s difficult to explain, but today as I stepped out of the coffee shop and into the snowy street, I was reminded with such intensity that it overwhelmed me a bit. The snow was coming down in huge, fluffy flakes, so slowly, so beautifully, that I stopped in the doorway and involuntarily let out an “oh…”, which cut through the type of silence that only a snowy night can produce. That moment, when you’re struck with something almost too beautiful to comprehend, and the overwhelming feeling of delight that comes with it, is my “why”. It’s the kind of thing you experience when a mountain view leaves you breathless, or a sunset makes you wonder what you possibly could have done to deserve something so perfect, or you finally get your hands on a jar of peanut butter after craving it for weeks, or you’re struck with the intensity of your love for the people who surround you, or you step into a hot shower after hours of walking through the freezing rain. This is what motivates me to get through the difficult months of no money and long hours, and this is what drives me to the trail.
And if the thought of waking up hours before the sun in a frozen sleeping bag and sliding into wet shoes for the 3rd consecutive morning just to make it to the summit for sunrise fills you with an indescribable peace, then I’m sure you know what I mean. The limbo will be worth it.
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