Like Eating and Breathing, I Hike Because I Must

One of the first questions city dwellers tend to ask about my plans to thru-hike the AT is why. The question is usually jammed at the beginning of what turns out being the first round of uncensored, rapid-fire questioning. I get it – the onslaught is a jumble of curiosity mixed with genuine care and concern, but let’s look at how the conversation usually goes:

You: Why would you want to walk nearly 2,200 miles?
Me: Why wouldn’t I?
You: What if it rains?
Me: It will definitely rain. I will get wet.
You: Will you sleep outside?
Me: I have an amazing, super expensive, 22-ounce tent I’ll sleep in.
You: What about food?
Me: I’ll continue to find food sources in culturally traditional ways.
You: But how?
Me: Grocery shopping.
You: But…
Me: Hitchhiking.
You: Aren’t you afraid?
Me: No. Well, yes, I’ve been having nightmares of monster-size ticks for months.

I’m not always this flashingly sarcastic with my responses because I know the questions are not wholly unfounded, but sometimes city-folk curiosity feels like interrogation and other times I’m simply trying to hide my flailing insides. The “why hike” question has caused me to lose the most sleep over these last months of preparation. I’ve given a hundred different answers. All equally true, yet all soulfully unsatisfying. For months I felt that silly, single-syllable word “why” lodged in the back of my throat, begging me to find a good enough answer, but I never quite could. I needed to find an answer so real and honest it would dislodge the proverbial lump in my throat.

I needed to stop choking on my dream, but I didn’t even know where to start searching.

Last week I was lucky enough to adventure to Flagstaff for a wilderness first responder course. I was also lucky enough to find myself skipping through Secret Mountain Wilderness on a sunshiny afternoon. My feet felt lighter than they had in months. I was giggling at nothing and everything when the truest answer of why I am attempting an AT thru-hike came barreling down the trail.

Drum roll ladies and gentlemen…

This is going to be shocking and more inspiring than you imagined…

I’m hiking because I must.

Whoa, OK, maybe your world didn’t come to a slamming halt like mine did upon realizing I really don’t have a choice in hiking or not, but to be fair this quest is my journey, my great adventure, my gander through Middle Earth. OK, I realize that last statement risks making it all sound like a somewhat romanticized gallivant up the East Coast, but hear me out here.

As I kept hiking I began exploring the idea of must and was reminded of several recent conversations. My therapist said my spirit is leading me, another mentor-type said I was embarking on a hero’s journey, and yet a third respected elder said something about this being my year of rebirth. I see truth in all three thoughts, but none of them cinched it together quite as tidily as my sleeping bag’s compression sack.

Because I must, I must, I must…

I kept hiking and working this must mantra and wondering why I must felt so familiar. Then it hit me like an unexpected afternoon thunderstorm on top of North Carolina’s Blood Mountain in March. For me hiking this trail isn’t so much of a rite of passage as it is a nonnegotiable endeavor I must attempt.

Let me explain my version of nonnegotiables. Years ago, when I was struggling profoundly with anxiety, I tracked down my old therapist. Somewhere in those first sessions he wrote down a list of three daily non-negotiable tasks:

1. Drink water
2. Eat food
3. Breathe air

Go ahead, giggle if you must, but it worked for me. The idea was that no matter how I felt, where my brain slunk off to, or what circumstances floated about those three things were nonnegotiable. Of course over the years the nonnegotiable list has invariably grown to include a much wider scope of responsibility, but on the occasion I find myself being paralyzed by that old fear I shrink the original nonnegotiable list right back to the original three

What do the nonnegotiables have to do with thru-hiking and my newfound I must mantra? Simple. I’m hiking because it has become a nonnegotiable. Just like I must drink water, eat food, and breathe air, I must hike northward if only to see what’s around the next bend. There ya have it, I hike because I must. Besides, I have a feeling it is going to be great.

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Comments 2

  • Jennifer Henry : Feb 25th

    I am truly inspired by your courage and determination!! This will be a grand adventure ✨ Thank you for bringing us a long!!

  • SOLACE : Feb 26th

    Could not agree more with what you wrote, and… how you wrote it . . . Ive been hiking the AT for many years now… and i come back to it so that My Soul Can Breathe & That My Demons Can Dance . . . hope to see you out there ~ Keep Breathing 🙂 Cheers, SOLACE


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