The Intimacy Found In Dismantling Your Life For A Thru Hike
Like most attempting thru hikers there’s a bit of whimsy that permeates your vision once you make the decision to thru hike. There’s a magic that seeps into your mind as you start the journey to your trail days. An eagerness to leave the life you have for a life you’ll come to know. It shapes you and how you stand in the world. You start to question everything: a process of “unbecoming” if I may.
In this unbecoming, I’ve found that there’s an intimacy of self that can be found in the preparation stage of your thru-hike. From route planning, researching gear, connecting with online communities, and hikes upon hikes upon hikes. These experiences give you permission to become curious and grow into a self that has more fertile ground than ever before. Now whether or not you take this approach is up to you, but as a therapist I found myself fascinated by all the ways I would unravel and release an aspect of myself to ensure I’d be able to take that first step from Katahdin to my last on Springer Mountain.
My decision to thru-hike started as a fun goal and love of the outdoors, but as I’ve danced with this “unbecoming” process, I’ve discovered that attempting to thru-hike the AT was the only way I felt comfortable saying goodbye to the identity and life I had built over the last 28 years. It was in the trees and research that I reflected on all the ways I got to this stage of my life and took inventory on what I would want to carry forward with me. Shockingly, there was very little I found myself wanting to return to. I was burnt out from work, in stagnant friendships and relationships, and escaping through books and Reese’s peanut butter cups. My life, though fulfilling and meeting the standard of the American dream, was not the bliss I had once hoped it would be. I was no longer the little girl who sought the life I was living. I was a woman looking for her soul in a life others had planned out for her.
The woods became a solace for me to discover the woman I wanted to be. I started to perform an intimate surgery on my life. Dissecting the thoughts, feelings, and habits that had carried me to this realization. Which parts of myself would I be taking onto the trail and which would be left behind. How was I expressing and suppressing myself? Which narratives of identity was I clinging to and why did they feel so safe? Did I trust my judgments? Where did my values come from and why did they feel like shackles? Why was I so scared to dance in my joy?
These questions shaped how I’ve been preparing for my attempt. I evaluate each part of self the same way I evaluate which gear I’ll carry. With time, presence, a clear head, and most importantly the courage to get it wrong and fail. If I purchased the wrong gear, I’d return it and try new, and probably have a good camp story to share. Emotions and self-exploration are exactly the same. We try on or explore the new aspect of self and let it teach us just what we need to learn. If I liked it, I kept it. If I didn’t, I tried something new or kept the old part because it was now an authentic representation of myself rather than a carbon copy of someone else’s beliefs.
I don’t know if I’ll make it the 2,200 miles to Georgia and frankly I don’t really care if I do or not. The gift of dismantling my life has given me more than I could have expected before my feet have even hit the Appalachian trail. But I’ll leave it with this, whether or not you ever attempt a thru hike, know that the opportunity to dismantle your life and start fresh is always there. Its birth lies in the courage you have to say goodbye to the very person you worked to become and being curious about the person you’d like to grow to be.
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