The journey to the journey
“And you may ask yourself, well.. how did I get here?” This line from the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime” has been on repeat in my head for the last few weeks. It’s a thrilling thing in some ways, tracking your life back to this decision and that, one life changing event or another. It can be overwhelming as well though, realizing that so much of who we become is based in chance. There’s an infinite number of ways we could be different people or in different situations if one thing or another didn’t inspire or affect us. Right now I’m driving through the lovely state of New Jersey on my way down to Springer Mountain and I am asking, well.. how did I get here?
During my senior spring of college at the University of Vermont, I was encouraged to apply for a job at the non-profit I had been an intern with for two years. I made it through several rounds of interviews, and I was so eager to get the job. Getting that job felt like the logical next step after graduation. It would have put a nice neat bow on top of my college experience. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job- and now I am so grateful for that. For every rejection or disappointment there is certainly a silver lining to be discovered in time.
So, jobless and lacking in career direction, I decided to say goodbye to the state of Vermont by hiking the entire Long Trail with two friends from UVM. We set off a few days after we moved out of our apartments and started to pivot away from our college life.
I had almost zero backpacking experience before the Long Trail. I pretended that my hiking boots weren’t brand new, and that I somewhat knew what I was doing. I clearly remember telling myself while prepping my gear that I would just try to “fake it ’til I make it.” I didn’t quite know what to expect on the trail, but I thought I should give it a good try and take some time in the green mountains to close that chapter in my life.
The long trail was hard. Really hard. One of my hiking partners was in tears the second day, we all had horrible blisters and obscenely heavy packs, and there was a solid week and a half of cold rain and lots of mud. Every day as I hiked I thought about how short the Long Trail was compared to the Appalachian Trail. I had no idea how AT hikers could ever wrap their minds around having 2000+ miles ahead, when to me at the beginning the 275 miles of the Long Trail seemed like forever ahead. I walked and repeated to myself “I could never hike the AT, I could never hike the AT, I could never hike the AT.” I put my misery and miles ahead in perspective by thinking about AT hikers and how absolutely crazy they were.
Well, what they say about backpacking is true. It is a drug. We made it through Vermont and the hiking started to feel a bit easier and the blisters turned to callouses. We finished the trail, I got a (semi) big girl job, and I went back to sleeping in a real bed. And quickly my thoughts changed from “I could never hike the AT” to “I think I should hike the AT!”
I kept in touch with a friend I met on the Long Trail, Daniel, and we reminisced over trail life together. About a month after finishing up the LT in 2014 we decided that we should hike the AT together in 2016. The Long Trail made me realize that I could set my sights on an ambitious goal, and throw myself into it and things would work out one way or another. Two thousand miles still feels daunting, but I’ve learned to take it one day, one climb or one step at a time.
This is the zoomed in, trail related look at the “well.. How did I get here?” question. There are a million more variables and experiences that have led me here. To close, I’ll leave a quotation by a woman who can describe this far more beautifully than I can. Below is an excerpt from 20th century Russian writer Nina Berberova, from her autobiography The Italics are Mine which has been almost as foremost in my mind as David Byrne’s catchy lyrics.
“In my entire life I have made responsible, existential choices that bore meaning for the structure of my life and personality (in the “global” or “totalitarian” sense) not more than four or five times; but I must admit that each time these conscious choices gave me an awareness of the force of my existence and of my freedom, a sharp sense of the ‘electric charge,’ which one can call bliss whether or not this choice has led in fact to happiness or to an evident despair. And the sense of ‘electric happiness’ is not diminished by the fact that my choices were partly conditioned by the two great laws—of biology and sociology—for I do not conceive of myself outside of them.
The realization of my first strong desire to choose, to decide, to find, to move myself consciously in a chosen direction gave me for my whole life, as I now see it, a feeling of victory not over someone else but over myself, not bestowed from on high but personally acquired.”
-Nina Berberova, The Italics are Mine
*Please excuse format and grammatical errors- published from my iPhone
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And so it begins … my thoughts are with you.
Rabbit rabbit 1
Way to go Alice! So many people follow the “expected” path and thus miss out on adventures that we’d like to do before life sets in. “Life” presents complications like belongings, jobs children etc. All of these are good things but tend to anchor us to the traditional path. I’m proud of you – keep writing.
Rabbit Rabbit 2 yesterday!