Trust the Path
I was excited to learn about the Badger Sponsorship and what it stands for. Rewarding a small group of people for their courage and dedication to making the world and the trail a better place. I didn’t win, but it wasn’t really ever about that. It was about taking the time to think about what kind of impact I want to have during my time on the trail, and after.
I have not had a life I would describe as kind, but it has taught me some of the most valuable things. Getting to the trailhead in Georgia hasn’t and won’t be easy. Through every setback and every struggle we have kept one core goal in mind—trust the path.
If we let ourselves be overtaken by our fear, grief, and disappointment then we will never reach the finish line. Through every heartbreak and every failure we must trust that doing the work, putting one foot in front of the other, will lead us to where we have aspired to be.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it on repeat until the day my life is over—it may not be easy, but it’ll be worth it. We can’t promise we will make it to Katahdin on the first try, but right now we are just focused on getting to the starting line. We are going to show up and trust that putting one foot in front of the other, that trusting the path, will bring us back to our home state of Maine.
Through approval from the wonderful staff of TheTrek, I have been invited to share my Badger Sponsorship entry and ask that you consider my story and the impact you can have to make the world a better place, even in just a small way.
When Bob Carlisle’s voice drifts “Butterfly Kisses” into the air, my heart fills with love and gratitude, and also shatters with grief. By the time I was celebrating my 8th birthday I had met the man I would one day call my dad. He could have walked away at any time in those 25 years—he had no biological reason to stay. But we knew he would never walk away. It was his quiet strength and his deep capacity for selfless love that made him stay. He was ours from the moment he let slip open the door of his heart to us. Our refuge in a turbulent sea.
I left home when I was 20 years old in an effort to escape that turbulence—we were welfare children, serving only the purpose of providing a state paycheck to our mother. It meant leaving my family behind, leaving my daddy and my four siblings, three of whom I raised (one from infancy). I had withstood too many storms, and I wouldn’t have survived if I had not left, but every step I have taken since has been somehow set to bring me home. In no small way my path was always leading back.
I left Maine in 2007, returning only once that Thanksgiving. That visit revealed the stark contrast between my new life and the trauma I had left behind. I returned for a second time in 2015 to see my dad before his condition became too severe—he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I only stayed for 24 hours. I was too afraid to be anywhere near my mother for more than just a few hours. When I came home again in early 2019 to attend my cousin’s funeral (a man I intend to honor by starting the Appalachian Trail on the anniversary of the end of his battle with cancer) I was ready to face my fears. I returned again to visit in June, this time unafraid of the path before me.
I had survived some of the worst life could throw at a person, but somehow I was also filled with calm and—dare I validate it—happiness. I had survived so much, risked so much, lost so much, but I wasn’t ready to be done. My past has not held me back, but it has served to provide fuel to the fire with which I now burn. A burning passion to make the world something kinder, something sweeter in some small way.
And then I fell in love.
I was living in Washington and he was in Maine. Three thousand miles separated us, and decades of fear had made me cautious of love in any form, but the miles and the fear didn’t prove worthy competitors for what the universe had planned. After knowing each other for less than a year, he publicly declared his intention to join me on the Appalachian Trail in 2020. In October of 2019, I did the one thing I never imagined I would have the strength to do while my mother was alive—I moved home.
In the months since meeting my love it has become more and more apparent that the universe had been conspiring for decades to bring us together—at one point putting us mere feet from one another. The universe prepared us in intricate, interweaving ways to be the people we needed to be, so our paths would collide precisely when they were meant to.
I knew that this would be a transitional time in my life. I knew that a central focus of it would be my thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail and my fundraising partnership with the Michael J. Fox Foundation to raise money for Parkinson’s research—the very disease that has slowly been stealing my daddy away from me. Somehow, this all feels fated. Time is lining up to allow everything to happen in the way it feels it should. There is grief mingled in with my joy, but there is also peace where there had once only been fear.
For more than a decade I had struggled to find the strength to come home, a decision that cost me precious time with my father. The word “perfect” is not a pure enough word to describe him. I visited him in the hospital today. He could barely keep his hand in mine—the tremors only get worse the more he tries to be still. We bantered back and forth for a while, reminiscing about the beautiful moments from our past, before I called my fiancé in to meet him.
“You’re the very first parent we told, and you can’t tell anyone, OK?” He grinned as widely as his tired face would allow and snarked, “Now I feel like a spy!”
He won’t live to see my wedding celebration, so instead we will get married in just a couple of weeks in an intimate ceremony at the hospital. My sister has been ordained to perform the marriage, while a childhood friend of mine—who recently lost her dad and who understands the weight of this moment for me—and my fiancé’s best friend will serve as our witnesses. My friend’s husband will be our photographer, and I’ll wear whatever dress I can find. It won’t be anything fancy, but it will be perfect because my daddy will be there. With help from hospital staff he may even be able to dance with me to “Butterfly Kisses.” At our wedding celebration next November, we will share time for our wedding party to speak of the paths we have taken that have led us to where we are—to where will be and where we intend to go.
I will never compare to what my dad was in his life, and I may never have the courage to impact another person the way he impacted my life, but I am trying to make him proud. I will make it onto the Appalachian Trail in 2020 one way or another, but having a little help would make a big difference. It would mean that I could go confidently toward my goal of raising money for the research that could help someone else’s daddy one day, and of sharing a story I know has the capacity to help all those who come in contact with it.
This is the path before me. This is the path behind me. This is the path I am on. I’m powerless to stop any of it, but I’m determined to do what I can with it. I have dedicated the last decade of my life to sharing my story with others in an attempt to inspire them to keep fighting. Too many times our lives begin at a disadvantage, a storm of choices that lead to either regret or defeat, but I believe that what we do with our story can matter. I think my story truly starts when I finally set foot on Katahdin.
Due to circumstances we have chosen to keep private, my dad has become inaccessible to me during the final stages of his illness. We will get married at our wedding in November and we will have our happily ever after. Because what else is there to do but put one foot in front of the other and trust that the path will lead us home.
To donate and help find a cure for Parkinson’s, please go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation donation page located here.
We considered sharing a private donation page so that we could keep track of the impact, but we don’t want credit for your kindness. With the deepest gratitude I possess, thank you.
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