Unencumbered: The Lure of a Life Without Limits
Somewhere between the mountain of dirty laundry, scooping the stinky cat litter, and tackling yet another sink full of dirty dishes, it hit me: In less than three weeks, none of this will be my responsibility!
As I wind down my thru-hike planning, my attention has turned from counting grams (OK, I still think about that) to a more reflective approach. I’m preparing mindfully for life on the trail, focusing on the attitude and resolve that will get me to Katahdin.
While I contemplate questions like, “Am I really ready for nights alone in the woods?” and my introverted self asks, “How will I handle being surrounded by hoards of hikers?” part of me feels slightly guilty about going. That’s the part that knows I’m like a kid running away from home, eager to escape the day-to-day demands of an everyday life.
I have worked in some form or fashion, without a real break, since I was 15 years old. As I close in on my 52nd birthday, that seems like a mighty long time. Over the years my endeavors gradually progressed from babysitter to lifeguard to marketer to corporate exec. Eventually, I made it to self-employment. (For many people, that means you have the toughest boss ever!)
Along the way, I collected commitments like souvenirs. Married at 21 (and still happily so). Mom at 26. Pet parent. A mortgage. A house and cars to maintain. Volunteer. Missionary. Mentor. Board member. Board chair.
All these things brought me joy and a sense of accomplishment. I was needed. Appreciated. Useful. Unfortunately, the sense of being essential is like a drug, sparking a craving that’s hard to deny. For me, the more I played the role of a go-to person, the more I needed the affirmation of being the one people count on.
Eventually, the tide turned. I discovered that each little commitment carried weight, like the grams that add up to an overloaded backpack. All those “luxury items” were breaking my back. My load was too heavy, and I desperately needed a shakedown.
The idea of a grand adventure has always held appeal for me, but I never really imagined I’d chuck it all and go. Then I suddenly saw an open window in my life and — being somewhat of an opportunist— decided to jump through it.
My family thought I was crazy at first (and they probably still do), but they’ve come around to indulge my wanderlust. They’ve patiently supported me as I spent the past nine months unraveling the knot that my life had become.
I ruthlessly cut back on commitments, disengaged from obligations, and aligned my business to run without me. I arranged for pet sitting and delegated duties like bill paying. I unsubscribed from heaps of emails, weeded out household clutter, and looked for every way possible to simply my life long enough to enjoy a six-month sabbatical.
Now, with just weeks to go before I set foot on the Appalachian Trail full time, I feel a sense of peace. I’m finally free to anticipate a day when my most monumental decision is, “Should I hike seven miles today, or 17?”
I’m not dumping the things that matter; I’m uncovering them. Removing the detritus that obscures their splendor and revealing what is essential to me. This journey before the trail has been an adventure in self-discovery, and now I’m ready for something even bigger.
I long for unencumbered days on the trail. I’m eager for the mental clarity and the opportunity to reflect on where I go next. It’s a certainty that the trail will change me, as it does anyone who walks 2,200 miles. Who I’ll be when I get home is an unsolved mystery, and I’m totally OK with that.
This journey is a blessing and I’m ready to soak it up, letting the experience wash over me and transform me. With all the unwinding I’ve done to get ready, I feel refreshed and renewed. Like a spiritual cleansing, I’m shedding my life of obligation, at least for a little while, and entering a new world where I can fully appreciate the wonder around me.
That world has been waiting to welcome me for a very long time. I’m overdue and looking forward to being fully present in the moment.
Appalachian Trail, I’m on my way.
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