Yes, I Decided to Thru-Hike After Watching Wild
Two years ago, I watched Reese Witherspoon throw her boot into the abyss as she trekked the Pacific Crest Trail as Cheryl Strayed in the hit movie Wild. Two years later, I still have no shame in admitting that I declared April 2021 as the start date of my northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail as the credits were still rolling.
With vivid childhood memories of picking blackberries in my front yard and playing in the crayfish-filled creeks of Virginia, my fascination with nature seemed to fade with age, not by choice but by obligation. My soul felt sucked dry by the time I finished my state-school studies, and as my classmates congratulated me for crossing the graduation stage, I was affirmed that my future was promising for the security a full-time job would bring.
It seemed the stamp of approval bestowed upon me was dependent on me attaching myself to only more responsibilities – the job, the car payment, the apartment – as if life was only expected to be one big ostentation of obligation.
So, when my partner suggested we watch Wild and infiltrated the dialogue with what-ifs, my mind immediately succumbed to the why-nots. Why not thru-hike the world’s oldest mountains – they’re in our backyard after all? Why not re-discover the affinity for nature I suppressed with age? Why not use our bodies, callous our minds, and test our limits? Even better – why not create new limits? Why not explore our radical freedom?
Right around the time we watched Wild, I read a New Yorker article about decision-making that only fueled the flame. It asserted that “we aspire to self-transformation by trying on the values that we hope one day to possess, just as we might strike a pose in the mirror before heading out on a date.” I can assure that a younger version of myself – the one who’d try to outlast the sun playing outside before supper, the one drifting to sleep with scuffed knees and dirt underneath the nails – hoped that the older self would embark on some journey like this. That younger version struck many a pose in the mirror with a hiking stick and ranger hat, hoping my older self would put them to use in the life beyond the fantasyland of my adolescence.
It is beautiful to follow an aspiration into fruition, and if not to fruition: it is powerful to try on versions of yourself to see what fits. My northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail this April will be just that: an extended stay in the fitting room graciously provided by mother nature. Whether I love it, hate it, or somewhere in-between, the gratitude I feel for this opportunity is immeasurable because it is a pledge to a former self, and in preparing for the journey physically, mentally, and spiritually, I can confirm that I’ve become a better self already.
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