“You’re Gonna Be Eaten By a Bear” – A Tale of Support

It never ceases to amaze the amount of support my brother and I are getting for our big hike.

“You’re gonna be eaten by a bear.” My coworker Glenn leans back in his chair smirking. We’re on break at work and one of the Senior Keepers, Tim, asks how my attempts at locking down sponsorship goes. This conversation happens at least once a week – the other zookeepers in my department see me reading the latest gear guide or book on the AT and a genuine discussion on preparation ensues. Then Tim takes a sip of his tea or a bite of salad and gives sage advice and encouragement to hang in there. Bill, an older fellow who has been at the zoo for roughly 1000 years, collects baculum (look it up),and has an insatiable curiosity about all animals, tells me of a tarantula that lives in one specific spot “somewhere along the AT. But ‘They’ won’t tell me where.” I never found out who ‘they’ were, but I did promise to keep an eye out for the little guys. Glenn, still shaking his head and smirking in a way that I think he thinks is charming says under his breath, again, “you’re gonna be eaten by a bear.” I know that’s his own way of cheering me on.

One time Tim told me he had thought about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Falling very neatly into the “old hippie” category that Glenn gives him, Tim’s confession both surprises me yet is not surprising (if that makes sense). I’ve had a few people respond to finding out about my upcoming plans that they’ve thought about hiking it, but didn’t for this reason or that reason – most reasons being they had their lives together much more neatly than I have my own right now. Yet there’s still some sense of solidarity, that they’re “in” on this amazing hike even if they’ve never done it.

“You’re hiking the Appalachian Trail? That’s so cool!,” acquaintances and new friends alike usually exclaim, excited for my journey through the mountains. Somehow it always comes up in a conversation, or in the case of one particularly zealous friend introducing me at a party, “she’s hiking 2200 miles for the children.” True, I’m hiking the AT partially to raise awareness of one of my most favorite charities, BECA, and the comments I’ve received on hiking my own hike or hiking for BECA have been nothing but positive. I’ve been advertising my hike for BECA on the back of my Jeep sporadically and although no strangers have donated yet, I do get a lot of questions in the parking lot about it. It gives me a lot of hope that anyone who is intrigued by my message on my car that maybe they’ll be inspired to support me too, even if it’s just a good thought or a prayer for success.

Most importantly though is the continued support from my friends and family. The hardest part of preparing for the hike is the financial worries I’m experiencing. We all know hiking this hike is expensive but making smart decisions in saving and purchasing will help see me through. And although I don’t expect, and don’t want, my family to support the financial aspects of the hike, they certainly also didn’t have to be so supportive of the hike itself. I was talking with my mother about it the other day and as her voice turned into serious mother tone all moms are somehow capable of, “you know, your father and I are so proud that you and your brother are doing this. I know it means a lot to both of you and we just want you to know we’re with you every step of the way.” I’ve been honest about my struggles with severe depression and the fact that something puts excitement and joy back in my voice means as much to my mother as it means to me, according to her.

That makes my heart overflow just thinking about it – that people understand this hike is about therapy and a personal challenge that I’m not a failure. It’s about doing something I love and being in places that I love and being able to say “I have done this. I cannot regret not trying, because I did.” Having loved ones understand what this hike is about without feeling like I have to explain myself almost feels too easy. I won’t complain, though, I’m truly blessed to have people who support my dream, who recognize that the fact that I’m dreaming again is good, and I feel like the luckiest future thru-hiker in the world. And to my fellow class of 2015 thru-hikers, I’m going to be cheering you on every step of the way as well! We can all do this!

Supporting something you may not be able to participate in is tricky. I think it’s very easy to wish someone well and then forget about it, and there’s nothing wrong with that! But being invested in the joy, and the tears, and the frustrations of something altogether separated from your own path in life is admirable in it’s own right. That’s what I’m talking about here – whether it’s my coworkers, or new friends and strangers, or the love of my family and best friends, I’m moved by all the cheers. I don’t pretend to know what i’m doing as I prepare for the hike – hell, I still need to get 3/4 of my gear, run a shakedown, figure out how I’m going to dehydrate enough jerky for the trail before I leave, AND build my strength and stamina up all in 6 months. 

6 months to go. It’ll be here before I know it and, ready or not, here I come…me and everyone who is cheering us on.

Even Glenn and the bear.



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