The Moment I Knew I Was Going to Thru-Hike
It was October 2015.
2015 was a rough year for me. I was in my junior year of college; stuck in a degree that didn’t inspire me; depressed and anxious; wanting, needing so badly for something to change in my life. I had gone through a transition that had left me with no community and little to no support. I was in the worst place I’ve ever been, a hell of my own creation and I didn’t see a way out of it. Until one weekend. Until one moment.
I lived on the East Coast in Washington, DC, going to school, having grown up in small town Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. During high school I had cultivated a really tight friend group that I’ll lovingly refer to as “the boys.” We were all off at school and it was the middle of the semester, but we were all feeling the need for fresh air, dirt, and trees, so we decided to do a weekend backpacking trip. The section we had chosen was actually on the Appalachian Trail, but it was also our old stomping grounds, where we had tromped around a lot in our youth. I hadn’t seen most of the boys since the prior year’s winter break, and since the transition, so it was a welcome feeling to be in their company again. To be one of the boys again.
Being October it was definitely brisk, but it was also a sunny day. We started off on our trek to a waterfall, which would be our campsite for the evening. Hiking in fall has always been magical for me. The crunch of leaves on the ground with the changing colors of the trees surrounding us. I started to really focus on the cold air filling and cleansing my lungs. My heart pounding against an uphill, I lost myself in the sensations of my body raging up this mountain in the cold October afternoon. As I came to the summit, I realized I had outpaced my companions, so I decided to wait on some rocks situated on a small outlook. This outcropping is where I had the moment.
I found a seat among the rocks to wait for the boys. As I sat and waited, I was struck by how still and immense the world felt around me. After the past few miles of pounding heart and feet and after the past few months of tumultuous transition, I had a moment of stillness and peace. I felt the immensity of nature and I knew that it was the only container that could hold everything I was carrying. The immensity and stillness allowed me to have this uninterrupted pathway to my deepest, most authentic self. This allowed for a moment of clarity unlike anything I have ever felt.
I knew the stillness and immensity were where I needed to be and I knew the trail would be where I would find the most of both. I knew I had enough time to plan and save money to start hiking in 2016. So in that moment, I decided to hike a long trail in 2016, and it was like the world made sense to me for the first time. It was the first time I had ever really known my self and known what I truly wanted to do, rather than being on autopilot, filling whatever role I was expected to play. I reached a level of clarity of purpose in that moment that I had never experienced before and rarely since.
The Appalachian Trail came to my mind first, as it was the one I grew up knowing about and walking on a lot. I had done almost all of Virginia at this point with outings with my friends or at my summer camp. The whole thing was on a Super Bowl level of achievement. However, I decided on the Pacific Crest Trail as it presented a more difficult challenge. I knew fewer people on the West Coast and the terrain was less familiar to me. My cousin also had been planning an AT thru-hike for 2017. I would have loved to do that with him, but knew I was going to hike in 2016. So in my mind it was set.
The boys caught up to me and we took a break. I told them of my revelation. I told them I was going to hike a trail. They responded in that wishful manner of, “Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice.” I don’t think they understood how much of a reality it had become for me. The clarity of that moment rings through to my life today. It put me on a journey that I never even knew existed. It all started on a brisk, sunny day in October of 2015.
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