Do What Makes You Happy
“And there it happened… it didn’t hit me at Abol Bridge, or when I wrote my last register entry, or when we ate the last supper at the Birches, or even the moments shared with the Katahdin letters beneath my cold, pruned palms- when I held my lips to that wooden sign and thanked it…It happened when I was in the back seat of my friend Hannah’s car. I was staring out the window with tears running down my face. Knowing that the mountain was getting smaller and smaller behind me. I was trying not to breathe too loudly, to save myself from needing/trying to explain this feeling to her…or that being in a fast moving vehicle in general made me feel uneasy. Leaving Millinocket, Maine was the most confusing, conflicting, and rawest emotion I had experienced on trail yet. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Seeing my friends leave with their real families or seeing them get on planes to go back to their real homes was really hard… it all happened so fast. There I was sitting in the car, my hair in knots, in clothing that I had been wearing for months- “clean” but dirt and salt stained, dirt deep in my nails, with skin above my knees so brown and tight from the sun, and I was “going home.” And that’s when it happened, driving away from the mountains was the first time I have ever felt genuine home sickness. I felt a pit in my stomach, a mourning, a true heartbreak…That night I took the longest bath I had ever taken in my life, where I sat and stared at my reflection in the faucet, periodically draining the cold water and replacing it with hot.”
I wrote that paragraph on September 17th on my one month anniversary of completing the AT. I was not planning on sharing it publicly, though with reflecting on the year, and the impact that thru-hiking has had on my life-it feels wonderful to share it and read it again. It feels even better to say that even though most would read that paragraph as a sad story and probably the beginning of “post-trail depression”, to me, it’s a love story and I am so thankful to have loved something so strong.
Just about a year ago, I was notified that “Appalachian Trials” does a sponsorship to support 12 aspiring thru-hikers. A year ago today, the only people that knew of my dreams to pursue a thru-hike were a grand total of about 10. I submitted a video to apply for the chance to get some help. This video was my first public attempt to articulate why I was hiking. This morning I re-watched it for the first time since the contest (it is difficult to watch yourself speak and not cringe a little bit out of embarrassment…). Looking back at that time, I realize what an important practice it was to share and extend an honesty about myself to those willing to listen. Who would have thought that, that experience would be the vital precursor for the most important 4 1/2 months of my life.
I remember being incredibly reluctant to share my video even once I submitted it. I remember I put my hands up and said, “Well, I guess it’s out of my control now!” But almost immediately, the support streamed in from my closest friends, family, and co-workers. It was startling and so many asked to share my story with those they loved..it grew and grew and became a growing ball of force so magical it left me in tears and disbelief of a support system and community that I unknowingly always had…now that I have completed my thru-hike I can honestly say it was this support system and community that was the vigor and love beneath each step.
It is a gift to have on record, a video or journal entry, the early hopes and dreams that I prayed the end goal of hiking over 2,000 miles would grant. Presently, I sit with the knowledge that those beginning hopes and dreams, though so important to the process and personal to me, were insignificant when compared to the magnitude of all the trail was capable of providing for me.
Last week, I made the public announcement that I will be attempting a southbound thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail this year. Why? I’m not done with thru-hiking. Like those who go to a temple to meditate, I am called to the mountains to practice- the end goal is to apply your practice to all settings and walks of life. For me, the hard part was never the hiking. In fact, I found the best version of myself when I hiked the AT; I felt a light within me radiate so bright where my only function was to love and accept the present moment fully. Transitioning back to the old world was the important challenge, especially once leaving behind a lifestyle seemingly so simple and good. My goal for this thru-hike is to simply enjoy it for the treasure it is. I used to be critical of those who hiked just because the trail was there, because I thought, and still do think, of it as a sacred thing, but there is a beauty and honesty to those people. There is no reason not to do exactly what makes you happy. What makes me happy is to have a direction, a purpose, and to be self-dependent. What makes me happy is that I am proudest of myself when I am out there. What makes me happy is to be accepted into a community of people who are united, diverse, and inspired. What makes me happy is that thru-hiking allows me to appreciate this worlds natural beauty and I feel connected with the Earth’s elements as if they are my brothers and sisters. What makes me happy is that my body thrives when I ask it to walk, not once did I experience a Rheumatoid Arthritis flare up on trail and I was able to feel the natural communication between my body and my mind. Do I believe this can be done off the trail? Yes. But the opportunity is presenting itself to keep walking and my heart says YES. And I am so excited!
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