“Do one thing every day that scares you.” — Eleanor Roosevelt_ “Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod.” — Allie Ghaman
To our dear friends and family:
Thank for you starting our thru-hiking journey with us. After having been engaged less than a week, Clif and I gave six-weeks notice at our workplaces and are now preparing for an early March departure for a roughly 5-month, 2,180 mile thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
As I write this, the polar vortex is screaming outside, thrashing tree limbs and kicking up snow. But here, inside my cozy Adams Morgan apartment, I am snuggled up with Clif and beer and our cat and a fire slowly turning to embers.
The deli across the street has above-average bagels.
I can easily walk to work and to friends’ apartments, to restaurants with ceviche, to movie theaters. My family is just up the Red Line. I work at an interesting job with kind coworkers and free books.
Accordingly, I’m terrified to leave this all behind.
But that’s not in small part why I’m going.
“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self” —Søren Kierkegaard*
I want to do something extraordinary.
From a young age, I have been in possession not only of a marvelous thru-hiker cousin (Jen, or as she’s known on the trail, Seaweed), but also of a large and perhaps unwise collection of literature that romanticizes children in survival situations. (See: Hatchet, Island of the Blue Dolphins, My Side of the Mountain, Robinson Crusoe.)
In my daydreams, I wandered the wilderness of Jean Craighead George and Gary Paulsen’s words. But barring some minor outdoor forays in the form of Girl Scout trips and summer camp, my arboreal imaginings remained strictly illusory.
I did well in school. I went to university and did well there too. I met a wonderful man. We moved to a good city and got good jobs and did well. I got an apartment and a three-legged cat and I learned how to crochet.
But somewhere, in the back of my mind, I’ve been wondering when one becomes too mature to intentionally make stupid life decisions.
I don’t think I’ve yet hit that limit.
For years, I’ve had a yearning in the pit of my stomach to take things off-script, to do something wild, unexpected, difficult, and rare. I want to push my ragged body up ragged mountains and feel strong. I want to move away from my own self-imposed boundaries and socialization and do something reckless.
I also want to reconnect with that primeval and elemental part of myself that awakens and sits silent when Clif and I walk in the woods. The part that hears music in the sounds of our feet shuffling, legs brushing, breath drawing.
I now find it hard to describe, because when I find that delicate equilibrium of body and mind and environment, I don’t need words. In those rare and crystalline moments of clarity, I can subvert the anxieties and mental chatter that are my plagues and closest companions; I can brush my fingers against the ur-myth of being a Woman with a Man, Alone in the Wilderness.
Also, I’m going to poop in some holes.
I’m going to eat a ton of ramen and energy bars, hang out with some weirdos,** try not to contract Giardia and hitchhike a bunch.
I’m hoping for some zen moments and some wacky ones and know that we will definitely be in for some miserable ones. But I’m excited about where those moments will take us.
Stick around here and we’ll let you know what happens.
Love and hugs, friends.
* Not exactly what he meant, but it’s a good quote.
** One in particular. [cough cough]