When I was a young adult, I followed the crowd.
I did what everyone else was doing. What everyone was “supposed” to do.
After high school, I attended college, got a degree, and landed a job immediately after graduating. Quickly working my way up the ladder, I became manager & mine geologist within a year. By the time I realized how much I disliked my life, I owned a house full of things I didn’t need and had some very bad habits.
I knew I needed change, but the concept seemed so daunting and open-ended. I certainly didn’t know how to take the first step, and the thought of interrupting the life I had built for myself terrified me.
Months passed as I halfheartedly applied for other jobs, researched grad schools, and daydreamed of alternative universes. When I was sad, I spent money. When I felt lonely, I went to the bar. When people reached out to me, I isolated myself.
Until I reached a breaking point.
I didn’t know much for certain, but I did know that being outside help me combat the feeling of being unhappy. There was something… a seed planted in the far corners of my mind many years ago by a friend. She hiked the trail after high school.
My first step was reaching out to her.
With kind encouragement from this friend and two others, I entertained the idea of spending a significant amount of time in the woods as means to change my life’s rhythm. Then, I finally made the decision: I would hike the Appalachian Trial.
I hadn’t backpacked before.
I didn’t have gear.
I was not in good shape.
But I needed a change.
And I was desperate.
My decision took form when I started telling family and friends about my big plan. I received mixed reactions, extreme in both ends. As a confused young person I did what most would do: I distracted myself. Gear research and creating an overly-detailed itinerary helped alleviate the resounding “what ifs” that ran rampant in my brain.
The decision became real when I hosted a yard sale – partially to raise more money for my trip and partially to break ties with my material possession. I watched in despair as my new drapes sold for $3 each, and I was left in shock when I had to take the majority of the sale items to a church thrift store because no one wanted to buy my shit.
Then came the actual leaving.
I left my partner, my job, my house.
I moved in with my parents for a week…
and then I left them as well.
I didn’t enjoy any of that…
But my act of desperation proceeded.
I left so many things that when packed for my trek, there wasn’t a lot I didn’t take along. My tent andhammock made the cut (because apparently spending time on the Appalachian Trail meant spending time relaxing between trees rather than hiking all day). Whats more, I stayed true to the saying “you pack your fears,” by bringing more than 10 days’ worth of food for my first stint in the woods.
I managed to somehow fit 60 pounds of stuff into a 38 liter pack – needless to say I was clueless.
But if I kept quiet, held my head down, and acted like I knew what I was doing, maybe no one would notice I didn’t fit in.
I got no sleep the night before I departed. My intention was to arrive at approach trail, walk forward, and not look back. My parents dropped me off early right as the visitor center opened. I shamefully lied through my teeth as I signed the register, writing that my pack weighed only~40 pounds.
To appease my parents, I posed by the arch – fake smile, eyeliner, and brand-new REI clothes layered on, I carried much more weight than what was in my pack.
I heaved ascending the infamous stairs (that I did not realize were part of the approach trail), barely hiking 3 miles before vomiting and setting up my tent. It was 1:00 pm when I stopped.
Oh, the shame I felt that day.
But it was okay!
Sleeping off the anxiety I needed to shed, I woke up to early evening thunderstorms and made a plan on how I would keep going. I slept again and woke up the next morning to the most beautiful sunrise.