Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why I'm Hiking the Appalachian Trail

I've been putting off this post for quite some time; not because I doubt my sincerity in hiking the Appalchian Trail, but because I wasn't sure how to accurately express why I felt I needed to complete this hike. I'll do the best I can.

There are the "easy" reasons - the ones that pop into my mind every time I think about writing this post. I'm young and not tied down; I crave adventure and want to be surrounded by nature. It's there, and frankly I don't have much else going on in my life.

And while those reasons are true, I feel as if they don't really tell the whole story as to why, on my meager earnings and with only my ambition to carry me, I'd put 6 months of my life on hold to trek 2100 miles with my brother. No, there's other reasons at play here.

Let's go back to the whole "I don't have much else going on in my life". Part of it seems to be my fault; I have let my own life become stagnant in many regards as I squandered my 20s to increasingly bad habits. The deeper truth, though, is that I have spent a significant portion of my adult life battling, and at some points losing so badly against, mental illness that I fear the rest of my life has been thrown off rotation because of it. Debilitating depression and anxiety, constant and unsuccessful changes in medication, and trying to pretend to be an adult while becoming discouraged and disillusioned with economic security and "what it means to be successful" along with my fellow older millenials has left me worse for the wear. I do not say this because I want pity, or because I want to make excuses. I've always been open about my mental illnesses, even when family and friends don't understand them, and it feels wrong not to acknowledge this very real part of my every day life when talking about taking on a monumental feat like completing the AT. While high school classmates are starting their careers and families, and I see people fresh out of college 5 years younger than me living independently and working and investing in retirement options, I find myself questioning my own limits and expectations from my life. So things didn't go as planned. Okay. Plan for this hike. Know that you have this adventure to look forward to; a challenge and a respite existing in one. Solace. Motivation. Fortitude. Therapy. I don't see it as running away, though; I actually see hiking the AT as a signal for greater things to come. Stepping off at Springer and making my way to Katahdin signifies that I am not broken, am not wasted, and I have survived.

Hiking through the wilderness of the Appalachians is also a retreat for my love of natural history. How many birds will I see? Will I become good at identifying plants and animals and fungi? I really hope so. If not, I'm afraid our planned book's ecology portions are going to be sorely lacking. In nature, I find my canned responses that I give on a day-to-day basis (due to years of clinical depression induced brain-mush) melt away to real thoughts and feelings. I find the words and feelings that have eluded me elsewhere. It'll be tough - those words singing the praises of nature's healing powers will turn to angry cussing as I encounter my first week of bad weather on the trail, I'm certain. But at my very core, I'm an ecologist. Being in and around these communities that work just so and seeing first hand how they function, how everything is connected, is about as exciting to me as a five year old being told they get to live at Disney World.

Other things, random things, inspire me to hike. I get a trail name! What will my trail name be? Who will give it to me? I hope it doesn't suck. I don't think I can bear to live with a bad, sucky trail nickname. Who will I meet on the trail? What sort of things will I see? How fit will I get? (Answer: super fit. Also a reason I'm hiking, because seeing progress at the gym is taking too long. There. I said it.). Reaching Katahdin is a goal to obtain, for sure, but it's also an experience.

Also, I'll be hiking for BECA, and corresponding with some of the kids who benefit from BECA's hard work to provide education to children in Honduras regardless of economic status. Raising awareness for education? That's a pretty damn good reason, and one I'd hike to the moon and back for as well.

So those are my reasons in a nutshell. Ever since Andrew first sprung the idea on me, it's been something I can't shake, and a year from now, you'll be reading all about us on the trail.

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