First, I would like to begin by saying thank you. Just the fact that you’ve made it this far into reading what I’ve written seems astounding to me. I am not a person who ever thought I had anything important to say and each of you who takes the time to share my journey is an inspiration to me.
Throughout my life I have always felt an obligation to care for the people around me. From bottle feeding orphaned squirrels, to comforting my mother, to reading my big sister a bedtime story, I always wanted to be there for everyone. Ultimately this has led me to pursue a career in social work, currently I am a year away from achieving my masters. Unfortunately, I am not nearly as good at taking care of myself.
So begins the story of my decision to hike the Appalachian Trail, this might be a bit circuitous, but please bear with me.
It started with a relationship. A terrible no good very bad relationship. I spent close to two years of my life with a partner who was not appropriate for me and I realized that I was loving him far more than I loved myself. By the time I could leave my self confidence was practically nonexistent and I looked around and realized I was a stranger to myself. I have experienced depression frequently throughout my life, but nothing compared to the worthlessness I felt at that time.
So I made changes. I was lucky enough to have family to support me and a wonderful cousin to take me in. I started changing the way I ate, I made more time for friends, I started saving money, and finally, I began hiking. The aforementioned wonderful cousin decided we were going out one day, with no destination in mind. We ended up on a local trail, me in jeans and chucks, her in flip flops. We looked ridiculous, but it was the best I’d felt in a long time. We planned to go again and then again. Eventually we settled into a different trail in a state park and it was the one thing I looked forward to most during the week. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but thank you my lovely cousin, you helped save me that day in your flip flops.
When I began going to graduate school again I no longer had time to hike and I began to feel poorly again. I was working full time overnight, struggling in an internship I hated and trying to keep up with my course load. The result of so much on my plate was a herniated disc, between L4 and L5, pressing on my sciatic nerve. I was in serious pain and walking with a heavy limp for close to a year. I ended up having a bilateral discectomy in January of 2017.
I couldn’t walk independently for days. I was in tears when I moved at all and I only had a week to recover before returning to school. I quit my job, and gave myself time to recover. Unfortunately, if you go from working 40 hours of manual labor to doing almost nothing, you get fat. I don’t mean to criticize others’ weight, but I was unhappy with myself. On top of physical therapy, I joined a gym and began exercising. I bought new clothes, I started building muscle, I dyed my hair. I made it my mission to feel good again.
In April I began hiking again. I think the simple action of walking in the woods was newly empowering after my surgery. I could not only walk again, but I could probably make it up the steep hill that my cousin lovingly calls murder hill. Now that I wasn’t working overnight and exhausted I had a whole new appreciation for the world around me. I saw the world grow green and warm, I watched turtles sunning, I disturbed snakes on the trail. We deviated from our comfortable path and each trip was like an adventure. One day on the trail I mentioned in passing that I would like to hike the Appalachian Trail at some point in my life.
This is going to seem like a nonsequitor, but I have a point, I promise. In my final class of my first year of graduate school, my professor asked us to consider what brought us to social work and come up with a quote that represented this. A touch cliche, I know, but this was mine:
“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” -A.A. Milne
I wanted to be there to tell people this. I want to be a part of their process, on the road to their success, whatever other cliche you want to apply. This is what was floating around I’m my head that Friday, and into the weekend.
That Monday I brought my sister to my usual trail and got to experience it with fresh eyes as I watched her discover the wonders that had become familiar to me. Namely there were a shit ton of turtles all in a row on a fallen tree and we decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go for a swim in the placid river. She was proud because she could outpace me and I got the chance to see something that I have seen so rarely in this sister. True pride, self confidence, happiness. This beautiful woman who has struggled throughout her life was happier than I have seen her in years. Hiking contributed to that.
When we got home I found three books sitting on the kitchen table with a note from my cousin. She had bought me a data book, a guide book, and a mental guide for preparing to hike the AT. I was up until well past 2 the next two nights finishing the mental guide (thanks Badger). I was less than a paragraph in when I said to myself, “I am going to do this.”
What followed was a furious consumption of the books my cousin had given me and a Rollercoaster of emotions. I was excited and terrified, I immediately started panicking about the money and told myself I was no where near strong enough to do something so monumental. But then I remembered,
I’m braver than I believe, I’m stronger than I seem, and smarter than I think.
I want that pride I saw on my sister’s face, I want to feel confident in my body’s abilities, I want that delicious endorohin laced exhaustion that follows a work out. I want to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. I decided that I need to be selfish, I need to do something crazy and adventurous. I need to be who I’m supposed to be. So I figured, why not take a half a year off before I settle to my life as a public servant.
So I ask you, join me on my journey. Watch my triumphs and my lows. Watch me embarrass myself and overcome my fear. Come with me as I become me.