Have you had one of those moments in your life where the future looks just like the past, and the past is not what you dreamed your future would be? I had one of those moments recently. The symptoms are all too common – a dead end job that robs you of the time you should be spending with your family, a yearning for more, the need for change.
Inertia is the paralysis that keeps most people planted into corporate life where everything is comfortable, everything can be anticipated, and very little to be discovered. That is not me.
I was always an inquisitive child, a precocious teenager, an adventurous young adult, and now a settled old man. I’m OK with A-C, but D just rubs me the wrong way. Why must we be trapped in the normal corporate rat race that enslaves nearly the entire nation? NO MORE! Time for a change.
So I did it. I quit my job. No more status quo. I want more, and there is plenty more to be had. I just wont have it served from a cubicle any more. This is where I should insert a Walt Whitman or John Muir quote, but that’s not me. For the next six months, my office will be on my back, my house on my back, my grocery store on my back, and my wife by my side. Yes, I convinced her, too, that there was more in life. And she is just as hungry as I am right now.
Our plan is to board up the house (figuratively), ship the animals off to boarding school (foster homes), load up our packs and head up to Harper’s Ferry, WV to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail northward to mount Katahdin, Maine. Then we will flip-flop back to Harper’s Ferry and head southward to Springer Mountain, Georgia. The most common hike is a northbound (NOBO) hike from GA to ME, which is what we had intended to begin with, but paralysis kept us from launching our plan until the very last possible moment. We intend to go slow, and the hike we are planning will take a full 6 months, and not starting by April 15th means not being guaranteed that mount Katahdin will not close for the winter due to weather before we can get there.
That fear of not being able to “finish” was one of the reasons I aborted a thru hike of the AT in 1989 on May 7th, the day after I graduated college. I had no choice back then – May 7th was the earliest possible date I could get there. And the end of October was when I thought I could realistically get there. But the end of October is too late. What I should have done was start in Maine and hike southbound (SOBO). Back then there was no internet to research all of this information, so I did what I knew to do – start in Georgia and hike to Maine. I ended up quitting the trail outside of Roanoke. The Virginia blues took hold of me and coupled with running out of both time and money (and cool weather), the urge to quite was just too strong for me to overcome.
My big regret for quitting back then was that I did not get to hike across Maine. Maine is one of the most remote states on the trail – very few towns, very few roads. It’s also an alpine vegetation, which really turns me on. There’s something fantastic about smelling pines and firs to let you know you are in the woods. Tulip Poplars just don’t do it for me. So in the summer of 1990 I drove up to Maine and hiked nearly the whole state in three weeks. That was a summer I will never forget. The trees and lakes and mountains are like no other place in the country. I swam in a stream or lake nearly every day of that hike and savored every single day.
Eventually, I did end up piecing together the remaining bits of the trail from 2010 to 2013. Karen and my Mother were there to greet me as I finished my last section of trail.
The first thing Karen asked me when I finished the AT was “Are you ready to hike it again?” And my answer was a resounding “No.” I had a rough last day.
I had arranged for them to meet me at 5 pm, and I had quite a few miles to hike that day. I had two very steep climbs and decided to go light on water so I could travel fast. But that proved to be an unsound choice, as I tore a hamstring muscle from a dehydration cramp just 150 feet from the top of the second big climb, yet I had twelve miles to go. and it was nearly 11 am at that time. I had to make 2 miles an hour to meet them on time and I was in so much pain, I had to walk flat footed and could barely manage 1 – 1.5 miles per hour. After a few hours I was able to make better time and I think I ended up only about 30 minutes late, but I remember that day well and remember how great it felt to no longer be hiking.
That feeling wears off fast.