I have a really lovely life — a life that based on my previous trajectory, I would never have imagined for myself. I know that I am lucky. I have a job that gives me hours and an apartment I love and share with my favorite human.
So why am I leaving all of these wonderful things behind and stepping into the wilderness for five months? Well… it’s complicated.
I did not grow up doing all of the outdoors things. I wasn’t a scout of any sort and I didn’t camp for the first time until 22 years of my life had passed in a small city at the junction of three rivers. I also loved the woods. I didn’t have grand exciting woods, but in the mind of a 12 year old trying to escape their father’s perpetually volatile girlfriend, the small scrubby strip of trees behind the house was wonderland.
I would stay in these woods all day with my backpack full of suitably youthful ideas of adventure rations and my makeshift explorer’s kit. I remember pouring over an illustrated version of Journey to the Center of the Earth as a kid and memorizing the pictures as my packing guide. (Rolled up blanket. Check! Compass. Check! Hammer. Check…)
All of this is not really important… the main point is that the woods were a safe place when I was not safe. They were my imaginarium and in that narrow strip of trees, I was far away from all of my troubles. I was an adventurer. I was going to discover the first tyrannosaurus fossil in Pittsburgh. Anything was possible.
It was a nice dream for a short while, but I only had those scrubby trees for a few years. As I got older, I had other treacherous terrain to navigate, like the less wonderful wilds of high school. I forgot about the trees. I forgot that I once believed I could be an adventurer and could do anything. I had swallowed the lie that people like me didn’t get to go on adventures.
Firstly, because there was no way we could afford it. And then because I was chubby and didn’t really do super active stuff. Softball aside, all of my sportiness faded along with the optimism of childhood.
When I was 22, any optimism I had left was muted when my father killed himself. He had been a big part of my love for the woods… But he had also been a guide on how not to be an adventurer, how to never step out into the world, and how to get stuck.
If your guide is leading you down a terrible road it is probably best not to follow. My father was dead, my future would suck, and I would be sad and miserable forever (or so I thought at the time), but dammit I was not going to follow his road. I didn’t feel like I would be optimistic ever again and I didn’t know how to change my path, but I did want to do something different.
Two years later I met Aer. She is amazing, motivated, and blindingly optimistic when it comes to the things she believes us to be capable of. She reminded me that I wanted to be an adventurer. One day Aer said she wanted to do this cross country bicycle trip and that we should do it together.
Umm… Lemme see. First thoughts here: Are you crazy?
To shorten this story, I will say yes, we are a little crazy in a totally reasonable way, and also yes, we did bike across the country. It was brutal. For the first 1,000 miles my mantra was, ”I am not my father,” and I felt like I was desperately trying to out bike my father’s ghost (I am slow and ghosts are fast but I kept spinning).
Somewhere in the next few thousand I realized my mantra had changed into, “I can do this,” and even more bizarre… I was starting to believe it. The trip changed my life. Somewhere around Indiana I started to realize that my old friend, the trees, were there for me. In the strange quiet of truly remote back roads I found my old adventurous childhood self wandering through vast expanses of wheat. In trying to outrun a ghost, I ran into the arms of the world and it was strangely safe and exhilarating to be in the middle of nowhere.
So why am I hiking the PCT?
I am doing it because I am still running into the arms of the world, still discovering what I am capable of, and still finding the answers surprising. So trekking off into the wilderness with the person I love is scary and daunting, but still inviting.
I’m also doing it because I really believe in the program we are fundraising for. GOLD/BOLD gets youth into the outdoors and allows them the opportunity to discover what they are capable of. And maybe those lessons will come back to them when they truly need them down the road. Maybe they too will find a safety in the woods, and hopefully they will have a great time. Fortunately for them, they will be far more prepared than I was as a kid — and they will not walk out into the wild with a bag full of hammers.