I’ve been trying to put the words together for this blog for weeks. The reasons I come up with are mostly a jumble of memories.
I like to think of myself as a logical person. I like to create lists and excel spreadsheets, use new tools and apps, and track progress. But I have not a single logical reason for taking five months out of my budding adult life and walking an arbitrary path through the USA.
How could I? There is no logical purpose for this kind of trip. I won’t be the first to do it, I won’t be the fastest, I won’t be creating a new trail, I won’t be cleaning up the current one. I won’t be getting into good shape, or grieving a death, or even writing a book.
I will be walking.
And yet, I feel a need to do the trail knocking around in the soles of my feet. I feel a flutter of the trail in my heart. I get distracted from what I’m doing now to daydream about it. And it’s been this way for three years. It is a deep thing inside me — a pimple that won’t go away without me squeezing it dry at the root.
When I think about why I want to do it, my mind flies backwards. It started, it seems, over five years ago when, through no choice of my own, I got sober. I’ll never forget the moment I found my parents apartment empty and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was going to die. I couldn’t live as I was.
I didn’t die a physical death, but part of me was thrown away that day. My life shattered, and I was forced in a different direction.
That feeling of numbness, of insanity, of depression, of deep self loathing had followed me for years. It followed me right into sobriety and made me my own abuser.
Two years later, desperate to be free from my demoralizing desk job, I found the way out of that cycle of sick self hate. I got on a bike and traveled for two and a half months.
I sat with myself and found the real, hard truth: I was unhappy and there wasn’t anyone to blame but myself.
The trip showed me that it was all up to me. If I was joyful or bitter, it was my choice. And if I didn’t like my life, there wasn’t anyone but me that could change it. The trip also showed me that I did have a purpose. On the trip it was eat, drink, sleep, poop, ride.
After the trip I floundered. Who was I? What was my reason for being here?
I found it next when I climbed a big mountain with a group of friends. It was as simple as following my leaders footsteps all the way to 14,440 feet.
Then I became entangled in another job that got me lost in life, and I left it to go to Spain. For the first time in my entire life, I had nothing to do and no one to please. I was free. I could get lost and not speak Spanish and blister my feet and take a bus. I could wake up before dawn and hike in the sleepy dark and not see a single soul and feel how alive the world is. I could accidentally order a fish and eat it wrong and laugh at my mistake with the owner. I could be hungry or eat cake for breakfast or even book a hotel room and not leave at all for an entire afternoon and evening, soaking up the my-ness of the space between me and the rest of the world.
I got home from Spain and started another job, that was easy and enjoyable but not my life’s work, writing. I felt lost wandering around the familiar streets and staying in one place and not following the yellow arrows across a country all the way to the end of the world. I felt lost and I longed for the found feeling of travel.
Life at home is about comfort. It is about working for money and cooking for sustenance and taking small pleasures to try and find joy. It is about forgetting myself in social media and Netflix binges. It is about wondering what is next and trying not to feel the now.
Life on the road is about deep, raw pain and disgusting filth and being sick of moving. It is about being so uncomfortable I want to stop and hating myself for going on. It is about saddle sores and indigestion and homesickness and wishing for silence.
And then it is about turning around and marveling about how high I am by my own feet and sunsets that hurt my heart because they are so beautiful and the kindness of my fellows that I so often can’t see. It is about rising to the occasion and finding out I am filled with endurance and sweetness that hardly ever bubbles to the surface at home, but spills over in the worst situations. It is about that teeth clenching sensation of being so in love with everything I want to squish it into nothing and fit it inside my chest so I can keep it forever.
So perhaps all of this is why I am walking for all those months. I want to feel the simplicity of a path ahead and miles behind. I want to rise when I want and not have a single social construct to worry about. I want to make friends or choose to walk on. I want to feel the depths of despair and know that the lightness of love is just around the corner. I want to spend every moment loving out loud and fighting over food and being silent at dawn and having tickle wars with the person who makes me feel more me than anyone else. And, more than anything, I want to have a chance to feel free.
So, with all that, I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t be hiking for five months. It is as logical as breathing. It is just the next step along the way.