Somewhere in my mind I have this memory of an older man… who was he? It drives me crazy, a parent’s co-worker, a patron at the restaurant, a professor? Who ever he was, I remember him telling me he had just dropped his daughter and her boyfriend off in Georgia, at the start of the Appalachian trail. That stuck in my mind, coming up occasionally as an image of a girl with a pack, standing on a mountain gazing off into a distance she is about to walk, drenched, carefree, strong and against the grain. And now that girl is me. So how did I get from there to here? Just two or three years ago, if you had asked someone about me they would have told you: I enjoyed and valued nature, but I wasn’t an avid outdoorswomen. What transformed me was taking a job in Arizona where I met two important people and the job itself, which turned me into a fresh air junkie, a daughter of the forest, a desert rat, a tent loving, nature saving, hiking addict.
Steve inspired me to hike the Appalachian trail. He was one of my first crew leaders when I was working for the American Conservation Experience and had recently completed a thru-hike of the AT. As I’m sure it is with most thru-hikers he loved to talk abou the trail. I loved to listen. After one week with him I had become someone who was chomping at the bit to start hiking. What got me? His description of how incredible it is to push yourself to that extreme and come out on the other end a stronger and more sure person. However, I would never have had the balls to make it happen if I hadn’t met the other important person.
When I suggested to Kyle, only two weeks after we had started dating, that we hike the Appalachian trail together I wasn’t joking and he did’t blink an eye. It immediately became a reality and nothing has ever felt so right. Our job with the American Conservation Experience affirmed and cemented our dream. During the year and a half we worked with ACE we spent most of our time sleeping in a tent, eating outside, hiking a lot, being dirty and gassy and hungry together, and we cherished every moment. To be frank, we love each other best when we are outside, and we love the outdoors with an abandon.
My goals for the AT are to say yes more than I say no. To constantly remember that this is a vacation, the first time in years when I am accountable to no one but myself. To meet people and see things and feel awe. To have fun, laugh, play pranks, sing songs, read, write, and listen. As one smart hiker said: to not let hiking get in the way of my hike. To be the most bare bones version of myself, the version of myself without stress, or money problems, or some place to be. To end the trail feeling robust, vivacious, and wise. To be open to change and come back anew.
Nothing is certain but death and taxes and this time of year it is certain that establishments to do your taxes will pop up all over town in otherwise vacant spaces. Recently I found myself sitting in one such tax office sharing a desk with Mr Terry Anderson, my lovely tax specialist. As Terry quietly plugged numbers into his computer, I stared absentmindedly at posters stuck on the walls with tape, spit, or bubblegum-I wasn’t keen on investigating. I found a poster amusing that said I could pay Mr. Anderson even more money to take a second and yes, a third look at my taxes! While pondering the necessity of all this checking and re-checking, I was interrupted by Terry saying, “must have been a tough year, huh?” I gazed at the screen and saw that Terry was referring to this year’s meager income, a mere quarter of my previous year’s income. I kindly replied, “oh it hasn’t been so bad.” I found myself wishing that a number wasn’t a gage of my happiness. In reality this past year has been, without question, the best year of my life.
A little over a year ago I was in my 5th year of playing architect in Chicago, slaving away behind a computer for what seemed like 23 hours a day. The most fulfilling part of my day was my bike ride to and from work. I was stuck and unhappy. I had spent one too many sunrises-yes sunrises-staring out of an office window. It was time to trade the familiar for the unknown. I made the toughest decision of my life, said hard goodbyes to friends and family, left everything, and moved to Arizona to get dirty working for a conservation corps.
I fell in love hard and fast with life again. I promptly discovered that my passion in life was the outdoors. I carried my life on my back and found profound happiness in that simple fact. I was alive, ready for adventure, and ready to tackle whatever came around the next corner. It just so happens that around that corner came Lindsey. Although I was too shy to tackle her. If you ask her, she did all the tackling.
I wanted more than anything to fit her into my backpack and discover the world with her. When she mentioned doing the AT, I knew it was happening. The thought of doing a long distance trek makes my head spin with different emotions. The pure unadulterated adventure that comes with the unknown is absolutely thrilling. As hard as she tries, and trust me she is trying, Lindsey can’t plan for everything and it’s so exciting to think of all we will encounter along the journey.
Most of all, the AT represents a truth I have discovered since leaving Chicago. That despite having piles of debt, a career I went to school for, an apartment full of stuff, I was able to break the status quo and stop making excuses. I am chasing what I love and learning along the way. Nothing is certain but death and taxes and taxes are only numbers. Death represents the culmination of life and life is what you make it. Mr. Anderson can’t be paid to check and re-check it. Bring on the trail!!!