When I first thought about thru-hiking the A.T., it occurred to me that it’s a purely selfish endeavor. I am going to leave all of my family and friends for 6+ months, desert my obligations, and just go. “I’ll see you later. I won’t forget to write.”
To some of you, this may seem incongruous. I live on my own (with a roommate). I have neither children nor elderly parents that rely on me. But I do have a strong network of friends and family that come to me for support and do expect me to be accessible, even if it’s just an implied expectation. And I’ve mentioned before how committed I am to cultivating and maintaining those relationships. So now here I am declaring to them all that I plan to hike through the woods, often without cell phone reception, with my phone turned off for the better half of a year. “Don’t call me. I’ll call you.”
I have to say that the realization is liberating. I love being there for “my people,” but somehow the thought of detaching feels freeing. It’s something I’ve always loved about traveling internationally as well as through remote national parks. Culture, beauty, new experiences… and not always having an eye on my cell phone. I’m not nearly as bad as many people I see walking around D.C. with their faces glued to their screens, but it’s still frequently in the back of my mind.
So I felt selfish.
But very quickly something unexpected happened. People started inviting themselves to the trail in support of my goal and, I suspect, to participate in even some small way in my adventure.
“When will you expect to be around NYC? Virginia? Pennsylvania? Maryland?”
Nicki: “I’ll bring you food and cheer you on.”
Mom: “I’ll visit you and come with chicken soup.”
April: “I’ll plan my (work) travel schedule around where you’ll be in Pennsylvania.”
Rach: “I’ll hike with you on a weekend when you’re passing through Harper’s Ferry.”
Jor: “What if I’m not hiking through on a weekend?”
Rach: “Well, you couldn’t have gotten that far over the course of a week.”
At this point, I’ve had three friends determine to hike with me for between several days to several weeks.
Caro: “When will you be in the Smokies? I’d love to hike the Smokies!”
Melissa: “Where do you think you’ll be in July/August? I think I can manage a few weeks during my summer break from teaching.”
Lisa: “When I hike with you (because I intend to), I’m bringing a stove, and there will be hot food.”
My favorite recent conversation involves the topic of a friend’s wedding, which will be in April in a town along the trail.
Chris: “Convenient place she picked to get married, huh? Is someone bringing you a razor and a dress? I will do so if you need. And some shoes.”
(Chris knows me so well…a razor…)
And then there’s the topic of actually getting to the wedding, which I have been assured by several friends will not be a problem. I am declaring that I’ll likely be hundreds of miles out of the way, and I’m being reassured over and over that my friends will find a way to get me there.
Here I am, feeling selfish and greedy, yet all the feedback I’m getting from friends and family is positive and supportive. The vibe I’m getting is: “We want you to succeed. We want to have a part in that success. If you succeed, we succeed.” As much as I treasure the moments that I can be there for my family and friends, how can I not be humbled and touched by the encouragement and effort that they are devoting to my goal?
Back to where we started this post. Selfish? Maybe a little. Alone? Definitely not.
I know this is way out of character for me, but I’ve always loved John Donne and think I’d like to end with his short poem, No Man is an Island.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Wait, I changed my mind. I definitely don’t want to end on that poem. It’s beautiful but depressing. Did you read that carefully? He’s talking about death! No, thank you. Instead, let’s talk about the fact that the weather this last weekend was gorgeous. It was 72 degrees and sunny yesterday. What a perfect day for a drive and for a hike. I even saw a rainbow. (OK, I didn’t really see a rainbow, but just picture it anyway. With a unicorn flying past it.)
Ah, much better. Yeah, let’s end on that note instead.