For eight months, I have been training, running, hiking, working out on the horrid stair-climbers that are the anathema to my soul. I have cut back on how much I am eating. I have changed how I eat. And I took the hands of all the little demons that I have been carrying for so many years and took a long, long walk.
On Sunday, my husband and I loaded up nine Boy Scouts into three cars (we had an extra driver and an additional adult leader) and we drove the hours needed to arrive at Shenandoah National Park. And then we promptly turned around and went outside the park to drop off the boys and the adult leader to start walking.
And they did.
Pat, the other driver, and I drove into the park. We staged our cars at different parking lots, made sure we had plenty of water in each car, and then loaded up into my car to go back so that we were a handful of miles from the park’s opening and close to the first night’s shelter. The journey began.
I keep on hearing that the hardest part of a journey is the first step. Nope. For me, the first step was incredibly easy. Pulling the rucksack up the length of my short legs and back was harder, much harder. Because I had focused all of my workout on my lower body and kind of ignored the upper body. But I did it. I shouldered the pack and took the first step which was rather flat.
See…easy as could be.
We walked across the road and into the field of wildflowers that grew in fantastic abundance and I was delirious with the beauty. I was finally starting my journey. I was finally going on the walk of my life.
I will be writing about hiking my tiny little section of the Appalachian Trail for a while (at least three or more entries). But, for now, I think I need to focus on one thing.
I changed. I grew. I finally saw the tendrils of little shadows that I have carried for years despite how hard I tried to shake them start to evaporate. More than I have ever seen before because I know that I have written about trying to let go of memories and emotions and perspectives and anxieties that have tethered me into a skin that never really fit.
Finally, I fit. As I walked mile after mile, up one hill and down another only to find another slope that required me to put one foot in front of another, I stopped worrying about whether or not I was doing the right thing or saying the right thing. I merely walked. I cared only about keeping a good pace, drinking enough water, or making sure that when I stepped on rocks or tree roots that I didn’t fall.
I never fell.
I tripped. I sometimes lost my footing and squealed.
But I never fell.
I will always be graceless. I can’t shake that part of my identity. I don’t know that I want to shake that part of my identity.
But I am tired of falling.
And I tripped plenty of times, said the wrong thing plenty of times. But I still picked up the fragments of the mistakes that I made and held them tightly and chose to move forward as opposed to spinning in circles, endless circles of regret and remorse and guilt.
I didn’t meet some of the personal goals that I wanted to achieve. But I haven’t given up on what little dreams that are more than figments of my imagination. I can see each point of what I want to do with sharp clarity and I know that I can and will achieve.
I will not be defeated.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail, literally walking through fields of fog and through forests of rain water falling from leaves left a mark on me that nothing can erase or change.
On the first morning, I broke my glasses. Now, four days later, I am still not certain that I am going to replace them. I can see fairly well unless I shift from looking at something small (reading) to looking up at a distance (i.e. a student). Maybe, this can be fixed with reading glasses. I got glasses when I was seventeen and feeling insecure about my appearance, thinking that my glasses made me look prettier.
I still like my glasses, but I don’t need them to hide behind anymore.
I don’t need to hide.
I still don’t like groups, crowds, or large gatherings. I don’t think that I will ever really want to come out into a spotlight and stand in the center of attention.
But strapping on my hiking boots and walking down a path that, at times, was no more than eight inches wide was where I found home. Waking up on a fern-covered slope on a foggy morning was….was living.
Leaving the Appalachian Trail, returning to my car and finally driving it (metaphorically) backwards and retracing the roads so that I could come home offered no comfort. I had missed my bed because I have bruises on each of my upper thighs from the rocks on which I slept. I did miss flushing toilets. I don’t think I need to expand on that point.
But being on the trail, having left behind the constant stimuli associated with contemporary society was a welcome respite. When the biggest thing that caught my attention was a startled bear thirty feet up a tree or a golden swallowtail butterfly hovering over a brilliant purple thistle flower, I could finally stop and think, feel, experience everything in this rich tapestry of life and pure existence.
I am coming back next year. The other driver, a beautiful woman with an incredible spirit of indomitable passion and purity of life, she and I will come back and walk the entire AT through Shenandoah National Park. And then, we will start choosing other sections so that, eventually, we will have done the entire AT. I don’t know that I will be considered a “through” hiker since I might only be able to do the AT in sections. But I will do this.
I will do this.
I will succeed.