Part of this scene from “Ralph Breaks the Internet” describes so accurately something that I’m trying and failing to put into words as my mind spirals in and out of a whirlwind of “being happy it happened” and “what do I do now?” Just replace the game Vanellope is talking about with “The Appalachian Trail”. I’ll probably watch the scene over a few more times and can’t deny I might shed a few tears in the process for all that it encompasses.
Let me back up to several months ago for some real talk, not about the trail, but where I was in life. Some of you reading this may know this if we spent a lot of time together, but I was internally struggling a little bit. I went through a period of time where it felt like an enormous feat to get myself to work the number of hours I “should” have been, or rather, an enormous feat to do almost anything some days. I was on the couch a lot, I often felt a bit stifled where I was living in a way I could never quite pinpoint, and also began acknowledging floating thoughts I wanted to ignore that an almost seven year relationship with someone I loved wasn’t exactly working like it should.
Over the course of a lifetime of anxieties, from being a kid who cried for a few years when I had to go to school, to near debilitating stage fright that kept me in bed and in tears, so sick to my stomach I couldn’t eat and from ever fully enjoying and sharing my favorite love of music, to my most recent development in the last few years of getting a heightened wave of nervous stomach aches and feeling them start to rule my life, I’ve developed a meticulous way of keeping everything in order, of doing a series of things that when maintained keep me feeling normal.
If I just keep my apartment neat and clean, regularly journal or write (since age 11!), keep some form of music in my life, bounce in and out of phases of practicing yoga and meditation, see therapists, see a trainer when I need the extra push but keep myself active regardless, try to eat at least something healthy each day, steer clear of excessive caffeine, see friends as often as I can, make an active choice to be happy and thankful, and a whole slew of other things, I can feel normal. If something isn’t right, or where I want it to be, I take active baby steps toward the next thing that I would like to change. At least that’s the way I’ve done it so far. Sometimes, as many of you can probably relate, it gets exhausting. It feels as if I let one little aspect slip of my meticulous setup I could wind up in a spiral into a place I’ve repeatedly felt like I had to crawl out of.
I often wonder if life is supposed to feel like this, like I’m constantly teetering on the edge, and I just keep experimenting and wondering what will keep me safe from slipping over it. Even more unnerving is calling the bigger decisions such as knowing when it’s time to move, or end a relationship, or change a job situation, or begin or end involvement in an activity, “experiments”. But is it ever anything but that? Life is a one way ticket that only moves in one direction: forward.
These big decisions always run the risk of not being the right one, but what happens when something worked out so well, so profoundly well, that when it ended it plopped me right back in that spot I was before, right next to that edge that I keep working to stay away from, all the while now having just out of my reach this thing I can see, agonizingly knowing it’s all I need to grab onto and I’ll be fine, if I could just figure out a way to reach it again?
I knew I liked being in greenery, being a small unnoticed piece of a larger puzzle, being in small towns, being in a place where I felt so at ease compared to the compression I’ve felt by city walls, airplane fuselage, and soft cubicle dividers you can stick thumbtacks into, as if too long a presence in these places for me turned into the garbage chute scene in the old Star Wars movie where I needed to get out before the walls would squeeze me to the point of no return.
Spending a few months on the Appalachian Trail was something I wanted to do, a goal, but also in a fitting way another piece of the meticulous puzzle I maintained. For the amount of time I spent taking baby steps toward the trail, it kept me going in more ways than I ever realized as my thoughts would whisper to me “You’ll feel better once you’re on the trail. Just keep going until you get there and soon you’ll be there, you’ll be okay.”
Was I running away from something? I didn’t think I was. I thought I was just taking steps toward the next thing I wanted to do in life. But why do I feel like I ran so hard and fast in a direction I fully wanted to go that having to turn around and come back to the place I was in before feels near impossible? What do I do now when I received above and beyond what I was running towards and hoping for, when I was challenged both physically and mentally every day yet felt so normal, so much better, so surrounded by people I never expected to meet that now don’t know how I can just go without?
I think I’m going to be in search of an answer for a little while as I work to escape the daze of really being back where I was when I left, of the reality that I must spend time not wandering in order to be able to wander later, and making an attempt to pass on the message that if there’s something you want to do, you can do it, all the while seeking receipt of my own advice.
I spent four months this summer throwing all of my time into being on the trail every spare second I could muster, pausing and going back and forth a few times when responsibilities I maintain at home required it. Though the actual number isn’t important to me right now, I hiked a total of around 570 miles, just over 1/4 of the whole trail. Any moment where a step wasn’t being taken was filled with experiences of people and places I will vow to never forget, but even if the memory of it all jumbles together, I will still feel the impact at my core. I did not thru-hike the entire trail, so I didn’t have time to burn out, and I’ll never know if I would have had I been able to attempt a full thru-hike this year. Right now, I’m clinging to comfort in the fact that what I got must be what I was supposed to get in my life’s journey at present, left right at a place so desperately grasping for more that while a tough feeling to sit with, I’ll see in due time how it fits in and propels me forward, another piece in the puzzle.
I really enjoy writing to share experiences and I have a lot of potential stories to be told from the Appalachian Trail. If there is a topic you would be interested in reading about during one of those days you’re sitting at work wanting to do anything but work for ten minutes, PLEASE leave me a comment or send me a message to let me know, whether it’s a story from the hike, topics such as gear commonly used on a long distance hike or what I ate on the trail, what it’s like going into towns along the trail, or even something about flight attending like I used to write about. Anything goes – if you’ll read it I would love to write it.