My Appalachia

When I was just out of high school, standing on (what felt like) the verge of the rest of my adult life, I developed a strong and unexpected desire: to thru-hike all 2,100+ miles of the Appalachian Trail. (If you’re not familiar with it, the trail begins in Georgia and ends in Maine, and takes on average 6 months to complete.)

I. Was. Obsessed.

For months, years, I read everything I could get my hands on about the trail and people who had hiked it. I read recommendations, novelizations, guidebooks, hiking books, hiking books specific for women, thru-hike planning books… my thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. I was in love with the idea that one could go on such a journey alone, through the woods, exercising both mind and body, attuning with the earth, meeting other hikers, walking with the seasons as they cascaded changes up the mountain range. I had no illusions–I knew it would require training, and the physical strain would be great. I knew that hundreds set out from Springer Mountain every spring with the intention of completing the trail, and I knew that many–most–88%–gave up.

But I wanted this.

When I was 19, I began to save for the adventure, certain I would be able to take 6 months off from school once I’d saved up enough money. I had a plan. I had the resources. I was determined.

But Life has a way of undermining us in the ways we least expect it to. The summer I began to collect the gear I would need for my hike, the one piece of equipment I could not replace proved that it was unreliable: my own body.

The long and short of it was this: It took 5 year, 3 chiropractors, 2 orthopedic doctors, 1 x-ray, and 1 MRI to determine that I had degenerative disc disease and a herniated c-7 vertebra, which had caused the nerve clusters in my general left hip/butt area to be pinched off and, essentially, shortened. Chronic pain was my companion for many years until I found the right doctor (an Active Release Therapist, which I would not even know was an existing practice but for my brother’s masters thesis on physical maintenance and injury among professional musicians), but even at that, there are no cures for most back injuries. The best I could hope for was to avoid pain through physical therapy and avoiding things that could aggravate my condition.

I will spare you the depressing details about giving up on my Appalachian dream, worrying about my future health, and the difficulties of finding work in college that didn’t involve being on my feet for long periods of time.

Fast forward to now: The funny/magical thing about the human body is, if properly motivated, it can compensate for and eventually overcome most injuries, even if all medical science says otherwise. I’m not “fixed.” I still have “back problems.” But I am miles from where I was, and my desire to hike that god damn trail has not waned one bit. I have messed up–I have done stupid things to my back and suffered–but it fixes itself, balances itself out the way only the human body can.

So. I talked it over with the hubs last night (let’s not forget that, now, as a 26-year-old woman with a husband, pets, and a mortgage, that my responsibilities are very different from when I was 19), and I decided something that hopefully won’t surprise you:

I’m going to do this.

And not just that: I have another plan.

I have several plans, actually, and we’ll have to see how they really play out in the coming months/years as our lives change and our income (hopefully) increases over time. But I’ve done the calculations, figured out how much income I’d be failing to bring in those months, figured out how much I’d need to survive on the trail, both low and high estimates… and basically?

Three years from next Thursday, I will be celebrating my 30th birthday on the Appalachian Trail.

How d’you like me now, Life?

I’m curious though–how many of you have a dream that you’ve given up on? How many of you have buried a desire because of hurtles you feel you cannot cross? Maybe they aren’t as impossible as you think. And if they still seem so impossible, maybe they’re worth the risk of failing, so long as you know you at least tried.

Love you guys.

One thought on “My Appalachia

  1. Meg says:

    I had a lot of dreams that I gave up on out of fear or Life just got in the way. The big one now is my desire to travel through Europe.

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