I imagine that some significant portion of my time on the trail will be spent in thinking about why I am out there in the first place. (I’ve certainly spent the many years of dreaming about the trail and the last several months of actually planning for the hike thinking about such things; I don’t see that ending just because I start walking.) Many people have asked me (as they ask all thru-hikers), “Why are you doing this?” It would be nice to have a compact, orderly, powerful answer to satisfy the curiosity.
But I don’t have such an answer. I have a few dozen answers, and they’re hard to articulate, and none of them of their own accord carries enough weight to carry me a couple of thousand miles. Still the desire burns.
Here are a few beginnings of answers:
These are my kids, posing with their grandmother at a recent picnic—a kind of bon voyage celebration with Granny, since I won’t see her again before I head out. There’s a lot that I love in this photo.
Many folks are incredulous about my wandering the wilderness for a few seasons because of the existence and youth my offspring. With still-growing children at home, how does one walk away for so long? (“And where,” many a man hath cried unto me, “does one find a wife such as would allow—nay, encourage—such extravagance?” Bide, gentle petitioner. She shall have her own post anon.)
This has been one of the stickiest points of my own contemplations. A part of me does wonder if choosing so much time on my own is not colossally selfish, leaving my poor family to make do without their father while he swans about in the woods.
A lot of this journey, though, is about them. I want them to know that no matter how big, crazy, impossible, or difficult their dreams may be, it’s worth chasing them. I prayed about hiking the trail for more than ten years, most of the time barely believing that it would ever happen. Now I’m leaving in three days, under circumstances I could not have imagined a decade ago. I don’t know what will come of this, but I do not think I will look back later in life to regret accepting the challenge and making the attempt.
It also helps a great deal that they will be my cheering squad and emotional support. Even when they mention that they will miss me, they quickly add that they are excited for me and what I’ll be accomplishing. It’s probably immensely self-serving, but a part of me absolutely lights up to think that I will be making a journey that reminds them of the epic odysseys that the characters from the fantasy novels we read (which I’ve pushed them to love for so long) have undertaken. There will be hardships and hard times, without doubt, but I hope those help them to see their inner strength and joy, too—as I’ll be finding mine. I want to be the hero of their stories, and for them to become the heroes of their own stories, wherever that leads them.
Here are Granny and I again. I have to say, if anyone can be blamed for the wild fancies that sometimes make me hare off into the wilderness, it might be her. Since I was very small, Granny was always the one jetting off for adventures and finding joy in every place she could. When I told her about the hike coming up, tears sprang up in her eyes, and she could not stop repeating her conviction that this will be a defining event, a peak around which other parts of my life will rearrange themselves. I think there is a part of her that wishes she could make the journey as well; the thought that I am blessed to make the trek—as so many others cannot—will, I hope, keep me moving forward.
I take it as a very good sign that the people who have been most enthusiastic and the least concerned about my adventure are grandmas. It seems like they should know what’s most important in a well-lived life, and if they are thrilled for me, then so am I.