Hiking a long-distance trail is a wonderful opportunity to stop and think about where you’ve come from and where you’re going. I think it’s even better to start sorting through the questions you’ll be asking yourself before you hit the trail. That could happen as you’re gathering your gear, as you’re dehydrating meals, or as you’re waiting out a five-hour layover in Atlanta. I chose the last option.
“All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.”
When I set off on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I had some very important questions I intended to answer as I hiked. How did I want to live my life? What did I want to do? Where did I want to live? How did I feel about love and relationships? Thinking about all of these questions simply didn’t happen while I was walking, but I considered them in the trail’s quiet moments, when I was filtering water, making dinner, or snuggled inside my sleeping bag at night. Late night musings triggered a few existential crises along the trail, but, while I didn’t climb Katahdin with my questions fully answered, my thoughtful time on the trail allowed me time to sort through some of my ideas and perspectives.
So, what do I plan to ask myself on the PCT? What do I hope to see and hear and feel and learn and experience while I’m out there?
In some ways, this hike feels as though it will be a very different hike for me, as I’m coming from a different place; no longer am I fresh out of college and working to figure out who I am. I’ll be asking myself where I’m heading in the short-term, but I think I have a grasp of my longterm trajectory.
Many of my hopes for the PCT are concrete. I want to experience the beauty of redwood forests and the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. But, I don’t want to just walk through the less-magnificent places; I want to embrace them all. I am excited to develop a love of the West Coast’s mountains and forests like that I have for the Appalachians. I look forward to cultivating friendships with other hikers, and I am happy that I’ll be able to stay in contact with old friends — with whom I’ll share tales from the trail — while I’m hiking. And, I am interested to listen to the stories of others who’ve been fighting Lyme who I’ll be meeting along the way, as I’ll be hiking to raise $0.81 per mile for the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.
Some of my goals for the hike are more abstract, requiring more head space. I want to figure out my battle plan for Lyme Disease, now that I know it’s going to be a chronic thing. Should I continue to pursue treatment for relapses (when they occur) in Kentucky, or should I go somewhere Lyme is more common? Should I try to continue with “band-aid solutions,” or should I try to pursue any of the more aggressive, definitive treatments that others have undergone? Should I continue to use antibiotics to knock down my bacterial load, or should I try any alternative therapy?
I’d also like to do some contingency planning about my future goals. When I got sick this spring, I had to give up my seat in the outdoor leadership program I was hoping to attend; I thought taking out loans for a year of schooling when I can’t guarantee my health for even a few months didn’t seem like a good idea. With Lyme, there’s no middle ground for me: I seem to either be overtly healthy or so sick that I’m stuck in bed. Within these parameters, I need to set some reasonable but meaningful goals for the next few years.
In the meantime, I’ll just work to put one foot in front of the other from Mexico to Canada. I’ll take time to get lost in the beauty around me, make time and space for awe and inspiration. I’ll explore quirky trail towns and take zero days in the woods. I’ll hike Mount Whitney and swim in glacial lakes. I’ll collect stories to cherish, mental images to meditate on, pictures to treasure, and moments to laugh about when times get rough.
In every Unitarian Universalist sense of the word, I fully recognize this hike is a gift, and I am a deeply grateful recipient.