Thursday, January 29, 2009

To Begin...

How did it come to this, that I would sign up for yet another year of lost income and continuing transience in order to indulge myself in yet another two thousand plus-mile hike?

I guess it all started when I was a little girl. My family took me to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina when I was growing up. We spent long weekends day-hiking with little packs full of bread, extra-sharp cheddar cheese, and of course good chocolate. When I was four years old, my father carried me part of the way up to Mount LeConte in the Smoky Mountains to spend the weekend in rustic cabins. I actually hiked the rest! I loved it, even while my teenage sister wondered what all the fuss was about.

At some point in Western North Carolina's mountains, my family were passed by what I would call "blurs" today. These young folks were moving fast, fast enough to make just the blurry impression of being hikers. They were lean and muscular - and smelly!

Delighted, my father explained to me that these folks were hiking the Appalachian Trail all the way from Georgia to Maine. I don't think I had any concept of the mileage between those two points at the time, but I knew right away that I wanted to hike to Maine, too.

I filed that encounter away for some time, going about the business of school and growing up, but the memory resurfaced at an opportune time. I was traveling in Southeast Asia and Australia when it happened. I was in a go-go bar in Bangkok's Patpong district on September 11, 2001. My friend and I left the bar and resurfaced on the street level to a television showing a building blowing up in what looked to be a Bruce Willis movie. But of course that wasn't the case.

Now, we were perfectly safe in Bangkok. My friend and I soon learned to pretend to be Canadian in order to avoid the overly solicitous condolences we received as Americans from the friendly Thai people. But our friends and family at home were concerned that we make it home safely. Not being one to capitulate to patriotic sympathies, nor, really, to do anything someone else wants me to, I continued my travels as planned for another two months. The last thing I wanted was to return to the safety of the fold.

Actually, I had grand plans to prolong my travels. Having lived in Los Angeles for four years, I found myself ready for new adventures. Los Angeles expanded my horizons beyond what I could have imagined when I moved there at the age of 22, but I no longer needed my Thomas Guide map to get around the city. I wanted more. I have an inborn wanderlust that nags me, to the point that all I could talk about as a very small child was my desire to get to Italy as soon as possible.

For the next two months I kept a list of even the most ridiculous ideas that popped into my mind. And I remembered those blurs on the Appalachian Trail.

A little over a year later, I was making my way to Mt. Katahdin at the end of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. Along the way, I met people who had done all kinds of things - most of which did not involve wearing a suit and going to an office. Some of those people let me in on the other two major long distance trails: the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. I began the AT with the idea that I would have no interest in another such attempt. I completed the AT wondering how soon I could get back to the cool, dark quiet nights, the physicality of hiking all day long, the views, the wildlife, the spring water, and of course the hikers.

Now that I've caught the hiking bug, I've never looked back. I'm done with dull, pursed, bricked-in Boston. Let me out into the world!

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