Good morning. It is 6:30 a.m.
I overslept this morning by a good hour, and I am grateful for it. Often, I think that the body continues to send us messages; all we need to do is get out of the way, shut down that inner critic, and let the body take over. It always seems to know what is best for me.
Yesterday’s “kickoff” to my journey was not as dramatic as the first day I started another journey–hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail. It was June, 1991, and I had prepared fairly well for the two-week excursion. The goal was to spend the first week with my buddies Will and Stu; they would then go back home and I would continue along solo for another week.
Will and Stu were far better seasoned at section-hiking the AT than I was. Although I grew up camping with my parents and taking various hiking trips with Towson University as an undergrad, I never did anything so primitive as stepping into the New York woods with just a tarp to use as a lean-to for shelter.
We stayed the previous night at the house of one of Will’s family members nearby; the next morning, they drove us to the trail at Bear Mountain State Park, where we said goodbye, headed across the Route 6 bridge, and entered the woods.
Immediately, there was a steep climb, and within 3 minutes I had to tell Will and Stu to stop, because I had to throw up. That was what I allowed to set the tone for the entire trip. I never made it two weeks. I went home with Stu and Will when we made it to Kent, Connecticut several days later.
I don’t know if it was fear that brought me to my knees that first day, or if I was just physically unprepared for the journey. I do know that, mentally and spiritually, I was broken from that point forward. I felt like a failure just minutes into my journey, and I allowed that to take root within me.
I’ve carried that failure with me all these years. Each year I vow to return to the Trail and do another hike to erase that experience. In 1994 and in 1999, I took two hikes, 16.1 and 12.0 miles, respectively, that made me feel like I had earned some respectability back. But I see now that I was doing those walks for the wrong reason. You can’t go back and undo what’s already been done. You can’t erase old experiences with new ones. Everything’s different–you, your life around you, the world. We’re all in different places now, and no journey I take today is going to make up for feelings of failure that I’ve harbored for so many years.
The difference is that the journey I am now on is about who I am today. I’m not looking for a shot at redemption or to change the past. In fact, I’m not looking for anything. It’s just the opposite. In stilling these waters, I believe clarity will present itself all on its own.