This morning, as Muskrat recovers from some surgery he had yesterday, we finished David "AWOL" Miller's AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, his account of his 2003 thru-hike. I had always heard really great things about the book, and I loved it, though I was surprised at how clinical of an account it is. Maybe it was my projection of my own storytelling style that had me expecting to hear a more introspective and emotional story. Despite the book not meeting that expectation, I found myself drawn into the story of footsteps through the green tunnel. It was almost meditative, as I anticipate some of the hike will be. Two of the passages in the book that stuck out most for me were these:
"The payoff, though difficult to quantify, is much greater than I expected. I have no regrets about having gone; it was the right thing to do. I think about it every day. Sometimes I can hardly believe that it happened. I just quit, and I was on a monumental trip. I didn't suffer financial ruin, my wife didn't leave me, the world didn't stop spinning. I do think of how regrettable it would have been had I ignored the pull that I felt to hike the trail. A wealth of memories could have been lost before they had even occurred if I had dismissed, as a whim, my inkling to hike. It is disturbing how tenuous our potential is due to our fervent defense of the comfortable norm." -David "AWOL" Miller, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail
"Hiking the AT is 'pointless.' What life is not 'pointless?' Is it not pointless to work paycheck to paycheck just to conform? Hiking the AT before joining the workforce was an opportunity not taken. Doing it in retirement would be sensible; doing it at this time in my life is abnormal, and therein lay the appeal. I want to make my life less ordinary." - David Miller AWOL on the Appalachian Trail
"I want to make my life less ordinary." I have a feeling that this is one of the things people have judged me for the most in my life, yet it is one of the things that I am most proud of, and also one of the things that I wish I had done better when I was younger.
There was a time in my life, that due to the influences of parents, teachers, peers, religion, etcetera, that I thought that there was a checklist to happiness, a roadmap to fulfillment that I saw modeled all around me. My heart had always been drawn towards the outdoors, adventure, mountains, unconventional living, but the evidence of my actions clearly demonstrated that I felt far safer with "the conventional norm."
I mentioned how I felt shamed by my classmate's reaction to the one and only time I voiced my desire to go to the woods in lieu of going to college. Somehow that moment of honesty, and the shame that I felt from it, spurred me to a gorgeous engraved piece of paper that hangs of a wall matted and framed in walnut. It has an embossed seal, some foil lettering, a bunch of signatures, and at one time it gave me a sense of worth and value, and it made me feel as though I had done what I was supposed to do on the way to being happy and fulfilled. After suffering a less than exciting year in an office, an incurable and debilitating bout of illness, an ill-advised marriage and the subsequent divorce, I see it as a symbol of dreams deferred, and as a learning experience far more valuable than anything I ever did in the classrooms where I earned that degree.
I don't regret it, and it certainly didn't ruin my life, as life is pretty grand! I just wish that I could tell my younger self to quit looking at the people around me, many of whom I later learned weren't as happy and satisfied as they led me to believe, as examples of how to succeed. I'd tell myself to take the time to get to know who I am and what I really want, and to always follow that deliciously tense tugging that I feel in my chest when something ignites my passion. I lived by the checklist, and I almost died by the checklist in my mid-20s. Experience has taught me that there is much more risk in living "the comfortable norm" than there is in living a life "less ordinary." My 30s have been about living from my heart, and they haven't disappointed me yet.
My heart says it's never too late to hike.
©2014 Jennifer Magnuson, All Rights Reserved, Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.