Starting in March 2011 I am quitting my job, gathering all my belongings to storage, and striking out for Georgia. By early April I will be hiking the Appalachian Trail (the AT) roughly 2200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It will take me approximately five months, three pairs of shoes, and five hundred and fifty thousand calories (kilocalories for those paying attention to units) to walk the entire distance. Boy, I'd better have a good reason for pulling such a stunt.
Luckily, I have one. Or more than a dozen; it depends how you count.
I am not hiking the AT because I love to hike.
I'm not hiking the AT because I'm always that person on a five day backpacking trip who clamors to stay out another week.
I'm not hiking the AT because sunsets and sunrises are fantastically beautiful.
I'm not hiking the AT because having a snack on a sunny rock outcropping one thousand feet above a verdant valley is an experience to (almost) die for.
I'm not hiking the AT because I love the camaraderie and crazy philosophical discussions of my fellow hikers.
I'm not hiking the AT because I love nature and love the woods.
I'm not hiking the AT because my policy is to challenge anything that frightens me and I'm afraid of self-reliance.
I'm not hiking the AT for all the wonderful wildlife encounters I will surely have.
I'm not hiking the AT for the through hiker's body that I dearly want.
I'm not hiking the AT because I sleep best when I'm on the trail.
I'm not hiking the AT because I respect nature and want to live with it.
I'm not hiking the AT because I love a challenge.
I'm not hiking the AT to meet pretty women.
I'm not hiking the AT because I'm afraid of getting lost on the PCT.
I'm not hiking the AT because I have always desired a transformative experience.
I'm not hiking the AT to develop mental toughness.
I'm not hiking the AT to prove my self-worth.
I'm not hiking the AT for the cachet and attention that attaches to someone who completes the feat.
I'm not hiking the AT because it embodies my romantic idea of a grand journey.
I am hiking the AT because it is my dream.
Rather than wait and hope for a chance to embark on my grand journey I have created that chance. It took some planning and a bit of waiting but it's culminated in the gear in my closet, the money in my bank, and the support of my family and friends.
Along the way, all of the reasons described heretofore will power me forward. Some are superficial and silly, some are vain and ugly, some are beautiful, and many involve growth. Just because a reason is silly or bad doesn't mean I will discount it. In my calculus such reasons have little weight, but I would be lying to myself if I denied their very existence.
And overall, what I hope most to gain from this journey of mine is truth. Truth about myself and who I am. Truth about what I want out of life and what I'm willing to pay to get it. Truth about whether I can rise to a challenge with a grin and keep on trucking.
If I'm lucky, and as stubborn as I've been known to be, I'll finish the whole trail and summit Katahdin in glory. If I'm really lucky, I'll figure out these truths of mine as I spend my days in walking and in thought. But there's little luck needed to know that I will have the time of my life.
This journey is my dream and I will take it as far as I possibly can.