The Freedom of a Challenge
While I was hiking last week I realized that I had mis-titled my most recent blog post. The title hadn’t sat well in my mind ever since posting. I felt that excerpts from conversations I used did not address the freeing aspects of a challenge in life. The Alchemist story and Stealth’s parallels to the trail, No Justice’s sense of life she felt when facing a challenging hike — these were more about balancing desires, goals and reality within their hike. Challenges force us to make decisions and negotiate situations. I’ve re-titled that post, The Balance of a Challenge.
But Freedom is still a part of this hike. A sense of freedom is the other side of any challenge you face in life.
Last week I went into Glasgow, VA to pick up a re-supply box at the post office, take a nap and get some food. I wasn’t planning on spending the night. The town has a free shelter for hikers right in the middle of everything (everything being a dollar store, the post office and one restaurant. Oh, and also a twelve foot tall fiberglass dinosaur. Sorry, forgot to take a pic).
The town shelter is just like the shelters on the trail, and it’s unusual for a town to have one. The perks of a town shelter are: shower, porta potty, electrical outlets and a microwave. The shelter is surrounded by trees, shaded and provides a free place of respite for thru-hikers.
At the shelter I ran into a fellow hiker called Legs. He’s twenty-five, with a head full of dreds and a pair of very long legs. We’d been crossing paths on the trail for a week or two. I really enjoy conversations with him and his energy is always helpful and welcoming. Legs was kind enough to watch Sadie while I ran some errands.
I returned to the shelter carrying a chocolate milkshake, a cheeseburger, fries, and a coke. Legs was sitting in the grass with Sadie who was, as per usual in town, fast asleep.
I sat down to begin stuffing my face with food and shared some with Legs. Truthfully I was excited at the chance to speak one-on-one with Legs, he was someone’s story that I had not heard yet.
In past conversations he had made references to previous adventures, biking across the country being one. He also has six siblings. Legs is obviously independent for someone of his age; he’s in touch with his daily purpose.
I asked him about his travels and what motivated those adventures. I learned that he moved out at age 17 and has been searching for a place of freedom ever since.
To know, uncompromisingly, what you want with your next hour, this day, your life, and be able to act on it — that is freedom. This freedom on the trail is a privilege for sure. Hikers are out here with time and resources that not everyone can afford. Zoom out farther, and people in this country, and visitors to this country are privileged to have a protected strip of land from Georgia to Maine that they can walk. By no means to I want to suggest that this is easy for the taking, or even equitably available to all. But I’m talking about more than hiking the Appalachian Trail.
I try to dig into these conversations for more than hiking. My conversation with Legs brought out an aspect of this hike that exists outside of the AT experience.
Knowing want we want with our lives has been a choice from the beginning. The trail merely provides a stripped down existence that brings each person in direct confrontation with that choice. The freedom of choice is stifling, exhausting, and overwhelming at first. Maybe not even at first, but always.
I woke up this morning and my hiking friends were packing to leave by 8:30am. I knew that I had shopping to do and a blog post to write, but I felt their schedule and their momentum to get onto the trail. I felt it and the push to match my day with theirs. Why? because leaving later means I will be behind them for the next few days. Because we’re all trying to get to Maine and hiking is what we do, so waking up and pushing that off for a few hours feels...wrong.
That comes back to the balance from the last post. I’m balancing my blogging, writing, resting and mental health with the overall goal of walking everyday until I get to Maine.
What came into play this morning was what I want with my day. How I want to hike — regardless of all the hikers around me.
It’s true. It doesn’t matter how many miles I hike today and the fact that my friends will have hiked twice as much by th estime the sun sets. What does matter is the fulfillment I give to my day by sitting here and writing. The peace I bring to myself watching Sadie sleep on the couch, sleep she needs very much on this trip. The importance of connecting with my community through a weekly email — this is my hike as I choose it to be.
These moments are just as important as every step I take on the trail. For the challenge I’ve accepted as a thru-hiker I’ve got to balance each moment. This balance is so much easier to find when I am in touch with my priorities and what I want in each moment.
I have confidence in my desires. I cultivate this confidence every day. This continual practice is the most freeing thing I have done yet in my life. And thee transcendence of this realization is that the practice, this choice has been there all along, and it comes with me after Maine.