Why am I choosing to leave a near-decade long and well paying job — not to mention my family and creature comforts of home — to spend the next six months hiking the oldest mountain range in the world?
Most people live with regret rather well. Heck, I’ve made some life choices of my own that I’d rather not admit, but that’s life. Yet the older I’ve gotten, I can’t allow the deeply rooted vein of discontent with letting things slip through my proverbial fingers, to continue.
It was in the middle of 2012 that I found out that my biological father had passed, and for both obvious and too-long-to-blog-about-now reasons, it destroyed me emotionally. There had, for many years, been a yearning to contact him; I wanted to let him know that I was ok. I didn’t exactly want to have a relationship with him, but I think I always wanted him to know that his first and eldest son was okay, even if I hadn’t seen him for 30 years. Riddled with deep guilt and regret, I knew I would have to live with this forever.
As I write this, rolling northbound on a commuter train headed for Manhattan, I watch trees and countryside slide past my window. Including today, I have five days left at the office. A place that, for almost nine years, I have considered my second home. The closer I get to my final day, I know deep in my soul that I have always wanted to do something like this; to place myself in the path of adversity, to hand over my fate to the challenge of the trail: nothing has ever felt so right.
Canceling my monthly train pass this morning, it dawned on me — as it has been for a while — that I’m really doing this.
Thinking about standing at mile marker zero on the summit of Springer Mountain in March, I can’t help but ponder over the things I’m about to leave behind: my wife, extended family, a comfortable home, and a successful career.
I’ve also come to realize that no amount of AT guidebooks or trail maps are going to prepare me for the emotionally challenging times that lay ahead.
I read an interesting quote earlier this week, a tidbit of a phrase that resonated deeply: life begins where your comfort zone ends.
The Appalachian Trail, the “AT”.
The length of the AT can change from year to year, being somewhere between 2,172 and 2,180 miles long (the trail is constantly being modified due to zoning, weather, etc), stretching from Springer Mountain in Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Around 2,000 hikers from around the world attempt to thru-hike the AT — hiking the entire trail in one season — and, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, only 20-25% actually succeed. Injury, illness, and the emotional drain are why many acquiesce to the strains of the trail.
Trail life isn’t for everybody; there are no luxury ablutions, no electrical outlets in the trees, no diners or ATMs. Living in tents and hammocks, hikers will spend night after night in the wild, oftentimes eating carb and fat-heavy foods such as chocolate, nuts, breads and more – I’ve even read many choose to carry (although not a lightweight choice) jars of Nutella spread for it’s heavy fat and sugar content. Looks like a new food group will be joining me, then.
I plan on standing atop Springer Mountain in mid-March. A journey that I feel is the right time for me. I will be leaving my nine-year career as a Vice President with a top New York City recruiting firm on January 31st to follow another path; one of discovery. A journey inwards.