Four years ago today, my wife and I began a journey, a long walk north that has influenced us every day since. Here's to long walks, the insights they inspire, and the people and places they allow us to experience. Looking back through journal entries from our time on the Appalachian Trail, here is one of my favorites . . .
My feet hurt. My knee hurts. They do not simply ache. They are not sore or stiff. They hurt. My feet are calloused and blistered. My heels are bruised and tender to the touch. Where the nail of my right pinkie-toe used to be there is now … well, I don’t really know what that is. My knee is swollen; I touch it with my index finger and can feel the fluid that has built up around my knee cap. One hundred and eight days, 12 states, and more than 1,600 miles of walking have taken their toll. I gently massage my feet and knees after another long day on the trail, mainly out of obligation, feeling guilty for what I have been putting them through. Sometimes I imagine them looking up at me and yelling obscenities, asking me what in the world I am thinking.
As my mind drifts, I remember a story of a woman. She was also attempting to thru-hike the A.T., and, as every thru-hiker is at one point or another, she was asked the question, “Why are you out here?” Her reason was somewhat shocking. Shortly before starting her hike, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her doctor had given her months, a year at most, to live. She said she wanted to be on the trail because every day that she was in the wilderness, every time she struggled to make it up a mountain, every moment of pain, every step, was another moment that she knew she was alive. I have found that I understand her answer a little more each day. It is when I am pushing up the last few feet of a steep climb — sweat completely saturating my shirt and pouring down my face — and just as I reach the
summit, I am greeted by a gentle breeze that manages to send a chill down the length of my spine. It is when I am bending down over the coldest, clearest spring I have ever seen, cupping my hands, and tasting its refreshing purity. It is standing atop an exposed ridge, trying to comprehend the magnificence of the sunset that is on display before me, and all I can do is throw my arms out wide and scream. It is waking up to the beautiful songs of birds and falling asleep to the soothing hoot of an owl. It is when it rains so hard that all there is to do is laugh. It is getting to wake up on the morning of our fifth anniversary and look at my wife asleep next to me. We are in our tent, on the Appalachian Trail, living out a dream that was just some crazy idea we began talking about when we were engaged. These are the moments that remind me that I am alive, the moments that remind me that I am blessed.
A friend of mine once shared with me his analogy for life. He explained to me this idea of how life is like a big sponge that is totally saturated, and that the harder we squeeze, the more life pours out onto us. I have thought about that image for a while now. Often times I have envisioned myself squeezing every last drop of life out of that sponge, squeezing so hard that it even begins to hurt. I look back down at my feet, realizing I have a new understanding of my friend’s analogy. Maybe they are not yelling obscenities at me after all. They are simply reminding me that I am alive. Maybe life is less about being comfortable and more about learning to thrive in the uncomfortable. Maybe sometimes we need to embrace the struggle instead of trying to find an easier way. As I lay back and slowly begin to drift to sleep, I think about the experience, the moments, and the adventure that still lies ahead. Such a gift life is. I hope I will always remember this truth. I hope I will always remember to live life ‘til it hurts and to laugh louder the harder it rains.