“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac
I spent 11 jam-packed days at home for Christmas in 2017, my time filled with family visits, decorating cookies, conversations at restaurants, laughing on friends’ couches. Though rather a loner, my visit did not sap the life out of me, nor leave me longing for the solitude and quiet of my comfortable apartment in a lush, green suburb of Charlotte. Well, perhaps I was ready to return to my dear little apartment and the mild southeastern climate, but certainly not eager to return to the isolation and bewilderment of the last 12 months.
I had relocated to Charlotte for an unexpected work opportunity which, in fact, was a gratifying professional move. More money, more responsibility, more interesting – how could I be so unhappy? Well, it turns out that there is more to life than 8 hours in a cubicle answering emails, attending meetings and wondering what the weather is like beyond the windowless office walls. The “more” I was missing was the emotional support of the family and friends whose proximity I had taken for granted, the value of which I had vastly underestimated. Basically, while work was good, it was not nearly enough to build the foundation of a balanced, full life, let alone stave off depression. Consequently, my year was punctuated by anxious attempts to build the new life I thought I should have, disillusionment and lost momentum, leading back to depressive hibernation for months at a time.
Hermeticism and comfort food make exceptional bedfellows. As luck would have it, my apartment was only a 45 second walk to a gourmet grocery store, a sufficiently low bar for my depressed ass to surmount given the promise of momentary escape when I gorge on numbing fats, sugars and salts. I have struggled with food and my weight all my adult life, but the issue became outsized and all-consuming within the vacuum of my Charlotte existence. Consequently, I found myself 60 pounds heavier within the year. Talk about adding insult to injury.
I had erected a wall between me and the possibility of quitting and going home. Quitting, in my mind, meant failure and I could not, would not, entertain that option. Upon return from Christmas, however, my position had softened, likely due to the modicum of sanity gained while home. What was I trying to prove? Why was I so determined to persist in this misery? Ego? Of course, but also doubt about whether or not relocation was in fact the silver bullet.
My malaise was not unique to Charlotte, just the most enduring and debilitating bout I had experienced in years. In the past, a challenging fitness goal was the key to snap me out of a self-obsessed, dejected state. The recipe began with 5k’s, quickly progressed to marathons, a 50 mile trail race, and, ultimately, led me to backpacking. Knowing myself, I had booked a week long trip to Glacier National Park in August 2017. The trip was grand, but it did not lead to the psychic turnaround I had hoped for. I was still unhappy and gaining weight, my historic discipline never quite taking hold.
At some point, the PCT idea bubbled back to the surface.
In 2016, I had spent a seriously amazing week in the High Sierra of Yosemite. The granite peaks, expansive views, flowers, marmots, bears, water, light, air – all of it. I was heartbroken at the idea of leaving this exhilarating place and returning to my boring, beige cubicle. At that moment, the initial idea of thru hiking the PCT became a very enticing, real proposition. I had outgrown my current company and had nothing holding me back. No partner, mortgage, or children. Four months before northbound hiking season, however, I was offered the position in Charlotte and felt compelled to explore the opportunity.
A year and a half later, maybe it was time. I mentioned it to my friend Alicia and she was supportive of the idea. She reminded me that I had been talking about this crazy idea for sometime and maybe it wasn’t so crazy. She also mentioned that Jason, a mutual friend of ours, was talking about a similar undertaking with similar motivations. It was intriguing to think there was someone else in my social sphere contemplating the same apparent insanity; a person in their mid-30’s with a solid job, ditching it all to hit the trail and sleep in the dirt for nearly half a year. Crazy person.
My interest and jealousy were sufficiently piqued, jealousy that Jason was audacious enough to do this thing ,while I was not. Once my curiosity and judgement reached the tipping point, I crawled out of myself just long enough to shoot him a message to the effect of, “hey, hear you’re thinking of doing this thing. me too.”
To be continued . . .