I’ve spent most of the last year injured, sick and exhausted. The pandemic hit, I tore my ACL, I’m stressed out at work, the valley I live in caught fire last summer, and I had a bout of COVID that gave me fatigue and vertigo that wouldn’t stop. While the past year and change weren’t all bad by any means, it’s not a period I would look back on with any particular fondness. Through a series of slow and progressive realizations, I came to understand that great change was taking place. I know in my heart that this is not a habit I can pull off with one weekend or a few minor adjustments here and there. It was out of this inertia, confusion, and instinct that I hatched the idea of returning to my home state of Vermont by hiking the Long Trail.
I’ve never tried climbing before; it was something I always saw as “outside me,” until I realized the idea was completely made up in my head. I’m sure many of you reading this have “that thing” (or many things), too. Is that really unattainable, or are you just getting used to telling yourself that? Anyway, I digress. Why did I leave my job and hike the Long Trail? Here’s why:
1. To reconnect with my home state of Vermont
I have spent the last six years – with the exception of a few summers – 3,000 miles away from where I grew up. When I moved to Washington’s North Cascades, I traded one cold northern climate for another across the country. The North Cascades are beautiful – they don’t call it the “American Alps” for no reason. So why not hike part of the Pacific Crest Trail? After all, I can get there in about 40 minutes from my front door. Here’s why: Washington may be beautiful, but lately I’ve been missing Vermont so much. There’s nothing quite like living sandwiched between two raging wildfires (as I did last summer) to make one yearn for lush greenery. I thought the Long Trail would provide a great way to reconnect with Vermont in a meaningful and profound way. And of course, I’m going to see my family (an additional A+ bonus that I won’t get on PCT)!
2. To get out of physical habit
I was very lucky to be able to reach my mid-twenties without serious injuries. That changed last March when I fell awkwardly while skiing and actually heard something inside my knee tear. I accepted an unconvincing initial diagnosis, convinced myself that the noise was coming from my equipment, and continued on my way – only to completely tear the rest of my ACL playing a light game of Pickleball with my boyfriend, of all things. After much research and consultation with my physical therapist and surgeon, I chose not to have surgery. Instead, I underwent physical therapy and have been compensating for my lack of ACL with muscle ever since. The problem with relying on muscles is that if you don’t maintain your strength, you rely more on hope and luck than anything else. When your ACL is shot, you’re more likely to crush other things in your knee, like your MCL or meniscus. And that’s the problem: I haven’t been very physically active in the past year. Sure, I’ve played some ice hockey here and there, but generally, not moving much has become the norm. So I hiked the Long Trail to give myself a serious kick in the pants.
3. To get out of mental habit
Some of my inertia is real, in the sense that I have to actually reduce my physical activity as I rebuild strength in my knees. But most of it, as I hate to admit, is mental. After my ACL brought me down to count, I never really pulled myself back, even when I had “all clear” of my PT. The added power of COVID, wildfires, and work burnout exacerbated my depressed mental state and led to months of mindlessly browsing social media and the like, rather than doing anything meaningful outside of work. Fortunately, that is all starting to change. A few months ago, I started a project on YouTube where I filmed myself doing things that were outside of my normal routine, in an attempt to escape. I only made a few videos, but they are still quite helpful. My YouTube efforts were part of what led to the idea that I should a) hike the Long Path, and b) move on from a job I originally loved and find a lot of meaning for, but that is now causing real burnout. And that brings me to my next “why”.
4. To reflect on what I want to do next in life
I wanted to do something new with my life, and I really doubt I’ll ever find out what that new thing is sitting on the couch. I won’t have access to LinkedIn or Indeed while I’m on the road, but I will have access to solitude, constant movement, and a world outside my comfort zone – and I think it might work.
5. Talking about solitude…
I started dating my partner, Jon, about two weeks before the first lockdown began. I’ve never been in a serious relationship before, and I’ve never lived through a global pandemic before (not surprising for the latter). COVID has been referred to as a “relationship accelerator,” and although I don’t have a frame of reference from previous relationships, I think it’s pretty much in line with our experience. Before we knew it, we were in love, living together, and spending all our time with each other. I love Jon to the moon and back, but I also forget what it’s like to be alone – something I used to be quite comfortable with. I wanted to rediscover what I was capable of solo and spend some quality time exploring the inside of my own skull a bit more. I will miss Jon so much, our dog Opie, and our four chickens, but I can’t wait to find solitude again.
6. To prove to myself that I can do it
There’s not much point in raving about this one. Sometimes things just speak for themselves!
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for listening! Perhaps some of these “whys” resonate with you as you contemplate, plan, or dream of your own going through the climb. Happy climbing and cheers to the unknown!
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