The End of the Trail

April 13, 2015:

Today I celebrate my four month anniversary hiking the Appalachian Trail, and after careful thought, the end of my thru hike. Here, mile 1,922.0- Bethal, ME, with one broken trekking pole and two worn out shoes, marks the end of my trail.

Although I maintain the ability to say I’ve made it from Georgia to Maine, I have voluntarily demoted myself to LASHER (Long Ass Section Hiker) status. As Janet MissJanet Hensley would say, I thoroughly hiked the AT.

I cannot begin to describe the amount of fun I’ve had throughout my travels, but after leaving behind many friends to crank mileage, my passion became solely a chore. What fun is reaching the finish line if you have no one with you to celebrate? What is the beauty in a pretty view you can’t stop to enjoy?

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, this trip was intended to be a journey. Somewhere along the way, my adventure became more focused on the destination; today, I formally reject that mentality.

Feeling I “had to” cover a predetermined distance each day left me unable to enjoy the many detours that fill space in between point A and B with memories and meaning. It left me unable to relax, and unable to be happy. I felt rushed and at times, put myself in compromising situations trying to reach mileage goals in difficult terrain, bad weather, and late hours. I felt guilty days I felt sick. I felt saddened every time my friends stayed in a town, where I too wanted to stay, but could not.

The miles, my friends, are only a small fraction of the adventure.

I recall sitting in Miss Janet’s van when she explained that thru hiking almost destroyed the intention behind the Appalachian Trail. She described the pathway as something you should always be able to return to, finding something new with each encounter. It is not supposed to be rushed. It does not have to be completed in one season. Miss Janet is correct.

With even one more week, I could comfortably hike all 2,189.7 miles, but I know in finishing with time I possess, I would either injure myself or leave hating the trail, never to return. I would rush myself off to law school, jeopardizing my future there. Instead, it is time for me to move on…

In leaving now, I am better able to prepare for the next chapter in my life & better positioned resolve some of the loitering troubles I’ve ignored. I’ve gotten what I originally hope for out of the trail many, many miles ago, I’ve made it to Maine, & I am off to new and different challenges.

That being said, however, I WILL finish each and every mile left in my hike but armed with no agenda and no schedule. I intend to stop at every campsite that feels right, and say yes to any and every ridiculous side bar that comes my way. I love the AT & I purposefully stopped shy of “And-Over”, Maine. It ain’t over yet ūüėČ

Looking back on my thru-hike attempt, I smile. It was truly a unique experience:

-I walked north
-I walked south
-I carried my pack and, at times, left it in the care of people I barely knew
-I traveled in order
-I traveled out of order
-I pink blazed, yellow blazed, orange blazed, blue blazed, and white blazed.
– I chased the midnight rider
-I hiked in the early morning
-I hiked in the late evening
-I had a standoff with a moose alone in the dark, then spent my very first night alone stealth camping
-I hitchhiked
-I shuttled
-I managed to thumb my way to Virginia Beach with three friends, six rides, twenty-four hours, and one overnight stay in a dugout
-I tripped
-I fell
-I sunk knee deep in mud, then stood there for a minute pondering my life
-I walked soaked from the rain
-I walked soaked from my sweat
-I was hailed upon twice, while the sun looked down upon me and the lightning flashed in the clear sky
-I walked the right way
-I walked the wrong way
-I rewalked miles twice because I was unsure & got lost finding a place to use the bathroom
-I fought gnats
-I murdered mosquitos
-I spent an hour chasing mice away from my pack on the top of a mountain, while I ate copious amounts of the food that fills ten year olds’ dreams
-I ate from the hiker box
-I ate from the dirt
-I ate food from strangers without hesitation or concern
-I took a river bath
-I took a beer shower
-I was the filthiest I’ve ever been in my entire life
-I slept in shelters
-I slept in my tent
-I stayed in hotel rooms and hostels and floors shoulder to shoulder with strangers and rodents
-I broke out of church
-I snuck back into church
-I drank boxed wine and had late night conference meetings
-I felt rich amongst the hiker group
-I felt poor amongst society
-I accepted 75 cents from the homeless people, who gave my friends and I the money for a city bus ride so we would not be stranded
-I was treated like a hero
-I was treated like a bum
-I felt on top of the world and humbled by the struggle to get there

I hiked my own hike.

It was the journey of a lifetime and, looking back, I loved it all.

While I have so much left to say in the closing of this chapter, I wanted to pause for now recognizing the hikers, trail angels, and hostels who contributed to my amazing experiences. Each one of you got me to where I stand today, and I look back fondly upon the memories we share.

The trail community is filled with truly inspiring people, who built up my faith in humanity & trust in mankind. To my friends on the AT, who embraced me for the smelly, acne ridden, dirty hiker trash I became, I already miss you beyond my ability to describe.

Until next time…

Happy trails my friends ūüėé

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AT Part Two, Day One-Zero Day

April 12, 2015

As I arrived in Helen, GA about 4p.m. this evening, and the closet shelter would be a twenty minute drive followed by an eight mile trek, I opted to take a “transition day” rather than rushing to a destination. I am thankful I did.

Not only did my decision allow me to explore this unique little village, it started my hike with a lovely reminder the trip, for me at least, is about the journey.

Even this evening, my Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike felt surreal. My brain, too caught up with incompleted chores, could not let go of the alternative chapters. I was not ready to move forward. After saying my hardest farewell, however, I felt unusual. 

I felt like a caged animal freed into the great unknown. I was instantly aware that I am a very small girl in a very large world. Am I going to be able to provide myself with the resources to survive? Am I capable of handling the next five day’s worth of rain? Yet, despite my uncertainty, I smiled, happy…

I felt unburdened of modern society and my focus felt clear in this primitive, in the moment context. All I NEED is food, water, shelter, and sanitation. But what else? What do you do with everything and, at the same time, nothing to accomplish? 

I appreciated the joys of random conversation and street musicians. I appreciated the warm sunshine and a nice walk. I took time to watch a passing stream and sit on a park bench. I took time for myself. 

Now the end of “Part Two Day One-Zero Day,” I can’t contain my joy. I managed to get myself two hot showers, and perhaps unnecessarily, a discounted hotel room with two beds. I ate a fresh sandwich and maple walnut fudge.  At the suggestion of several friends, I watched Wild and I laughed knowing I am only a few short steps more experienced. I indulged clean, rested, and fed in mainstream society. I feel mentally prepared to begin anew. 

Tomorrow morning, come the storm as it may, my 2015 thru-hike resumes. 

Happy trails!! 


So I Quit My Job to Live in the Woods

Confession:¬†I grew up¬†a stone’s throw from mile 1269.7 of the Appalachian Trail, but until recently, I never actually met a thru-hiker, or even a section hiker¬†for that¬†matter. I barely stepped foot on the trail, despite the fact it pretty much¬†ran through my back yard. I have gone camping, but never alone, and¬†although I was raised¬†in the country, I have urbanized.¬†The question now becomes,¬†why did I just quit my job to walk¬†2,185¬†miles?

After a series of unfortunate events, I began to embrace the word challenge. I focused on things that I hated, things that were difficult for me, and immense goals which provided distraction.

When circumstances started to become stressful, I set off to complete a marathon because I HATED running. I hated running so much that while I ran, I was literally incapable of thinking about anything else. When I finished my stroll, I was so relieved my other problems did not matter. With each stride, my anxiety was left that much further behind me and I was soon completing 13 miles with ease. The goal of running a marathon no longer felt like  a challenge: It no longer felt necessary.

As things got worse, I re-explored my dream to become a lawyer.  Seeking admission into Harvard Law, I prepared religiously, but after three attempts on the LSAT, I opted to study no more. My score aligned with my personal expectations. I never applied to Harvard, but this ambition pushed me to gain access into Georgetown, a school that better matched my career objectives.

I want to stress that at no point did I sell myself short. I could have trained to run a marathon and I could have gotten a higher LSAT score. In¬†these experiences, however, I originally¬†set a goal based on society’s standard, which¬†I then developed into my own.¬†I stopped pursing my missions having fully accomplished my¬†objectives.

With law school applications completed, I felt stuck in limbo, killing time and counting Fridays. I¬†existed within Dr. Seuss’s Waiting Place, and this purposeless, middle-ground¬†position depressed me. I needed a¬†goal so large it would take the¬†time¬†between chapters and create a new one with meaning¬†in and of itself. Living¬†as a¬†lame duck was not fitting the bill.¬†As¬†I read¬†the Oh the Places You Will Go, a book I often turn to when I am down, ¬†my eyes fixed firmly upon the¬†phrase, “Your mountain is waiting.”

Suddenly,¬†I was transcended into my happy place.¬†A neighbor’s corn field planted with clovers to protect the soil.¬†Trails cleared¬†by my mother and stomped in by¬†children’s feet. Clubs my brother and I walled in using¬†intertwined branches and foliage. There in the background they always were- the Appalachians.

About this time, I became debt free, my close friends moved away, and the ones who remained ventured in their separate, child-bearing directions. Shed of both my bills and my relationships, there was nothing left holding me back. I felt the need to go home, a place no longer rooted in an exact physical location, but rather the serene state of the forest.

I think I was joking the first hundred times I discussed hiking the Appalachian Trail, but I printed the mileage information and out of boredom, starting charting the trail day by day, resource by resource. The documents remained in my bag and the more I carried them with me, the more I planned. I spoke the journey into existence. As my thru-hike seamlessly took shape, I could no longer resist the once in a lifetime opportunity within grasp.

Here I found two unexpected friends. Friends who shared my love of the outdoors and made my dreams more realistic. They flooded me with articles, filling in the knowledge I lacked on my own. They shared their recommendations, helping me avoid frustrating learning curves. They equip me with the supplies and experiences required to succeed, and now here I am.

I quit my job and in¬†two short weeks I will pick up where my trial hike left off and embrace the thru-hike challenge.¬†Maybe I will make it all the way, as I intend to. Maybe I will only go so far.¬†I will keep moving¬†along the 2,185 miles until I reach MY destination with only one promise to myself.¬†I will not quit on cold, rainy, uphill day or as I walk wearing muddy clothes and wet shoes. It is in¬†difficult moments like these I am confident¬†I will complain, but internally, I will find the distraction, challenge, and¬†intrinsic¬†motivation to thrive. Here is to my 4 month journey…¬†

-Giardia

http://www.gofundme.com/np6nfc

So You’ve Met ‘The One’

Alex and I met during our junior year at Penn State.¬†We were inseparable, and like many of those young and in love, truly believed that we knew everything about who each other¬†was, and who we were as a couple. Things weren’t perfect, but we¬†felt¬†capable of overcoming obstacles in our path, and shared similar ambitions about who we wanted to become. It seemed that if we could just maintain this pattern, we could be happy forever.

Fast forward five years and our friends will quickly tell you we are far from the bright-eyed couple they once knew.

So what changed? Well, a lot changes. Marriage is a roller coaster. You will see each other at your worst, your best, and everything in between. You will change, your priorities will change— separately and as a couple, which means sometimes you will grow alike, and sometimes you will grow apart. But what is the real challenge? What makes it difficult to work through the problems that used to have simple fixes?

Let’s flash back…

Five years ago, I failed to understand how happy, marriage worthy relationships EVER ended in divorce (unless things were rotten from the start).¬†I’ve learned¬†it all comes down to an arbitrary, uniquely defined fork in the road, and the result is contingent on which path you choose.

To explain¬†I will use a few generalizations…

In every¬†failed partnership, you come to a point where you get into an argument that is so destructive, or where you identify a characteristic that is so unacceptable, that you or your partner chose terminate the relationship. It could be an¬†accumulation of things, or differing life goals (again, I am speaking generally), but at some point, a straw breaks the camel’s back. SOMETHING about the other person is not compatible with the SOMEONE you see yourself being. Period.

Now, “high school” style breakups aren’t necessarily simple, but the fact is, when¬†one party decides to stop trying, the relationship ceases to exist. There is no NEED¬†to clean up the pieces, make amends, or seek a compromise. There is no reason to forgive and forget, or let it go of the pain. You don’t NEED to do anything…even if you WANT to.

But now you’ve met ‘the one’ and for the sake of argument, let’s assume you haven’t reached this point¬†(if you had, you would likely¬†fall in the above mentioned category). You haven’t encountered any major, relationship shattering obstacles…YET…

Whether you want to admit it or not, there is no such thing as a perfect couple. I don’t care what Facebook leads you to believe about how happy your best friend is, ALL relationships have their struggles be them public, or be them private.

Your ‘perfect relationship’ too will come to the very point, where in any other scenario, you’d have called it quits. Maybe it’s your honeymoon night, or maybe it’s when the kids leave home. The¬†bottom line¬†is, be it day one or year fifty you will, at some point, identify one or more factors that you are not compatible¬†with and for the first time, you will be¬†forced to¬†work through things for a hundred reasons EXCEPT¬†because you WANT to.

It is at this point that shared bills keep you together, or convenience, or kids. It is at this point your unwillingness to fail, family pressure, or religious beliefs encourage you to try harder. Regardless of your reason, you will reach a stage¬†where for the first time in a relationship, you must fix something you’d otherwise be content to leave broken— you will have a lot invested in, and therefore at risk based on the outcome.

To compound the problem, you will look back differently on your past deal breakers. They will not seem so bad, or unmanageable in comparison. The grass will start to look greener in other pastures (Keep in mind, however, that with great marriage-worthy love comes the potential for great pain, so even if this new issue isn’t larger in scope, it will likely hurt more.).

Here, my friends, is the fork in the road. You can choose to embrace your relationship, or you can choose to move on. The longer you live in limbo, the longer you will remain unhappy.

So let’s assume¬†you take the high road and repair things. There are several major changes that NEED to occur, so that your relationship is strengthened, and repeat occurrences are prevented.

1.) You need to identify the issue and what it means to YOU (both). Disregard what your parents think, or your friends say. Who cares how many people fail to see the problem with the situation at all. The fact is, none of those people matter in this context. If an issue exists in your mind, and causes damage to your relationship status as a result, then it needs to be addressed. Big, small, in between…suppressing problems, ignoring them, or undermining your perception of the matter will only serve to cause larger¬†concerns in the end. One, or both of ¬†you, will remain unhappy.

2.) You need to identify a solution TOGETHER that you BOTH agree upon— this means compromise. ¬†If one person dictates the resolution, it only shifts the unhappiness to the alternative person. Sometimes, this will be easy— one person agrees to take out the laundry. Sometimes, this will be difficult— one person ¬†prolongs, or sacrifices their life goals for the benefit of the relationship. These issues are yours to work out and there is not a textbook answer. You must work with your significant other to find the best resolve for your family.

3.) You need to follow through with your commitments.¬†BOTH parties need to be invested into the decision-making process, and¬†BOTH parties need to be invested into the action plan that follows. Failing to adhere to the terms and agreements for which you are accountable will not resolve your issues. They will resurface, with your partner feeling disproportionately burdened by the struggle. Even if you feel you did nothing wrong or that your behavior was justified, you still own a portion of the change that must follow. Which brings me to four…

4.) You need to LET IT GO.¬†If the problem does not reoccur and you’ve worked through it,¬†it is as simple as that: LET IT GO. If you¬†CHOOSE to stay (regardless of reason), and steps 1-3 work out, you forfeit¬†your ability to use it in any negative way against your spouse. You,¬†at this point, must¬†accept the past (though not agree with it) and move forward. You must accept your partner for who they are good, bad, and ugly. Failing to do so will¬†only build resentment. If you are in this stage and you are struggling, consider how honest you were in your communication and how seriously you committed to the high road. If YOU¬†didn’t go all in, any residual problems fall to YOU (It, does however, take two people to make a relationship work). I am not saying the problem¬†will go¬†away overnight, but when you say you’ve LET IT GO, you need to mean it. ¬† SEEK SOLUTIONS, SEEK HELP—but sooner or later, YOU NEED TO MOVE ON. This means you need to¬†completely reinvest yourself and yes, that comes with the risk of being disappointed or hurt.¬†If you haven’t realized, this phase is the hardest part. YOU NEED TO ANYWAY.

So what changes?

Things that you saw as unforgivable must be forgiven— cheating, lying,¬†altercations…

Things that you saw as firm need to be compromised— life goals, religious views, child decisions…

Qualities you withdrew¬†from your spouse need to be COMPLETELY returned— trust, respect, loyalty…

Get the point here?

YOU must take accountability for your portion of the struggle AND furthermore, a portion of the struggle for which you do not feel accountable.

Alternatively, you do not HAVE TO accept anything that makes you unsafe, uncomfortable, or unhappy—but you too have a choice. You can leave, but I caution that NO RELATIONSHIP is exempt from hard times, so feel free to leave the grass is greener mentality right here. I also want to caution that any faults of your own will not be corrected¬†just walking out a door–they will very likely resurface in other relationships.¬†Deal with them now or deal with them later–but as you married this one, at least prior to the heated emotions of this¬†struggle you felt them worth the effort ūüėČ .

Give your relationship more than just the college try, and if you both are truly unhappy, leave. Continued fighting, pent-up aggravation, and false smiles will hurt you, will hurt your friends, will hurt your family. If you are staying to do someone else a favor, you may be doing more harm than good.¬†LET IT GO!¬†STOP PUNISHING your spouse,¬†stop punishing yourself, stop punishing your kids. STOP TRYING TO CHANGE EACH OTHER and forget the old arguments. Don’t withdrawal yourself from your dreams and ambitions.¬†Don’t hold your next partner accountable for the prior’s wrongdoings. JUST LET IT GO.

The fact of the matter is, regardless of which path you decide you need to go all in, and you need to carefully pick¬†what is best for you separately and as a couple.¬†Am I a relationship expert? No. Do I try to learn from my struggles? Yes. Take what I’ve learned from MY observations and experiences with a grain of salt—YOUR experiences, YOUR breaking point, YOUR¬†uncompromisables (yes, I made up that word) will all be different.

Be¬†honest with yourself and with your partner. Communicate your concerns while they are small and commit to the resolution. Happy marriages are hard work— often and regularly, but as with many situations, hard work has the potential to pay off tremendously.

When you reach the fork in the road, the¬†decision belongs to no one but you. I don’t have all the answers, but¬†what I can tell you is this: take your time, but if you¬†loiter in the¬†limbo, you will not find supreme happiness there. ‚̧