Friends, followers, countrymen::
I’ve tried to keep my life out of this project. To have it just be about the community. For it is you, your voice and your experiences, that make this shine. It is connecting community through collective experiences. It is about art.
But sometimes my life seeps in.
It seeps in in ways that I didn’t expect. Your stories and your impact on my heart is greater than I could have imagined. It affects me deeply, and I take each one into my own heart and eyes for a while. Sometimes I laugh with your stories, sometimes I get into my car and cry for the life you’ve seen, and how I wish I could wash away the pain for you. Sometimes you inspire me, and you bring new workshops to this project- YOU make it bigger, you make it better, you make it what it is.
I have sheltered my stories from you, because the interviews are about your journey. Your movement and your experience. I thought that today, before I leave, I would share mine with you. Because I feel that though it is scary, being open and vulnerable is what makes love great. Because perhaps this story will build to the great collective experience we are sharing together.
You see, I lost a love. Not just one, but many…
Life can throw curve balls, and for ten years my life was a mean game. My mother fought with cancer for eight years, and my family lived with the umbrella of death. Cancer slowly took my mother, and death stared us in the eyes. However, when I say that my Mom fought cancer, I mean it. She fought. She is the bravest woman I have ever met. She had a fire in her. Strong, stubborn, determined as all hell. She was a mover and a shaker, and she changed things. My mother was forty five years old when she passed away from metastatic breast cancer.
Because despite what you want, you can’t just stop everything. You can’t take that Tuesday and leave it for the rest of time. The rain still falling, green leaves on trees, my Mother still in bed. You have to keep moving. You have to get over that mountain of grief and live. But that’s the thing about grief and loss and love – You can’t get over it. You don’t get over a person. You don’t get over their death. You carry it with you. The loves you carry. And I carry my Mother. I carry her good moments, the bad moments, the loss of her…
I’ve walked through my Mother’s sickness. I’ve walked through a move. I’ve walked through the birth of my son. I have walked through the loss of a home, rationing food because we didn’t have enough, through sleepless nights. And I’ve walked through keeping my son in a dinosaur loving, happy bubble so he would never know. I walked and walked and walked because you can’t stop. You can’t take that Tuesday and hold it, screaming inside because it’s harder than you can handle. You can’t ask time for a time out because you need it.
So, you walk.
And I always did.
And I’ve crossed more mountains that I can see anymore. Some mountains, lost in fog and distant memory, are better off gone. Some mountains, higher than I thought I could climb, left scars and marks that I wish I could wash away.
But I can’t. And that’s okay. Because they remind me that I finished.
You see, I always had to keep going. It wasn’t a choice. But this time, this time I walk because I choose it. I want it. And I want to let go of what I carry, and carry only what I need.
In two days, I will be leaving to hike 110 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Alone. I am entering this strange quiet in my mind because I know that for once I am choosing my mountains, and I know I will do this. It’s empowering.
I want this because I want to let. go.
And find something I cannot name at the same time.
I’ve been reading a lot of trail journals. The trail, white blazes, the weather, the history, but mostly about the wilderness of our country and the wilderness of our minds. Unexplored territory, less explored lands. John Muir wrote, “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” This year I turned 30 and I can’t think of a better way to bring in this decade. I carry too much on my back right now. Great losses, great lessons, great joys. Great loves, great pain. With the spirit of my mother, with the spirits of my past, with the spirits of the wilderness and those that have walked before me, I plan on letting these things go and leaving my pack, my past, my future lighter. Leaving with my steps up and up. And as I walk, I will let my tears, my fears, my screams, my shadow, and my mother go. For as I walk, I will sprinkle the rest of her ashes along the way. She belongs in the mountains. She will go on living there, with me, but without those memories that I’ve had all these years.
It calls to me. I am excited for the wilderness. I am excited for the journey. I am excited for the walk. I am excited about the terrifying melancholy of hearing only my footsteps along the dirt and recognizing my own voice as foreign. I am excited to meet people, trail names with packs as heavy as my own. I am excited to brave what I have thought I could not do on my own.
Reading trail journals and guide books on the white markers, I hear about bears, attacks, mud, mice dotting through your hair as your sleep. Sleep that comes so sweet and sound. Blisters that make grown men cry, dirty water, lack of water, packs that always seem heavier than you expect or want them to be. Eating raisins and peanuts for days, oatmeal for the fourth day in a row. I want all of it.
I want all of it because I want to challenge myself and reconnect and I want to let go.
I want to feel the mountain in my heart, in my lungs. I want to see the sun rise and fall through the mist. I want to hike at least 10 miles a day for nine days. I want to feel the satisfaction of setting up camp at the end of the night, curling into a sleeping bag, comfort at last.
I long for the moment where I want to give up, hate myself for thinking of this stupid trip, loathe my pack and switch backs until I am cursing at every rock, tree, and bug on the way. I will dream of pancakes and big, dry blankets. I will dream of baths. I long for that moment when I cry because I want to quit so badly, but I won’t.
I hear there is magic in the trails. I have been leaping for joy. I cannot wait. But admittedly, I am also terrified. Terrified to do this alone. Worried to walk my pace, that I’ll get lost, get hurt, that I won’t be able to handle it physically or mentally. Terrified that something will happen to me. Terrified that I will not meet anyone or meet someone terrible. Worried that I won’t be able to do it. But I want it all. To be alive is to be challenged, be excited, be terrified. I go because I am alive. I go because I seek life and what it has to offer. Because I feel that that is what makes this life amazing – the fact that we can, and it is my calling to respond to the world and what it has to offer. To be open and to be vulnerable.
I hope you forgive me for not replying to any emails for a while. Hope it’s alright that I let this story of my loves seep out… thank you for all that you are.
I love you all, and I’ll see you soon,