Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Meet the Walking Loon

I guess I should begin with an introduction, of sorts, so I give you this information; originally I was born and raised in southcentral Pennsylvania about a mile from the Appalachian Trail.  I spent a lot of time in the great outdoors as a child and dreamed of one day hiking the entire trail.  After high school I joined the navy and served for 5 years before getting out to follow my army husband around until his retirement.  Let's just say that raising 6 kids and moving as much as we did and then eventually settling in New Mexico for quite awhile didn't exactly make achieving the hiking-the-Appalachian-Trail dream something feasible for me. 

To be totally honest, I had actually forgotten about it for some time and probably threw it on the once-upon-a-time dream pile like we do so many things from our childhood; dreams that don't come to fruition for a vast number of reasons.  However, every once in awhile, something reminds us of those long ago wishes and just occassionally, we pick up that dream from off the pile and dust it off with all the awe and excitement of finding Aladdin's lamp.  And then, the genie billows forth and grants us our wish.  That is probably the best description I can give of how this idea, this dream, has sparked anew for me.  See, my dear friends recently moved to a new home in Colorado and their new address is on a street named Katahdin.  Not, the easiest word to say if you're not familar with it, so the suggestion was to look up the pronounciation online and I was informed it was "some mountain in Maine". 

Yes, it certainly is SOME mountain in Maine.  It's the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the goal of all Northbound (NoBo) hikers on the Trail.  It is a symbol and the pinnacle of the accomplishment of completing 2,184 miles of hiking from Georgia.  As I was reading about Mt. Katahdin, suddenly, that old childhood dream rose like a phoenix in my mind.  I found myself longing again to passing through those wooded areas of my youth and to challenge myself to accomplish something dramatic in my life.

Oh, but time has taken a toll, and I certainly am not what I once was.  It's wonderful to dream, but one must take into account reality and my reality is that I have put on extensive weight since my high school days and my body just doesn't perform like it used to.  I've grown soft.

The arguments that take place in your head sometimes make you think there is a crowd residing inside your skull.  One voice will argue for all the reasons you shouldn't even consider attempting this endeavor.  Another will encourage you to "go for broke" and spur on the desire.  Another will try to reason both sides of the argument and come up with a practical and satisfying solution for both of the earlier parties.  Then inevitably, as you bounce the idea off family and friends, there are the added echoes of their opinions.  Eventually, you have to come to a decision about the matter or risk going insane from all the voices in your head. :)

They say the biggest question is "WHY are you doing this?" You will be asked "Why?" by family and friends. You will ask yourself "Why am I doing this?" before you take the first step if you've given any serious thought to the matter. And you WILL ask yourself "Why?" again when you are out there...when you are tired and struggling; when it gets difficult. It's important to know the answer for those times.

One wise friend questioned if this wasn't some sort of mid-life crisis.  I had considered that idea prior to her mentioning it and admitted that it was probably part of the explanation for this intense desire.  But it's also something more.  it's the desire to just live.  One of my favorite movie scenes is at the end of Secondhand Lions when the young boy asks, "You mean the men in grandpa's stories really lived?" and the main character answers, "Yes, they REALLY lived."  May we all REALLY live in the lifetime we've been given. 

But more often than not, a lot of us get bogged down into a routine that isn't necessary healthy for us.  We spend an enormous amount of our free time in front of one video screen or another and even a lot of our jobs involve a desk and chair.  Of course, there are lots of people who pursue physical fitness at the gym or maybe some other sports activity, but overall, we are a nation of spectators watching other people put out the physical energy to play and compete while we sit and fill our mouths with more junk food. 

Now obviously, there are other ways for me to shed pounds and get in shape if that is the driving force behind this hike, but again, that is just part of the reason.  And when it comes to the issue of motivation to accomplish weight loss, everyone has something different that will be their driving force to assist them in accomplishing that goal.  No, it's not just a mid-life crisis.  It's not just weight loss motivation.  It's not just fulfilling a childhood dream.  So what is it?  Some people claim they go to the A.T. to "find themselves".  I pretty much know who I am, so I'm not looking for a grand discovery there.  Some go to enjoy the time communing with God and nature.  Absolutely, I'm looking forward to this aspect of the hike, as being in the great outdoors always replenishes my spirit and I DO enjoy the quiet time alone with my Father God.  So, I can add this ingredient to my list of reasoning.  But it's something still more, something very personal.  It's a self-challenge.  

The Olympic games just recently ended and while watching the stories of triumph and failure of the athletes you can't help but to admire the amount of dedication and work they have put into their respective sports.  I've not thought about being an Olympian since I was about 15 and I realized that I would never accomplish that feat; not because I couldn't, but because I knew I would never commit to the time and effort it takes.  I would never stand on a podium and receive a medal that would symbolize all the years of work and dedication.  So, is there some grand medal or award for hiking the A.T.?  No.  If you accomplish this feat, you send in an application and receive a certificate and a 2,000 miler patch.  There is no fan-fare nor television crew filming.  There is nothing but your own memories and some snapshots you've taken with your own camera.  And you'll be added to the list of over 12,622+ persons who have completed the A.T. in it's 75 year history.  But what you will have gained is something that can't be taken away from you.  You will have accomplished a personal goal through perserverance, endurance and effort.  Whether your personal goal is physical, spiritual or mental, or a short or long term goal, whether you required assistance or did it on your own, nothing feels as good or gives as much satisfaction as accomplishing a task that you've set your mind to completing.

This can be viewed as a selfish idea and task, unless, of course, you are sharing this journey with a family member(s) or friend(s).  But, I don't believe that there is anything wrong with doing something for yourself now and again.  As a matter of fact, if you don't take care of yourself, you can't be there for others.  Now, I am a believer in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and I truly believe that we can do nothing without him.  I look forward to his empowerment to complete this task and I pray that through this journey, he will use me as a vessel of blessing to others along the way.  Jesus, also, took time away from the crowds and his work to rejuevenate setting an example for us to follow.

So, the answer to my "Why?" is multi-faceted and probably is best summed up by saying "I want to REALLY live!"  Currently, I am planning to section hike the trail for about a month at a time over the course of 6-7 years. I may eventually escalate that schedule and would love the opportunity to thru-hike, but don't think the family can support that idea. Time will tell.
For some unknown reason, my first account & blog was disabled and removed by Google.  Currently, I'm waiting for a reason for this, but I'm not really anticipating a response from remarks I've seen from others.  Anyway, I'm going to try this again and hopefully they won't close this one down.

As for why I've chosen "Loon" as my trail name, well, I was thinking to myself about all the remarks I had received about this being a crazy idea and that a lot of people think that I'm just looney for attempting such a thing.  I've only once seen a loon in the wild on a reservoir in the Appalachian mountains near my home and it was a wonderful experience.  The loon doesn't walk well on land and I'm not the most graceful creature God ever created, so it all just seemed to come together for me as the ideal trail name.

'Til later...