My whole life until now has been an exercise in the practice of two steps forward, one step back. Lately however I’ve had a tendency to take one step forward and two steps back which is getting me nowhere fast.
I suppose that as long as I backslide only a little less than the amount of ground that I cover in my motivated periods, I’ll always be moving forward. After a six month weather and illness-induced backslide featuring TV and chocolate binging, I find opening a can of dog food too much of an exertion.
That said, I figure its time to pull myself together and turn things around before it’s too late. Too late in this case would be to throw in the towel and just become a little old lady raising cats and calling the mayor once a week to complain about garbage pickup or that guy who plays his radio so loud it rattles my windows.
Alrighty then. This week I launched my uh, what’s the opposite of a backslide? This latest challenge will be the most ambitious of my life. It’s actually been on my bucket list for going on 15 years and I’ve talked about it ad nauseam to anyone who would listen. Now It is time for action.
Well, here it is – my dream. Drum role please…I’m walking the Appalachian Trail – that grueling but exquisitely beautiful path that meanders through the hilly wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains from Georgia to Maine. Well. Maybe I won’t walk all 2186 miles to Maine which would require four to six months. I’m more committed to becoming a serial hiker which means it could take years of hiking a week each summer until I ‘m 113 years old. Not only would that be a personal triumph but it would probably qualify me for the Guinness Book of World Records.
Several years ago my little adventure group (four high school friends who are game for just about anything) went white water rafting in North Carolina. We discovered we were only a mile from one of many entrances onto the trail so we did it just to brag about it when we got home. Truth be told we hiked maybe a mile – straight up. We got out of there fast when we spotted a Krispy Kreme Donut sign through a sparse spot in the heavy undergrowth.
Nevertheless the trail had gotten in our blood and we promised ourselves we would come back and do it right when we were in better shape. (Let’s see. One mile done. Only 2,185 miles to go!)
I’ve announced my intention to friends, neighbors and strangers I meet in the supermarket line. The more I talk about it the more excited I get while everyone listening glazes over. There’s no backing out now. I had a moment of weakness when I read Bill Bryson’s wonderful work “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.”
“Black bears rarely attack,” reports Bryson. “But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can…That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough.”
Wild animals aside, I dream of pitching a tent and sleeping beneath the stars. I dream of being slender and fit – they say you can burn 6,000 calories a day (the equivalent of 37 Krispy Kremes). I will take pictures of spectacular sunsets and and breathtaking sunrises. I can hear the sizzle of bacon being fried over an open fire. (Uh oh, my vegetarian lifestyle will go on hold. I’ve been looking for an excuse anyway because I’ve been dreaming of fried chicken and ham sandwiches since Easter Sunday.)
Here’s the rub. After a grueling winter and some health challenges, I am probably in the worst physical condition of my life. But you gotta start somewhere. I mapped out a hiking-infused workout plan which features a little weight lifting (mostly cereal boxes).
On Monday, I launched my training program which includes two turns around the Lake Chadwick walking trail recently constructed on the MSU campus. Once I can do that without wheezing, I’ll step it up a notch. By summer, I plan to double down and progress to lifting one pound cans of tomatoes. By fall of 2020, I should be ready.
There’s always the gnawing fear of failure on this ambitious quest, but as J.k. Rowling wrote “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
I see the Appalachian Trail is a metaphor for life. You start out fresh and full for optimism. You’ve learned all you can and planned all the details of your hike. Then you get out there, and the trail just happens with surprises at every turn and no regard for your big plan at all.
Doesn’t that sound that life as most of us know it?
I’m still not sure why I want to give up all the comforts of home and hearth, walk and sleep in the rain and eat beans cooked in a can. Those who have done it say it changes them forever. I’m just not sure if that’s good or bad.