No matter how long the journey, or how great the undertaking, it always starts with those first steps across the threshold, and walking out the door.
After years of idle dreaming; after months of research, planning and preparation; it was the night before I’d set out, and I couldn’t sleep at all. My thoughts were racing; in equal parts anticipation and anxiety. Fear of sleeping in a tent on the road, was keeping me from sleeping in my bed at home. Well before the sound of my alarm, I gave up on ever getting sleep, and I got out of bed.
Not even 5 in the morning, I looked over the gear and equipment that I now had to pack, sprawled out all over my room. Everything I would own for the coming months (assuming I made it that far). Of course it was too much stuff; I had never been camping or hiking, and I’d never even walked across a country before, if you can believe it. Inexperience leads to over-packing.
Soon enough my family was waking up, to start their Monday morning routines. My parents weren’t exactly in favor of me traveling for months on end, thousands of miles on-foot, something about me getting “ax-murdered, alone in the woods” (meanwhile my brother and sister were claiming dibs on my possessions). But to my parent’s credit, they had let me make my own decisions, even if it was a crazy stupid thing I had decided. I tried to hide my own panic, and put on a brave face; I didn’t want to add any more to their worries. And I really didn’t want to give them another chance to try and talk me out of going. But maybe they wouldn’t have noticed my fear; after all they were seeing their son’s fresh shaven face for the first time in a couple years; and if their reaction was anything like my own, they were thinking, ‘he needs to grow that beard back immediately.’
I put on my hat, bought specifically for the adventure, for what seemed to be the very first time. In my mind the hat represented the wanderer that I hoped to become, and I hadn’t yet earned wearing it; I felt self-conscious and out of place. It sat loose on my short haircut, as though it too judged me unfit. Figuratively and literally, I would have to grow into it.
Next I hoisted on my massive pack. Overstuffed, and 57 pounds heavy. I swayed as I swung it onto my back. A bad sign, no doubt. My mom told me it was too heavy to carry, and I told her nonchalantly, “I’ll get used to it.”
Not one for sappy goodbyes, but recognizing this as a particularly significant one, I hugged my mom and dad, and exchanged some sincere words. And some sarcastic ones, for balance.
Then it was time to go. Just like that.
My feet had to keep a promise I had spoken.
It seemed unreal. How many times had I pictured being far away? But dreams always start in the middle; never once had I imagined the actual leaving. I was terrified. My body kept moving forward, and suddenly I was out the door. The greatest hurdle, and it was behind me in an instant.
It had begun . . .
. . . And I was back home 12 hours later. That pack really was too heavy. I was dying after 10 miles. My parents picked me up, and only said “I told you so” a couple dozen times, so I guess I got off easy.
I immediately got to work, ordered a new pack, dumped weight, and planned to head out as soon as possible.
A snowstorm swept through three days later. It probably would’ve killed me.
A week after my initial attempt, on Monday February 13th 2017, I once again donned the hat, strapped on my pack, and left home.
I now had the added experience of failing, and yet it seemed easier the 2nd time around; I even managed to sleep the night before. I was more confident because of the set-back, and maybe more determined; I hadn’t let my pride keep me from admitting defeat. I found a solution to go again, and this time make it even farther.
So it was, one step down. A few million left to go . . .