On my way to work this morning, I passed by some open green farm fields. It’s going to be a gorgeous day, temperature should get up to around 85 degrees, sunny, and not a dark cloud in sight. I imagine in the mountains, it’ll be perfect hiking weather, just a little cooler, so you can get a good hike on and not overheat. Every time you stop, you’ll feel a slight chill to make you want to move again, but not uncomfortable. Get to a rock ledge for lunch, and you can lay out on some warm stone in the sun and munch away on your trail mix or a tortilla filled with cheese and jerky. I, on the other hand, just sat down to my desk at work. I’m about twenty feet from the closest window, and the natural sunlight is just a small square glimmer, and I can only just see the cars in the parking lot and a green hint of trees behind. No open sky can be seen.
This is the first year I am going an entire summer without a long distance hiking trip in almost three years. I’m out of vacation time for the rest of the year due to my planned trip to Palestine in October, so the best I can hope for is a brief overnight camping trip. I keep telling myself this is the responsible life I had to choose. I need a regular paycheck and most importantly health insurance. A set of tumors, which turned out benign, were found in my thyroid a few months ago. My hospital bills are currently sitting at just above $6,000 and I can only imagine how that situation would have gone if I were still an unemployed hiker who found growths slowly expanding on my neck and had no way to take care of it. But even with that reminder in place, I still cannot break from an almost unbearable sadness that comes from feeling trapped in this responsible life. Every morning I spend at least a few minutes talking myself out of playing hooky and running away to the woods instead of going to work. If I went into the Daniel Boone National Forest (just a short drive south of me) I’d be out of cell phone range by the time my boss realized I wasn’t showing up for work. I wouldn’t have to be responsible for answering a phone call asking if I was okay.
This is adult life. It is responsibility. It is not fun and it is not exciting. But it is life as I have to live it for now because adventures and good health unfortunately cost money, and I can say from experience that no one is willing to pay to read me writing about them as of yet. So I take it one day at a time for now. Maybe, if I’m fortunate enough, I can save up enough to pay off the hospital bills and go on some more adventures soon, but I can’t hold my breath for that. In the meantime, I have to watch my coping mechanisms. I normally can socially drink without much problem, but lately I’ve had to stop drinking, especially my favorite whiskey, because I almost constantly find myself wanting to just drink a bottle to turn my brain off for a while, and I know it’s easier to not drink at all than it is to drink in moderation when I feel this way. I’ve been taking walks on my lunch break at work and when I clock out at the end of the day to go home. Getting a mile or two in every day walking on a concrete sidewalk is by no means a sufficient replacement for miles and hours on a dirt path, but it’s the best I can do for now. I avoid reading anyone’s trail journals because I know it would just depress me more, but I occasionally follow the news on Facebook from various ATC chapters, or postings from hostel owners and operators talking about the hikers they’r seeing this year. A manageable taste of the thing I crave, trying to keep it controlled so I don’t overdo it. I’ve been reading like a madman. I thought I’d be lucky to finish fifty books this year since I’m not hiking and I’m working full time, but I’ve finished 30 so far only four months in. I can’t get away from the monotony of my life, so I’ll cram my thoughts full of everything else I can.
Trying to write has been a struggle, this post is an indulgence to me because I know I want to get some words down, but honestly I haven’t been able to think about how much I miss escape, and honestly no one wants to read that multiple times a week. I don’t think it would be healthy for me to write about it that often either. I was getting a chance to write regularly when I was posting the recipes, but my weight has spiraled out of control since I started back to work. Sitting for 8 hours a day just isn’t healthy as it turns out. So I’ve had to put some severe controls on my diet. I cut out variety because I found that it was making it too hard to resist the temptation to go overboard, so I stick to a basic diet of mostly vegetables with some salmon or chicken breast thrown in. Again, it’s sustenance and it’s responsible, but it isn’t very exciting to either write about or experience.
I’m trying. I’m taking one day at a time. And honestly, I’m surviving in part because of lessons I learned on the trail. When I’d find myself at the foot of a mountain I never thought I’d be able to climb, pushing up a long snaking trail that I felt like would never end, I’d stop thinking about the end. Take my find off of the entire journey at all and just think about the steps in front of me. Put my left foot down. My right foot down. Stop when I need a break and lean forward on my trekking poles to release some weight from my shoulders and my back. Breath. It’s hard and it’s often miserable, but it’s worth it if you can just continue. You don’t have to worry about if you’re going to get there or if you’re going fast enough. You just have to wake up each day and decide you are going to try, then take the little steps you need. When hiking in Georgia or Tennessee, you’ll go mad if you think only about Katahdin every morning. But you can wake up and think about taking your tent down, making breakfast, or packing up. Don’t get taken away by the end goal, try to focus on the next small thing you need to do. It’s monotonous, it’s boring, but it is life.