Before I stepped foot on my first long trail, I was the ultimate rookie. My backpacking equipment was sparkly clean. And I’d never been on an overnight backpacking trip before I took my first steps along the 2189.5-mile Appalachian Trail. But there was a little voice inside of me that told me I’d complete the darn thing. Leading up to my decision, all of the people in my life told me that my career as a corporate paper pusher was so successful! I was making great money and climbing the ladder shockingly fast. But depression swallowed me whole. It wasn’t until I picked up a book that mentioned the Appalachian Trail that I knew what might spit me back out.
About a year after I discovered that there was a footpath that stretched from Northern Georgia to Maine, I put my two weeks’ notice in. And then the fear mongering began: “Aren’t you scared of bears and rattlesnakes?” One co-worker gasped.
“Are you going to carry a gun?” Another wondered.
Someone even asked me how I’d carry all the water I needed between Georgia and Maine.
While filled with good intentions, I realized that I was receiving advice from people who had never left the comfort of their cubicles. The truth is that I was scared. Of course, I wondered about bears and rattlesnakes and humans. Oh my! But the idea of spending my short life behind the walls of a cubicle terrified me more.
Instead of falling into my own desperation, I chose to drown out the fear mongers. I packed my bag and road tripped across the country with my best friend. We spent a few days journeying from Michigan to Northern Georgia. And when we finally crossed the Georgia state line, my jaw dropped at the sight of the blue ridge mountains. There was no doubt that I was exactly where I needed to be.
With a quick embrace and a few nervous laughs, my friend pulled out of the parking lot and left me entirely alone in Appalachia.
Almost exactly 5 years after the start of my first thru-hike, I can’t help but reflect on the importance of listening to my gut. Everyone in my life was crippled by the thought of leaving their own comfortable existence. And the fear percolated into my own life. I won’t claim that the unknown isn’t scary. But I think we severely limit our capacity to grow by staying within our comfort zones.
Today, I’m in the midst of training for a thru-hiking of the Pacific Crest Trail. And the same themes remain true. There’s lots of talk about how the forest fires are going to destroy the path in front of us. And the low snow year will cause water issues. But reaching back into my memory and trusting my gut is helping me to stay grounded despite the fear mongering.
-Mary Beth "Mouse" Skylis, Go Far Ambassador