Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why I Hike - CDT Dreaming

In a little over 3 months I’ll begin my next thru-hike on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). I’ve received an overwhelming amount of family, friends, and followers who ask the age old question: “Why?”
Everyone has their own reason why they chose to spend months on end exploring our rugged backcountry. In fact, there’s a saying among the thru-hiking community – “If you have to ask, you’re never going to understand.” But it’s my hope that you WILL understand and that you’ll be inspired to go out there and follow your dreams; no matter how crazy or difficult they may seem.
I hike for my health. Many of you know that I sustained Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) when I was 15. I was in a coma, I had to relearn basic functions, and I was bed ridden for almost 3 years of my life. I was unable to go outside because the light was “too bright” and I couldn’t listen to music because it was “too loud.” Many of my symptoms have gotten better since then, but my life has been drastically changed because of my TBI.
When you experience as much pain as I do on a daily basis, you realize that no matter where you are, the pain you’re in is going to be the same regardless of your location. I’ve been told by all of my doctors that I MUST work out daily. Physical activity then, is not a suggestion, but a prescription. For me, hiking has wholeheartedly become the only prescribed medical regime that has made my deficits more tolerable.
When I’m outside in nature backpacking I’m still experiencing all the physical ailments that I would if I were inside laying in bed. The only difference is that I’m in a place I love, as opposed to being confined to the tethers that sick people are supposed to be tied to. I would much rather be sick in a place I love, and hold dear to my heart, than to be sick inside a stuffy room, feeling claustrophobic. I try and look for the small things in life and let those keep me afloat on a daily basis. Things such as the sunshine, or how the wind rustles through my hair, or the birds singing. It is out in nature that I am able to find a certain peace. I let the little things in life bring me joy, despite the war raging inside my body. If I was trapped inside, I wouldn’t be able to experience these little joys and let them soothe my pain.
There is no doubt that I’m not the average backpacker. A few of my hiking partners that I’ve allowed to physically walk with me (I’m a solo hiker) have come to find out that backpacking is definitely not “easy” for me. In fact, it’s a grueling task, but I’d much rather be in pain out in nature, than in a town. I’m frequently stopped/brought to my knees because of sharp shooting pains. I often wobble and have to stop because my balance is off. Occasionally, my hiking poles become the same equivalent as crutches; they act like a friend’s shoulder, embracing me as I lean into them. Sometimes my hiking partners hear me let out a short gasp for air. They see the pain in my face as I keel over. I wait, and let the pain that has decided to make its appearance, pass.
My eyes frequently get blurry and I’ll get double vision, but when you’re out in nature it’s not that big of a problem. In the backcountry, I don’t have to stop and explain myself to the people who would see me if I were in town. In fact, I don’t have to explain myself to anyone when I hike, because I am a solo hiker. In town, when all my ailments and symptoms come on, I get weird looks and people are always asking me if I’m okay and what’s wrong with me. When I’m hiking I don’t have to reassure people or explain that these are daily occurrences because of the TBI. I have been living with these inconveniences for the past 7 years, and I’m not going to let them dictate how I live. Everyone has hiccups in life. It’s up to you to rise up and overcome these tribulations.
I hike to test myself both mentally and physically. I want to know exactly what I’m capable of, and then push myself further. I want to continue evolving as not only an athlete, but also as an individual. I want to experience life as it’s happening, instead of rushing by in a car or on a plane.
I want to stand on top of mountains knowing that I got myself there on my own two feet. There’s an incredible sense of accomplishment and belonging when you reach a summit. I get an overwhelming surge of happiness, because despite everything I’ve been through, I don’t let it hold me back.
I hike to live my own life, instead of one that has already been played out by countless others.
I hike to better understand my needs and wants. We live in a world that is constantly bombarding us to buy “stuff,” of which almost all of it is meaningless.
I hike to get a better understanding of the country I live in, and to see the raw, natural part of life that is so easily forgotten in our society.
I hike to experience freedom from technology. In today’s modern world we’re constantly plugged in. We have a multitude of media sources being streamed to us at all hours. We have Facebook, Twitter, the news, the radio, and countless other sources all feeding us an overbearing amount of information. It’s nice to be removed from all the “noise” and to focus strictly on the present.
I hike to be able to share my experiences with others who may not be able to get out there to see it themselves.
 I hike to meet people from all over the world and to gain a better understanding of my fellow neighbors.
I hike to develop lifelong friendships with people who share the same enthusiasm for nature as me.
I hike to let my imagination soar and to be open to new thoughts and ideas.
I hike to show others that we are capable of anything we set our mind to. Our dreams can become reality, all we have to do is believe in ourselves and maintain a positive outlook on life.
It is my wish that everyone will take hold of their dreams. It doesn’t matter how big or small they may be. If it’s important to you, go for it! Don’t let anyone decide your life for you. If you believe it’s possible… it is.
Come May 1st I’ll start hiking North from Mexico to Canada. Follow your dreams and passions. I’ve had a lot of people ask how they can help, so I’ve set up this site…

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