This was the post I dreaded from Day 1, and knew I would need the courage to write: the plan not executed, the plan so perfectly laid.
After everything, the moment when every piece of gear in my pack is necessary, when every fault has been found and repaired or replaced. The food has been separated into plastic bags and mail drops are ready to go to the post office; reservations have been made and weeks of hiking plotted.
Family and friends have been notified that this NOBO (northbound hiker) is now a SOBO, once she makes it to Harper’s Ferry, the symbolic near-halfway point of the Appalachian Trail. I had even decided on where to eat breakfast while waiting on the Appalachian Trail Museum to open on Tuesday morning.
I cried myself to sleep for three days once I knew my path was diverging from the Trail. The morning after those three days I was calm, as if I had accepted the death of a loved one. I decided it was like a death, those nights when I lay quietly trying to conceal my weeping. What was I crying for? Who was I mourning if not that other “me,” the one without responsibilities, with no schedule except the one that indicated maildrops and shelters?
The truth is, I woke up after those three days with a deeper sense of my real direction, moving forward. I had been naively imagining certain parts of my life to be separate and distinct from one another. I had compartmentalized my “trail life” from my “home life.” My kid said I was using my frequent road rage as a way to justify going back on the trail, or vice versa. I was going to sleep at 7:30pm, like I did when I was in a tent. There was a wildness about everything I did, and I was obsessed with the weights of things.
Frequently I packed and unpacked my pack, eager to be heading out again.
I wasn’t coping with being back home, partly because we weren’t really at home, but staying with my kid’s father. Three cats and three adult-sized persons were inhabiting a small home and it was hard to move around since our stuff lined the walls, filled the garage, or was stacked in boxes around the bed.
I shared that bed with my child, not really a child, and the cats piled in too. My pack was beside the bed, and every night I pored over my hiking calendar, deciding how often I could stop, wanting to clear most of Virginia in 40 days. And I would have done it . . . I know I would have.
But practically, I began to also look at our housing options when I came back. Though I planned to move us closer to the college where I taught (and where my fifteen-year-old was also completing his first semester) it was clear that pickings were slim. The reality sunk in, that we had to buy a home, given that we had two cats and very little money for pet deposits and $700 monthly rents. A mortgage would be half that, provided we could find the right house.
Fortunately, a good friend of mine had been working on the perfect house, a petite cottage close to the college and just the right size. Its modest stature and sunny windows appealed to me, and so I began the difficult process of trying to buy a home.
As the first day of realization turned into the second day, I knew that this was the right thing to do, and that my child came first.
It was hard living with other people. It had been hard renting for a year while trying to sell my house that we had lived in for almost ten years. Here I was, preparing to commit once again to a house and mortgage, but for all of the best reasons.
It was time for me to accept that the trail would wait, but that my kid would not be fifteen forever. His success in college was partly dependent on my finding us a reliable, affordable home where we could stay until he finished school, and there was no reason to commute more than the ten minutes this little blue house was away from our school.
This morning I pulled all of my maildrop bags out the boxes so that we could organize the Epic and Clif bars by expiration date. My son agreed to go on a backpacking trip with me–the first ever for him–and there will be many day hikes. We will have plenty of snacks.
I have texted all of my hiking friends to let them know I will be home when they pass through the area, and I can shuttle them to town or take them to Trail Days.
I have told my Dean that I am around this summer so my work as a new Chair can begin in July, on schedule.
My kid and I are going to the beach with my aunt and uncle, the same beach my family has visited since my father was a child.
I am thinking about volunteering at The Nelsonville Music Festival so I can see George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, The Decemberists, Ani DiFranco, Tune-Yards, Wooden Shjips . . .
I will be able to work on preparing my manuscript for publication, deadline end of July.
Most importantly, I will be able to snuggle these cats:
Every day now, I go to my office and talk to loan officers and work on planning my classes.
I let go a little more. I know this is the right way to be.
The trail is wherever I put one foot in front of another. It is wherever I begin, each morning.
Tonight, while waiting and hoping that this house purchase goes through, I ponder which book I shall read first. For the first time in two years I am not reading about the trail, but instead choosing books from my shelf that I’ve wanted to read for months (or years).
When it is time, I will begin again. And fortunately, I will know what to take, what to leave, and where I’m headed.
Best of all, I will know that I have a home to come back to that fits two adult-sized persons, two cats, and an indeterminate number of books worth finishing.