Same, But Different

This is a bit surreal. I’m in Dahlonega, Georgia reflecting on what’s about to start tomorrow. Ten years ago, I hugged Jesse goodbye and left him my car, then flew to my cousin in Atlanta. Yesterday, I did the same. This time, I feel like there’s no reason to look out the car window on the way to the trailhead and wonder about myself.

I know myself. I know this road. It’s a walking road, step by step. It’s nothing unusual, just strolling, eating, and meeting people in their natural habitat. It’s rocks and dirt and water, and my brain telling itself stories. It’s listening to the sounds of the critters and making eye contact with strangers across the table. Listening, because we’re here together, and it’s now or never. Either this, or something else.

And so what. So I’m walking from Georgia to Maine. I could be raising a toddler or traveling with a rock band. I could have never left New Zealand. It happens to be this. I am a person who wants life to look this way, instead of that. I’m honored to be here and touched to be so well received. I’m ready to celebrate being alive.

10 years ago, I couldn’t sleep. I was with my friend and my cousin at a hostel, anticipating something big, something I doubted myself about, something that maybe wasn’t mine. Today I realize it’s all of ours. Or, more honestly, it’s none of ours. That’s a good feeling, underneath it all. We’re borrowing everything we’ve got, anyway. I remember climbing out of my bunk bed around 10pm last time, to go type up my expectations before I started the hike. That became a tradition on the other journeys. This time, I’m going to take inventory of what’s different.

  • I am less excited to eat all the Poptarts I want without gaining weight
  • I actually paid attention to how much my pack weighs (Base weight 12 lbs!)
  • I know that I have it in me to make it all the way to Maine, I also know that my people will still love me, if I don’t make it past Springer
  • I’m hiking in a dress! I like dresses, and if I’m going to wear the same thing for 5 months, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be something I like to have on.
  • I understand that the trail is for now, and now is what matters. 5 months does not feel like a long time.
  • I have come to understand that all guilt is self-inflicted, so it’s not walking with me.
  • I will not rush. I have time. If I move fast, it will be because it feels good.
  • I’m here to travel, and plan to take side trips like Ashville and NYC.
  • I’m going to play every guitar I come across.
  • I look forward to learning about the forest from the locals, as I pass through.
  • I’m not here to prove anything, I’m here to celebrate everything.

Then there are a few things which are very much the same.

  • I’m still supported by incredible friends and family
  • I’m still grateful for my health and choices
  • I still live and die for Harry Potter
  • I still look at thru-hiking as mostly an opportunity for eating
  • I’m still my mama’s daughter

Sara-Tide is here to send me off tomorrow. My amazing cousin, Jessie, picked me up from the airport and will be meeting me out on the trial in a few days to hike together. We are being hosted by my friends’ incredibly generous parents tonight in Dahlonega, and already, the trail magic is showering me. In the spirit of spontaneity, I decided at dinner tonight that I’m going to start the trail off as a run on the approach trail tomorrow. What the heck? When I was a teenager, a mentor of mine was running a restaurant that I waitressed at. We were busy as all get out, and I was suppose to leave to go sing with my choir. I told him I could miss it and stay, since we were packed. He said sternly. “You listen to me, Shayla. When life gives you opportunities, you grab them with your teeth! Get out of here, and go sing.” To which I said thank you and asked if there was anything I could do before I ran out the door. He said, “Just one thing, show me your teeth.”

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