Friday, July 30, 2010

The things we carry and the things we leave behind

I sit here at the gym on a stationary bike typing this post on my iPhone and I tell myself, "Na, I won't have a hard time leaving my old life behind to walk in the (relative) wilderness for over half a year."

I think I'm lying to myself.

But, truly, isn't that what a trip like this is supposed to be about? I go to discover for myself what it is I really need in life. My question is then, if do discover that I don't like living without my iPod and Egyptian cotton sheets and daily updates on facebook and twitter, does that make me a shallower person than people who gladly shed these modern conveniences for a more rustic lifestyle?

I'm not sure yet, but I'd like to think that our lives are not so easily defined by what we do or don't consume on a daily basis. I want this trip to be a real chance to explore myself, and to that end there are some changes I am planning to make because they suit my needs for the trip. I've committed to going the entire trip without makeup, a haircut or dye, and not plucking my eyebrows. I haven't yet decided if I will wear deodorant outside the cities, or if I will shave my legs or underarms.

To those experienced hikers reading, these seem like nothing decisions that aren't really what the trip is about. To those reading who would never sleep outside a night of your life, my last paragraph may have grossed you out of ever reading another entry. :) However, the joy I find in planning this trip is that I can be both emboldened and grossed out by the idea that I'll only be averaging one shower a week or maybe even every two weeks. That's what's wonderful about being human; we are not just feminine or butch. We are not just hygienic or un. We are a collage of all our life's experiences.

In this one lifetime we have the chance to experience many different kinds of living. I intend to try as
many as I can.

What about you? What is an experience you've always wanted to challenge yourself to?

Why I Walk

The hallway noises fill my ears, shuffling shoes of students lingering, walking as slowly as they can to their next class, the sound of a principal shooing people in with determination. I stand silently glowering, listening to my friend from the class across the hall fill me in on the latest gossip about me that she’s picked up from our once mutual friend. Life in a high school is one incestuous pool of friends, enemies, and former lovers you can’t seem to escape from. You’d think I was talking about the students, but high school teachers somehow always manage to imbibe the attitude of the surrounding teens and exhibit all their worst traits.

I’ve spent the entire year living down one bad decision, and that, paired with the continual dissatisfaction of feeling just average in a job that requires true self-sacrifice and almost superhuman power has led me to make a choice.

Quitting your job without a replacement is like jumping off a cliff when you can’t see the water at the bottom. You’ve seen other people do it, and you’re pretty sure you’ll be okay, but there’s always that chance that the tide will be out when you take the leap and you’ll end up shattered in a thousand pieces on the rocks below.

Only, instead of jumping off a cliff, I’m hiking through the woods, thru hiking the Appalachian Trail to be exact. Just like Thoreau before me, I want to go to the woods to see if I can find a way to live more deliberately.

I feel foolish the last weeks of school. I’ve put in my notice, and told everyone that I am leaving and where I am going, but I can’t help thinking that I might be a gigantic hypocrite. My students walk the halls with “Walden”, their summer reading, under their arms, and I spout about the joys of the outdoors and read them Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road”, but really I’m thinking more about what life will be like for six months without a working toilet or my Saturday trips for coffee and croissants.

Sometimes I feel like I am just running away again. Running from failed relationships and friendships and jobs. I feel so average sometimes that, like my students who mess up the beginning of their essay, I want to just shout out to whoever is out there calling the shots, “Hey, it’s Niki, I messed up this life. I’d like a do over please.” I want that clean slate. And, I wonder actually if there is anything wrong with that. Everyone is entitled to a few fresh starts, and who am I to knock nature as a great place to get one. I have some pretty reliable precedent to back up my plan, if Thoreau and Whitman and Frost support it.

So, I walk. I walk to free myself. I walk to find myself. I walk to see if the place worth walking to is really someplace I’ve been all along. I intend to write about what I see and what I learn. Sometimes what I write will be simple anecdotes of who I meet and what places I go. Sometimes it will be complaints of how tired I am and wonderings about whether I was crazy to start this. Mostly, it’s for me, but if anyone else has ever felt lost in a place you know better than the back of your hand, I encourage you to read, and to share your thoughts as well.