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For some, the time between conceiving the idea to hike the AT and actually beginning to do so is a matter of months or even weeks. For me, it was at least a 20-year process!! (see 1: An Idea)  I mostly kept quiet about the idea at this point; my husband heard me voice and act on many other crazy plans during this time that it was best not to overwhelm him! I did, however, mention it occasionally and he has admitted that he didn’t think I was serious. After all, we were not backpackers and while we enjoyed hiking with the kids, they didn’t always share our enthusiasm. We jokingly took to calling our hikes “forced marches” (one daughter later confided that she was in college before she realized we weren’t saying “forest marches” which I think is actually a preferable name!). We had a tent and occasionally car camped, but that was about the extent of it, so there was no evidence to think that becoming a backpacker was truly on my “to do” list. 

And my literal “to do” list was lengthy enough! Family responsibilities were overwhelming at times. Everyone tells you how much having children changes your life, but it’s a level of craziness you adjust to slowly as it becomes your whole life.  The seemingly endless rounds of meals, school, after-school soccer/music/martial arts, meals, laundry, competitions, play dates, parks, friends, homework, school projects, pets, (did I mention laundry?) is a juggling act that takes most of one’s focus. Add to that part time teaching with its lesson plans, grading, reading, and preparing, and it’s not difficult to imagine why my plans to hike the AT were buried under the avalanche (glacier?) of everyday life.
During all this time, I had two longings. One was to go back to school to get my master’s degree so that I could embark on a full-time career. The other, of course, was to hike the AT someday. The career was my first priority of these, though even that needed to wait until my children were a bit more self-reliant. When my youngest daughter was small, her sibling’s birthdays would naturally prompt the question “when will it be MY birthday?”. It’s very difficult conveying the concept of ‘next summer’ to a four-year-old, and we would explain with a series of seasonal indicators: leaves falling, snow, Christmas, leaves returning, daffodils, and then roses to try to convey the idea of a long time to her mind.  I had a similar dilemma: “when will it be MY turn?”, and the answer seemed equally incomprehensible and lengthy.
There were many times I felt frustrated about not being able to pursue my dreams during these years, but if there is any advice my current self could give my then-self, it would be “relax”. Relax into what today holds. Look at it fully and store up its beauty and lessons to ponder in the future. Enjoy the soccer game, the bedtime routine, the fun but exhausting family trips, and especially the read-aloud times with the family in the evening. It’s hard to imagine, when you’re in the middle of it, how what seems like the only life you’ve ever known is really just a brief interlude in a bigger picture and that both the joys and the trials of it will seem like a distant memory so much sooner than you think.
The important thing I wish I’d realized is that nothing is wasted. I was worried about taking the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) since my own undergraduate years were distant, but my teaching responsibilities and reading to our own children prepared me surprisingly well for this test. My husband had an unexpected job change, accompanied by a distressing decrease in salary, just as I started back to graduate school, but he had regular hours for the first time maybe ever and was able to pick up many of the home responsibilities that made it possible for me to focus on school. 
So, school happened, and in 2011 I graduated from the Physician Assistant program at the University of Kentucky. I got a job with a neurosurgery practice and worked on learning my way around these new responsibilities as my family’s requirements continued but changed. My two oldest daughters left for college the first year that I graduated and my youngest two entered high school. My husband and I faced the added fun of teaching them to drive, watching kids enter the dating years, paying for college tuition, and other terrors of parenthood.
And, slowly, the avalanche/glacier of responsibilities began to recede. Waiting patiently beneath it was the crazy dream to hike the AT. It had not been obliterated or pulverized by those years, but it was polished smooth and glittered like the granite of the Appalachian mountains themselves. What could one do but pick it up and start turning the dream into reality? But I was at rather a loss; where on earth to begin? Stay tuned for Part 3!