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Guilt. Do you feel it, leaving for 6 months to walk in the woods? To leave your family while going on this very unnecessary adventure? I have it, and it is strong.

It seems like every week that brings me closer to hiking the Appalachian Trail, I experience a new emotion that takes over my psyche. Excitement, anxiety, apprehension, fear, anticipation…well this week, 50 days til I depart, my mind landed on guilt and it is staying here a little longer than I would appreciate.

The sources of my guilt can be categorized into five categories and ironically, this is all self-inflicted and I cannot seem to shake it. Thank you psyche, I can see that you will be a friend of mine during those long dark nights on the trail.

Numero Uno: My Job

Employment for me has not gone as planned since I graduated college. In 2017, I started my first job as an occupational therapist in a skilled nursing facility (nursing home). I planned to stay there until I hiked the Appalachian Trail. Fate would have it that I would be laid off 8 months into employment and have to find a new job. I did, at a subacute rehabilitation hospital. Great, I will stay here until I hiked the Appalachian Trail. Fate then said nope and my boyfriend of 5 years was forced to move 4 hours away for a smart career move. We did the math together (of time apart before and during the AT) and found that if I did not come with him, we would be apart for 1 ½ years…and thus I needed a third new job.

Now here I am working in assisted living. In the beginning, I hated the change and was happy that I hated it. Why? Well that made the leaving for the Appalachian Trail so much easier! But as time marched on, I started to really enjoy the pace of the work, my co-workers and the opportunity to really better myself as an occupational therapist. The turnover at this facility is fairly high and they constantly ask us (no joke) if anyone is leaving. “We like this team so much, we hope no one leaves anytime soon.” Drat. 
I am a people pleaser and I really am dreading handing in my 1 month notice, especially because I have only worked there for 6 months. Part of me feels like I owe it to my company to be a good employee and stay because they have been so good to me. But I do remind myself,  I am not owned by my company and my personal goals are just as important as my career goals. Does my resume look good with all of the moving around? No, my resume does not reflect longevity, however as a 25 year old, I imagine that I will be able to find another job SOMEWHERE at SOMETIME in the future (well at least before I retire, right?)

Numero Dos: Family

Some of my family members are sad that they cannot join me, either because of their job or their health. I would love to postpone this trip if it meant that I could do it with them but realistically, that may never happen. I also feel very guilty knowing the grief they would go through if something were to happen to me, and the anxiety my mother will feel the moment I step on the trail to the moment I step off. For this, I have no current solution.

Numero Tres: My Boyfriend

The main reason why I am starting in April and not March is because his birthday falls at the end of March. I will celebrate his birthday with him, and then leave for 6 months. He is my partner in crime, my roommate, and my best friend. He genuinely feels that his life and our life together will be put on hold until I finish the AT. He does not see this 6 months of living alone as an opportunity for self-growth. We have been long distance before when studying abroad and summers between college but somehow this seems different. I will not be able to stay up late texting him when I need to conserve my battery for emergencies. My family most likely will not change in 6 months but he might, I might. I feel guilty knowing that I am the one putting stress on our relationship.

Numero Cuatro: Money

I have been saving for the AT since 2017. Like seriously saving money. I was able to put away 10% of my paycheck every pay period resulting in some serious cash. I have a good start in life. I could pay for a wedding, a down payment of a house, pay off student loans, etc etc. But instead I am taking a very unnecessary 6 month unpaid vacation. I worry that I will be putting myself behind financially. I feel guilty about money. Is this hike a waste of money? If I wanted an adventure, couldn’t I just go to Europe for 2 weeks? But I don’t live to work, I work to live. Hiking the Appalachian Trail might sound ridiculous to most but this is how I choose to live my life. For the past two years I have only watched my bank account grow and it will hurt seeing it diminish as the hike goes on, but I just have to keep reminding myself, you saved this money FOR THIS HIKE, FOR THIS PURPOSE and that it couldn’t have been better spent anywhere else.

Numero Cinco: Health

As a young healthy female who realistically can live a long healthy life, I do have to ask myself if the risk to my health and well-being is worth the adventure. Yes, I could die on the trail and possibly have lived a lot longer if I had not hiked it. My joints and finger nails are all intact. Yes, without proper preparation and prevention, I could really damage my back, knees, hips, (and have a lifetime of pain) and lose a plethora of toe nails that never grow back. Oh and feet, feet tend to grow larger on the trail and they often do not go back. I probably will have a goodbye party for all my shoes I most likely will not be able to wear prior to hitting the trail. Lyme Disease is a very real possibility, this scares me most because the medical field seems to not truly understand the disease. Other hikers have admitted to contracting West Nile Virus and developing cavities (but I love my teeth!) due to the sugary snacks that are consumed for convenience coupled with less than optimal dental hygiene.

I do feel guilty about putting my body in a tough situation when I could live in my current bubble for a while longer. For the hypochondriacs out there, that last paragraph probably really freaked you out however it is important to recognize that hiking in the woods has risks. But take it from a girl who has spent the last three years in the medical field that nothing is guaranteed, even your health. Expect the unexpected and learn how to cope with “surprises.”

I take comfort in the quote by Hunter S. Thompson, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

I have said the word “unnecessary” a couple times during my post. It is what I bet most people want to say when I tell them my plans and I see their faces scrunch up trying to understand my reasoning. I have found that it is more difficult for older adults to understand, the generations that wasted nothing, who worked at the same companies for 40+ years and who sacrificed everything for their families. Why are you doing this? I have a whole list of reasons that I could go into but that would take days to cover. My latest great response? What would you do if you were 25 again?

I do feel guilty that hiking the Appalachian Trail. It somehow feels selfish. But I do know that I will feel more guilty and remorseful for never having tried it, for never allowing myself an opportunity to live out a far out dream and take part in a wild adventure.