Yes! Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!
…Rosalind Russell, perf. Antie Mame. Warner Brothers, 1958. Film.
Time to Start Living…
Why hike for five months? Out in the wilderness — with no bathroom!? While I am not going to journal all of my reasons, hopes and mental insights for the world to see, I will share the following – once – no questions allowed about the “why” thereafter.
From the time I was in middle school, I wanted to be a lawyer — wasn’t quite sure what that entailed, having no lawyers in the family, and nobody who had even graduated with a degree in my family, but was somehow determined to do it. I joked that I was going to Harvard. This joke particularly irritated my grandmother who advised that I stay in Spokane, go to a small local college and get a good solid office job because that was the sensible thing to do (the irony of this advice will be clearer below). She predicted that if I went to some fancy university away from home I would go broke and come back home in a year.
I was determined to do exactly the opposite of her “good advice.” Having no money to fund even undergrad, I put nose to the grind early and made sure grades and scores were top notch to help get scholarships and grants to defray some costs, and worked after school and during summers to raise money. And then yes, I too started to sign the dotted lines allowing me to take loans to make up the rest of what was needed for tuition and living. Made it to Seattle University (some fancy university away from home) and, though predictably broke, I did not come home in a year — I ate lots of ramen noodles and kept going. In practicing for the LSATs, I realized that Harvard could actually become a reality. Got into Harvard Law (yes, another fancy university away from home) and signed more dotted lines to obtain another mountain of student loans to eventually pay off despite receiving grants, scholarships and income from working all through high school, college and law school. Never backpacked across Europe or even took a Spring Break trip – always worked extra over the school breaks – always had to. Nevertheless, I started my (first?) career with the equivalent of a home mortgage with no home. And guess what? (I know this will come as a real shocker.) Not at all satisfied…. Loved my clients, loved the intellectual nature of the pursuit, loved being in court, loved arguing. But, as all too often happens, every other part of what makes me me suffered. And the worst part is — I let it happen.
After providing care for my grandmother for three and a half months and watching the process of her passing away, I realize that my life does not even come close to having most of the experiences that colored hers. Growing up with my grandparents, my sister and I were often treated to a walk down their memory lane — a lane that included traveling and living around the world, growing up during the depression, surviving multiple wars, retiring and traveling the U.S. some more (my grandfather’s favorite travel song — “On The Road Again” of course — thank you Mr. Nelson!) all while actually having a lot of love and a lot of laughs to look back upon. By contrast, while I have lived in several crazy great cities (Seattle, Boston, Chicago, New York) and work traveled to so many, many others, I never had an opportunity to truly enjoy what those places had to offer as I was usually struggling to simply pay off my debt, pay exorbitant rent and bills, pay even more for the licensing and mandatory continuing education required for the pleasure of practicing my profession, and try to grab a trip home to Spokane, WA every once in a while to see my family, usually while still having ridiculous amounts of work to do while on “vacation”. While I do not regret the experience of my (first?) career, I am looking for something new — something a bit…more.
Now, I am debt free! Mind you, I have no assets and did not “invest” in an actual home mortgage, marriage or babies, but I also have no debt. I sold most of my belongings and scraped together a little savings to move back to Spokane to help with my grandmother’s care and after she passed to take time to put a little life back in my life. Yes — I am temporarily back home — but not in the way my grandmother feared, or perhaps in all of the ways she feared. After all, I have not and am not doing the “sensible” thing — yet again. But I know it is the right thing – for me – for now. I needed the three months with my grandmother, and will never regret spending that precious time with her. I am glad that I was fortunate enough to have been a penny pincher over the years to enable me to do it. And I miss her. Terribly.
But, I also came back with the intention of embarking on a new adventure. My (first?) career forced me to see a lot of death of people I had come to admire and love. And then my grandfather died. And then my father, unexpectedly. And now my grandmother. And from this I know we should try to get the most out of time we are given here. After years of envy for those experiences that really enriched my grandparents’ lives, I do not regret the decision to regroup and get a few of my own experiences from which I can look fondly and hilariously back upon and pull from in times of need.
For years I have had my nose stuck in books (and the web) for my escape –living vicariously through the stories, whether true, historical or totally fictitious, of others who were brave (or foolish) enough to set aside their ordinary or expected work-a-day lives to go on a journey. Journeying across the West was naturally exciting to me having been born, raised and lived more than half of my life here. It is home to and yet remains so unexplored in any meaningful way by me. What better next life adventure than to hike the beautiful western U.S.? So, that is what I will do. I will hike approximately 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail starting in April. It will, in all likelihood, kick my ass. It will take me a full five months if not more. My feet will never be the same. But I am going to do it anyway. Why? Because that’s what I do.
Most people, my family included, can think of “better” ways to spend one’s time. As another long distance hiker said in her writing — they will simply never understand. Never understand that the journey — and all it entails, both enthralling and punishing — is a test and a reward. It is not simply about traveling — it is about immersion, a different way of living, a different way of surviving. It is a type of journey often enjoyed more after the fact, and endured more in the present. Moreover, it is not intended as a journey of “self discovery.” I am not confident that I will find some hidden inner-self secrets along the way and even if I do, most of the personal stuff that I do experience will be something that, while I may someday reveal, will not be revealed yet — and not here.
I am confident that I will see amazing places, meet amazing people and challenge myself in new, exciting, excruciating, absurd, comical and ultimately entertaining ways, all of which will be fodder for this journal. And if someone can live vicariously through my journal as I have lived through many others’ before, then I will be quite satisfied.
As my grandmother said many times regarding her own life, we never had any money but had a lot of love, a lot of laughs and, overall, the good times far outweighed the bad. Will I be able to say the same? I hope so! So I am taking the time to live …for now.
One thought on “Why Do This?”
Beautifully said. Perfect.