The Beginning of the End

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

cropped-ourlifelogs_isotype4

| This is the 258th story of Our Life Logs |

My eyes followed the long, winding road ahead of me. I was only about 70 miles into the Appalachian Trail (with about 2,100 to go). No way in hell was I going to make it.

I walked off the trail, hitchhiked to the nearest town, and abandoned the adventure.

Quitting often means you’ve failed at something, but for me, this was like turning over a new leaf. Now, quitting isn’t exactly a habit of mine, or even something I endorse, but I will say that giving up meant gaining a lot of confidence.

Let me explain.

Mountain Divider.png

I should probably start at the beginning. I was born in 1971, and almost every year of my early life, I moved somewhere new, wherever my poor, single mother could find cheap or free housing for us. There were the swamps of Florida, the chaotic streets of the Bronx, the withering heat of Texas—the list goes on. Traveling was part of our routine and felt as natural to me as breathing. I suppose a childhood of fresh starts set me up for wanting more, always in search of the next attractive place.

By the time I was studying French in college, my taste for travel became a craving I couldn’t satisfy. And really, I felt like I’d experienced the US as much as a person needed to. So, I started signing up for any study-abroad trips I could, resulting in spending my semesters in Switzerland, Holland, and France.

Me (left) with my brother and a family friend.
Me (left) with my brother and a family friend.

I didn’t go to gawk at the tourist sites, because, while they were interesting, they weren’t as fascinating as the locals, the ebb and flow of the people. Each time I was in a new place, I counted it as home, finding part-time gigs and any volunteer work I could get my hands on.

In this way, I began a sort of collection of memories. Experiences. Life. Instead of a scrapbook with pictures of me in front of the Eiffel Tower, I have the gentle recollection of an Easter picnic in Parc Sceaux, the sweet, pink-blooming trees above myself and a beautiful Portuguese girl. I have the hindsight of the night in Vincennes when I thought it best to sleep in the moat of its chateau after being locked out of my hostel. I have the faint blur of morning commuters shuffling through their routines etched into the back of my mind.

Me in Paris, 1991.
Me in Paris, 1991.

When undergrad was said and done, I was not ready to stop exploring—and to be honest, I never had the practice of staying in a place longer than a couple of years. So, in 1996, I joined the Peace Corps. I told them I had no preference as to where I would serve, and with that, I was sent to one of the poorest areas of the world: Mali, West Africa.

Mountain Divider.png

Mali was no Paris, that’s for sure, but it’s where I learned to serve others. I lived in a mud hut. I had an amazing host family and age group. I never ate alone. I had not one second to myself. I did yoga and meditated every day. I had no calendar, watch, keys, or mirrors. I got malaria, schisto, blasto, leishmaniasis, and TB. I saw all the constellations. I saw babies die. While helping with resource management, I was able to see how fortunate I was. I could pack up and go on to the next place that attracted me. Many of these people could never afford to leave.

In the years following Mali, I went to many other countries including China and the Republic of Georgia. I started volunteering with AmeriCorps, and was sent all over the US. I went to New Mexico to teach on Navajo Nation, Texas to help shelter struggling Latinas. Wherever, they needed me, I went, ready for the latest adventure.

Eating good food in the Republic of Georgia.
Eating good food in the Republic of Georgia.

In 2005, I was called to aid survivors when Hurricane Katrina hit the southern US. This was where I learned about loss. As I was walked the streets of New Orleans, I could look in any direction and see a building obliterated by the storm. People’s houses, their livelihoods, all swept away in a matter of hours. It was horrifying, but also unnerving to think that just like that, a person’s necessities, keepsakes, maybe even their lives could be wrenched away from them without warning. It shook me to my core, and made me realize how short life could be.

But as it goes, I began to feel that itch again, the desire to go somewhere new, somewhere better than here. Like many times before, I went. I wound up overseas in Korea as a teacher for a few years. I taught the children, I made the memories, and I began planning for the next big thing.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2006.
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2006.

But I was getting older. My body began showing its age. I’d already been so many places, I felt like I was just rehashing old trips just to go somewhere, and it was beginning to take a toll on me. I started wondering if maybe I should settle down and stop traveling as often. But what would I have if I didn’t have travel? The idea of being sedentary made me feel useless, so I decided to give one last hurrah, just to prove to myself that I could still handle grueling trips.

Mountain Divider.png

In 2010, I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, but by this time, I was nearing 40 years old. I guess you could call this decision a result of a mid-life crisis. Whatever. I had never been an outdoorsy guy, but I had read the stories of people who, when alone with their thoughts in the wilderness, had experienced spiritual insight from a retreat into nature. I was hoping the hike would help me find some clarity with my travel dilemma. And so, I started preparing for the six-month journey.