First off, for those of you who subscribe to my blog and got the unintended teaser email about this post Thursday night, sorry for any confusion. I posted a password protected version to have a couple people proofread, and I had no idea WordPress would send a post notification out to everybody for that. Now I know. Haha.
Second: hopefully you have a few minutes, because it’s going to take you a few minutes to read through this.
From the outside looking in, I think most people would likely conclude that life is going pretty well for me. I’m a bachelor with a six figure salary. My job has fantastic benefits and time off. I own a house and have been able to remodel it over the last 4 years to make it my own. I could likely pay off the mortgage in 2021 if I wanted to. I have family relatively close. I have been able to get in a couple big backpacking trips each year for the last couple years. I have been able to put a lot of money towards retirement in the last few years. I started my own business in 2019 to try to start selling fine art prints at art shows. There are probably quite a few people who would like to be in this position. Why would anybody want to throw this away? And yet here I am on the cusp of doing just that.
Let’s rewind a little bit back to September 2019 when I read the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. The book is about Cheryl’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). After reading the book, I made this post on Facebook:
I didn’t really put much thought into it at the time for all the reasons listed in the opening paragraph. I also wasn’t quite sure if a big thru hike was for me. Little did I know the sequence of events that were about to unfold over the next year or so.
In early 2020 I had ads for Backpacker Magazine start popping up in Facebook, and after seeing the ads for a little while I decided to subscribe to the magazine. Not too long after I subscribed I watched an interview they did with Chris Burkard, who was photographing cover images for them at the time. After that I started to follow Chris on social media, which introduced me to the “Mountain and Prairie” podcast. This was shortly after I had started listening to the “Out Alive” podcast by Backpacker Magazine. After getting into those two podcasts I started listening to some other podcasts, with many of the podcasts having themes around hiking, getting outdoors, and chasing your dreams.
Then, in June 2020, I had an epiphany: I could attempt one of these long thru hikes if I really wanted. People with no backpacking experience had done them. People with less money had done them. People in worse physical shape had done them. There really wasn’t anything saying I couldn’t do it, other than the fact that it wasn’t the “expected” or “safe” path to follow, particularly for someone in my position.
However, I knew doing a long thru hike meant quitting my job. Although my job isn’t something I’m really passionate about, it’s so good that, even though I’m not passionate about it, quitting it was a huge drawback to doing the hike. Chances were quite small I would find something with the same pay and benefits post trail.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I could use the opportunity to make some big life changes. Although it would appear that life was great, that wasn’t the whole truth. Ever since college, whenever I have tried to go down a path I’m personally interested in, I have essentially had the door slammed in my face. Meteorology didn’t work out. Fire fighting didn’t work out. Fine art hasn’t worked out (although I’m not completely giving up on this quite yet). In addition, my social life has pretty much been non-existent over the last few years. Outside of some social events for work and a few dates here and there, I haven’t had any sort of social life. It has been quite some time since I could say I had any close friends. For the most part this hasn’t bothered me, but I think it has been wearing on me lately. Speaking of dates, I’m 32 and single, which gets me frustrated a lot of times. If I remember correctly, over the last 6 years, I have only had 8 dates with three different women. Some days I would like to have a significant other, but I know the chances of finding someone single, around my age, who doesn’t want to have kids, and isn’t a dog person, are ridiculously small. There are other days I’m not even sure I want to be married. So this has provided a lot of mental wear recently as well. Finally, I have loved living in OKC, but the smaller town lifestyle has become more appealing to me recently, so I would like to give that a try if possible.
So although I would be giving up a lot, I saw it as another opportunity to pursue something I’m interested in, and a chance to work on improving some other areas of life as well. After putting a lot of thought into it, I was leaning towards taking the risk of giving everything up and attempting the big thru hike. On Labor Day weekend 2020 I broke the news to my parents that I was thinking about all this. They were stunned/dumbfounded. They said they would support me if that’s what I wanted to do, but I’m pretty sure they thought I was crazy, and I’m not sure they thought I was really that serious about it. If they had votes, the votes would definitely be against me doing it. Ironically, that same weekend, my brother made some sort of comment about me never leaving Oklahoma City, at which point I broke the news to him I was thinking about this.
At this point, my plan was to hike a 164 mile stretch of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) starting right after Christmas as a sort of test/prep hike. I had learned about this trail earlier in 2020 while hiking the Eagle Rock Loop in Arkansas. If hiking the OHT went really badly and I decided that thru hiking wasn’t for me, I would scratch this whole idea. If it went well, I would put my notice in at work in January, which would give them time to plan for my departure and get someone trained to take my place before I left in April or June.
It wasn’t too long before I had a wrench thrown in my plan though. In late September, the company I work for announced a merger with another company that would likely close in January 2021, which would likely be followed by layoffs. I hadn’t planned to tell my employer about any of this until after my OHT hike, just in case I decided it wasn’t for me after that. However, I really didn’t want to wait until January/February to give my notice at work, and possibly have someone get laid off that would have stayed to take my place (or have people scrambling to adjust layoff plans last minute). I also knew there was a small chance, if it worked out right, I could volunteer to be part of the layoff and get a layoff package. It was definitely a struggle deciding what to do.
Then, in October 2020, I listened to a Hiking Thru podcast episode with Lani Advokat, in which she talked about the difficult conversation with her employer about deciding to do her thru hike. It was encouraging to hear someone else talk about that aspect of doing a big hike. Also, in early October, I got this email from Erin Outdoors:
Most certainly a mass marketing email, but it was like it was meant just for me. After both of these, I finally decided it was time to tell my employer, and pretty much commit to taking the risk and attempting the thru hike. In mid-October I broke the news to three people at work who would need to know to start putting plans in place. At that point it was pretty much a made decision, and it was just about getting plans in place to make it happen. Last week it was made public at work that I would be leaving. It was nice to finally get that out and not have to keep it a secret. Unfortunately, just a day earlier, I found out that a minor medical procedure was going to have to be rescheduled to when I was supposed to be hiking the OHT, so the OHT hike will have to be delayed. I’m hoping I can still get to that sometime in the next 3 months or so.
So, in summary, it was really a sequence of small events/nudges over quite some time that convinced me it was the right choice to make, and the right time to do it. I feel like it’s time for a change if I want to go down the path I would like to pursue. It’s honestly just as much about the opportunity for life changes as it is about the adventure of the hike itself. I relate a lot to these two quotes that I have heard recently:
“I know life is going great, and I could milk this for all it’s worth, I could milk this, this moment in my career where I’m kind of elevating. But if I don’t stop, and I don’t consider what I could do for the long term health, of not only me, but of my career, to do something meaningful…it’s in those moments of great success you have to learn to stop, and maybe even take a step back, and be like ‘What am I doing to sustain my own health?'”Chris Burkard – Rich Roll Podcast #554
All I need to do is be happy, be confident, and do the things for me. If I’m going to do something, it has to be just for me, and for inspiring others in a good way. And feeling that freedom, that opens my mind and opens my heart to reconnect why I’m a rock climber…The passion for what we love to do, our purpose in life, is stronger than any economic limitations, so money is not an excuse.Fernanda Rodriguez – “¡Venga, Venga!” – Dirtbag Diaries Podcast
Will this make sense to most people? I don’t know. I have actually been quite surprised by the positive reactions I have got from most people. There are definitely some days where I still question whether or not it makes sense to me though. It’s scary for sure. For someone who likes to have everything planned out, it’s quite scary to just “go with the flow” and go down a path with an unknown destination. I could look back on this a few years from now and see that it was the best decision I have ever made. I could also look back and see that it was the worst decision I have ever made. But in my gut, it feels like the right time and place to try it and take a leap of faith, and I’m going to hold onto the popular mantra of thru hikers that “the trail provides”.
Which trail am I going to attempt? I will be attempting to hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The CDT is a roughly 3,100 mile trail that goes between the Mexico and Canadian borders, sticking close to the Continental Divide. You can find out more about the trail here. You can follow me on my journey on my Facebook page or Instagram page. I will likely post some blogs leading up to the hike, but I’m not planning on blogging during the hike. If you would like some more insight into these long thru hikes, there are plenty of resources out there. The Homemade Wanderlust Youtube page, Elina Osborne’s Youtube page, and the Hiking Thru podcast are three of my favorites.
You can read more about my “why” for making this leap below.
- Adventure/Experience: I did a semester of study abroad in Australia while I was in college. Although there were plenty of bad days during my study abroad, I still look back on that experience and wish I was still there. I don’t see the bad days, just the amazing experience as a whole. Based on what I have read/heard from others who have done these long thru hikes, they are a very similar experience. Although there were some really difficult and bad days in the experience, pretty much everybody who has finished one talks/writes about it being a life changing experience (in a positive way). I’m totally up for another one of those types of experiences.
- Job Change: My job for the last 7 years has been great. I’m really good at it, I have worked with some wonderful people, and it has brought me to a fantastic place in life. However, it isn’t related to something I’m personally passionate about, and I’m not sure I can see myself doing it for another 25-30 years. As I mentioned earlier, essentially everything I have tried to pursue that interests me has hit a dead end up to this point. I’m hoping hiking the CDT will give me the opportunity to come across people who can connect me with job opportunities I’m interested in, and see if a different path works out after finishing the CDT.
- Location Change: Oklahoma City has been a wonderful place to live, and I rarely thought about leaving prior to coming up with this idea. It will always have a special place in my heart. Despite growing up in a very small town, I have always considered myself more of a city guy than a small town guy. However, over the last couple years, I have started to feel like I might like the more laid back lifestyle of a smaller town. As much as I have loved the city, I want to try going back to a small(er) town close to the CDT. I would be able to get out and do more (short) backpacking trips, I could be a trail angel (more on this below), and I feel like the lifestyle would be less stressful. This isn’t to say I won’t end up in another large city post trail, but all other things being equal, I would prefer to try the small town lifestyle.
- Friends/Community: This is the one part of life that really hasn’t gone well over the past few years. I have always struggled making friends. It was hard when my family moved to New Mexico. It was hard when I went to college. It was hard when I studied abroad. And ever since my group of friends fell apart back in 2014, I really haven’t been able to find any sort of solid support group. I’m 32, still single, and I can count on one had the number of women I have dated in the last 6 years, and on two hands the number of dates I have been on in that same time span. Most of the time I don’t really mind being a loner, but there are definitely times I wish I had a group of good friends. From what I can gather, the thru hiker community seems to be a great community to be a part of. I’m hoping that, during my hike, I can make some life long friends in this community. Granted, of the three “Triple Crown” trails, the CDT is by far the least traveled trail, so it will be harder on that trail, but hopefully I can still make a few great friends along the way. I’m also hoping, by moving closer to the mountains, that I can find and be a part of a community who shares a love for the mountains.
- Marketing photography: I spent most of the first half of 2019 preparing to start selling fine art prints of my photos at art shows, and started selling at shows in the second half of the year. I haven’t had much luck selling my photography at shows. I think a lot of that is because I started out with my prices too high, and by the time I was getting my prices to where they probably should have been to start, COVID hit. I also wonder sometimes if it’s just not the right market for it around here. I’m hoping this trip will allow me to get my photography in front of a lot more people who wouldn’t otherwise see it, and then have some opportunities crop up from that.
- Trail Magic Insight: Helping out hikers on these long thru hikes is generally referred to as trail magic, and people who do it on a consistent basis are often referred to as trail angels. If I’m going to totally upend my life, I would love to move somewhere close to the CDT (or possibly even the PCT), where I could take part in providing trail magic and give back to the hiking community. Doing a long thru hike myself would give me great insight on what some good ideas for trail magic would be. This would also be a great way to expand my connections in the thru hiker community, and possibly make some great friends.