I am not afraid to die. Nothing in this world is lasting, including our bodies.
People often ask me if I’m afraid to hike the Appalachian Trail, as if I’m Dorothy headed into the woods with lions, tigers and bears—oh my! Yes, I understand that there are risks going out into unknown territory, but I am so stuck in my comfort zone right now that I bore myself. My life is starting to feel more cashmere than cowboy boot. After listening to David Goggins’ Can’t Hurt Me, I looked into my own accountability mirror and realized that what was once his truth is real for me now. What if I “am living in a life so comfortable and soft” that I could “die without ever realizing my true potential”? To me, that would be a true tragedy.
That being said, there is one fear that is starting to creep up in my reality. What if I don’t have the patience to pull this off? I’ve been told that nature’s secret is patience—a gene I apparently did not inherit. I’m so impatient that I get road rage just walking behind slow people at the grocery store.
Being impatient is a recurring problem for me in my life. For example, let’s just say you were to come over unannounced and take a sneak peek in my bedroom. You would find last night’s towel on the floor in my closet, a pile of sweaty gym clothes by the shower and makeup scattered across the bathroom countertop. You would wonder how I could write anything with a desk in such disarray, and the sheets on the bed would be crumpled in a messy ball. I’m pretty sure this trait comes from always rushing from one task to the next, like the Tasmanian Devil whirling through life leaving a trail of dust and disarray.
A couple of months ago, I tried to “Marie Kondo” my closet, but it turns out that the eight pairs of running shoes scattered about on the floor do “spark extreme joy” in my life and ,when I put them away, they always seem to end up back on the living room floor.
I’m a “Where’s my phone? Have you seen my keys? Did I leave my wallet in the car?” kind of girl. The sunglasses I’m looking for are always on the top of my head, and my hair is messy bun chic 90 percent of the time.
My mother tried to teach me to sew, and my daughter tried to teach me to crochet … all to their dismay. Building, puzzles, chess, cutting a straight line, gluing, stacking, sorting… forget it. It’s not going to happen. In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott claims that “perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people,” so I’m going to roll with that.
While backpacking does not require perfectionism, it does require an extreme amount of patience. You must be extremely thorough, because everything you need to live your best life for the next six months is strapped to your person. If you leave your raincoat to dry on a tree 20 miles ago, you are really going to be screwed when those rain clouds roll in and the temps drop 30 degrees. Forgot your lighter or matches? There goes your hot dinner you have been looking forward to for the last 10 miles. Dropped your spork? No soup for you!
My sport of running for the past 12 years has been put on your shoes and go, but hiking requires a slow, methodical heaviness, like a sloth sauntering through a river of peanut butter. Will I be able to slog through the famous mud in New Hampshire or endure eight days straight of rain? Will I be able to let the mosquitoes carry me off like a helicopter lift in the heat and humidity of the summer?
Then, there’s my body. I’m almost 50 for Christ’s sake, and I’ve had two surgeries in the past three years. Will I have enough patience to be kind to myself? To notice the symptoms, rest or even stop the hike if I need to? And finally, what if I get stuck hiking with someone who grates my nerves like Bill Bryson did in A Walk in the Woods—droning on about politics or religion, neither of which I have desire to analyze or argue.
Patience means to being able to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity. To wait. CALMLY. My biggest fear going into this endeavor is that my inability to slow the fuck down, be careful and deliberate, and to get my shit together in an organized fashion so I can do what I need to do.
I did not inherit the patience gene, but fortunately for me science shows that patience can be learned. According to a 2007 study by Fuller Theological Seminary professor Sarah Schnitker and UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, with two weeks of “patience training,” subjects were able to decrease depression and negative emotions, and increase mindfulness, gratefulness and an overall satisfaction with life. The patience training included:
1. Identifying feelings and their triggers
2. Regulating emotions
3. Empathizing with others
4. Meditating—or making yourself wait.
This is what patience training looks like for me:
1. (Identifying feelings and triggers) “Where the hell are my sunglasses? I’m always losing them. I’m such a fuck-up that I don’t even deserve to have a pair of expensive sunglasses.”
2. (Regulating emotions:) “Dude. It’s OK. You’ll find them. You always do. When did you see them last? Oh! You were about to get in your car. Silly me! They are on top of my head!”
3. (Empathize with others) “What? You can’t find your sunglasses? I do that all the time! Usually they are just on the top of my head!"
4. (Meditate—or make yourself wait:) “Slow down, take a breath, remember this is not a big deal. Carry on.”
There are also other ways I am practicing patience in my life to prepare for the trail.
1. At my coach Carly Moree’s suggestion, I put all of my trail equipment in one bucket so it is easily accessible. Brilliant! I’m also trying to put stuff away, to make my bed more often and to find routines that help me to be more organized.
2. I’ve been working at a running shoe store. I work four hours three times a week finding THE PERFECT shoe for my customers. This requires going back and forth between the showroom and stockroom, even going upstairs several times a day. I tie and untie shoelaces approximately 12-15 times an hour, and listen with genuine interest to peoples’ stories about marathons and bunions. When they ask me if I have the shoe in a different color, I don’t try to shake the sense into them—I show them how to order them online.
3. I carry my backpack every time I get a chance, even in snow and 12-degree weather. My neighbors think I’m crazy, but my dogs love it.
4. I meditate. I notice. I take the pause and remember all of the times I have come through both emotional and physical suffering. I remember my strong.
5. I plan, as much as I can … understanding that much of this will be out of my control.
Goggins would tell me to start realizing that dreams “will take courage you don’t realize, so you don’t die a fucking pussy.” Courageous patience will be my mantra all the way to Mount Katahdin.