Why I hike: taking the rest of the year “off”

Everything I’ve read about tackling a hike says you need to be very clear about your “why”. And let me tell you, I have a lot of whys:

– Why do I spend 6 months of my twenties in the woods?
– Why do I choose to hang out with black flies and mosquitoes instead of going to the beach?
– Why did I buy the bright orange trowel when I knew it wouldn’t match the rest of my equipment (rookie mistake)?

My family, friends, and people I talk to about the trail also have lots of whys:

– Why do you want to do this?
“Why are you crazy enough to do that?”
– …Just why?

No seriously, Jana, what’s your “why”?

A hike is hard to explain to people. When I told my dental hygienist I was going to be backpacking for 6 months, she waited a few beats, then asked if I would be camping on my trip. Realizing that I had obviously missed the mark in my explanation, I said “yeah, probably” and changed the subject.

And once people do understanding what you mean, it can certainly be difficult to explain your “why”, especially when you’re still working on solidifying it on your own. There is a very big difference between “What interests you?” and “Why are you doing this?”.

My “what” and my “why”

My “What interested you in that?” is easy. I love weekend backpacking trips. I love the outdoors. A friend told me about the Appalachian Trail. I watched a few videos. It sounded like a cool challenge, something unique, fun and exciting to do a few months out of college. My “what”, people understand, especially those who know me and know that I like being outdoors.

My “why”, I guess, is another story. Leaving an engineering degree and running away for 6 months instead of looking for the perfect job and settling down is hard to explain. But let me try.

I’m coming to the Appalachian Trail after finishing my engineering degree less than two weeks ago. I could write for days about the complex emotions I have around this engineering degree, but that could belong in a whole other blog. Instead, I’ll just say this: The school is awesome. I’m so glad I went to school. School is also very, very hard on physical, mental and emotional health and furthermore, academia, in my experience, has vast and serious systemic issues.

Soo… I’m glad I’m done. And I’m excited to be an engineer in the future. Like, really excited. But first, I’m excited to take a quick (ahem, 4-6 month) break from “status quo” expectations and “follow the Joneses” to do something different with my life path. And beyond that, here is a list of my other reasons for hiking.

peace and quiet

Being from the East Coast, I can conjure up the sound of the waves making on a pebble beach, as the water trickles through the cracks between the pebbles and the soft slapping and puffing of air bubbles are left in the wake. Mmm.

The sounds of nature are sweet. Sometimes terrifying (I’m looking at you creaking branches at 2am). But generally lovely. I hike to appreciate the small happiness that comes from feeling connected to nature and listening to the many active sounds around me, all signs of non-human life.

I also hike to appreciate the complete peace that comes from a lack of cell phone notifications – no emails, texts, alerts, nothing. No TV or Netflix. Just my own imagination, my thoughts and the sounds of life around me. In a world that is so full of distractions, I hike to enjoy some good times.

To be present

I’m so guilty of spending too much time thinking about the future. I always wonder what’s next, whether it’s a trip, a homework assignment, or a weekend activity. I read somewhere on the internet that it can be good for your happiness to plan for the future, but I’m also skeptical. While a Pinterest dream vacation board can be inspirational, for me it’s about being in the moment.

And since I don’t have a Pinterest page for the Appalachian Trail (missed opportunity?), that should be easy, huh? I’m not sure I can “turn off” my wandering thoughts. But hopefully a few mountain top views will shock my system in the moment and from there maybe I’ll start working on being more in the moment. I’m 6 months old anyway.

challenge myself

As if chemical engineering weren’t enough. But seriously, I’m a quintessential academic overachiever, and I’m interested in challenging myself in a different way now. No academic stress, no work deadlines, only physical and mental strength required. “Only”. I’ll get back to you on that.

Meet people

I am what is called an extrovert, maybe you know one. I LOVE being around people. I’m a sociable person. And super talkative. If there is a conversation, I thrive.

For this reason, I’m thrilled to have the shared topic of “hiking” to start a conversation with anyone on the trail. Better than starting every conversation with a weather story (is it a thing for everyone or just an east coast thing?).

And speaking of having things in common, I’m excited to meet other people who pursue adventure in life. These people always have the best stories and inspire me when thinking about what I want to do with my post-trail life (oops, we can’t “be there” all the time, I guess).

See the world

When I was a kid, my family took a lot of weekend trips to Atlantic Canada and New England. Heck, even if we weren’t traveling, we were either driving for a few hours to visit my grandparents or doing “Sunday driving” (looking for a playground, river hunting, looking for ice cream, looking for a petting zoo, inspecting the beach, whatever dad came up with that week).

I remember finding the absolute delight of stuffing my things into a backpack and piling them in the backseat of the car with my little sister, portable CD players in hand.

As an adult, I always like to move and seek adventures. I get restless if I spend too much time at home and get the greatest imaginable joy from seeing and trying new things.

For this reason, I try the Appalachian Trail to see and experience parts of the world I’ve never seen before. For the simple pleasure of traveling and seeing the world.

In summary

In short, my reason for hiking is simply that I want to. And our lives are too short to spend my entire adult life waiting to do something I want to do.

My start date is approaching, so stay tuned for my next trail update to see how I stay present exploring the world, soaking up the calm, rising to the challenge, and gently achieving my dream. ! In the meantime, check out my brand new Instagram @jana.v.world for more frequent trail updates.