Why I Spent 2 Weeks in the Forest Before Moving to the Desert
Originally posted July 19, 2016 on my tumblr.
I move to Casablanca at the end of July. If you glance at your calendar, you will notice that this is soon.
Logistically, preparing to move is a complicated and busy time, especially when moving to a new country. There’s packing to do, errands to run, people to see, and emails to send, among countless other tasks.
And yet, due to wisdom or procrastination or a mix of both, I left my to-do list behind and spent June 30th to July 14th hiking 148 miles of the Appalachian Trail. At times, I felt guilty about how much time I was “wasting” before my departure, but overall I believe that two weeks alone in the forest were the best preparation that I could possibly have undertaken for the upcoming challenges of the move to Morocco. Here is a list of lessons from the AT that I expect will serve me well.
1. I don’t need things.
In Morocco, I will only have as many possessions as I can fit into a suitcase. That doesn’t sound like much, but hey, I just went two weeks living out of a backpack. If I have the basic items necessary for survival and a couple of good books, I have plenty.
2. I can be uncomfortable and still be happy.
Whether it’s due to insect bites, muscle soreness, blisters, hunger, sunburn, or just the whole privy situation in general, you encounter a lot of discomfort on the Appalachian Trail. But these moments feel trivial compared to the overwhelming sense of well-being I get from a good adventure. Moving to a new country, especially with an unfamiliar language, inevitably involves some physical and emotional discomfort. But I can endure it and still have a positive experience.
3. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is the honest-to-God truth.
I’ve done a lot of day hiking, but until this spring, I had slept outdoors on two occasions in my whole life. But I bought some gear, crammed it into a backpack, and started walking. My first weekend out, I joked with a thru-hiker that I wouldn’t know it if my tent was upside-down. Inwardly I knew it was not a joke at all. (The rain fly, it so happened,was upside-down.) But through trial-and-error, studying others, and asking questions, I learned the ropes. At some point during my last section, I noticed that my false bravado had been replaced by real confidence. I’m moving to Morocco without much expertise in the language or the culture, but I know that if I’m observant and persistent, I can get the hang of things.
4. Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely.
Even when you set off from the trail head by yourself, you’re never really alone on the Appalachian Trail. In normal life, making small talk with strangers intimidates me more than bears or rattlesnakes, and at night on the AT I am tempted to zip myself inside my tent and avoid other people. However, there’s something about a campfire that helps me overcome my shyness. I had interesting conversations with people of many different ages, backgrounds, and origins, and in several cases, I wished that we lived closer so that I could really know them in “normal life,” instead of only in this brief moment that our paths overlapped. I’m moving to Morocco alone, but Casablanca is a city of millions of potential friends. I hope that I can find my “campfire courage” and talk to people and build new relationships.
5. I can feel good without looking good.
It’s bizarrely refreshing to look gross and smell gross and just own it. I keep a relatively low-maintenance appearance in normal life, but I am still accustomed to looking at myself in the mirror and finding things to critique. On the trail, I only have one outfit, my hair is a cloud of frizz, I smell rank, and none of it matters because I feel great. In Morocco, I will maintain good hygiene because of workplace proximity to other humans and all that, but I should focus more on how I feel, and less on how I look. Like so many people, I spend way too much time disliking my body. But on the last full day of my trip, I hiked 20 miles. Not only that, I was racing the clock to arrive at the camp store before it closed, so I hiked my last five hours without stopping. Forget attractiveness, my body is an awesome machine. In Morocco, if I get negative about my appearance, I need to shift my focus to athletic endeavors. The AT showed me that if I achieve a physical goal, my perspective changes from hating my waistline to admiring my legs and my lungs for what they can do.
6. Caution is essential, but fear is irrational.
I think I will do an entire blog post about fear, because that is something that I am still wrestling with. But at least on the Appalachian Trail, there is no cause for fear. I don’t say this to sound brave; I admit my spirit animal is probably a chicken. I’m afraid of bears, mice, spiders, heights, norovirus, and talking to boys. When you’re a pansy like me, but for some inexplicable reason you like backpacking and traveling, you are forced to face your fears a lot. On this trip, I encountered a lot of scary things, like bears and rattlesnakes and mice and spiders and attractive guys, but I survived! And as long as I used caution and common sense, I recognized that there was no real need to be nervous in the first place. In Morocco, I will use caution and common sense to avoid dangerous situations, but I hope to recognize that most of my fear is exaggerated or unfounded, and I can’t let it stop me from being adventurous.
I learned a lot of other lessons on the AT, such as not to throw rocks at rattlesnakes and the fact that skunks come in a wide variety of patterns. But these six are the biggest ones that I will try to take with me in two weeks when I get on that airplane. I am so grateful for the opportunity to hike before my move, and I look forward to the day when I can walk the 90% of the trail that remains after my 2016 section hikes. Now I turn my attention to packing, to the future, and to Morocco!