In 22 days I’ll take my first steps on one of the most ruggedly beautiful and enticing backcountry trails in the United States: The Continental Divide Trail – a 3,100 mile backpacking trek. I’ve spent the past 2 years exploring and expanding my backcountry resume. In less than 24 months, I’ve logged over 3,500 miles exclusively on our nation’s extensive network of trails. Needless to say, I’m helplessly in love with nature and all things outdoors.
Many people think that to be able to backpack you must be young, strong, and healthy. This may be true, but not in the sense of the definitions you’ve been taught. A backpacker must possess these qualities, but on a different platform.
The ideal backpacker should be young… at heart. They should know how to let loose and gaze at nature with the wide-eyed wonder of a child. They should welcome the unknown and recapture the freedom that they once felt in their youth.
The ideal backpacker should be strong… with determination. They should know that self-encouragment and positivity are quintessential friends to have along on any journey. They must believe in themselves and have the strength to continue achieving progress.
The ideal backpacker should be healthy… mentally healthy. They should recognize the power that not only their words hold, but also their thoughts. Over 90% of hiking is entirely mental. The other 10% is physical. The mind is a beautiful thing; we have the power to achieve anything we set our sights on. Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien said it best, “It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”
I found my passion for backpacking after I had gotten diagnosed with cancer at the young age of 19. During that time, I had been through 11 surgeries in 13 months. It was sheer torture – in all sense of the word.
But my health issues go back further. Five years prior to my cancer diagnosis, I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury. I was in a coma, I had to re-learn how to properly read, I was bedridden for years and was unable to attend my Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years of high school. To this day I have a grocery list of persistent symptoms long enough to make even a personal assistant do a double take. My physical health has never been my “strong suit.”
At 20 years of age, I was tired of having my life being dictated around what I should and shouldn’t do. I was tired of family constantly checking in on me. I was tired of being perpetually sick. I was tired of listening to doctors tell me how to live. This was, after all, MY life.
I decided to set out on my own path. For years I had wanted to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. So I strapped on my backpack and tramped down the winding trail of exploration, imagination, and overall sheer happiness… and I haven’t looked back since.
Because of my ever prominent health symptoms, hiking does not come easy for me. On any given day I could have one or all of the following: blurry vision, vertigo, extreme fatigue, complete loss of hearing, numb mouth, and severe muscle spasms… just to name a few. But I’ve made a conscious decision not to let any of these things hold me back from doing what I truly love.
Backpacking is my passion. I refuse to fall back on the many legitimate reasons as to why some people say I “can’t.” I refuse to be defined by the suffocating constraints that people so readily want to place on me. I was given life so that I could LIVE – genuinely and wholeheartedly. Stephen Covey said, “Live life out of your imagination, not your history.” And as long as I’m living I intend to indefatigably follow his wisdom.
To me, nature is more than a wild, opulent wonderland. It is more than the dazzling alpine lakes and the rigidly enchanting peaks. To me, nature is my home. It’s a place where I can be myself without hiding my ailments. It’s a place where I can test my strength and endurance. It’s a place where despite the war sometimes raging inside me, I’m able to stand amidst such grand majesty and everything else simply fades away into the wind.
To me, nature isn’t strictly a place or location, but it exists inside each and everyone of us. Everybody possess the three backpacking traits: youth, strength, and health. But it is up to the individual to cultivate these valuable qualities.
I challenge you to dream big, despite what others may say. I encourage you to follow your passion, it’ll take you further than you’ve imagined. I urge you stop making excuses. We have the ability to not only overcome, but also thrive in our environment when we put our mind to it.
When situations seem daunting and you begin doubting yourself, remember the girl who’s walking across the length of the United States despite everything she’s been told she “can’t” do. Remember the girl who looks for the positive things in life, when often times it’s the harder route to take. But most importantly, remember that YOU are capable of anything you set your mind to… because just like hiking, life is also 90% mental and 10% physical. Now take my hand and we’ll roam with a freedom rarely seen.
Click “Follow” to join me on my journey of Continental Divide Trail… starting in 22 days.