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The Appalachian Thru-Hiker

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December 9, 2019

A dreamer looks at 35

There is something about birthdays that cause many people to become incredibly reflective on where they find themselves in life. I have never been one of these people. Even when I turned the big “Three-Oh,” an event I have seen bring a few others to tears, I simply saw another year pass. If anything, I probably spent a large part of my adult life not being reflective enough.

As I said, I have never been one of these reflective birthday types… In the past. When you are hiking 15-20 miles a day, however, you couldn’t stop reflecting if you wanted to. Every experience, every relationship, every feeling, every ancient smell comes flooding back, not in order, but in a blitzkrieg as you make your way up the trail.

When I look back on the full life I have led in my short 35 years, it feels almost as if I were a leaf constantly being blown this way and that without any sense of continuity. Every once in a while I would look around and think “Woah, I’m married,” or “Woah, I’m living in upstate New York,” or “Woah, I’m divorced,” or “Woah, I’ve been living in the woods for three months.”

Most of the time my head is down, powering forward to achieve some goal that seemed important at some point, only occasionally picking my head up to look around. This is not to say I have always been a drifter. When panic attacks began to take over my life I had been working for the same company for five years, and were it not for that jolt, I very well might have continued on for another 30 or 40 years.

Thank God for jolts.

You see, I am a dreamer, I have always been a dreamer, and I will always be a dreamer. There is only one thing that changes: the dream.

When I was a child, I had a tidy vision of how my life would turn out. I am now wise enough to know that there is no such thing as a tidy life, and if there is, you can keep it.

The truth is that most of us don’t even know what we want, much less how to get it. A few days ago I met someone from a town that sparked a 25-year-old memory.

When I was in elementary school we had to write a letter to someone. I don’t recall what the actual requirement was, be it a letter to a public figure, to someone who inspired us, or so on, but I remember I wrote the letter to Jimmy Buffett and addressed it to this town that triggered the memory. Now the letter probably went to some publicist or other representative and I would be shocked if Jimmy ever read it.

The point is, even as a child I wanted to be Jimmy Buffett when I grew up, and not much has changed. Except this: Now I have a better understanding of who Buffett really is, not just what he represents. And I still want to be him (if or when I grow up).

People are drawn to the Parrothead culture for the same reason they are drawn to hiking through the woods for six months or taking a cross-country motorcycle trip. Buffett, with his music chronicling the laid back life, with his seaplane excursions to have lunch in the Caribbean, with his philosophy of the endless party, appeals to our need to escape day-to-day drudgery.

But guess what? It’s an illusion. Buffett is one of the hardest workers there is. He is the duck that appears completely calm on the surface, but with legs ferociously kicking below.

If this is true, one might wonder why he is so happy. I don’t. I finally get it, after years of trying to figure out my own confusing behavior.

Buffett is having fun. It is truly not in our nature to be completely lazy, to relax all the time. That would be boring. The difference is that he is working hard toward a passion, when most of us must work hard toward someone else’s passion.

This is why, even though I thought I wanted to spend my birthday in my pajamas watching Netflix in a hotel room, I passed up every opportunity to do so and instead jumped at the chance to go for a hike on my day off from hiking, to go to a bbq, to meet new people, to do whatever came my way. This is why, even on a 2,200 mile hike across the Eastern United States, I can’t help but to write a couple books, to write articles online, to brainstorm new business ideas.

It is really in our nature to work hard, but we no longer have harmony in our work. Most of the harmonious trades have been taken from us one by one, leaving us instead working in ways that just don’t feel right.

We are out of tune.

There is, of course, still more to life than our work. These areas of my life are no tidier than the others, and yet I would still not have it any other way.

I may not have traveled as much as I would have liked, but I certainly get around. I may not have a hometown with friends I’ve known since kindergarten, but I do have friends all over the country, all over the world, and I make new ones every day. I may not have the beginnings of a family of my own, but I’ve had a blast trying and I have an amazing extended family.

I might as well continue on with the Buffett-isms, and if there is one fragment of lyric I would aspire to, it would be “living my life like a song.”

This I feel I have done. Taking chances has led me to all sorts of wild places and situations and has introduced me to all sorts of interesting people.

The legendary Andrew Carnegie did not believe there was any such thing as a trifle, but instead that every chance encounter on a train, or perhaps over a pint in a tavern, could alter the course of entire lives, entire nations even. It’s often said that good things aren’t just going to happen to you. To the contrary, this is in fact how many great things happen. But you do have to put yourself out there if you want something to happen. This, even in the most difficult days of my anxiety, I have tried to do and it has served me well.

I can’t wait to see what happens if I put myself out there tomorrow.

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