"Where are you going next?"
"I'm hiking the Appalachian Trail. It's something I've wanted to do my whole life and I've decided that I will do it for my 30th birthday this year."
"When are you starting that? How long will it take you?"
"The trail is over two-thousand miles long, so it will probably take 4-5 months. I'm starting on the first day of spring this year, March 20th."
She put her hand on her stomach and gave me 'the eye', as only my sister knows how. "You're coming back in April for the birth of your niece, right?"
I hesitated in my response, not knowing how to express my desire to hike the AT without interruption (known as a "thru-hike") while also expressing that I loved my sister and respected whatever she considered important.
I mumbled something to blur my response. "Maybe. We'll see."
Over the next few days I thought a lot about my response. There was something about it that really bothered me and I couldn't figure out what it was.
I tried to listen carefully to what my heart was telling me. Should I go? Should I stay? Should I go and then come back for a week, letting go of the perfectionist in me that wants to complete a thru-hike?
I've always wanted to hike the AT without stopping, to complete a true thru-hike on my first attempt. (Out of the 3,000+ people who start the trail each year, only about 200-300 actually finish; it's a challenge I've dreamed of facing.)
Towards the end of 2011 I decided that 2012 would be the year I finally hiked the AT. I verbally mentioned the intention to several people, further cementing it into reality (I rarely talk verbally about doing things unless I'm serious about doing them).
I've been thinking about this adventure for nearly six months and every day now I look forward to being fully immersed in nature, waking up each day on the trail knowing that I will spend the rest of the day outside.
I've even been going on daily walks in the local state forest for the past few weeks, spending several hours each day looking up at the trees and imagining myself hiking on the AT.
While I was letting these thoughts sit with me, I received an email from a friends' paid subscription letter.
In the letter, the author shared something that happened to her recently: While in India, she received an email from her dad telling her that grandma was ill and probably wouldn't be with them much longer; he wanted her to fly back to the United States to be with them.
She wrote, "What really got me was the fact that my first thought after reading the email was, should I go or should I stay?"
I immediately realized that's what had been bothering me so much: the fact that I wondered if I should stay or go when my sister asked me to be there for her.
What made her decision difficult was that she already made plans in India: Someone she cared about was going out of their way to meet her there and suddenly leaving would affect that relationship. She felt that India was the place she should be.
But she had to decide: Should she leave India, the place where she truly felt she should be, or should she go back to the United States to be there for the emotional support of her family?
As I read my friends letter, I couldn't help but relate her situation to my own and I found myself jumping ahead and thinking, "She's definitely going to choose to go back to the United States."
To my surprise, I arrived at the end of the letter to discover that she decided to stay in India.
Was her decision the wrong decision? That's not for me to say or decide. What's important was that she made the decision that felt true to her being. As she put it, "in the end, the love I have for my grandma does not decrease just because I am not by her side".
Reading my friends decision to stay in India immediately helped me realize what I needed to do.
I was going to stay for my sister and delay the AT hike.
While I may have felt unclear about what to do initially, my subconscious knew exactly what my heart wanted. It knew it so well that it was projecting itself into my friends situation: If I was in India and my sister asked me to be there for her, I would've come back.
(Again, this doesn't mean my friends decision to stay was wrong: her life is not my life and she did what she felt was true and right for her in her life; I fully support that. The right thing to do is always that which feels undeniably true to you.)
I intended to start hiking in March because the trail, which starts in Georgia and ends in Maine, has sections that are closed during the winter. (It takes nearly six months to hike the entire trail, so you must start hiking in the early spring if you want to finish before winter.)
However, since my niece is due to be born towards the end of April, I've decided to start hiking the AT around the beginning of May. If that means I don't complete a thru-hike, or even if that means I decide to attempt the hike another year, that's fine.
This is something that's important to my sister and I care about what's important to her, even if I may not fully understand it. She never asks me for anything and what feels true and right to me is being there for her because she asked me to be.
I've built my lifestyle around the concept of freedom and I've created a life that allows for following my heart. But what's the point of all that freedom if I'm jailed by my own wants and desires, too selfish to share the fruits of my own freedom with those I love?
The Appalachian Trail will always be there but my niece is only born once.
This series of events led me to make several other decisions, including something that affects the AT hike altogether. It also affects the USA road trip that I had planned for the two months prior to starting the AT. I will share both of those decisions in my next journal entry.