I read a lot. And this year I’ve been devouring books depicting the exploits of various thru-hikers and adventurers. Grandma Gatewood on the AT, Cheryl Strayed on the PCT, Erling Kagge in the sewers beneath New York City. Each hiker’s story, though often on the same trail, is an entirely different experience.
I’m currently reading Thirst by Heather “Anish” Anderson. I’ve only just started it—about 70 pages in—and already it’s hit me hard a few times. This morning I read about her arrival at Hiker Heaven in the Angeles National Forest. For context, I’ve read many accounts of this same moment in time as experienced by other hikers. But something in Anish’s description laid me out. I exploded into a fit of uncontrollable weeping. I had to scoot my toast aside to keep my English muffin from absorbing my tears.
Anish writes well, but it wasn’t her poetry of language that made me swirl. Nor was it any particular emotionally-charged detail that got me all choked up. Frankly, her arrival at Hiker Heaven was largely uneventful. She walked up to the tent-laden yard, was warmly welcomed by the famous Trail Angel hosts, Donna and Jeff Saufley, who then took her under their wings to show her the shower, the kitchen, where she’d sleep, and all that. Pretty benign, right? Well, what got me was when Donna Saufley leaned in and told Anish, “We’ve been waiting for you.” Even reimagining this exchange as I type this makes me all misty.
We’ve been waiting for you, is about as good as a greeting can get. It’s something akin to, I’ve got you, which is the sort of statement required for me to take that first step towards letting go. It’s the first step towards trusting that someone else actually and genuinely cares about me. The first step in me giving myself over and into their care.
For me, this letting go is really fucking hard. The fact that I regularly lose my shit in simple moments like this tells me a lot about the sort of baggage I’m still trying to unload.
My knee-jerk response to this emotional floodgate is to reflect on my past and promptly blame my upbringing. To criticize my parents for giving me too long of a leash while not dishing out the guidance and mentorship I craved. For not celebrating the small moments of my young life that needed celebrating. For exposing me to adult things before my little brain was ready. It would be easy to point fingers and blame my folks for this crucial gap in my adult wiring. But that’s the easy way out. And though these factors are all worth acknowledging, they are not the drivers of my adult life. At least they shouldn’t be.
There’s so much to unpack here—My challenges with trust, my yearning for some semblance of perceived control, for attention, my dire fear of failure or being judged or people witnessing who I really am. Gah! Baggage galore!
But for now, I’ll just scoot my book to the side and cry. Let it all out. Because that needs to happen before any sort of healing can occur. And after it passes, rather than try to make sense of it all, I’ll instead make room for gratitude. Take note of my fortune, my privilege, to have so many people in my life who assure me, with their selfless and ongoing actions, that they’ve got me. Like, for real.
And also grateful, too, for the work I’ve done that allows me to start letting them in.
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