So I left you all with me, right where I wanted my career to be, driving around in my “Paramedic Supervisor SUV”, being the EMS chief of a small fire department, working my butt off in “pre-med” college classes, and wondering why I was still unhappy. In hopes of finding the answers to life I looked to nature. I began hiking more and more, with my first over night trip since high school (the trip to the Great Smokey Mountains I had mentioned in the last post), being to the Allegheny National Forest (ANF)………….in the middle of December……… during the coldest week of the year. Admittedly, this was a lapse in judgement and maybe an overestimation of my abilities. Either way, I planned the trip (or so I thought) and it began, I packed an old pack that didn’t fit me well with about 40 pounds of useless stuff and set off for the mountains. After the 3 hour drive to the ANF I found myself in a driving blizzard with maybe two feet of snow on the ground and I couldn’t see two feet in front of my car. However in my infinite wisdom I decided to set off anyway. After several hours of hiking through what ended up being hip deep snow in places, I realized that I was not only waist deep in snow, but I was in way over my head. Not only was this a sobering moment for my pride, but also what could have been very life threatening! I realized at this moment that I wasn’t going to make it to the top of the mountain that I hoped to climb, and I better stop for the night and regroup my thoughts and ideas. I found a clearing with minimal snow, set up my tent, made a fire, and froze for the night. I realized quickly, even with all the weight I brought, very little was useful to me. The next morning I “woke up” shivering after a sleepless night, packed my stuff and started the slow hike back to my car… yes in theory I failed the hike, but that failure not only humbled me, it pushed me and inspired me to dig deeper into backpacking!
Now, when I came home, and back to work, several events sealed my fate in a way. The first was my grandmother passing away; admittedly this had been expected for sometime, but it still struck me in an odd way. It wasn’t necessarily just sadness for her passing that I felt, but also a finality to life. I know this may sound odd coming from someone who, with no exaggeration, deals death on a daily basis, but with work we tend to disconnect ourselves from our patients. This may sound harsh, but it’s an acceptable coping mechanism for most medics. Admittedly, there was no disconnecting myself from her death. The next event was work related. (I won’t make this past about work stories. Granted that is a big part of my life, and maybe the content of later posts, but not this one. Also, See the note below at the end of this post in reference to this*) The patient was a 23 year old teenager who was literally in the wrong place at the wrong time (this was a rare occurrence in the city, usually if you were shot it was because you wronged someone in their eyes, or were caught up in something you shouldn’t have been involved in). He was also driving a vehicle that was too much like that of a local alleged drug dealer, and unlucky for him, a alleged rival dealer, was also in the area. He ended up being shot multiple times, and it was my responsibility, and that of several others that responded with me, to get him to the hospital alive. Now, without getting into too much details, up to this point in my career I had worked on multiple shooting victims, and patients in very sad situations; I had almost always been able to find away to disconnect myself from them, because it was important to for the patient. However, for some unexplained reason this time was different. I experienced something that many “older” medics experience later in their careers, this patient reminded me of myself, and also showed me the finality of life. After these two events I found myself wanting more in life, and saying to myself that there has to be more to life then just working and paying bills. I found that the only thing I could think of was learning more about backpacking. I looked up blogs and watched countless Youtube videos. I searched for “experts” and gear that could help be more effective. I also began taking more and more day hikes in different places, an set a goal to see the highest point in all 50 states. While searching youtube, I found the first person to inspire me on this journey, even though I didn’t realize at the time. This was “Dixie” from Homemade Wonderlust. She had hiked the Appalachian Trail several years ago as her first ever backpacking trip. I found this so interesting, and realized that I have had several run ins with the AT in my life (as I mentioned in my last post). I began to binge watch her series of videos following her hike, and all I could think was how cool this would be. However, then my “good sense” took over and I thought, “well what about my career?” or “what about my future?”(More on these questions later). I still watched several of her how-to videos, but I didn’t really entertain the idea of a thru-hike as more then a passing thought. I continued to go to work and live a “normal adult life”. (Another side note, Anyone who could help me to find a way to link to “Dixie” in this post please help me out. I want to give her some credit where it is due.)
When I had free time, I began going to REI, an outdoor store about 1 hour from me in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While I was there I would talk to people, who admittedly were oddly nice, and open to conversation. This wasn’t just the employees, which I could brush off as good customer service, but many of the other customers were open for random conversation and were happy to give advice. This, I found weird, I’m admittedly not sure why I did, but I chalk part of it up to work, and generally losing faith in humanity. Some of these people told me that REI puts on classes, and if I was interested in stepping into backpacking, to look there for some advice. Slowly I started to acquire some new gear. Every time I bought something new I would try a new day hike. I began to even knock states off of my list of state highpoints. Chasing these highpoints not only made me take more day hikes, but it also forced me to travel more and see new places. This was something that I always enjoyed. Hindsight being 20/20 this probably led to all the moving I did in years past. As I marked states off I found that the Appalachian Trail led to several of these highpoints. (interesting how things kept pointing in that direction?) I marked off Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee (Highest point on the Appalachian Trails, Clingman’s Dome),Rhode Island, Delaware, Washington DC, South Carolina, and Georgia. Some of these I did as day or weekend trips, but Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee I did during another trip to visit family in Georgia. As I stood on top of Clingman’s Dome, and stood on the Appalachian trail it felt electric. Now honestly, this could of been the thunderstorm that was blowing in from the West, or it could have been the trail calling to me in a weird way right?. I once again thought, “What if I did a thru hike?” After coming home from this trip I looked into classes at REI that would shed some light on the questions I had about the AT and a thru hike, but I couldn’t find any that would work with my schedule. So once again, I turned to Youtube, and found more information than I could as for from “Homemade wonderlust”.
After watching several of “Dixie’s” videos, and several others too, I decided to take a “Longer” hike and see how I like it. While doing some research I found the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in southern Pennsylvania. I planned a three day. two night trip, and realized that over the last several months I had acquired everything that I needed. A new pack, a new sleeping bag, a new sleeping pad, and so much more. I cut my base weight from almost 40 pounds (of mostly useless, heavy, surplus army gear. A shout out to all of our military is necessary here I think! Most of the surplus stuff I used was from the Vietnam era and I have no idea how those guys did it!) to a base weight of almost 25 pounds a noticeable difference! I planned the trip, in the Spring this time, (learning from my last mistake) and set out to avenge my last “failure”. I hiked about 10 miles a day during this trip, covered every step I had planned, and camped alone two nights along the trail. Finally, I had succeeded in a hike I planned. I went back home reassured this time that I loved the outdoors and even enjoyed the hardships of hiking.
This idea of “enjoying the hardships”, is something I think is very important. Most people when asked what they want in life say usually the same thing, Money, happiness, maybe fame or glory. However, many of these people can’t or won’t enjoy the hardships of the things they want or the many hours of hard work to reach these goals. This was reaffirmed for me after reading the book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”. (I highly recommend this book to everyone!! MANSON, M. (2016). SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F*CK: A counter-intuitive approach to living a good life. S.l.: NEWBURY HOUSE.)
The thoughts that I mentioned earlier began to creep back into my head, but in a different way. These thoughts, What about your career, or what about your future, I realized later are because of the societal norms placed on us throughout our lives. (not to sound too 1960’s hippie on you guys). What I mean is ever since high school, and even before, I had been asked well what career do you want? What do you want to do with your future? There is nothing wrong with these things, but for me I began to ask myself why? I had a moment where I began to also ask myself, why do I want to work until I retire, only to be “too old” or “too sick” or “too whatever” to be able to follow my dreams? Why not follow them when you are able to? Life is finite, one day we won’t be here anymore. Now, let me say, this isn’t a discussion about religion or afterlife, what I mean is, I have watched people die, no matter what me or anyone else does for them, and our time on earth is not infinite, ( I am very religious, however, there are two things I don’t talk with strangers about, and those are religion and politics).
It was at this moment that I decided I would actually entertain the thought of a thru-hike, and see what it would take for me to do.
Hope you guys enjoyed this post. My next will be the beginning of my planning stages, and, if I don’t ramble too much, everything leading up to present day! See you guys there!
*I am very new to the public safety career, at the time of this post I have only been doing this job about 6 years. I have been very lucky to work in very busy systems and along side medics, EMT’s, firefighters, and police officers that I can only hope to be half as good as. I have learned from some of the best and worst in my area, learning not only what to do, but also what not to do. This part of the post where I tell a quick story about a call is not meant to see that I have years of experience or anything of the sort. There are people in this field that have seen things I never want to see, and have more years of experience then I could dream of spending in this career. Just a quick disclaimer I guess.