September 17, 2019

The What-Ifs.

Over the last four years, “Hike the Good Hike” (HTGH) has become my life’s calling.

I see myself as an ambassador for mental health and the outdoors, and I am committed to sharing my story to inspire others to live theirs. HTGH is a movement, a platform, and an ethos that encourages people to forge their path toward optimal living.

I plan to take this on the road next year and live out of my van in order to hike more of the country and, even more importantly, to widen the stage on which I can tell this story. I will be writing, speaking, and launching a podcast called “HTGH hits the road,” which will be a platform for others to tell their stories of inspiration.

This vision, as you may have noticed, does not resemble the familiar 9-to-5 grind. It does not include a mortgage or offer much stability. But for me, it means being truly alive.

As my internal commitment to the vision for HTGH has deepened, the external “what-ifs” have poured down upon me from concerned friends and family members.

What if a particular project doesn’t work out?
What if followers or organizations don’t lend assistance?
What if my message doesn’t resonate?
What if HTGH never makes it further than where it is now?
What if it doesn’t grow to the place I see it growing? 

Don’t get me wrong, my mind likes to torment me with “what-ifs” as well. But there is a much scarier “what-if” that trumps all the others: What if I had never started hiking?

Almost five years ago, before I stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail, I thought suicide was my best option. I believed I was a lost cause with a future not worth sticking around for. I thought I was incapable of being loved and loving back. I felt hopeless and alone. Hiking found me just in time. In 2015, instead of taking my own life as I’d been contemplating, I found myself embarking on a 2,200-mile walk in the woods. It was the walk that saved my life. I never knew healing until I shook hiking’s hand.

Not only am I still alive, but I feel like I am truly living. My life has purpose now. I found my calling, and I feel connected to it every second of every day.

But, who would I be to keep that to myself? My purpose now is to share my journey in order to help others pull themselves out of their own personal misery. To help others find their own “good hike.”

When you find the one thing you excel at and care about more than anything in the world, you can’t linger on the “what-ifs.” Instead, you have to search out the biggest mountain, navigate the never-ending switchbacks to the very top, and return to tell the story to those who might need the inspiration. It’s okay to ask “what if?” Life provides more questions than answers. But the questions need to drive you forward rather than stop you in your tracks.

What is the biggest lesson I have learned from my own personal struggles? Find a way to be better. Live better. Love better. Understand better. Listen better. Embrace better. Be better. And be patient in the process.

I’ve created quite a different life for myself than the one I lived for the first 40 years. I celebrate Earth’s beauty by hiking America’s greatest landscapes. I’ve made the wilderness my teacher. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows. I still fight my own battles, and they often claim small victories over me. Instagram may present the impression that I’m living in utopia, but nothing I do comes without cost.

The most common questions I receive about my lifestyle sound something like this: “Are you married?” “Do you have kids?” “Do you have a job?” And when I respond with no wife, no kids, no career, just a basic job to pay the bills while I develop HTGH, the most common response is, “you’re so lucky.”

Perhaps there are some aspects of luck, but it’s really about choice and sacrifice. I’ve made the choice to dedicate my life to my passion, and that doesn’t come without sacrifice. There are more days than not that not having a wife, a family, or an established career can eat away at me. I experience a lot of loneliness because of my choices. I’m 45 years old, and there are days I wonder if I’ll ever have a different response to the questions people ask me. Sitting on a mountain top, tent flap open, sun going down, a majestic aura all around me fills me with inconceivable joy, but it also has its moments of aching solitude.

That’s when I ask myself a different set of “what-ifs?”

What if I see this through?
What if I continue to grow?
What if I continue to embrace the one thing that has provided me healing?
What if I take my purpose as far as I can?
What if everything ends up working out for me because I chose to commit fully to this path?

What if that can be true for you, too?  What if…?

Hike the Good Hike.

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