Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The 'Why' Factor

Written by: Katherine 'Ringleader' Imp

I lost my 'why' in Hampton, TN. I was sitting in Kinkora hostel, watching Brandon play Jenga with Prophet, Cowgirl, and Moonpie. I was full from a pizza buffet and had a bag of jelly beans in my hand. I was showered. My clothes were in the laundry. Hell, I'd even painted my toenails with some nail polish Emily found. Everything was in order . . . but I couldn't answer the ultimate question: Why am I thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail?

In real life, the inability to answer the 'why' question is a red flag. Why am I in school? Why am I working here? Why am I dating this man? The day you can't answer these questions is the day you start to re-evaluate your life. Does the same hold true on the AT?

There were a lot of reasons I wanted to thru-hike the AT before coming out here. I wanted to sit on top of mountains and watch the sunset. I wanted to exercise and get my body in shape. I wanted to visit small, Southern towns and talk with the locals. I wanted to spend time with Brandon and Emily. I wanted to meet people on the trail that I would otherwise never meet and exchange stories. I wanted to see the stars. I wanted to try something new.

Now, here I am, sitting in Damascus, VA, about 450 miles into the trail, and I feel like I've accomplished everything I set out to do.

But we still have 4 months left.

And I can no longer answer the 'why' question.

Is this a red flag?

There are approximately 50 miles between Hampton, TN and Damascus, VA and for 50 miles I debated whether it was time for me to leave the trail. When I got to Damascus I was ready to tell Emily and Brandon that I was done.

And then I remembered something Cowgirl (a young woman from Wyoming) told me in the interview I did with her for the documentary. She told me that she'd been hiking for a month and still didn't know why she was out here . . . but that she was looking forward to answering that question throughout the rest of her journey.

Okay, so I've lost my 'why' factor. And that made the last 50 miles feel like 5000. But this isn't a job or a boyfriend. This is a trek that is 5 months long and spans 14 states. The 'why' factor will change over time. Moreover, I can't expect to be skipping up and down mountains every day, happy and care free. It's unrealistic. Instead I need to put the last month of my life in the memory drawer and look forward to opening the next chapter of this journey.

So that's what I'll do. Virginia, here I come.


  1. Take if from an old man: Losing your "why" isn't always a bad thing, or anything to be sad about. You already know, somewhere deep inside, that you should be doing this. Searching for 'why', especially when engaged in an activity that you know you should do, can be good spiritual exercise, and can help you gain insight on life and your place in it.

    You've already learned a lot about your life on the trip so far, Kate. Meditating on why you are hiking the AT could bring some real insights. The next leg of the hike could be huge for you. Just keep listening to your heart, and be open to what lays before you.

  2. I really like Professor Healey's advice. Also, I bet once you come back to Champaign for graduation, you'll miss the AT and find a whole bunch of new reasons to want to go back and finish what you started!

  3. You can do it! Questioning your ability to complete the trail will make you even more inspirational once you do climb Katahdin!

  4. Kate, it's hard to write something after Paul's comment! I think it's great advice.

    At the same time, I understand how you feel. As law students (or lawyers in your case! - congrats!), we need to have a goal. We're very task-oriented people. And it's hard when you have blisters or are sleeping in the mud (and don't forget about those bugs) to figure out why you are putting yourself through this. But the best thing is that there doesn't need to be a "why". I hope that you can let it go and just live in the present. The things that you see, smell and experience will stick with you always.

    Know that we're all here rooting for you! Can't wait to see you at graduation.

  5. Lily's housemateApril 22, 2010 at 11:35 AM

    Sometimes you don't figure out a 'why' until years later, when something seemingly disconnected happens and you discover "oh, this is why."

  6. Katie...can't top those comments you've already gotten...thanks to all of you rooting for my girl. Kate has never been a quitter but more of a motivator for others. Keep up all the good stuff you're doing (and make sure you get enough food and rest)....LUM

  7. You can do it chica! I'm out here to pick you up when you feel you can't go on!

  8. Kate, you know you can't cross the AT hike off of your "To Do" list until you have hiked as far as you can within the time you kids have allotted yourselves. Maybe you kids won't reach Maine by early August, but in the meantime, you are clocking lots of miles and are the envy of many of us who are keeping track from afar. You three are like our favorite sports team and we are counting on as close to a "win" as you can get! Stick with it like I saw you study for your bar exam!!!!!! Go, Kate, go!!!!!

  9. At this point the "why" can just be to finish what you started.

  10. Don't fret. There will be a new why.