Thursday, March 10, 2005

Suffering?

Steve Landis of my AT list pointed his fellow AT enthusiasts to this link, by blogger, writer, and adventurer Brianne Goodspeed, who thru-hiked the AT last year and is now living in Africa.

She writes the following:

Now I am in Cameroon and I wish the same thing because these, too, are happy times. The other day I went to visit the Lamido, who is basically the king of my village. I told him that I hoped my family would visit. He said, “Of course. Otherwise they will think that you are suffering.” We laughed because we both know the truth—I am not suffering.

Unfortunately, I think that that’s the way most people I love see me [i.e. suffering] because it is only when I’m grunting through the mountains or sweating my ass off in Africa that I am actually happy. That is, it’s only when I’m [proverbially] on the road that I’m not suffering.
...

All this begs the questions of what it is to suffer. If you want to see me suffer, watch me sell retail during the holiday season. Or watch me train to become an accountant. Or watch me substitute teach. I have done all those things and each, I assure you, is suffering. My heart turned foul. I resented my own birth. I felt like a lonely victim, trapped on the road to hell.
...

Here in Africa (as on the AT, which is so fringe that it doesn’t really count as the US), my spirit is at ease. Every day, I wake up knowing that I have to chance to learn and to do meaningful work. I feel like I am contributing to my community. My basic needs are met. That, fundamentally, is all I need in order not to suffer.
...

Here, as on the trail, I wake up thankful ... And so, as I wake up each day and sweat my ass off & swat bugs & poop in a hole and plant trees in the desert, I urge people not to worry. I am not suffering.
Maybe some of it sounds a tad melodramatic ... but I know exactly what she means. When I was in southwest Virginia on my thru-hike, it turned cold. Really cold. Below-freezing-every-day cold. I won't bore you with the details (you can read plenty of them here), but suffice it to say that my quality of life on the trail took a nosedive.

My journal entry for one of those cold days starts out like this:

"I walked in rain for the third day in a row today. I woke up at Laurel Creek this morning, rain pitter-pattering on my tent fly. I waited patiently for it to stop. It didn't. Finally, I ate breakfast, then packed up everything I could from inside the tent. By 7:00, I was on the trail, and the rain fell steadily down.

"Five miles and a few hours later, I took a break at Jenkins Shelter. The day was so drizzly and cold that I considered stopping there for the day."
I remember that I sat there for a long time, considering. I had no motivation to hike that day (a rare thing for me!) The thought of stopping, snuggling into my warm sleeping bag, drinking tea, and reading, was quite tempting. It was rainy, I was cold, and it was pretty much a miserable day so far.

But I kept hiking soon enough. Less than an hour later, I was on the trail again. As I walked through cold, icy mud that was just beginning to thaw, I thought to myself, "Would I rather be here, in all this cold and struggle, or would I rather be relaxing at a coffee shop in Baton Rouge, writing, drinking coffee, munching on a bagel, and listening to jazz, soon to head for the stressful technical writing job that I left behind?"

I'll let you guess what my answer was. :-)

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