Editor's Note: The following is a post from Christine Baker. Baker and her dog Jesse set off on a on Wednesday.
I should be sleeping but instead, I lie awake staring at the ceiling wondering if the stars can shine through my roof and give me a sign.
Tomorrow, I leave everything comforting, everything familiar, everything I have worked so hard to create and achieve. Tomorrow, change becomes my constant companion.
There is one wish in particular that I dust off on this night of new beginnings. It's not a perfect wish, but it's close. Like worn sea glass in my hand, it once was sharper, bolder even, but in the last few years, it's taken a beating. Like sea glass, the pounding waves of my life have made it more beautiful, more unique, and more special to me.
My wish is to hike all 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail and make the world a kinder place at the same time. This wish was born out of a whisper. It was born out of instinct. It was born out of dreams. And now it is real.
People are promising that for each mile I walk on the trail, they will practice kindness. I overslept by 15 minutes on September 11, 2001. Those extra minutes kept me from being at the base of the World Trade Center when the towers were struck. Instead, I watched from just across the river in New Jersey as the towers smoked like two giant chimneys and fell to the ground.
I will never forget that awful, acrid smell that surrounded the greater New York City area. I’ll never forget staring out the window long after dark, saying that the glow from the fires burning on the New York skyline looked like the gates of hell had opened.
Every year since 2001, one thought has dominated my mind: I have not done enough to justify the gift of my life. This past September 11th was the 10th anniversary of that tragic day, and right around the same time of day that the second tower fell, I took Jessie, my four-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, in the car and we went hiking. Each and every minute of that day was not lost on me.On our way to the trail, we passed a parade of gleaming fire trucks parked in front of the local cemetery for a memorial service, a little boy waving an American flag, and someone helping an elderly person into a wheelchair. I smelled fresh bread as we walked by the local bakery. And then, in a matter of minutes, Jessie and I were in the woods. It was silent and beautiful, and we were alone on the trail. All I could hear was the sound of leaves crunching under our feet and birds overhead.
Edward Everett Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
So often in our lives we focus only on ourselves - bettering our homes, our financial positions, our jobs. And that is noble, but in so many ways, it is selfish. I am tired of standing by and watching the world change in ways that make me sad, and almost embarrassed. I’m tired of turning off the news, disgusted with our nation’s politics, our growing national debt, our skyrocketing unemployment, the constant bickering, and the way, as human beings, we seem more likely to be violent than kind to one another.
It’s easier to swear at the person who cuts us in off in traffic than to simply let them pass. Let’s face it - the world is a tricky place. It’s harder to be kind than it is to be cutthroat. I’m tired of doing nothing, of expecting someone else to change things, of assuming if I don’t pick up that piece of trash on the sidewalk, someone else surely will.
I know I am only one person. And I know that I alone cannot change the world, but I can change some of it. I am walking 2,180 miles with the primary mission of inspiring and empowering people to practice kindness and to pass acts of kindness onto others. This is why I walk. This is why I write.
I leave tomorrow. My creative force will propel me over 2,000 miles on foot. Each step will be unassisted. Each step will be my own. Each word, a permanent marker of my struggles, my triumphs and my soul-seeking solitude alone in the woods. Gone will be my office job and 10 hours a day sitting at a computer. In their place will be a 40-pound backpack, a comfortable pair of hiking boots and an ever-changing view.
Richard Bach said, “You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however.”
When I talk to people about hiking the Appalachian Trail, all 2,180 miles of it in every imaginable weather condition, I am usually met with a look of utter disbelief and a response of “why on earth would you want to do that?” Most people feel the need to remind me how heavy my pack will be (40 or so pounds in fact) and about how difficult it will be to walk 10-15 miles per day carrying that kind of weight on my shoulders.Yes, trust me, I know full well the challenges of this trip.
But what’s really the difference between my backpack and the burdens so many of us carry around every day?I see people every day, hunched over like Atlas, already carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders? The stress of day-to-day living, paying bills, making ends meet, not being good enough or smart enough or fast enough weighs them down just like my backpack will weigh me down. The challenges in their relationships with their families, partners, friends and co-workers weigh like a 60-pound pack on their shoulders to begin with. So really, in the whole scheme of things, my 40-pound backpack is probably lighter.
How often do we allow ourselves to just be - to not worry, not think, not stress, not try to be someone we are not, and most importantly not feel like we should be doing something else? In this era of uber-connectedness, how often can we really say we got away from it all and re-charged our batteries?I may not be able to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but I can walk a mile in my own shoes in the hopes that it inspires others to look at their own lives differently.
Last week I took a pre-dawn training hike with my dog, Jessie. We walked in the early light, each carrying our packs weighed to the max. We had the entire trail to ourselves, and the only sounds we heard were the leaves crunching under our feet. I stopped for a moment and thought: this is exactly what I should be doing in this moment. I’m not worried about anything; I am simply walking forward. This I can do for 2,180 miles over six months. I can just walk and be. And that will be enough.
Tomorrow I leave for six months. Tomorrow the brick and mortar of my life will be replaced by a tent and sleeping bag. I will walk through wind and rain and swarms of black flies. I will sleep in a tent and give up nearly every creature comfort for six months with the singular hope that, while we might not be able to change the world alone, together we can make a tangible difference and make helping others something you do without being asked.
There was a reason why I overslept on September 11, 2001. There was a reason why with each step I take, my singular urge is to write, to create, and to share. My feet only walk forward. That’s how I was wired. There is a reason why our eyes face forward. It’s to see the coming sunrise and the possibility of a new day.
Join me on my journey. Follow me on Facebook. Twitter and our web site www.walk4good.org.
Make a dedication. Make two or three! Tell your friends. Make a donation - every dollar counts. Because remember, together we can change the world one step at a time.