My feet hurt. My knee hurts. They are not sore. They don't just ache and they aren't just stiff. They hurt. My feet are calloused and blistered. My heals are both bruised and tender to the touch. Where the nail of my right pinkie-toe used to be there is now . . . well, I don't really know what that is. My knee is swollen. I touch it with my index finger and can feel the fluid that has built up around my knee cap. 107 days, 12 states, and over 1600 miles of walking have taken their toll. I gently rub and massage them after another long day on the trail, mainly out of obligation, feeling guilty for what I've been putting them through. Sometimes I imagine them looking up at me and yelling obscenities, asking what in the world I am thinking. "Why were we not a part of the decision making process?" they ask. "You wanna walk from Georgia to Maine, fine, sounds great . . . just as long as you walk on your hands." My imagination begins to wander. Then I remember a story, a story of a woman. She was also attempting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, and, as every thru-hiker is at some point or another, she was asked the question, "Why? Why are you out here?" Her reason was somewhat shocking. Shortly before starting her hike, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her doctor had given her months, a year at most, to live. She said she wanted to be on the trail because every day that she was in the wilderness, every time she struggled to make it up a mountain, every moment of pain, every step, was another moment that she knew she was alive. I've found that I understand her answer a little more each day. It's when I'm pushing up the last few feet of a steep climb, sweat completely saturating my shirt and still pouring down my face, and just as I reach the summit, I am greeted by a gentle breeze that manages to send a chill down the length of my spine. It's bending down over the coldest, clearest spring I've ever seen, cupping my hands, and tasting its refreshing purity. It's standing atop an exposed ridge, trying to comprehend the magnificence of the sunset that is on display before me, and all I can do is throw my arms out wide and scream. It's waking up to the beautiful songs of birds and falling asleep to the soothing hoot of an owl. It's when it rains so hard that all there is to do is laugh. It's waking up on the morning of our 5th anniversary and looking at my wife asleep next to me. We're in our tent, on the Appalachian Trail, living out a dream that was just some crazy idea we began talking about when we were engaged. These are the moments that remind me I'm alive, the moments that remind me that I am blessed.
A friend of mine once shared with me his analogy for life. He explained to me this idea of how life is like a big sponge that is totally saturated, and that the harder we squeeze, the more life pours out onto us. I've thought about the picture for a while now. Often times I've envisioned myself squeezing every last drop of life out of that sponge. I want to squeeze so hard, so hard that it hurts. . .
I look back down at my feet, realizing I have a new understanding of my friend's analogy. Maybe they're not yelling obscenities at me after all. Maybe they're just trying to remind me that I'm alive. Maybe it's less about being comfortable and instead thriving in the uncomfortable? Maybe it's about embracing the struggle instead of trying to find an easier way? As I lay back and slowly begin to drift to sleep, I think about the experiences, the moments, and the adventure that still lies ahead. Such a gift life is. I hope I can always remember this truth. I hope I will always remember to live life 'til it hurts and to laugh louder the harder it rains.