To understand the character of Isabelle Eastham, it will simply take a glance out your window. Or, better yet, an afternoon escape to your closest nature trail. Isabelle herself would implore you to choose the later. She’s a wild flower. Her spirit is kind, beautiful and free. Raised on the sweet scent of mountain air, Isabelle refuses to resist the call of the wild. For some, the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail requires a trek into the unknown. These are the ones whom have heard the rumors of how the trail can free you. How it pushes you to look inward. How it teaches you to grow. Such a monumental life endeavor appeals to them. Yet, their feet have never carried them up a mountain passage, deep into the woods and away from civilization. This is not the story of Isabelle Eastham. She too will be pushed, grown and freed by the trail, but her footprint is one familiar to the Appalachian soil. To Isabelle, waking to the crisp rustling of wool socks against a crunchy, cold sleeping bag feels practically like home. Even still, her choice to hike to Appalachian Trail, solo, was bold and courageous. She is not only defying the whispers of danger thrown at her gender, but also the limitations of a physical ailment. Her story will be one worth watching. She may be the one walking the steps, but we can all learn from her journey.
Words from the Woman herself....
Before my trail calling, I was searching for something. I had met the one year mark at my first job out of college (my dream job on that note). I had been living in the same house for a year with especially compatible and lovely roommates. My routine consisted of waking up before the sun, going to the gym, eating my one packet of brown sugar instant oatmeal before I left for work earlier than I needed to. I would see the same great people and clients, talk about the same things, and listen to my bookmarked NPR stations (TED Radio hour = life). Then, I would leave late to go home. I would look forward to that phone call from Nathan on my drive so I could recap my day with him- which had limited variability from the day prior. I was getting a paycheck, filling my gas tank, feeding myself, dressing myself, paying bills on time, and was in a healthy relationship. I would come home to eat my frozen vegetables in some makeshift dinner, do my online study modules for a certification I was working for work, then go to bed by 9pm. Rinse. Repeat.
“Who is your dream asking you to become.” For the past month, multiple questions have surfaced with my decision to hike the AT. Some have been answered– some not. At this point, my brother Bennett still doesn’t know I want to do this. I had dinner with my mom and dad a few weeks ago. We were sitting in one of our favorite restaurants in Charlottesville. We had almost finished eating and the big topic had not yet come up. There came a lull in the conversation…which my mom took as a cue to start the interrogation. “Who are you doing this for? What are you running from? Are you not happy? What are you getting from this? What about your job and Nathan? What about your Rheumatoid Arthritis…let alone your medicine?”- the heart string questions.
I have hopes that down the road I can answer these questions with a confidence, knowledge, and ease that wont make others doubt me or make me feel overly defensive. In fact, this is a skill I wish I had in answering questions and talking in general… To be articulate, to speak in a cadence that demands attention, to speak out loud and not actively criticize myself while I’m hearing what I’m actually saying. It is a flaw I find in myself and it was magnified that evening.
I wish my goal was as simple as getting to Katahdin. I visualize it. I see myself on the summit. I feel the sweat on my clothes cooling from the wind. I see myself closing my eyes and thanking whatever higher force got me to that point…Needless to say, I am not worried about getting to Katahdin. I will get there. My goal, however, is to be as present as I can be. To me, getting to Katahdin is just as important as getting to Springer mountain, Skyline Drive, Mt. Washington or any summit of the White Mountains. I am using the AT to be my meditation, to be my church/community, to be exactly who I am– on that day– in that moment. I want to fully feel the exhaustion, exhilaration, cold, warmth, hunger, and joy. I want to live in a state of deprivation so when I take a hot bath, eat a home-made meal, or be held in Nathan’s arms, I will truly feel it and already miss it–in all its glory– and be reminded of how beautiful and simple it all can be.
I can prepare, prepare, and prepare. I can be physically ready. However, nothing is going to prepare me fully for the phycological toll this will present. I have read Zach Davis’s book “Appalachian Trials” and he had discussed in depth this very topic. There is no reason why I should not be happy and find joy and love within this experience- though this will require the greatest mental preparedness, I must make this decision actively, every single day on the the trail. I will try to have positive mantras ready for my bad days. For example, days of the never ending inclines in the cold, pouring rain; they will come and I will have to accept that I cannot change it–so why not learn to love it.