Long Distance Miles Walked: 7,000+
Countries Trekked: United States, Iceland, Greenland, New Zealand, Australia, Nepal, Peru
Oh, hey. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’re enjoying the content. Before I start telling you all about myself, you should know that I hate writing these things. I never know what to include, what tidbits you might find interesting or relevant, what facets of my personality or belief system you might connect with. I suppose I’ll just cast intention aside and ramble a bit to give you a sense of my background and of the moments that have defined me.
When I was a child, my mother used to lock me and my siblings out of the house almost anytime we weren’t in school or at church. That may sound harsh, but in truth it was the greatest gift that I’ve ever received. I grew up in a poor neighborhood on the edge of an affluent community – the literal wrong side of the tracks. But what we lacked in amenities, we made up for in woods and wilderness. At school I felt ashamed of my socioeconomic status, working as diligently to be socially invisible as I did to be academically successful. My sense of self-worth was so low that I couldn’t have withstood harassment or judgment from my peers, and indeed the only thing in society that challenged my low self-esteem was external validation, which I found in the classroom.
The woods were my sanctuary. The place where I felt alive, whole, safe, and worthy. The place where I didn’t have to hide. I couldn’t articulate it then, but the wilderness was my first – and to this day my only enduring – great love. She doesn’t judge or favor; she doesn’t scorn or abandon. She loves unconditionally and has an endless capacity to hold whatever pain or suffering or joy or gratitude we might bring with us when we enter. When she rains, she rains on us all. When I step into the woods, I am the same as anyone else I might find there. What more could someone from a disadvantaged background ask than to be treated with such blind equality?
But I didn’t realize any of that as an adolescent. I just knew that I liked playing outside. For the most part, I focused my attention on school because success there would get me to college, which might ultimately mean acceptance and the transcendence of my misguided shame. Looking back now, I can see that I had something to prove. In grade school, I was placed in a remedial class where I recognized my classmates as the same kids from my neighborhood. I can’t help but wonder now whether there was something to that, especially because the teacher there had me tested for the gifted program a few weeks later. It was as if I was sometimes being evaluated based on my performance and other times, perhaps, by the clothes I wore or the address listed on my school file. Of course, I didn’t recognize any of that as a kid either. While I missed the gifted cutoff by two questions, my score did earn me a return to the mainstream classroom where I ultimately exceled.
A decade later I earned an academic scholarship and early acceptance into Georgia Tech where I worked tirelessly toward the all-American dream: six figures, a family, and a white picket fence. Every decision I made was unconsciously rooted in an all-consuming drive to find a sense of self-worth in tangible success. I was so busy masking my shame that I never paused for even a brief moment of self-reflection. I was diligently living a life in pursuit of others approval rather than a life in pursuit of my own happiness. And the craziest part of it all is that I lived that way for a quarter of a lifetime and didn't have a clue that something wasn’t right until my senior year in college.
With an engineering bachelors nearly in hand and an offer to have my graduate degree fully financed in exchange for accepting a position with a general contractor in DC, I suddenly balked. I had applied for a joint Bachelors-Masters program and was rejected because my GPA didn’t meet the 3.5 requirement. I was two hundredths of a point short, a 3.48. Although I couldn’t see it then, that was the second greatest gift that I’ve received in my life. Days later I recognized that I’d been a frontrunner in the rat race, that I was a hamster on a wheel not actually getting any closer to what I wanted. And worse, that I didn’t even know what I wanted. It was a quarter-life crisis; an awakening. It was horribly uncomfortable, and it was terrifying. But I slowly found the courage to seek out my own heart. That’s when I began the process of breaking away.
The course of my life changed dramatically on that October day in 2007. After graduating the following semester and declining the offer for employment, I took my student loan money, bought a car, and departed on a 10-week, 14,000 mile solo cross-country road trip. That trip was the springboard to the life that I now lead, the life that has brought me so much happiness and pride.
Following that trip, I volunteered with AmeriCorps NCCC doing community service all across the country for two years. Then I performed trail work on our public lands out west for two more. Then I biked across the country with the non-profit Bike & Build raising money and awareness for affordable housing. I’d found so much purpose and pride in these humble pursuits and was content to move from place to place experiencing as much as I could. I never made very much money, but I’d never known what it was like to have money or nice things, so it didn’t make any difference to me. I found that to me wealth is experience and community rather than salary and security.
In 2014 I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, my first of many. It was something I’d wanted to do for years, and when I finally did, it was an experience that tied all of the other seemingly unrelated trajectories together. Engineering, community service, and the outdoors – I realized that they’re all my passions. I love the challenge of engineering, the purpose I feel when I serve others, and the space for self-reflection that I find in the woods. That’s when I finally recognized the place where my passions intersect. Guiding in the wilderness therapy field has offered me multi-faceted challenges, a sense of purpose, and endless opportunities for personal growth. I’ve laughed until my sides ached, wept until my tear ducts ran dry, and overcome more adversity than I previously thought I could. In a society where we are efficiently judged by the work that we do, I feel proud that my work so authentically reflects who I am.
And the trail eternally beckons. I recognize how my journey of self-discovery has closely mirrored my experience on the trail, and indeed how my time spent walking (read: reflecting) frequently illuminates the core of my person. Like a long thru-hike, the journey of self-discovery is no small task. And for me, the one feeds the other. In the words of Edward Abbey: “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing views.” May they also be fulfilling, exciting, and touched often by the kindness of strangers – as mine have been. Happiest of trails to you all.