I’m so honored to share my friend’s journey while she supported her husband’s journey on the Appalachian Trail.  Rick, his friend Mike, and Lisa  are my present day heroes!  I’m so encouraged by Lisa’s writing and I’ve begged her to continue.  Along those same lines, Rick Yates needs to write the book on his A.T. adventure.  I’m going to keep saying that like Dorothy clicking her heels together!   Enjoy a glimpse into Lisa’s life from March to September 2018.

Blazing A Trail of My Own: My Personal Journey As An A.T. Thru-Hiker’s Wife

by Lisa Sells Yates

“ A 40 day hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail? Wow, really? I’m sure that will be a great experience for you. You should totally do this! Go!” Those were the words and thoughts I had when my husband told me that a friend of his, a former co-worker, had taken note of the miles he was walking every day since retirement and asked if he might be interested in hiking the A.T. His friend was planning to hike the entire trail. Rick decided he would be a section-hiker taking him from Amicalola Falls (Springer Mountain), GA to Damascus, VA.

The hike began on a cool, misty, and very foggy morning on March 17, 2018. About three weeks in, I visited Wiley and NAVster (trail names given to them by other hikers) in Gatlinburg, TN. Oh my! I could see the excitement in Rick’s eyes, hear the passion in his voice and the exciting stories and experiences from the hike so far. Everything I heard and saw from these two hikers stuck with me.

Soon after, on a Sunday afternoon, we had a phone visit as it was a “zero day.” I told Rick that I had thought about a lot of things on the drive back home from our recent visit. I told him I knew him well enough to realize that he is driven to finish what he starts. Though I never expressed it out loud, I always knew he would want to keep going after he began this crazy adventure. So, during that phone visit, I urged him to think about it and with my blessing, to keep hiking. I think he was truly surprised and not expecting this. You see, he had just recently retired and we were just starting to enjoy retirement together. I knew if he did not attempt to finish the entire trail he’d regret it. He had the perfect hiking partner and the timing was perfect as well. So with more heart to heart talking, tears, laughter and of course some apprehension, we both knew a big decision had to be made within about 12 hours. After hanging up the phone, I sat on the couch in disbelief at what I had just encouraged him to do! What in the world was I thinking?

I received a text message from Rick as I was leaving the gym the next morning. He had taken the night to think things through and discuss with Michael, his hiking partner. He started the text with, “Well honey you opened Pandora’s Box.” I did not need to read any further as I knew he was going to do it. He was actually going to attempt to hike the entire 2,190 miles! At first, I cried a bucket of tears and then I knew in my heart that we had both made the right decision. We both agreed on our quickly made decision and were determined to put forth the effort this journey required.

Now I had to get in the right headspace realizing that my best friend would be gone for the next 5 ½ months (6 months total) on the journey of a lifetime at my urging him to do so! But what I did not think of immediately was that I, too, would be going on a journey of a lifetime and I would also be making discoveries.  It was time to buckle up. Me, myself and I were about to take on six months alone! Side note here:  You see I married at 21, right out of college, and never truly lived on my own before!

Just as the Appalachian Trail has twists and turns and mud and muck, life can also take on the same paths. There is also much beauty seen on the A.T. with bright blue skies,  mountain streams, full moons, and stars just as life can bring renewal, promise, brightness and exciting challenges.  The twists, turns, mud and muck were beginning as things started breaking, leaking, squeaking, and falling apart in the house, yard and car.  

Then the matters of the heart became present on another part of my trail.  The unexpected death of two friends, one being the mother of our future daughter in law, the diagnosis of cancer for my sister, and my uncle being placed in hospice.  Happy events as well were experienced as my daughter and son-in-law began selling their first crops at a farmer’s market after months of hard work, sweat and tears.  My son and his beautiful girlfriend announced their joyous engagement.

Today I celebrate my transformation of growth as I look back on these parts of my own journey, on my own trail.

I have always enjoyed my alone time but when it lasts for six months, it can get old real fast. To deal with my loneliness, I took on indoor and outdoor home projects. I read several books and watched several series on Netflix.

 I took notice of my quiet time and learned how to meditate and do yoga. I have learned to set an intention for each day and how to navigate areas of life that I had ignored. I learned how to just “be” and find contentment in being.

There are so many discoveries to list but these seem to stand out the most. I can now say with confidence that:

I am capable.

I am enough.

I am worthy.

I am strong.

I learned that being strong is also allowing yourself to see your weaknesses and learn from them.  Yes, I had meltdowns but I didn’t wallow in them.  I’ve become confident in making decisions. I don’t always need permission. I can say no and not feel guilty. I can say yes and not have doubts. I can say that I need help and not feel like a wimp. When needed,  I can put myself first.  I can look at myself in the mirror and daily practice (and practice and practice) to make peace with my self image. I have struggled with my self image for years. I am learning to be myself and like who I have become. To borrow the words of my cousin, in which I find much truth, “We sometimes can’t see what our energy is being saved for until we go through the growing hours.”

As I reflect back on these months, I am grateful for this season in my life. I have evolved and believe I am better for it.  I am grateful for my supportive family and friends that have  not only cheered on Rick but me as well. I am grateful for the cards, texts, phone calls, food after my surgery and the wonderful and fun visits of friends and family to keep me company!

Last but definitely not least, I will be forever thankful and grateful to my amazing, persevering “#myhubthehiker” who will now join that elite group of thru-hikers that complete the entire journey of the Appalachian Trail! To quote the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, “Completing the entire 2,190 miles of the A.T. in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four makes it all the way. A typical thru-hiker takes 5 to 7 months to hike the entire A.T.”  Wow! Let that sink in for a minute!

I am thankful to Rick for believing in me enough that he felt he could continue on this crazy adventure. Watch out world, Rick and Lisa 2.0 is about to take on a new adventure together as we no doubt will be stronger as individuals and as a couple.

Whatever “trail” you might be blazing,  give yourself grace. Don’t take each day for granted. Do the hard stuff.  Don’t settle for anything but the best and remember the best is a process which doesn’t come overnight.  If you need help, by all means ask. There are experiences to learn from by tackling them alone.  There are relationships to be renewed,    relationships to be formed, relationships to be found that never before existed until you’re out there in your own wilderness.

 Live your best life! Write your own story! Trust in your faith and trust in yourself. “The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it.” ~ Kalpana Chawla

Lisa Sells Yates

August 28, 2018