My best friend and I collapsed into sleep around 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, June 17th. At 7a.m., my alarm woke us up. I was behind schedule, and exhausted. Contemplating whether it would be more reasonable to go back to sleep and begin the Pilgrimage one day late, it was clear what the reasonable choice would be. I was also clear that if I made that reasonable choice, I might lose my nerve, and not start at all.
My pack was 15 pounds heavier than I had planned, and hiked with in preparation for this day. I could feel it in the pressure on my knees as I took the first few steps. I had 16 miles ahead of me, which was reasonable based on The Great March for Climate Action I had partaken in 4 years before, joining a group of much more committed activists who were walking from L.A. to D.C., for just one month of their journey as they trekked through Iowa. However, in that walk there was a truck for our gear which we packed each morning and met at the end of each day's hike. Now, all of my gear was on me. It was probably a good thing that I was also not aware of the topography of that first day, that 10 of my 16 miles were uphill, a slight 30-45 degrees uphill in fact.
As I think of it now, my eyes water, and I'm not sure whether I could tell the sweat that burned in my eyes that day from tears. I know that it was both commitment as well as a less evolved motivation which carried me that day. Note to self: Telling a lot of people you're going to do something is a great and potentially painful way to ensure that you will do it, the ego does not easily admit defeat!
When the road turned uphill, my knees began to feel like they could use an oil change. I thanked God, and my brother, for having accepted his advice of buying 2 (and not 1) hiking poles, on which to lean as I climbed my way up, step, by step, by step, by step. A lot of coping that day trying to channel my physical pain into reflecting on what it might be like for everyone I love (and everyone I barely know, or have never met) who carries extra-weight inside their bodies day-to-day. While I am privileged to not have experienced much body-shaming or fat-shaming in my life, I now have some small idea of what it's physically like to carry more weight than I might like. Throughout the next few weeks, I dropped that 15 pounds from my hiking pack, mailing back parts of what I had packed to my parents house. However, I did not lose 1 pound from my own body throughout the whole trip, and I know very well that most people who carry more weight inside their bodies than they might prefer, do not do it out of choice, it's just how their bodies are made. When I see someone now whose knees (and back) might feel like mine did that day, but on every day basis, I hope I will have a bit more empathy and respect.