“On the other side of fear is freedom” — Marilyn Ferguson
a collection of my thoughts on cross-country adventuring and how to make it happen
a post made for everyone, but especially for my younger self and those like her
if I survive a while, I hope to release multiple versions of this to reflect my ever-changing views as I age
Year: 2022-23 | Age: 22-23
1. Your heart is your key, and it is the one thing you need to open doors.
The 1st step to making things happen is to believe it is possible. By extension, the most important trait you can possess in order to cross the country is conviction.
You are going to encounter a lot of people in your life who will doubt your dream(s).
This may be a couple of acquaintances or everyone in your peripheral vision. Including yourself.
These people will project their fears onto you in a bid to discourage you from pursuing your passions, but their words are just that: a projection.
What you have to remember is that most people, especially parents, are inherently risk-averse.
They are eager to see you follow the conventional path in life: going to college, settling down in the suburbs. Society hammers into us all the same narrative, “university (and, by extension, a well-paying white collar job) is the golden ticket to success!”
Everyone likes to praise independence in the abstract while being terrified of it in practice. The same people who will lavish compliments on renowned business moguls will scorn you for following in their footsteps when they realize this involves getting down and dirty, investing, betting all your time and money on an idea.
Some people don’t try in good faith. They try halfheartedly, patting themselves on the back for a job well done, all the while their true intentions were always to validate their suspicions that “it’s not possible.”
Because if you convince yourself your dreams aren’t possible, you don’t have to feel bad about not accomplishing them.
Don’t fall for this.
If you want your dreams to be a reality badly enough, you will make trying – no matter how far-fetched or fruitless it seems to try – the path of least resistance.
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm” — Winston S. Churchill
Adventuring takes grit and tenacity. There will be awful, no good days where you feel beaten to a pulp, ready to curl into a ball and weep. You will constantly be met with challenges along the way, and … it won’t matter. Not if your heart is in the right place.
If it’s in your heart, going on will be easier than giving up.
If it’s in your heart, it’s within reach.
2. You don’t have to feel ready to start living
A common pitfall people fall into is that they believe that circumstances need to be perfect in order to begin.
They need to have the perfect planning, the perfect budget, the perfect gear, the perfect physique, the perfect timeline.
They think, by extension, you’re naive if you don’t have these things in order. You’re stupid, silly, a fool.
That is what this all comes down to.
These people don’t want to look like a fool. Their desire for perfection is nothing more than insecurity in shiny wrapping.
“To escape criticism: say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” — Elbert Hubbard
This is exemplified best when someone is so meticulous about detail only to implode when the slightest thing goes “wrong.” See: any bridezilla planning their picturesque wedding.
The straightest dominoes fall the fastest.
So? Many of these perfectionists, they won’t try. They will pick up a paintbrush and when they’re not instantly Picasso, they will put it down. They won’t learn, they won’t grow, because learning and growing ultimately means failing, again and again, and they can’t handle that. They would rather do nothing, safely, than try, uncertainly.
Ironically, there is nothing perfect about procrastination.
And if these people do try, many will vehemently deny the failures they had along the way to fabricate an Instagram-worthy image of unimpeded success.
“Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” ― Albert Einstein
There will always be those quick to throw stones from glass houses.
Those who, if you succeed, will build their arsenal of excuses on why you were able to do what they haven’t:
“Oh, you must be a trust fund baby …”
“Oh, you’re fitter than I am. Younger, too …”
“Oh, you don’t have real adult responsibilities to keep you from it. Unlike me …”
And the quintessential: “Oh, you just got lucky.”
And, of course, if you fail, the rhetoric then is “didn’t you know you were always going to fail?”
These people are losers.
They live en masse online, and their misery loves company.
Just make sure they don’t live in between your two ears.
“Don’t worry about the people who aren’t happy for you. They probably aren’t happy for themselves, either.” — Unknown
Alternately, don’t romantice your heroes. Idolizing them to the point of seeing them as greater than you in some innate, metaphysical way will only hurt you. Instead, humanize them. Look for their flaws. Not to admonish them, but so you can learn to recognize the same ones within yourself and see how to overcome them, as they did. Don’t stare up at them on their ivory towers. Look down. Follow the footsteps they left behind when they were at the bottom, too. Be inspired by their struggles.
The sad reality is that most people, even those you love, will be fast to commend or condemn your attempt at living your dream based on the outcome.
See past this narrative. Your achievement does not lie solely in the end result.
True merit lies in whether or not you had the bravery to try, in a world where the path to success and failure are one and the same.
3. The beginning of an adventure is meant to be like any other birth: a beautiful, bloody mess!
Be the fool.
Comfort rarely inspires adventure.
Let your anxiety do what it’s meant to: show you what you’re missing out on if you only allowed yourself to try.
“Be brave enough to suck at something new.” — Unknown
“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” ― G.K. Chesterton
“Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.” ― Mark Twain
I anticipate people will read this and go, “Gin, you are encouraging people to be reckless schmucks, to go out in the world with no preparation or experience and get themselves killed!”
No, I am not.
You should plan any adventure extensively. Whether you’re backpacking, bicycle touring, long riding, or something else entirely, you should be diligent in arming yourself with the knowledge necessary to make it happen while mitigating all risks possible. Absolutely.
In fact, I would argue that if you have the willpower to hit the road, you will, naturally, want to set yourself up for success, and preparing carefully goes hand-in-hand with that.
I encourage you to do your research. Go, analyze gear, scope out routes. Ask questions, seek out mentors, watch video tutorials. Get fit. Study your craft, comprehensively. Do it all.
Also, let it be clear—much of this post, despite me using the ubiquitous term “adventuring”, is meant to be in regards to going across America, ocean to ocean, rather than other intensive forms of exploration which do demand more extreme caution and calculation.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” ― Dale Carnegie
Ultimately, the point I’m trying to reiterate is that no amount of money or planning will compensate for an inherent lack of want. You can have infinite funds and designer gear, and these things may make your journey cushier, but they will not be what determines your success.
If you asked me to choose who I thought had a greater likelihood of making it: the Olympian rower, the world-champion equestrian, the renowned ultra marathon runner, all with overflowing wallets, or your run-of-the-mill, young, scrappy backpacker with pockmarked clothes, thinning soles, and a smell to match, I would choose the backpacker. Every time. My bet would be on them not only for long distance walking, but riding and kayaking, too.
Technical skill can be learned. Heart is unmatched.
Likewise, there is no such thing as a perfect start; it’s an oxymoron. Rid yourself of the notion.
Tear down the barriers to entry you’ve built yourself.
I left for my walk across America weighing 195 lbs with $500 in my wallet and a stroller since I couldn’t afford high-end, ultra-lite gear to make carrying a backpack practical. I was 18, had never left home before, and had no overnight backpacking experience.
I would do it that way again.
“The more you know, the less you need.” — Yvon Chouinard
While I have walked, biked, and ridden across America, there is a part of me that is still that young girl sitting in her room, dreaming of doing it. I still identify with the person everyone laughed at.
It is hard to gain confidence when it seems like no one is on your side. However, you must recognize this, even if it hurts:
People won’t believe in you when they can’t see that you believe in yourself.
They will knock you for your weight, your age, your looks, your social skills, your experience or lack thereof, and they have a right to. It’s all they have to go off of. Even if many of these traits are ultimately superficial.
If you want supporters right out the gate, prove you care. Prepare.
Preparing will not only encourage others to be on your side, it will increase your own confidence in making it happen, in a way that daydreaming wistfully never will. Your odds of success will increase exponentially.
So what if you’ve done this and people are still disregarding you?
Likely, it’s because they don’t believe in themselves, so they struggle to see how you could do something they can’t imagine themselves accomplishing.
So long as you believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter.
You don’t even have to believe in your own success, you just have to believe in your ability to try.
Another pitfall I see people fall into is that they over-conceptualize crossing the country. They look at the sheer size and scope of the United States on a map and are quickly overwhelmed. I was once, too. In fact, when the idea first came to me, my immediate thought was “I can’t do that.” It was a gut reaction.
Crossing the country, regardless of your means, is not a herculean feat for only the strongest among us. You don’t have to spend years physically conditioning your body until it’s in peak condition. You don’t need to have every logistic predetermined; that is the true impossibility.
It is not a race nor a marathon. You’re not on the clock. You are your own boss.
I equate it to writing a book.
If you wrote just a single page a day, you would have a 365 page book by the end of the year. Easy to say, harder to do. Regardless,
If you walked just 10 miles a day, a distance which takes, on average, three and a half hours to complete, you could walk across america in a year.
You must have the willpower to persevere but, to an extent, you set your own pace. There’s even substantial wiggle room to be lazy.
When I was walking, or cycling, or horseback riding, and I got bored or tired, guess what I did? Stopped and sat. Relaxed. Some days you’ll have the energy to do 25 miles, no problem, and other days you might decide after just 5 miles you’re ready for a nap.
Adventuring is the closest thing I’ve found to the simple, sweet pleasure of playing in the woods as a kid. You’re meandering from place to place with intent but also with the simplicity of having no other obligations.
I don’t mean to undermine the triumph of crossing the country. It’s an incredible feat that few accomplish for a reason. Rather, my intent is to show you just how possible it is for the everyday person.
Its accessibility makes it beautiful, too.
Learning about the American Discovery Trail is what made my dreams first take root.
Knowing there was an established route for people to walk across the country suddenly made my own ambitions realized.
To circle back to my point about perfectionists: generally, what I find is that the majority of people who have never gone on a long-distance adventure tend to overestimate what you need. This is rarely done with ill-intent. No, it’s largely well-meaning. Fretting parents, concerned friends. Your own conscience, worrying itself into knots.
This is what causes most people to never live their dreams, to self-sabotage themselves into never taking that first step out of their front door into the unknown.
I know the feeling well.
It took me a long, long time to leave my bedroom.
Yet, if you make that leap, there is a secret to adventuring that can be yours, and it’s why I love life on the road so much:
4. Your weaknesses can become your greatest strength
When you set out, and you don’t stop, won’t stop, suddenly all the reasons people had to judge you before your departure, all the traits within yourself that have brought you shame, made you doubt your own self-worth, will serve to reinforce the power of your spirit, the very basis for which others will now love and admire you.
Because you didn’t let your perceived flaws become limitations.
You proved that they never mattered, never defined your ability.
This will make your ultimate success even richer.
“Courage is … daring, no matter how afraid, insecure, intimidated, alone, unworthy, incapable, ridiculed, or whatever other paralyzing emotion you might feel. Courage is taking action … no matter what. So you’re afraid? Be afraid. Be scared silly to the point you’re trembling and nauseous, but do it anyway!” —
Equally, crossing the country has a way of transforming you into the best version of yourself.
It is a path of boundless opportunity for growth-physically, mentally, socially, spiritually.
If you’re fat, it will make you fit. If you’re shy, it will give you social prowess. If you’ve never left your home state before, never had the chance to see the beauty of the West, it will take you there. It will show you natural wonders, big and small, that satisfy your inner child, satiate your soul. Chance encounters will lead to lifelong friendships. There is a saying in the thru-hiking community: “the trail provides.” It’s meant to describe this mystifying, yet very real phenomenon where, when things go awry, they tend to turn around in the most unexpected, blessed ways.
A helping hand is extended just when you need it most.
Call it fate. Call it,
“The harder you work, the luckier you get.” — Gary Player
I have spoken at length about the naysayers out there and, in a sense, this is a shame because it doesn’t reflect the majority of the people you will meet while going cross country.
Curiously, I have never been met with major opposition during any of my beginnings. I’ve faced my fair share of skeptics, those who have regarded me as a bit of a joke, a kid biting off more than they could chew. Equally, I’ve had people question my sanity and my legitimacy, unsure whether to believe my story. And yet, I have never had someone try to overtly condemn or antagonize me about my pursuits after having starting them. I thought I would when I first set out to walk across America. Again when I left on horseback. I was a total mess at the onset of both journeys. (Or should I say a “work in progress”? Ha.) Yet time and time again, I have been greeted with dignity and grace, encouragement and support. This experience is not unique to me; I hear others echo it.
It can be yours, too.
Often, you leave the worst critics at home. Though most of them have a habit of becoming ardent supporters, too, when you get some mileage under your belt.
What’s more, crossing the country has a funny way of gifting you with less.
Constantly working for your basic necessities—food, water, shelter— gives you a greater appreciation and gratefulness for them. A slice of pizza or a bowl of ice cream will never taste sweeter than when you have just spent the last five days walking 100 miles under the summer sun in pursuit of them. Whereas when these things are at your fingertips on a daily basis, it is easy to normalize their availability and, inevitably, suffer for it. A life of excess is a trap many fall into without realizing it.
I suppose a point I’m trying to reach is that crossing the country is no leisurely trip akin to a summer vacation, and you wouldn’t want it to be.
It is work, and much of its beauty lies in that fact.
Yet unlike most jobs, you are not grinding away mindlessly at a task for another person to then buy your happiness elsewhere.
You are cutting out the middle man, to an extent, and going straight to the source. You are working for your own happiness.
Every day you will face new experiences and you will be made better for them.
They will make the edge sharper, bring you an immediacy to life that is ever-alluring.
And even if you have a rotten go at things sometimes—your feet are covered in blisters, it’s bucketing rain, your tent is in shambles, you’re on the edge of a breakdown — you can still find a sense of fulfillment every day in knowing that: you have made progress. So long as you’re moving, you’re pushing on, no matter how hard it is to do, you have gotten closer to your end goal.
Even if you have only made it a mile further.
You’re always gaining.
Similarly, while no one wants to admit it, there are many professions that are difficult to break into if you don’t have a particular “look.” Your promotions are entirely at someone else’s whim. You must pass their judgement test(s) to go on.
Not so with adventuring.
You hold your destiny in your own hands.
The remaining question then is: what if you do try, and fail?
“Try. Fail. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” ―
Failing will show you where your priorities lie. If your heart is not in crossing the country like you thought, taking the initiative to learn that puts you ahead. You can finally stop daydreaming of something that was never meant for you. You can put the fantasy haunting you to rest and move on with a sense of clarity.
Failing may be the very thing you need to open your eyes to what truly matters to you.
Alternately, if you never try, you risk aging with regret, always needlessly wondering what if?
“Lower the cost of failure.” — Joichi Ito
A footnote for kids like me, fresh out of high school with nothing to their name**:
You are in a good position to go on an adventure, even though it may not feel that way. I was terrified to leave home for the first time. I’m still mystified by the realization that I’m an adult. Like, wow, when did that happen? I swear it’s still 2016 and I’m 16. It’s scary to suddenly be thrown into the world with no career, no connections, no money or idea as to what the hell you want to grow up to do. But in that uncertainty and turmoil is a blessing: you have no roots lain. No marriage, no kids, no job dependent on you. ** You aren’t tied down. You’re a free agent. You’re at the perfect point in your life to explore, literally and figuratively. Even if you are not in peak physical shape, you are at the premiere age to become fit. You may be broke, but you’re not poor so long as you allow yourself to be rich in spirit. People will see you as inherently naive, yes, but they will be disarmed by your youth, too. In a good way. It will make those you meet on your journey more likely to offer a helping hand. They will be more inclined to see you like a child, or grandchild, to take under their wing. Don’t underestimate this quality. It is how your youth, which would normally be a sheer slight against you in the job world, becomes a great asset.
Have dreams that keep you hungry.
There’s no right or wrong way to live them. They can even exist entirely within your head. If they bring you joy there, cherish them dearly. Confession: I love fantasizing about sailing the Northwest Passage. I am amused and enticed by the improbability of it. Where else could I narrowly miss hitting an iceberg and fending off a rabid polar bear on the same day? I will likely never do this. I don’t even know how to sail, but fictional-mind-me is a legendary captain, and the mind is a world of its own.
The power of imagination is the closest thing to magic.
Don’t let your spirit be stifled.
I believe in you.