AN OPEN LETTER TO MY FATHER

My brother Matt and I left for our respective European backpacking trips months ago, back in May, and even before then my dad had began the flood of emails concerning packing suggestions, articles written by thru-hikers, and general excitement centered around the Colorado Trail, a 486-mile stretch of trail between Denver and Durango he had decided he’d be attempting to thru-hike. I maintained nonchalance when repeatedly asked if I was ready for Matt and I’s relatively meager one-week backpacking trip scheduled to join him out on the trail. I guess. Even the day before flying out and meeting Mike on the trail, my disposition of the feat my dad had intertwined himself in was sparse. It’s just hiking.

It’s not just hiking, though, because if it was as simple as placing one foot in front of another for a few weeks we’d all be champion thru-hikers. Thru-hiking is the commitment to packing all your living necessities on your back and living in a tent for weeks. Your daily undertaking becomes hiking between 10-20 miles, and every morning you restart the routine of packing your tent, hiking your miles, and setting up camp as a reward for the exertion. Granola bars and filtered creek water are your fixed standard. Its discipline running on depleted motivation, its physicality fueled by inadequate sustenance, its hail pounding you while your sweat beckons famished mosquitos to cling to your being.

“It’s the loneliness,” I remember my dad dubbing as the worst element of the trail. “I miss your mother.” He drove from our home east of Dallas in June to indefinitely make home on the Colorado Trail. Since then he’s been hiking towards Durango from Denver, marking the halfway mileage point of 243 miles this past week.

He set aside a full month to cover as much of the CT as possible with the plan to assess his hiking mentality and distance travelled at the end of the 30 days. His downfall, he claims, is the unknowing of how far he would actually hike within that month. Even as Matt and I steadily gained mileage with him last week, completing four of the CT’s 26 segments in five days, his words revealed uncertainty of how much more time he was willing to dedicate to completion of the thru-hike.

Mike, my father, my superman and creative inspiration, has never been one to offer halfhearted effort to any project he’s ever begun. In fact, his insistent commitment to specificity drives me crazy– asking him to do one favor seems to send him down a rabbit hole of other tasks he finds necessary of attention along the way. So incredibly thorough and infatuated with detail is he. I knew, as I listened to him doubt his ability to complete the Colorado Trail, entertaining quitting without hiking its entirety, that he would never truly be satisfied with this decision founded out of temporary sentiment. That’s not the basis of finality he’s ever chosen to remain in. That’s not where I got my discipline from.

Over and over I learn oft-subtle lessons from this intricate man that raised me. Be confidently capable in revisable goals. Not maintaining the originality of an idea you’ve once had isn’t dismissal from revising your path to continue chasing whatever your end goal is. Passion of completion will win if you’ve decided you absolutely can’t settle for anything inferior. I’ve been watching my father hike, camp, and repeat every single day the past month. I know, even as he flirts with the idea of leaving the Colorado Trail incomplete, he would never let that decision sit in permanence. He’ll make it to Durango– that’s his mental make-up, that’s ultimately the sole satisfaction of this venture, and (thankfully) perseverance is the only example I’ve ever had growing up.

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