I was several hundred miles into my grand attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, and the foot path in front of me had turned into a stream. It was raining.
It was an El Nino year, and later we would learn that it would rain 28 out of 31 days. But for now, all I knew was that my socks were dry. And I was just doing my best to get through the rest of the day that way.
I made my way up the trail, hopping from side to side, avoiding puddles and sticking to the high ground. A lot of money had gone into my water-proof boots and as long as I didn’t step into anything deeper than a couple of inches, I was good.
Halfway up an incline, I stopped to catch my breath and let a fellow thru-hiker pass by. He turned to me grinning and said, “You know… once your boots get wet, you are free”.
He strode up the trail, and I stood there in surprise. We were miles from the nearest road or shelter, and the rain was predicted to go on for days. What was I doing? Was I really going to hop my way up the trail for the next ten miles?
I stepped gingerly into the large puddle in front of me, letting the cold water seep in through my lace holes. I walked forward, picking up my pace, and realized… he was right. My feet were wet, but I was free. Free to walk with purpose and enjoy the views around me. And to splash through the puddles like a kid, smiling and dancing.
It has been 12 years since that A.T. hike, and I have thought often about that hiker and what he said. How many times do we twist ourselves around, going far out of our way to avoid a perceived discomfort? And how much are we missing around us when we do just that? I don’t want to be so engaged with the effort of life that I miss the great stuff that is around me.
I am sure that hiker never realized how much purpose, joy and freedom have come into my life as a result of his statement. But anytime I find myself tied up in knots, attempting to dodge something uncomfortable, I smile and think of him and that rainy day. And I say to myself, “What are you waiting for…. just get your boots wet!”