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  • I've been selling my things for almost a year now. I started with clothes and books; moved on to notebooks, stationery, and DVDs. I ditched a lot of things I'd been collecting since college. I had been talking about leaving Seattle almost since before I arrived that I can't even remember now what started the purge. I was going through a breakup, I was burned out on work, it had been raining for nine months straight, and I think I just ran out of hope. I couldn't imagine my life looking up from where I stood, so without a plan I decided to leave.

    About this time, my aunt Linda gave me Wild to read. I wish I could say I'm not part of the "Wild Effect"*, but I am. I raced through that book when I was in my Dark Place last spring. And I did something I've never done before: I skipped all of the feelingsy bits for the parts about hiking. "This is what I want to do," I thought.

    So here I am, a year later preparing to leave in a less than a week. After months of research, endless obsessing, reading dozens if not hundreds of gear reviews, pouring over maps and books and online guides, it is almost time.

    I'll be recording my trip on Cowbird instead of on a traditional blog for a very selfish reason: I hate blogs. I like cowbird because it allows me to seamlessly integrate story, sound, and picture in a snapshot without getting too bogged down with text and detail (like I am here). Storytelling is really hard for me. I've never been good at talking about myself because it requires total vulnerability: the knowledge that you will try to bare your soul and whatever you scramble together is what they will see. Too emotional and you appear self-absorbed, navel-gazing, unaware and a fool. Not succinct or beautiful enough, and you appear just not smart enough. Too specific and it isn't relatable. Too vague and you're saying nothing at all. But the safest road leads to the saddest failure: not deep enough and you haven't really expressed anything at all (no matter how witty you sound).

    So here I go, bravely into two frontiers: the wild physical landscape of the American West and the equally wild and more frightening narrative landscape of attempting creative self-expression.

    Thank you for reading and best wishes,
    Katherine

    ____________

    *The "Wild Effect" is a term coined by angry thru-hiking aficionados who, reasonably, don't like how crowded the Appalachian Trail (first) and now the Pacific Crest Trail have gotten in the past few years. Their gripes are backed up by the numbers. According to the PCT Statistics page (http://www.pcta.org/our-work/trail-and-land-management/pct-visitor-use-statistics/), the number of people who apply for thru-hiking permits almost tripled from 2013 to 2015. They blame the popularity of Cheryl Strayed's book (published 2012) and the subsequent movie (released 2014) for the dramatic increase in hikers on the trail. They may be right, but I think there is also a larger phenomenon happening: camping, hiking, and general outdoor recreation has just gotten significantly more popular in the past few years. Look at how hard it is to get a camping spot at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (permits fill when they open a year in advance) and how crowded REI is on any day of the week. You can blame Wild, you can blame the recession (camping is cheaper than European vacations by a long shot), or (my mom and I agree on this theory) you can point to how much better (lighter, cheaper, more comfortable) outdoors equipment has gotten in the past few years. When I camp, I sleep on what is essentially a >1lb air mattress. Whatever the reason, maybe it's a good thing that more people can get out and enjoy this beautiful place where we live. Hopefully, it doesn't get too crowded.
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