• Mary Anderson

A Matter of Discipline

“I carried my son on my back into the woods when he was still in diapers.”

I meet a lot of people who tell me they would love to do a long hike, but they don't have the time. Some days I feel I don't have the time to do my leg exercises or my writing. It struck me in a new way the other day that what I have time for depends on what I prioritize.

I am aware that caring for a baby or an elderly parent takes a lot of time. And yet I carried my son on my back into the woods when he was still in diapers. I didn't want to give up hiking. My house was a mess. I never prioritized housecleaning over hiking.

Most people put in a large chunk of time making money. I never made much money, but I grew almost all my own food, cut my own firewood for heat, and lived pretty cheaply. At most, I ate out, meaning a pizza, once or twice a year. I homeschooled my son, which gave us a lot of flexibility to do the things we loved doing. Sometimes I felt overwhelmed at the number of things I "had" to get done. But still I found time for hiking. And when I had to cut back on it to focus on single parenting, I used to remind myself that it was my choice to make caring for my son a priority. It helped me never regret nor resent that time.

It is easy for me to get caught up in my day-to-day routine and forget that I have a choice in how to spend my time. If I am pushing for miles and not taking time for other things, I have to ask myself if that is what I really want to do. Sometimes I have to step back from the rut I create in my routine and rethink my priorities. I can find a million excuses why I don't have time to do the exercises that help my knee: I'm too tired at night; I have to get going in the morning to get over the passes before storms roll in; there is no place to lie down on the trail at midday. But then I remember the consequences and realize it is up to me to find the time. It is a matter of priorities and discipline.

I have met a lot of people who have chosen to make radical life changes in order to make time for the things they love. Yesterday I met a young woman who gave up her house to live in a converted van. This is allowing her to work fewer hours and spend more time doing what she loves doing. Today I met a number of couples who have their stuff in storage and have given up careers. Some parents choose to live on less money in order to spend more time with their children. There are entire families hiking the trail. Most of us out here feel lucky to have made the time to do it. I know I have a finite amount of time each day. And as I get older I am aware my days are numbered. I want to live that remaining time so that I do not have regrets at the end. It is one reason I keep working to complete this hike.

We all deserve to have time to do the things we love. Unfortunately, this is so much harder for some, who must work multiple jobs just to put food on the table. The economic gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen in the U.S., and there are too many racial and gender disparities creating second-class citizens. Now I have to ask myself if I am willing to make the time to do something to change these inequalities.

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