“Take a breath, take a step, enjoy this moment. If we keep going forward then we will never be here again. Take your vitamins, eat your granola and take as many pictures as you can. Trust in strangers, be everyone’s friend and for the love of God enjoy the view. Keep your feet in the dirt and your head in the sky. It is going to hurt, give yourself time to heal. Drink from as many springs as you can. Live in this moment forever and it will never end.” – Matthew “Odie” Norman (www.hikeryearbook.com)
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge that 2020 was a terrible year for many of my friends and family – loved ones were lost, jobs were lost, and dreams were put on hold. By publishing this reflection, I in no way intend to diminish the hardship or suffering experienced by so many in my life.
I’m looking back on the year that nobody asked for and taking stock of what has transpired. It seems cliche to say, but yes, 2020 held many… MANY challenges, but also opportunities for growth.
At the beginning of the year, in February, I was invited out to the Mean Girls 1st National Tour to be a sub Assistant Stage Manager and had a life-changing three weeks with the company. As the rest of the team will attest, I walked around backstage with my mouth agape, because I could not believe what a pleasant experience being at work with that particular company was. My time with the Mean Girls company completely reversed my sour outlook on #tourlife and actually got me excited to go back out on the road (cue the pandemic…) Thank you, Peyton, for trusting me with that opportunity.
Next, there is so much I could say about my successful northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. It was everything I wanted it to be – including the unplanned month-long work-for-stay at The Station at 19E – and still everyday now, I look back and wish I was still hiking. There were so many times when I’d get to a vista or be in the middle of experiencing something with my trail family, and I’d just freeze, because I wanted that moment to last forever and I didn’t want to move on from it.
The AT taught me that I really can achieve whatever my goals are because I pushed through so much while following that 18inch-wide strip of dirt for 2,200 miles. It taught me what truly matters in life, how to find joy in the little things, and also what is truly worth stressing about (like snakes.) One specific memory that strikes me is 30 miles into the 40 miles of Maryland that my friends and I were attempting to hike in 24 hours, completely out of water and in the midst of the mid-day summer heat. I had slept for 2 hours in the last 36 (don’t ever start a 24 hour challenge after being up all day) and was hallucinating due to worsening dehydration and exhaustion. At this moment, I came up to the edge of a huge rock field (without blazes of course) and just cried. I screamed “you have got to be FUCKING KIDDING ME” at no one in particular, and just felt bad for myself for little bit. But not too long, because I still had mileage to cover to reach my goal, and there was no one around to help carry me through the rocks or achieve my goal for me. And with that, I started picking my way through the boulder field. I think about that moment a lot when I encounter challenges at work these days.
After finishing the AT, my life has been a bit of a whirlwind. I went back to rural Tennessee to help run The Station at 19E hostel for a time in the owner’s absence. I spent time with my family in Massachusetts, and then decided it was time to get back to my new home, Colorado. Just like before, it was me, my Outback, and everything I own in the back of her, driving across the county.
So now, crazily, I work at Telluride Ski & Golf in Telluride, Colorado (and I live down the road in Norwood). I am a wrangler (essentially host/busser/expo) at Gorrono Ranch and a back waiter at Bon Vivant – two on-mountain, ski in/ski out, restaurants at the resort. My commute involves a gondola ride and then two lifts (to Bon Vivant, one lift to Gorrono) and then I ski back down the mountain the end of day.
I was a very beginner skier – having ski’d maybe 3 days in January 2020 – when I got here, and I quickly had to get good enough to ski blue runs to AND from Bon Vivant. (See trail map below) And even worse, I was VERY, VERY anxious about ski lifts.
A particular memory I have from this winter is when I was living in Dillon, CO (briefly at the beginning of November). I had just bought my new skis, boots, and bindings (no more rentals for me!) from REI and had gone to Loveland Ski Area to practice. I got there, paid for my pass, and had everything ready to go when I looked at what was open – a single lift that serviced both beginner and experienced terrain. What’s worse was that the lift was a high-speed quad and STEEP. I never ended up stepping into my bindings that day… I was too intimidated. I just went home, having wasted the money on the pass and very much with my tail between my legs.
Fast forward about a month to now, where, six out of seven days a week, I hop on two lifts by myself, early/before public access (with my employee pass), and it’s not a big deal… it’s just how I get to work. The amount of fear and anxiety surrounding my commute to and from work on the mountain that I’ve had to overcome quickly is something I’m proud of. Granted, I still don’t love skiing down the sheet of ice that is Polar Queen after a shift at Bon Vivant… but I’m working on it.
And that’s where we stand for now. I’m happy with my life here in southwest Colorado and I’m excited to get to know my new gigs and coworkers better. It’s pretty wild to reflect that, over the course of one year, I’ve gone from Touring Stage Manager…. to helping run a hiker hostel… to being a grizzled thru-hiker… to working at two on-mountain restaurants?
To close, I’ll share with you a list I made in the final days of my thru-hike. At the time, I had just been given advice that, in order to stave off post-trail depression, I should make a list of all the qualities I see in myself on trail that I want to transfer into my life in society. So, here is a list of who Free Fall is:
- he isn’t afraid of uncertainty and looks forward to seeing what challenges lie in store
- he assumes the best in people when first meeting them
- he doesn’t stress about changing “the plan” as new information or circumstances arise
- he is OK with not having a plan
- he isn’t afraid to be uncomfortable
- he is physically fit – fitness is not a determinant of the day’s adventure
- he likes waking up early and getting a productive jump on the day
- he believes in the kindness of strangers and that people are basically good
- he keeps his wits about him no matte the situation
- he isn’t afraid of his emotions and building attachments
- he can do a lot with very little
- he loves the outdoors and adventures and wants to share that with others
- he pushes though his fears because he knows growth and pride is on the other side
Happy New Year, everyone!
Zach “Free Fall” Tucker