2019 Reflections

True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.

Brianna Wiest

I can’t wrap up 2019 with a nice bow like: “it was a roller coaster of a year”, or “it had a lot of ups and downs”, or “it was great year!”, or “this year sucked!” – because they are all partially true. More than anything, 2019 was a year of tremendous change for me. I’ve made drastic professional and personal lifestyle choices in order to be happy, and I’m all the better for them.

The biggest change, by far, was to “get off the road” and stop working on Broadway national tours (temporarily, for now, more on that later). And it was 100% the best decision I could have made. I started 2019 off working a gig on a tour that had burned me out so thoroughly that I hated coming in to work every night, made me hate who I felt I had to be in order to be successful at that gig, and resulted in me pulling away from almost all of my friends (despite their best efforts to pull me back in – Taco and Emily, I’ll never be able to properly thank you for continuing to invite me over no matter how many times I said “no”) – I was stuck in a pit of self-loathing.

So I live in Denver now! And I am quite possibly the happiest I’ve been in years. I completely lucked out with a wonderful, cozy sublet with two great roommates and, if this isn’t an indication of settling down, I don’t know what is – I bought a mattress! I get out and hike multiple times a week now, have regular climbing partners, workout in the gym every other day (I can’t even tell you the last time I did that), and have goals and dreams that are NOT career focused, like hiking all of the Colorado 14ers.

Another big choice was that I bought a car! I’m the proud owner of a 2017 Subaru Outback and I’ve put over 20,000 miles on her since we drove off the lot at the end of May. I drove (instead of flying) between all of the tour stops from July to October, and I truly believe that the freedom of having my own personal vehicle (as opposed to a rental or sharing a company-supplied car) made all in the difference in helping my mental health. My Outback and I have driven cross-country almost twice, traveled from Massachusetts to Key West, FL and back again, and I’ve slept in the back in dark interstate rest stops, cold snowy trailheads, and on top of windy mountain passes. I hope she holds up to many more years of love and adventure.

Lastly, a short story. When the tour was moving from Nashville, TN to Greenville, SC, I chose to rent a car and drive (instead of taking the company-provided bus) between the two cities, because I knew I could use the opportunity to visit Great Smoky Mountain NP for the first time. It was an EXTREMELY overcast day – really put the “Smoky” in Great Smoky Mountain NP – and you couldn’t really see too far at the roadside vistas. So I kept driving up and up through the mountains on the road that goes from one side of the park to the other. At the highest point on the road, I pulled over at Newfound Gap (the North Carolina/Tennessee border) and walked around for a bit.

At the edge of the parking lot, near the side of the trail down to the privy (restroom), was this sign:

NOBO (Northnound) Mileage on the AT at Newfound Gap, GSMNP

and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I stood at that spot for a long time, just thinking, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I belonged down that path… that maybe this path would give me the opportunity to figure out what kind of life I want to lead, because I was no longer sure I wanted to keep the status quo. I’ve since visited and/or hiked other sections of the AT in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New York. The seed having been planted, I spent the next few weeks researching what it would take to hike the entire length of the trail, and, knowing almost nothing about long-distance backpacking, I learned A LOT about this thing called thru-hiking.

Over the summer, I thru-hiked the ~170 mile Tahoe Rim Trail as a “shakedown” hike for my gear and to suss out if hiking and backpacking is something I am really passionate about. My successful completion of that trail, in 9 days of hiking (and two zero days in South Lake Tahoe) is one of my proudest accomplishments of the year. And especially so the last day, when my hiking partners John, Kevin, and I pushed a 30 mile day up and over the highest point on the trail – Relay Peak, at about 10,500 feet. I pushed myself up to and past the point of exhaustion that day, probably because of the 3,000 foot relentless climb leading up to Relay, but we did it, and ate our weight in In N Out late that night.

On top of Relay Peak, just before sunset

So I’m excited to say that all plans are in place my 2020 NOBO (northbound) thru-hike attempt on the Appalachian Trail. I’ll be flying from Denver to Boston to see friends and say goodbye on February 26th, then from Boston to Atlanta on the 28th to start the Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls State Park on the morning of February 29th, 2020. I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to make a special FB page or Instagram for the hike, at the very least, I’ll post major milestones on my personal FB and this blog. I am SO EXCITED to start the trail, and I cannot wait to experience the growth and challenges that I believe it’ll bring.

To wrap it up, I have utterly no idea what my life ahead holds for me, and that is so thrilling and freeing. I’m very thankful for the savings from four years of touring that have enabled me to live this way. All I know is that I will be 60 miles north of Atlanta, ready to try to hike 2,000+ miles to Maine, in about two month’s time. I have no idea if I’ll return to touring after that. I’m in the process of self-studying to get back into front-end web development (something I’d let go of in college) and would love to study for my EMT certification after the trail, with the goal of working with an outdoor agency and to help people.

Some additional highlights of 2019:

Me on December 31st, 2019 atop Mt. Sanitas in Boulder. I wanted to get one last peak in before the New Year, and I actually got up one more (Flagstaff Mountain) before heading to work that night!

Author: Zach "Free Fall" Tucker

Long Distance Hiker, Traveler, Peakbagger, and AEA Stage Manager.