By Deirdre (De) Fournier
If I kept an honest diary, starting on April 24, 2019, the first entry surely would’ve been “what the hell was I thinking”?
Only one person gave me that answer. An honest answer. Sharon. She was sick. She was dying. And she said in her matter of fact, piss and vinegar way, ‘you don’t know what the hell you’re doing’! I was too afraid to acknowledge she was right. I just nodded. She knew. I was scared.
I first started out on a beach on the west coast. Point Reyes, California to be precise. My GPS/digital map was useless to me. The paper map didn’t make sense. All these years of being directionally challenged… how could I possibly think I could hike across the United States? I have absolutely NO SENSE OF DIRECTION! I lied to myself for weeks before I commenced my journey. “All I have to do is go from west to east”. Even though I muttered that almost daily – I knew that wouldn’t be the case. So, on that first day of hiking – Wednesday, April 24th – after 13 or so miles and being attacked by gnats, mosquitoes, flies, and all their pesty relatives, and having an allergic reaction to some crazy ass plants that made me itch and tingle, I realized this wasn’t what I envisioned. My first day I questioned absolutely everything. That very first night, as I started to drift off to sleep under the stars, I whispered to myself… What the hell was I thinking?
Who knew that almost 8 months later I would find myself on another beach? This one on the east coast in Cape Henlopen, Delaware.
I got off the trail and my life took a turn towards… well, life. A residence, a job… you know – the day-to-day life of someone that doesn’t decide to trek across America. Of course, my life as I knew it on the trail for the last 8 months came to a halt. Which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing. Now I had to focus on my future, and that was a BIG thing.
Fast forward 2 years later: I was sitting at my desk the other day and was looking at the new digital frame I purchased for myself. I purposely loaded it with photos from my trek. The reason being is that I’d been battling “writer’s block” for weeks, if not months. I thought if I put the frame there, I could reflect, and creativity would strike. I’m still waiting for it to hit, but while I do, I enjoy reminiscing with myself. And I do feel all those emotions again – a throwback of an amazing journey. I can almost feel the painful blisters I endured. I truly do remember the most amazing people I met along the way.
Ya see? This is the crazy part. I had never backpacked prior to that morning of April 24, 2019. Nope! Never! Nada! Zip! Zero! You get it. I mean I did my day hikes that I’d walk between 5 and 17 miles (depending on how lost I got). I carried a small backpack that had my water (sometimes even some trail wine). I always had my trusted camera (affectionately named Kevin), as I called my walks Photo Therapy Walks – a very accurate moniker.
These walks were done in old sneakers or hiking boots that I grabbed at Goodwill. The items in my backpack didn’t weigh more than a couple of liters of water (and/or wine). If my knee should bother me or if it simply got too hot as I hiked around South Reno (desert heat), I’d simply call an Uber. I was as ill prepared as anyone could be. My biggest suggestion to anyone that wants to hike across country: Do exactly the opposite of me!
There’s a saying, “fake it till you make it”. I did that for over 4,000 miles. I “faked it” almost every single second of the trek. When I spoke to people along the way, it was always with a smile. But hidden behind that smile was sheer terror. Folks would ask me innocent questions because they were truly curious, and while I answered with confidence, inside I was shrieking to myself: they don’t think I can do this! They know I’m a fraud! They can see right through me and they KNOW I don’t what I’m doing!
I would stop at local newspaper offices in small All Americana towns. I would walk in with my heavy backpack and the sign on the back that said, “Trek Across America Raising Awareness to End Domestic Violence”. Except for a couple of offices – these tiny newspapers did a story about me. I never did get used to the questions. I did get better at building that facade that I knew what the hell I was doing. Yet I never did get to that comfort zone. Perhaps that was a good thing. Maybe it gave me an edginess to make it look as though I was a tough, badass, outdoors woman that I knew I wasn’t. Maybe eventually I would stop asking myself ‘what the hell was I thinking’ (for the record, NO!).
As I look at these photos in this digital frame, I am reminded of the emotions and thoughts that would assault my psyche each day. I realize that the journey across the United States did affect me. I mean, how could it not? But while I was in the throes of it on a day-to-day basis, I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t feel it. It didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks one day while I was hiking along the Lewis and Clark Trail. It was a slow and deliberate.
Not too long ago, a woman I met said ‘it must’ve been hard for you when people asked why you’re raising awareness for DV – to have to relive your sister’s tragic death’. I believe that’s when I started to identify how this incredible odyssey had helped me heal. Because of this quest I was able to talk about Juli and what happened to her with a whole new perspective. In some instances, I was able to see the light in someone’s eyes come alive when they realized there was help available for them or a friend or relative. I could see that they were visualizing their freedom. I gave hope to people who so desperately wanted to help themselves or someone else. I could actually see some thinking to themselves, ‘am I a victim’?
Juli’s tragedy is carried with me every day. I miss my sister. I miss her laugh. I miss her stories. I miss her “crazy”. But Juli lives on. She lives on through her children and now her grandchildren. She lives on inside all those people that I met along my pilgrimage. The women that I held hands with. The victims that I shed tears for.
So, what the hell was I thinking? I was thinking that this non-backpacking woman was going to give it all she had. Juli was with me in spirit. She picked me up when I needed it most. She made her presence known when I honestly thought I was the loneliest person in the world. I was hoping that along my 4,000 plus mile trek that I could impact at least ONE victim. If I helped one woman get to that safe place. If I bolstered one mother/daughter/aunt/grandmother/niece to seek guidance and council. If I somehow encouraged one sufferer to say, ‘No more’. If there was only one person I may have been able to help throughout those miles it would be worth every blister, every sore muscle, and every tear.
So, what the hell I was thinking? Maybe it was simply “Just one”.
About De (in her words)
My family grew up in Cape Elizabeth, ME. My twin brother and I are the 4th and 5th children out of 5 of us.
I wanted to see more than Maine when I was younger, so I packed up and moved out west.
After moving back and forth from east to west. Then west to east. And again, east to west. Never quite finding that comfortable place. Always looking around the corner to see what else was coming my way. Whether it was a new job. New city. New State. Never could settle in for too long.
So, hiking across country didn’t seem too farfetched. I certainly did romanticize the journey prior to that first day. It was the second day that the “romance” vaporized! I realized that it was going to be challenging, not only physically, but mentally. I truly had no idea what I was doing. With that said – that may have been the key on how I did managed finish that hike. If I had called into question the logistics of how I was going to do it. Had I researched, studied, YouTubed, googled how to hike across America – hands down – I wouldn’t have done it. It would’ve scared the crap out of me.
Perhaps sometimes walking (hiking) into an unknown – can be the advantage.
To learn more about De’s adventures on the trail check out her website www.deegoesfromtrialtotrail.com