Each week, one of my posts will be an excerpt from the draft of the book I’m working on about my hike on the Appalachian Trail. Like, last week’s, this excerpt is most likely going to be placed in Chapter 1 which, as it stands now, will be a series of vignettes that — all together — paint a picture of why I thought was leaving my life behind to start a new adventure.
As always, I’d be thrilled for any feedback — positive or critical — about the things that resonate with you or don’t. Thanks!
Mardi Gras was over. I’ve heard when your body readjusts to not having alcohol in your system, it can cause depression. Maybe that was it. Or maybe it was seeing my friends less than I was during Carnival. Or being dumped. Or not getting the promotion I wanted. Or feeling like I had no direction in my life.
Or maybe it was all of that.
It was the late afternoon on as chilly a Sunday as one can expect during March in New Orleans. I had been sitting on my couch all day, planning on scrolling through jobs I might be interested in applying for, but instead, scrolling through pictures of ex-girlfriends on Facebook, wondering why I seemed to be the last person they all dated before they got married. I was a final rite of passage.
Sinking deeper into my funk, I decided to get a sandwich at the corner store. I put pants on for the first time all weekend, a hoodie on to protect me from the cold, and a New York Giants beanie to cover my unwashed hair.
I walked down the steps of my porch and was surprised at how nice the chill felt on my face. It reminded me of Hannukkah on Long Island, when my sisters and I would hear the doorbell ring and my Mom would say, “Oh! You guys better check. That might be the Hannukkah Man!” (Correct, “The Hannukkah Man” was our answer to Santa Claus and, correct, he left presents outside the front door instead of all this chimney and Christmas tree nonsense.) We’d run outside and I’d feel that same chill against my cheeks.
My favorite Upper Ninth Ward corner store was a block to the right. But I began walking left, feeling the tiny pang of excitement in my stomach one feels when they don’t know where they’re going or how long they’re going for.
I kept walking — into the Bywater and toward the river. I passed a barbecue restaurant, piping the sweet, juicy smell of brisket out into the world. I walked along a park that traced the Mississippi River, a cold wind brushing against my face and sliding under my clothes, and I watched joggers and cyclists finish their workouts as the sun dipped below The Westin Hotel at the edge of the Central Business District. I shivered and I didn’t know if it was because I felt cold or if it was because, for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was on an adventure.
I kept walking. And, as I continued to walk, I put in my headphones and listened to a podcast a friend had suggested. It was an interview with the founder and CEO of Sam Adams Brewery, Jim Koch, who was speaking about the difference between things that are scary and things that are dangerous.
“There’s a difference between scary and dangerous,” he began. “There are things in life that are scary, but not dangerous, but we’re scared of them. An example of that would be, when finishing a climb up a rock, repelling back down. That’s scary stuff. But it’s not dangerous.”
“It’s not?” the interviewer asked.
“No. You’re harnessed into a rope that could hold a car up in the air if it needed to. You’re fine. It’s just scary.”
“But you think things that are dangerous, but not scary, are the issue, right?”
“Right. Walking through an ice field on a warm, Spring day is dangerous. It’s not scary. It’s beautiful. But that ice is melting, and when enough of it does, you’ll be caught at the bottom of an avalanche. That’s danger.”
“I see,” the interviewer said, though — as I walked through the French Market as vendors loaded their unsold goods into trucks — I didn’t yet.
“My job before Sam Adams, as a managerial consultant,” Koch continued, “that was dangerous. It paid well, great benefits, amazing office, rubbed elbows with important people. There was no reason to leave. Staying there wasn’t scary. It was extremely comfortable.
“What was actually dangerous, but not scary, was staying and continuing to do a job that I wasn’t happy doing anymore. It wasn’t my passion. Continuing to do that for 30 more years, and getting to the end of my career and going, ‘Oh my gosh. I wasted my life,’ that’s dangerous. That’s very dangerous. Not scary. But really dangerous.”