To me, feeling free means escaping the daily struggle of life in America. The daily expenses, the daily stress at work, the daily drama. But curling into a ball, hiding inside, or going ‘crazy’ spending money on materialistic nonsense is no escape.
My particular escape is when I find myself breathing heavy, feeling my legs getting wobbly, and my head pounding. This particular escape starts under the calming shade of greens and near the bubbling sound of a stream. This escape continues through winding trails in and out of the tree line, following ridges, pastures, and fields of flowers, oceans, sunrises, and sunsets.
This freedom is tough. Sometimes I am too tired to eat. The humidity of New England feels like a wave I can’t get out of. The never-ending walls of rocks I have to scale with a clumsily packed backpack take a toll, but the challenge is all part of the freedom.
The lone moose, with its handsome, colossal frame that glances at me and continues on its way is freedom. The music from robins in the morning during my watered down coffee is beautiful. Meeting others in search for the same freedom is enlightening. Telling stories over salsa and rice is clarifying. Writing in journals and reading old books by flashlight and wondering if things are okay is peaceful and provoking.
And the most freeing part of my freedom hikes is at the top of the mountain I’ve decided to dominate. The immense view of a peaceful world, where there is no violence, no hate, just beauty. This nature that so many have never even seen is my real freedom.
I breathe in the unpolluted air and consider how many times I thought about turning back but never did. I couldn’t and never would because the struggle to get to the top is just too tempting. Having done it many times before, I realize the beauty and tranquility I will eventually encounter if I can just keep walking. The celebratory sandwich or smashed strawberry while dangling my legs over the cliff, watching the millions of trees rustle in the high winds, is a treat for only the most free, the biggest fighters. Laying down, taking in the sun, feeling my hair blown in every direction, I feel my body begin to cool, my damp shirt clinging to my skin. My aches and pains as a new hiker are wonderful. They’re proof of my fight for freedom, so I stand back up and stretch my muscles.
Hiking back down is a different pain. My muscles are tired though I am not out of breath. I am still in awe from my surprising accomplishment, excited to reread my thoughts in my journal and to relive my adventure in pictures. I think about the other mountains I would like to hike next week and how I will manage escaping work for a week for a real trek. For now, my escapes will be sporadic, but I am working towards becoming free all of the time.
When the dangerous rocks seem to subside, I reach a slow jog and eventually increase my pace. I run through the woods, exhausted and sweaty, after having just hiked for a day or maybe the entire weekend. I run for what seems to be eternity, back out of my freedom, back to the parking lot where my financed car is parked. Back to the road that takes me back to civilization, to work, to bills, to school. I run back to my family and friends to show them what I have reached and what I will continue to reach as a free person.
About the Author: Jackie Aldama is a software engineer and computer science student originally from Boston. She lived in Mexico City for most of her teenage years and plans to pack up to explore again once she finishes her degree. Jackie recently started a website where she shares travel stories and plans locally and abroad. Follow her on twitter @band0lera