It's a tricky thing, commitment. You commit to a person, or a goal, or a lifestyle, knowing all the while that there's always the possibility that something beyond your control could change your plans. And so I'm going to resist the urge here to preface the announcement of a recent commitment I made with those hesitant caveats: "Assuming nothing else comes up..." or "If all goes according to plan...." Instead, I'll just come out and say it: Exactly two years from now, in April of 2013, J and I will begin our attempt to through-hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
There. I've said it. You heard it here first. The PCT runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington - 2600 miles of soul-searching, marriage-testing backpacking. We're going to do it, and we're going to invite as many of our friends and family members as possible to do some portion of it with us. It will take approximately six months, hiking south-north, starting in April to avoid the heat of the desert and hopefully reaching the high Sierras in early- to mid-summer, when most of the snow has melted there.
It's both exhilarating and terrifying to have committed to this journey. I'm not so concerned about the physical effort as I am about the mental exertion - six months is a whole lot of time doing nothing but walking. And the next two years is a lot of time planning something that - let's face it - could easily be derailed by the rest of life.
I often find it difficult to strike a balance between flexibility and commitment, and this trip is no exception. We have to be fully committed to this goal if we are serious about accomplishing it, which means spending many hours and not an insignificant amount of money just in the planning stages. We have to be willing to quit, or at least take extended leave from, our jobs, and we assume that we'll be as able - economically and psychologically - to do that two years from now as we think we are now. And we have to be prepared to change our plans, to adjust to the ever-changing current of things completely beyond our control, like the health of our family members or the future economic situation.
In the face of all that ambiguity, we choose to make plans anyway. We want to turn our talk into commitment, and finally to turn that commitment into action. Getting to each of those points with any given dream seems to me one of the keys to a fulfilling life.
And so, we commit without caveats. A river guide once told a group of paddlers I was with, as we headed into one of the largest rapids in the Grand Canyon, that as we paddled we needed to be not just involved, but committed to the experience. "What's the difference between being involved and being committed?" he asked. "Well, it's like bacon and eggs. In bacon and eggs, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed."