Matt Forney
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Leaping Into the Pain

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Two weeks ago, I was about ready to quit.

I’d been refused entry to Canada after a two-hour ordeal, then harassed by a couple of pigs with nothing better to do. After getting lost trying to find the nearest motel (no cell service in that little podunk town), I finally got a hold of the only taxi driver within a thirty-mile radius and got a lift. I was exhausted and brain-fried from being awake for close to forty-eight hours and barely eating anything aside from my supplements and a little beef jerky.

When I finally checked in and got a look at myself in the mirror, I almost recoiled in shock. My arms and shoulders were covered with bruises from my backpack, my face and neck were sunburned the color of blood, and I had gigantic quarter-sized blisters on the backs of both my heels. Every bone in my body ached and throbbed.

I looked and felt like two tons of mashed-up hell.

I fell asleep that night wondering why I’d even bothered. “What was the point of this stupid trip? You’re beat up, tired and stuck in the middle of fucking nowhere and you have nothing to show for it. You’re not the second coming of Jack Kerouac, you’re a kid who’s in WAY over his head. Get a bus ticket back home and stop fooling yourself.”

“Lean into the pain.” That’s the Geographer’s catchphrase, signifying that it’s a man’s duty to confront his fears rather than run from them.

Right now, I’m sitting in the kitchen garden/courtyard of my homestay in Tbilisi, right in the depths of the fear. Every couple of hours, my brain will recoil, and say, “You need to buy the next plane ticket out of this god-forsaken place. You made a grave mistake by coming. You will most certainly die here.” It feels like walking down a dark, labyrinthine alley, one without end.

I too was gripped by the Fear, staring at the ceiling of that North Country motel. It felt like I was thousands of miles away, even though the town I was in was only a three hour drive from home. Sheer physical exhaustion was the only thing that saved me from just throwing in the towel then and there.

The next morning, my negativity had subsided. I was wide awake, the aching had subsided, and one of the blisters had popped while I slept. I took a shower and shaved, got my stuff together, and headed out.

I’m not just leaning into the pain, I’m leaping into it.

It’s easy to continue on when everything’s going your way. The true test of your resolve is when you suffer a setback. Will you buckle like a belt when life deals you a bad hand, or will you flip ’em the bird and keep pressing forward anyway? It’s one of the many things that separates bitches from men: the willingness to follow through on your mission even when things aren’t going your way.

Bitches run from the pain. Men leap into it.

I’m writing this from back home in Syracuse. I’m not here out of fear but necessity: the fastest route to the Pacific Northwest from northern New York takes me through here. All other routes take me out of the way. Back home, I’m safe: I’ve got air conditioning, food, friends and family, and any number of low-status jobs that pay enough to cover my meager living expenses. In a world in which half the population is living in poverty, I’ve got it pretty damn good.

It’s not enough. Less than a week of hitching around the North Country and I’m already bored here.

By any conventional definition, I’m batshit crazy. What well-adjusted person would choose what I went through over a nice, normal life? Standing out in the hot sun for hours at a time with my thumb out, hiking with a fifty-pound backpack, getting harassed by law enforcement and sleeping on the ground?

What am I, some kind of masochist?

I’m not seeking out pain for pain’s sake. I’m seeking out pain because it’s a necessary obstacle in the way of what I want. The reason my life degenerated to the point it did is because I explicitly avoided pain. “Go ahead, run away. Run back to your shitty job, your parents, your friends. It’ll be okay.”

Back home, I’m comfortable, but I feel like a cow being fattened up for slaughter. On the road, despite all the pain I’ve gone through and will go through, I feel free.

I’ve got a mission to complete, and I’m not stopping until I’m done with it or I’m dead. Any less and I couldn’t live with myself.

The day after I contemplated quitting my journey, I had hitched nearly a hundred miles east. After trying in vain to get a ride before the sun set, I checked into another motel, mainly because in a prison town like Malone, it was all but assured that the police would harass me if I camped outside. As I filled out paperwork for the Indian clerk, one of the owners’ family members came out.

“Hey, aren’t you the guy who was standing outside?”

“Yeah, I was refused entry into Canada at Ogdensburg, so I’m hitching to Plattsburgh to catch a bus,” I replied.

“Wow man, that really sucks. You gotta go all the way out there?”

“Yeah, I know. It’s a setback, not a defeat,” I reluctantly smiled.

“Well, that’s a great attitude to have,” he grinned back.

“Thanks.”

The Indian guy handed me my room key. I grabbed my backpack and headed out.

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