Last year, medical tests revealed that a rare genetic cardiomyopathy is slowly but surely mutating, expanding, and gradually weakening my heart. Though there are no outward symptoms yet, my heart pumps only four-fifths of what it should, and my future health feels less certain. At age 44, the more I thought about my mortality, the more I thought about my desire to live more fully.
Recently, I completed a yearlong class called “A Year to Live” at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. We discussed loss and fear, imagined having a terminal diagnosis, created wills and advance directives, named a health care proxy, reviewed our past, reconciled regrets, and began work on our bucket lists. Having already jumped out of an airplane and played soccer with Buddhist monks in a Himalayan monastery, I knew what I wanted to do with the remaining time allotted to me: Go on a multiday backpacking adventure with my son. What better time to start tackling my bucket list than the present, I thought.
Having grown up doing backpacking and cycling trips in the British Isles, I worried that Harper, my seven-year-old New York City–raised child, would miss the satisfaction that comes from completing those physically and emotionally transformative endeavors. Rainy-day Googling led me to the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Knowing that Harper was too small to carry his load and that my knees couldn’t manage both of ours, discovering the Appalachian Mountain Club’s hut system offered the excitement of three consecutive challenging but doable days on a breathtaking stretch of the Appalachian Trail.