My grandmother has senile dementia.

She can be given a cup of coffee, drink a couple of sips and throw the rest of the cup down the drain. She will then claim she has not had anything to drink. She can do this all day, through a full pot of coffee and still be steadfast in her determination that she has not had a single cup of coffee throughout the day. She has sat with me and spent a fair ten minutes describing her previous day’s activity in detail, going out to the store with a friend, having lunch at the local café and then having her hair cut and blow dried.

But none of it actually happened.

Her mind is a jumble. Scrambled. Like someone has popped a spoon into her head and given all of her thoughts a stir around.

My mother looks after her full time now. It takes its toll on her, weighs her down. She tells me in no uncertain terms “I do not want to end my life like this”. It worries her. And selfishly it worries me too; I would not want to see my mum confused and scared, I am not sure I have as much grit and determination to stand up to it as my mum does.  

Likewise, I would hope not to end my life like that, unable to recall all of the precious memories that you spent a lifetime building. It is actually one of the things that I hold on to as I march ever onwards and upwards in the age stakes. Taking time to try and have some mind-blowing, amazing and unforgettable experiences, so when I reach a point where I no longer am physically able, I will recall them all fondly in my mind and sit and nod my head and say “I’ve had a good life.”

But what happens if I can’t?

In 2012 I chose to blog about my experience of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and I did so for two reasons:

The first, so that both my parents wouldn’t have an apoplectic fit. I thought that if they could read from my own fingertips how much I was enjoying the lovely easy stroll through the very  un-dangerous, non-life threatening wilderness with my wonderfully safe (and possibly CRB checked friends) I had met, and with no bear, snake or axe wielding manic in sight, they would be pacified.

Secondly, I wanted my blog to be used simply as a communication tool to my friends, family and hiking community at large. I myself had been able to gain much knowledge and confidence from reading other peoples experiences and thoughts from the trail before my hike, I felt it only fair I try to bring my own brand of wisdom and forewarning to all those considering the 2,000 mile hike in the future.

However, something unexpected happened with my blog – people liked it. They actually read my words and told me they could feel what I felt and see what I saw; that their imaginations were brought to life with my words and they could experience my trail story for real for themselves.

It was a phenomenal discovery for me.

In fact for some people, they enjoyed my adventures so much, I had people turn up on the trail to help me, or simply hike out there just to meet me. It was crazy – in the best possible way! I had huge amounts of encouragement and support from people I had never even met which helped carry me along in my journey (and admittedly for a while after it too). And even though that alone gave rise to feelings inside me I didn’t know I had; like a little fire under my heart keeping it warm and glowing, I also had another amazing realisation. I liked my blog too.

I cannot tell you how many evenings I collapsed onto the ground with weary legs, aching back, growling stomach and drooping eyelids telling myself I wanted nothing more than to fall face first into my sleeping bag, only to have Loops muttering beside me “Do your blog, you’ll regret it if you don’t.”  And as much as I desperately wanted to rub my smelly 6 month sweat soaked t-shirt into his face for making me haul myself up and write every night, now I couldn’t thank him enough if I tried.

Every time I feel a little glum, the dreary grey winter sky gets me down, or I’ve spent another 8 hours in front of a computer writing a meaningless report and facing an hour in the car home in traffic, or possibly I’ve just realised for the 100th time that even when I get home Loops won’t be there because he’s stuck in the USA still; I can read my blog. I can re-meet all of my trail buddies, trail angels and all those snorers I wanted to smother in the shelters.  I can eat ice cream at almost every town along the trail, bask in the glory of being able to carry out the fastest food resupply known to man and pee outdoors any time I want.  I can climb every cursed mountain, traverse slippery boulders and ridges and sweat buckets or suffer the early stages of hypothermia.

I can sit for as long as I wish, anytime I like, day or night, rain or shine and I can relive each and every step on the trail. It is priceless and never ending. It is there, so if ever there is a time when I cannot recall that part of my life and I am confused as to what I may have done or not done, someone can place it into my hands like a good book and say, ‘Read that’, and I will be able to have an amazing adventure all over again.

And so what is all of this meant to tell you?

Simply that I would encourage you all to do the same. To live your life to the fullest that you possibly can, whatever that may mean for you. To hold tight to your memories, in whatever way you are able, because one day they might begin to slip through your fingers.

Published by Arabel Mortimer