Editorial: Seattle Backpackers Magazine was following  Jesse Ables on his 2600-mile walk across the US this summer. Last week he had to call off his hike, after 3 weeks and 160 miles. The letter we received from him was flat and direct, and through his words we could feel his disappointment with himself. But we like to look at every opportunity as a learning experience. Jesse set out on a great challenge and a great adventure. That is the very heart of what we’re about so we’re honored that Jesse chose SBM to help share his endeavor. We’re certain that we haven’t heard the last from this determined, thoughtful young adventurer. His final entry is below:

It’s difficult to come to terms with failure. It’s one thing to not meet your own expectations; it’s quite another fail on a large scale, in front of family, friends and many other supporters. Twenty-two days into our walk, having spent over half the trip trying to recover from an undiagnosed illness, I decided to quit.

After nearly a week of rest, we decided to move at night on what would be our final day to avoid the stress of walking in the midday heat. The first hour was tough but manageable, and during our first break, I had high hopes for the rest of night. Unfortunately, my body met hour two with extraordinary resistance, killing my spirits and forcing me to realize that, even if I were to get another two or three miles in, I wouldn’t make to the next town, much less the coast. At the end of our second hour of walking, I dropped my ruck several yards from Devin, selected a particularly meaningful song on my iPod and lit a half-smoked cigar. I knew the trip was over.

I had promised myself and others that I’d push through to the last possible second with reckless abandon. That didn’t happen. I knew I could’ve dragged myself farther. That’s really where the defeat lies for me. I knew we couldn’t succeed, because of my health and other reasons, but I told myself I’d die trying to make it. When you’re actually faced with that option, common sense and weakness take over. It was so much easier to sit on the side of the road and indulge in things that made the pain tolerable.

If I had to justify my failure, I’d point to my illness as the cause. I’d mention that my energy had been drained for over a week. I’d point out that I spent a night vomiting in the desert before going to a hospital. I’d say my reduced ability to digest food – likely related to my lack of a gallbladder and a typically asymptomatic liver issue – necessitated throwing in the towel. These are, in my mind, excuses. I didn’t push through to the last possible step.

Looking back, I believe we planned hastily. Our route demanded we carry heavy rucksacks over distances farther than anything I had covered previously, and during the summer months, no less. Our finances would barely allow us to make it to the coast with even the most conservative spending. In spite of everything, I adopted the attitude of “we’ll figure it out somehow,” even though I knew from experience that such an attitude rarely produces the desired result. I did, in a sense, rope many people into a project that had a deceivingly small chance of success.

But it would be tragic to not realize that I did still accomplish much of what I wanted with this walk. I brought attention to my family’s plight, helping them emotionally and financially. I was able to inspire people, even in my failure. I was able to test my own limits and my willingness to follow through with an ambitious idea. Still, all of that is not enough for me to feel that this is over.

The only reparation I can offer is that this walk will be attempted again someday under the right circumstances; both for my sake and for all those I let down. I am unwilling to accept this defeat without another attempt. Assuming my body will allow for it, and perhaps even with great physical resistance (I am nothing if not stubbornly persistent), I will make it across this continent on foot.

©Jesse Ables

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