In 2013 I felt lost.
I was depressed and could barely get myself out of bed to go to college. So, after meeting a rugged train kid named Sal, I decided to hop a freight train and hitchhike across the country to try and shake myself from those awful feelings.
Three-and-a-half years have passed, and I’m just now releasing the documentary I filmed on that trip. I recommend you watch the documentary below before continuing, as I’ll talk about some things which reference the movie and expand on that story.
In the documentary, the story starts in the winter of 2013; but the real story started months earlier.
In the spring before I hopped out of Savannah GA bound for NY on that CSX intermodal train, I had just finished my first year of college and was thinking about dropping out.
College was overwhelming for me. I felt stagnant; I didn't feel like I was growing.
At that time I was very impatient. If I couldn't see progress before my eyes, whatever I was up to wasn't worth doing. Like the time I gave up on trying to build a table for my house because I got frustrated with my inaccurate wood cutting, or the time I started writing a short book and stopped because the words wouldn't flow onto the paper.
I came to college to become a filmmaker, but more so a great storyteller. And I wasn't telling great stories my first year there, so I started getting frustrated and I couldn't think straight.
That tremendous stress on myself to become an amazing filmmaker made me think that I didn't want to be a filmmaker at all; something I had been doing since I was 13.
That summer I was introduced to the Appalachian trail by my friend and met some hikers. They all looked so content, so happy, so stress-free. The trail seemed to hold exactly the push I needed.
I decided to hike the Appalachian trail from Maine to my parent's house in NY. It was 823 miles.
On September 4th, 2012, at age 19, I left Mt Katahdin by myself and finished hiking 74 days later.
It was the single greatest experience of my life.
I climbed mountains! Conquered storms! And along the way, I met some of the most fantastic people of my life. In my map/guide book, I could literally see myself making progress and creating new experiences. It was firmly tangible.
On the map, I could see how far I hiked, how far I’d come. It was a blissfully satisfying trip. All the things college was not for me.
While I was hiking I would always think about how much better I would be when I got home… how everything would change for me. I would start working out daily, I would be more inspired to work harder. I would be able to tell great stories!
But as soon as I crossed that threshold and returned to school, everything mostly went back to the way it was before. I fell back into a depressive cycle, was unmotivated to work, and I worked out twice.
It was my freshman year of college all over again.
I would spend days in bed watching mindless, YouTube “let’s play” videos. I was irritable, somewhat mean. I spent a lot of my time smoking weed and sitting on a couch discussing film ideas I wanted to make but would never actually get up to do.
Savannah is covered in train kids during the Winter and Spring. I would buy them some liquor and drink with them and hear their stories. It seemed like they had the same Appalachian trail experience I had, but with train hopping and vagabonding. It felt like the trail again.
Then I met Sal. When he offered to help me hop trains, I jumped on the opportunity to, in my mind, experience the excitement of the Appalachian Trail anew. To take part in the “single greatest experience of my life” again.
If you have watched the film you got to see my journey after I met Sal. As soon as that train started moving all those terrible feelings went away. The screams of joy I had as I realized what I had just jumped into felt almost exactly like the Appalachian Trail.
Meeting all of those people and hearing their stories of how they felt lost gave me comfort. Traveling that distance and making it home paralleled my Appalachian Trail trip almost perfectly.
Did everything change and all my problems were solved like I hoped it would? Absolutely not. I went right back to being lazy and unmotivated.
However, I now understood that I needed to be more patient with growing.
I needed to not stress out about feeling lost (I realized everyone else felt the just as lost sometimes) and just take pride in making small – and maybe sometimes nearly unnoticeable –steps towards making real growth.
Growing takes time. Plain and simple.
The less time I spent being mad at myself for not growing the more time I spent actually making progress. And while it did take three-and-a-half years, making this documentary, and more importantly, learning the patience needed to overcome the arduous journey that the storytelling process is, I think I took a real step towards becoming that great storyteller I wanted to be back in 2012.
All the best,
Adventure Katz (AKA Joey Katz)
P.S. If you enjoyed my film and this story, it would be wonderful if you could subscribe to my YouTube channel and share the film with your friends. It helps me out and makes me get off my lazy butt to make more videos.
And before I go, I just want to say one last thing. There is nothing wrong with escaping. I believe running away is an important part of growing. Just make sure you come back and face your real challenges with the strength you gained from your adventures.