Taking the Next Step

Photo by Jason Hill

Hello from Atlanta, Georgia! The cross country portion of my trek is complete, and the rest of the summer will be spent up and down the east coast until landing in Boston, Massachusetts. I’m happy to share that starting this fall, I will be pursuing a Master of Music in Collaborative Piano at Longy School of Music of Bard College. After visiting and auditioning this winter, I got the sense of being supported as a whole person and not only as a musician. I also appreciate that Longy emphasizes music as a medium in making a meaningful difference in the world.

To give a glimpse into my musical background, I began playing piano at the age of seven in southeastern Pennsylvania, where I grew up in a very musical family. Between then and high school, I also learned to play the flute, guitar, bass, mandolin, and some violin. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music with an emphasis in piano performance at Greenville College in Illinois. While I mostly studied classical music, my friends and I formed bands together throughout our time in Greenville and I got a lot of performing experience through that. After graduating, a group of us moved out to Portland, Oregon to continue doing just that. After a few years, one of us, my ex, got a major record deal and got to take his show on the road with a full live band, which I was part of. Around the same time, I created a solo indie pop project called Pink Feathers and released a few singles and EPs under that moniker–you can listen to it on Apple and Spotify.

Around 2017, touring slowed down and I turned my focus to forming Rose City Track Club, coaching individual runners, and coaching a high school cross country and track team. Music took a bit of a backseat until my friend asked me to play piano for her wedding ceremony prelude in 2019. Feeling a bit rusty, and wanting to do a great job for my friend, I began studying classical piano again with concert pianist and artist Sophie Lippert. I really enjoyed coming back to the practice of learning and performing classical repertoire, and continued studying with her for the next two years.

Throughout my time on my 2020 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, music played a bigger role in that experience than I could have imagined. I have spoken before of how little made-up melodies would play in my head throughout the journey (not uncommon with a repetitious activity like hiking all day, every day), which I translated into original piano compositions after the hike. Toward the later stages of the journey, after day after day of self-imposed suffering, I had this longing for creating and going back to artistic pursuits after finishing the trail. I spoke about this with Mike Walsh when he interviewed me for the Berkshire Eagle while hiking a section with me in Massachusetts.

Beyond the trail, my first thought was, “I want to write a book!” detailing my experience on the trail. I don’t know anything about writing a book, but I sure started writing a lot between then and now. Keeping this weekly newsletter/blog has been instrumental in keeping up the practice of writing, even when I’m not sure what I want to say. It’s sort of like not knowing how you’re going to feel for a run, but stepping out the front door anyway; the words just come tumbling out. I also returned to studying piano with Sophie and learning new repertoire, including Nancy Bloomer Deussen’s “Cascades” and William Bolcom’s The Garden of Eden for four hands, which Sophie and I performed and recorded together.

Then, last year, I experienced a very big loss, something I am still working through. I had impulses of just wanting to pack up everything and leave Portland immediately, but emotions were running high, and there was no actual plan. So I stayed, and it was hard, but I’m glad I did. It allowed me to lean on my friends and community for support, for which I’m very thankful. It allowed me to appreciate all I’ve gained in Portland as an individual, even though I arrived there as part of a unit. It also allowed me to explore the question, “What now?”

It seems that everything about the past few years, just based on my own hopes, desires, and actions, has been pointing toward developing more as an artist and writer; however there are certainly times I’ve felt stuck and in need of guidance. To have an opportunity like this, to be surrounded by other artists and musicians in a creative environment, is something I am really looking forward to and certainly won’t take for granted. Until then, I’ve got a few creative and athletic pursuits up my sleeve for the summer, which of course I’ll share more about along the way.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoy these newsletters, please consider buying me a coffee! Your support keeps this newsletter going, for which I’m so grateful. Shoutout to my monthly members for your continued support. Another great way to support is by sharing this with a friend or family member that might enjoy it too. New readers may subscribe here. ‘Til next week! ~Mercury


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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