Sunday, December 22, 2013

Time Waits for No Man

I've been back in Wisconsin for just over three months.  And it shows today.  It's snowing like crazy.  It's been a cold winter so far.  Not pleasant to be outside in.  This weather makes it difficult to recall those hot, humid days on the Trail.  It seems like a far away dream.

And yet, yes, it definitely happened.  How can I tell?  Well, for starters, I am still mostly unemployed.  Three months home and I still don't have "a job".  Or at least some means of meeting the monthly bills.  Today is Sunday.  Nine months ago I would have been joining in with the millions of Americans who dread Mondays.  Today?  Not so much.  In fact, I'm looking forward to doing the project a friend offered to pay me for while the snow comes down.  It's a really good day to be indoors working on the computer.  Yeah, weekends don't mean a whole lot at the moment.

I've been home three months.  One year ago, I was just starting to test out some gear.  I had the first of 5 sleeping bags that I'd try before I'd finally settle on the right one for the trek.  My room was getting the first signs that it was inhabited by an outdoorsy gearhead - three different sleeping pads, random carabeeners, guylines, and tent stakes littered the floor.  Someone offered to let me use their dehydrator.

Wow, it was a year ago that I gave up my ferrets, knowing I couldn't let someone else take care of a geriatric ferret AND a young ferret for six month in my absence.  The other night, I actually found myself listening for the scratching sounds my ferrets used to make while I was trying to sleep.  It seems that now I'm always listening for sounds of "others" in my room at night - whether it be fellow hikers or ferrets.

A week and half until the end of 2013.  The class of 2013 Thru-Hikers is about to be relegated to a place in the past so that the new class can emerge and start their hike.  Hikers are starting to make plans on Facebook to go to Trail Days in Damascus in May - a reliving of their glory days from this year.  Heck, I even joke that if I'm still unemployed in March, maybe I'll just hit the Trail again.  Why not?  I got 220 miles to finish up.  Might as well attempt the whole 2200 miles over.  Or maybe I'll just start from Damascus... Or...

... Maybe I'll find a job.  Maybe I'll settle back into this north-midwest lifestyle.  Maybe I'll swing that one leg out of the (not so distant) past so I can have both feet firmly planted in the present.  Perhaps even with a step toward the future.  There is something future I would like to move toward.  Just not sure how to get there.  The Trail is definitely not blazed for the destination I have in mind.  So, today, as I look out at the winter wonderland out my window, I'm amazed at the passage of time and all that's occurred in the past year, and what could possibly occur in the next.  And I wonder how I will keep up.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Just need to go for a walk

I still walk a lot.  I walk back and forth from church.  There's not much in the way of jobs within walking distance, but I have given that much thought.  I've walked to the library, to friend's houses, to the community center.  I find it more difficult to walk without some sort of destination, so if I can find even a simple reason to go somewhere that I can walk to, I'm fairly apt to make that happen.

Why do I walk?  Well, it gives me time to think.  My mind clears so much when walking.  I talk to God. I talk to myself. I have imaginary conversations with other people.  You know, all stuff I did while walking all day, every day.  There was a LOT of talking while walking.

When I'm walking, the world seems a friendlier place.  It doesn't seem so daunting.  Goals aren't so far-fetched as to be called only dreams.  Ideas seem more possible.  God's voice seems more obvious.  My voice sounds a lot less like God's (don't ask me to explain that one!).

When I walk, I can come up with a hundred blog post ideas, I get motivated to write a book, excited to work toward another hike or another dream.  When I walk, my shrinking bank account doesn't seem so needy, the healthcare act deadline isn't so imminent, and my resume even seems SLIGHTLY impressive (Hire me; I hiked mountains).

When I walk, I'm glad to be where I am.

Then I sit in front of this computer with all one hundred blog post ideas and attempt to type...
...
    ....
          ....

Ahem.  Yup.  Where are those ideas?  My mind gets all muddled with everything in front of me, and I think... "I used to be so busy!  How can I get so befuddled by the relatively few things now?"

I just need to go for a walk.




Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Putting words to a feeling, or something like that

I bet you had started to think I was never going to post on this blog again, didn't you?  Well, to be honest, I have thought about this almost daily, but something always gets in the way.  It's not for lack of time, mind you.  I have plenty of that, still being mostly unemployed.  It's also not because I don't constantly think about the Trail.  I do.  It's always just below the surface of my thoughts.  Constantly processing, but I have such a hard time putting words to the thoughts.  This is a phenomenon that is new to me; I can usually verbalize.

I'm a changed person.  In some ways I'm more reserved, quieter.  In others, I'm much more liberated or liberal.  I miss the camaraderie of the Trail, but I also know full well that I never really fit in there either.  I miss the simplicity of always knowing I just need to hike North, but I also realize that can't realistically continue forever.  Nor do I want that to always be my goal.  However, I have no idea where to go from here.  It doesn't have to be North.  But where?  Literally and figuratively.

I feel the pressure to find income.  From myself, not so much from others (yet).   I'm not completely out of my reserves, but I would like to find a stream of revenue so I could start saving up again for... something.  However, I'm pulled between finding "a job" to get money vs. finding something meaningful that will allow me to also pay bills.  And also save up for... something.  

I find myself pulling away from the familiar.  I'm finding that what was comfortable 8 months ago is no longer. The familiar is often UN-comfortable.  Things just don't seem as "real."  I find myself thinking "how did I get here?"  Or more accurately, "how did I get BACK here?"  

I think I've always been a free spirit, a bit of a nomad.  Most of life has taught me that being free-spirited is a bit selfish and not what a "good girl" should be.  But, I also do have a fierce loyalty and a need for deep connection and roots.  Can contentment be found where freedom and connection occupy the same place and hold equal value?  Can I become truly content with myself?  Does that fly in the face of me wanting to overcome my damned self-sufficiency?  And does that mean that I will still be alone?

What worked in the past isn't working these days... to distract myself, to find meaning, to bring fulfillment or achievement.  So, I need to find what will work.  Yes, yes, I know the simple answer is God.  Don't worry.  That's still firmly in place.  I know that God will provide.  I know He's here with me now.  That makes me smile.  And I'm not WORRIED about the future.  I just can't see it, can't see my next move, my next blaze.  I can't go back, and don't know how to move forward.  So, I continue to process.  

It's also a comfort to stalk fellow hikers on Facebook and see what they are up to.  Many have made HUGE changes to their lives - moved across country, radically changed career paths, or some haven't gone home yet and are still traveling about.  Many seem to be in this "in between" place like me.  They are back in familiar surroundings, but it feels foreign.  They feel a bit lost now that they are no longer wandering.  There's a lot of "missing the Trail."  I think many are also processing, but having difficulty verbalizing.  If I don't have a deep connection with most of my fellow hikers, at least I know I'm not alone in still feeling a bit displaced, comfortable in my own skin but uncomfortable in the clothes I had put on before.  

I've been trying to put words around these feelings for almost a month.  I haven't done it justice.  I've been trying to find the end of this tunnel, so I don't leave anyone reading this at a loss, or feeling like you should be doing something different, or offended or whatever.  That is DEFINITELY NOT what this post is about!  This is my journey.  And although I'm floundering at the moment, there's not a moment I would trade out for something else.  I don't regret a moment.  I don't enjoy being down, but I know there's an up.  After all, the Trail ALWAYS goes up, right?  I just gotta keep climbing.  The Trail is there, and He always provides.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The next adventure

Everyone who hiked the Trail is now looking for what to do next.  We're all feeling many of the same things:

1.  We look at all the stuff we had in storage for 6 months and we wonder, "what the heck do I need all this for?"  So we begin the purge.

2.  We look at the four walls of the house or apartment and we think, "This seems a bit... constricting."  So some of us continue with the hiking/camping, or we get in a car and continue traveling, or we pick up and move somewhere completely different (perhaps close to the Trail, but definitely out of the city).  Some of us just kavetch about it on Facebook, not quite prepared to pick up and move or continue traveling.  Some of us just need the paycheck.

3. We all fear losing the... whatever it was... that we gained from the Trail.  We fear becoming "normal" as if normal equates to boring (which it doesn't have to).  So we say, "What now?  Does it really come down to going back to the way things were?"

So, I got rid of some stuff.  I kavetch on Facebook.  I am procrastinating getting a job because I just don't want to... be normal.  I don't want to get stuck in the routine, predictable life I had before.  Yeah, it was safe.  I'm tired of being safe.

I also know that things CAN'T be the same as they were on the Trail.  Why?  Well, I don't have a good answer to that exactly.  I am a bit of an idealist.  But I know, realistically, it can't.  So how do I adapt back to normal without giving in to boredom and safety?  How do I bring the lessons from the Trail to my life as I'm getting to know it now?

Huh.  Not sure.  Yeah, yeah, you were hoping for a better answer.  Sorry, don't have one.  But here's a theory.  I was intentionally homeless in the woods for 6 months.  Being homeless in a city is an entirely different monster.  Perhaps it would be good to learn what that is like.  No, not for 6 months.  But, perhaps my next adventure will be a few days in a shelter, a few days at food pantries and dumpsters, a few days on the bus system and walking around with my backpack - experiencing the stares and non-looks from passersby who assume I'm... whatever people assume when they see people without ready access to hot, running water.  One thing I learned on the Trail is that any of us are really just 2 days of non-showering and non-laundry from really looking homeless. And all the consequences for looking that way to other people.

I think it will be an experience akin to the spiritual transformation of the Trail.  And then, perhaps, I will be ready to live with stuff, in four walls that I pay rent for, and I won't kavetch about normal or being safe.  Because maybe, right now, I'm taking normal and safety for granted.

What I am more sure of is that I need to experience life in other people's shoes.  What is normal for others, but not me?  Let's try walking for a bit like that.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Next step - write a book

It's amazing to me how many people ask me if I'm going to write a book about my time on the Trail.  Maybe it's because everyone is just used to people getting their 15 seconds of fame, or because everyone seems to want to write about their own life - as if it's really important and riveting to the average American (really, people are way to narcissistic, but that's just MY opinion, in case YOU were interested in my opinion.  Hmmm.)

And maybe walking in the woods for 6 months really is quite riveting.

But then I wised up just a bit.  I started asking all these people who asked me if I was going to write a book if they had kept up with my blog.  Surprisingly, many of them said, well, um, no.  They had gotten a little behind in all that.  Often, a little behind meant they hadn't read the blog since the first or second post.

And yet they want me to write a book.  For what?  I'd be really surprised if they'd take the trouble to buy a book if they couldn't read the blog.  Don't get me wrong, if you are reading this, you aren't one of those people.  Obviously.  And maybe YOU want me to write a book too.

So, there are two trains of thought in my head at the moment.  Non-philosophically, the good news is, yes, I want to write a book.  No, it's NOT just a tale of my Trail.  It would be a fictionalized story based on my life - both on and off Trail.  It's a story I've wanted to write for years but had never found the right voice for until I met some folks on the Trail.  It's not just another person's experience on the AT; there are plenty of books out there already for that.  This would be, hopefully, a story about identity, redemption, emotional healing.  Yeah, all those feel good, sappy things that women write about for other women to read.  Sorry, guys.

However, philosophically, there's another thought.  It's the liberating idea that no one is REALLY watching.  Often, I get caught up in the "other" person's world.  What do they think of me?  Will they approve?  Is what I'm doing the "absolute" best thing?  Should I be doing something else?

If no one is really watching... then, what does it matter?  Who am I truly accountable to?  If no one really notices or cares, then why should I be so concerned about their opinion of me?

And who is watching?  Well, some of you.  Otherwise, I really am writing this blog for my own self-aggrandizement (is that a word?).  But, really, the only Person who REALLY cares is God.  And there's a real freedom in that.  I don't have all the judgement to worry about.  I don't have all the other opinions.  If someone watching doesn't like it, well... oh well.  They don't like it.  Probably, I don't like everything they do either. No problem.  I have the freedom to live self-responsibly.  I like that.  It's not freedom to act selfishly.  But rather, to act as I see fit with others. Because no really cares about me (or my story) as much as me or God.  And I don't care as much about anyone else as they or God care about them.

So, for those still reading this blog: THANK YOU.  I really appreciate you continuing on my journey with me.  There are things about walking in the woods I'd like to share with you.  For anyone else, well, you may have the opportunity to buy a book someday.

Go hike your own hike!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Getting back to normal

Bear bags in the Smokies
I remember those early days - way back in late March and early April.  That first time I hung a bear bag... in the cold rain (that turned to snow by morning).  I remember the first night I did NOT hang a bear bag... and never did again unless a hiking partner begged me to (and offered to do it for me).  I had learned that food was safer from bears in my occupied tent than hanging in a tree.  And I was still just as safe too.

This is Uke!!!
I remember the first person I shared a 2-person tent with.  Uke... you are awesome!  We had decided to night hike and had taken off from the shelter at 2 AM.  I had horrible stomach pain, and finally Uke decided we were just going to sleep.  Set up tent, use food bags as pillows (first time!), and lay down.  Uke snores, and likes to take up room in his tent.  I sleep for a while, but then I get up and feel much better.  I suggest to Uke that we keep going.  He mumbles something incoherent.  So, I leave a thank you note in his shoe and keep going solo.  Still being afraid of bears, I keep singing the "Go away bear" song.  Ah, yes, in our early days - we were still afraid of bears.

I remember all the awkward conversations at first.  "What's your trail name?"  "Oh, you don't have one? Ummm..."  We still weren't sure what the Trail etiquette was.  Could we ask for their real name?  Or where they were from?  Could we pop our blisters on the same log as they were eating dinner?  We all went well out of sight to change clothes - before we learned to change in our sleeping bags or just change in front of people.  Oh yeah, that was when we still changed clothes.

I remember taking the pack on and off and on and off and on and off.  Leave camp with two jackets, gloves, and buff (thingy that goes over my head).  In a couple hundred yards, get too warm.  Take off pack, put away gloves, buff and jacket.  Put pack on.  Walk another 0.3 miles.  Stop, take pack off, take off other jacket and stow it away.  Put pack back on.  Walk 50 feet before you realized you forgot to have a drink of water before putting pack back on.  Stop, take pack off, get drink of water, put pack on.  In that time, you get a little chilly, so you put the jacket back on.  Walk another 1/2 a mile trying to figure out why you are so hot when you were cold just a few minutes ago.  Finally, stop again, take pack off, put away jacket, put pack on.  And so on.  You get the picture.  Eventually, I learned to just leave camp a little chilly and to camel up on water before leaving.  You'll warm up and be fine.  Oh, and put snacks in your pockets, not your pack.

All these little things that make life sooooooo much easier on the Trail.  All these things that aren't important enough to really write home about (or a blog for that matter).  All these things that - as they became natural, routine, normal - we didn't have to think about them or be taught.  We just sort of eased into the cadence of the Trail.

Now that I'm back, I'm having to find the new (or former) cadence of life NOT in the woods.  I have more stuff - that's OK.  I need to spend more time on the computer - that's OK.  Makeup is not a necessary evil; it can be good and fun.  I actually will receive money for some work I do rather than just eating in exchange for food or a floor to sleep on.

Today, I picked up my backpack for the first time since getting back to Wisconsin.  There was a little twinge of nostalgia, that feeling of normalcy that I should be packing up and heaving it up onto my back.  It felt like home.  But that isn't home.  It's merely normal.  I've been staying at my parent's the past couple weeks - on the porch with all the windows open.  My "civilized" clothes are in a suitcase, and I'm still sleeping under a sleeping bag (though not my down one from the Trail).  That was beginning to feel normal - sort of a halfway house between "real civilized" living and being in the woods.  It still wasn't home (though I love my parents, don't get me wrong).  Now that I'm moving to where I'll be renting, it's another step to find normalcy in the permanence of non-Trail life.  Stop living out of bags altogether.  Sleep where there are no windows to the fresh air.  I'll be in the city where I'll actually have to drive somewhere I could walk on non-lawn grass or a wooded path.  But that place isn't home either.  But what I'm seeing in all the transitions I've had to make - to the Trail and back off of it - it will all become normal.  And maybe normal IS home.  Not sure.
My "toncho" blowing in the wind - tent by night, poncho by rain!  Home sweet home!



Friday, September 27, 2013

Church on the Trail

I went to church three times on the Trail in addition to a partial worship service another evening.

The first time was in Erwin TN.  It was a very small, dying church.  It began with 6 people at the front singing 4 hymns, never making eye contact with the 11 people sitting in the congregation (5 of them being first time visitors - all thru-hikers).  They didn't give us page numbers so we could sing along.  We just sat and watched them sing.  Then the preacher did his thing, in his frenetic, judgmental style.  And he went on and on until someone broke down in tears, begging for repentance at the altar.  Not to mention, the preacher completely misquoted scripture to make his point.  I left there with tears on my cheeks as I was praying for my fellow thru-hikers to not condemn all of Christianity based on that service.

The second service was in Waynesboro VA.  It was a small, but growing church.  Nondenominational.  In a strip mall.  They served coffee.  It was full of young families.  Drums, electric guitar, bass (but not too loud).  All the stuff I'm used in my church back home.  People talked to me and the other hikers I brought with me.  We were welcomed.  And yet, sitting in someplace that felt so familiar, comfortable, and homey, I felt out of place.  It was like I was an observer just passing through.  In many ways, that's exactly what I was.  But I wasn't just watching THEIR service.  I was witnessing the changes in ME.  The changes that realized that all that vibrant, hip, modern, cool way of doing things was not where it was.  It was church, and it was structured, and it... just didn't quite fit me anymore.  Well, to realize it never really DID fit me, but now, it was even more so.  God is cool, I love Jesus, and I really don't have anything against the church as a whole (in fact, I support it), but, somehow, I still don't know how to fit in. I liked what I saw them doing and what i heard them saying, but somehow, again, I was changing.

The next service was during Trail Days in Damascus VA.  One of the churches offered food and activities throughout the festival.  In the evenings they would have a live band out front playing covers of classic vinyl, 60's, and country/bluegrass.  It was fabulous, and I brought several hikers in to dance and party.  After that band was done, they invited us for more "live music" in the back room.  OK, I knew that it was going to be a worship service, but they didn't tell anyone that.  I tried to tell a couple people what they were walking into, but it didn't sink in on time.  We all got back there, and after the first two songs, they started to realize they had been duped into attending a religious service.  Don't get me wrong - it was very much like the worship in Waynesboro - modern music, lyrics on the screens to sing along with, dessert and lemonade in the back, even lighting cues.  But my hiker-buds were tricked into it.  By the third song, they were mocking those trying to worship.  I took a step back, away from everyone.  I didn't like that the Christians had not been forthright in inviting hikers to a worship set.  I didn't like that the hikers responded with open mockery.  I was caught in the middle, understanding both sides, wanting both sides to see each other for the good they were, and in that moment, seeing the flaws in both.  What to do?  I decided to start singing along in worship.  The lyrics were "Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest."  One hiker saw me and walked over.  "Are you a church girl?"  I said that I was for all practical purpose though that's not the phrase I usually choose.  "Can I ask you a question?"  Sure, I say.  Pause.  And then what I deem to be a completely honest question.  "Who is Hosanna?"  Huh, um, yeah.  This chorus I'm singing would make no sense to anyone outside of a certain knowledge level of church-goers.  So I explain it's a Hebrew word that is a exclamation of praise, much like the word "Hallelujah" is often used  - both religiously and secularly.  Ah, he says, thanks.  And then all the hikers decide at once to leave. They've had enough. They don't ask if I want to go with them because, well, I don't truly belong in that group either.  But I follow.  I'm somewhere in no-man's land between church and hiker trash.

The last service I went to was the day before I left the Trail in Rangeley Maine.  It was a small, mainline church.  Traditional music, robes, acolytes, pulpits.  The woman pastor explained the meaning of the color change in the linens on the altar - they had entered "ordinary time" after pentecost and before advent (google the liturgical calendar if this intrigues you).  We sang hymns accompanied by a piano.  The regular piano player was out on vacation and the pastor thanked the gal who stepped in as back up.  Then something unusual happened.  The pastor had three different people get up from the congregation and share how God had transformed their life... instead of a sermon!  After the service, Odie and I were invited to the coffee hour afterward which was a celebration for a person who was moving out West and leaving their congregation.  To be honest, I can't say that I agree or disagree with this particular church's doctrine or theology - they didn't go deeply into anything that day.  Perhaps that is a flaw.  But what I did see was a community where people were genuinely acknowledged, allowed to share and be celebrated.  They spoke of personal God-stuff. They laughed and cried together.  Yeah, that's what I wanted.  That's where I want to belong.

I know I only saw two hours into the life of that church, and every community has it's flaws.  Being back home in my church now, I am reminded of why I like my church, but also how I've changed and don't quite fit back in yet, or how I have never completely fit in.  It's not something wrong with the church, it's just I haven't adapted to their hike again.  I long to be hiker trash AND a part of the church.  I long to live all the facets of who God made me to be AND be fully accepted by a group of people who love Jesus they way I do.  Somehow, I always just find myself standing in between, on the fringe of, but never truly a part of any group.  Maybe I'm too much the devil's advocate, always running to the opposite side of a listing ship.

I'm sure my feelings say more about me than it does the church or anywhere else I'd like to be on the fringe of.  But I'm also guessing maybe this is how most people feel - they're just looking for a place to belong.  They want to be all of who they are and still be accepted.  I know that can happen with Jesus; that's been my experience.  I'm just not sure it can ever fully happen with humans.  So, I keep standing in between with everyone else who doesn't fit in.  Maybe that, in and of itself, can be a community.  Hmmmm.

No church here, but I did sleep in this "sanctuary" at the hostel in Hot Springs NC.  Just me and Odie on a pile of yoga mats in the middle of the floor.  

I forgot I went to this church service on the porch of someone's home in Hot Springs NC.  This was a cool service too.



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Appalachian Apparitions***

I'm seeing many hikers posting their Katahdin pictures on Facebook.  They are all finishing up.  Some have even made it back to their prospective homes.  It occurred to me what a phenomenon traveling home really is.  Here we are - a few thousand people with backpacks all converged on a path 18 inches wide in the middle of nowhere.  People sometimes see us, at road crossings or the town laundry or in front of the beer cooler at the gas station.  But, we're really quite ethereal.  We fade back into the woods.  We cross the road, the lucky car to be there when we appear does a double take, and then we're back in the woods.  "Honey, did you see that?  Was it a person?  Was it Sasquatch?"

Apparitions.  Shades of reality.  Now you see us, now you don't.

And as we all end our treks, we fade back into the world.  Our moment of glory, our months of hard work, the buggered few we hiked with and fought with and slept with - we all go our separate ways, by plane, train, bus, or thumbing it.  Some had families waiting at the end.  Most had a beer and a Facebook post.  Some stayed for several days, not ready to fade into urban obscurity.  And as quickly as we had begun the Trail - just started following white blazes - that is how quickly it ended.  Put away the pack, take out the purse.  Put away the pants and socks you wore for 6 months straight - no one wants to see (smell) that here.  Speaking of which, don't forget to put on deodorant; oh, and shave your pits if you're going to wear a sleeveless shirt.

It's not that I disagree with any of these social mores.  It's just that... I'm not used to them.  It's not automatic anymore to grab a new (clean) pair of underwear.  I find it strange to actually own more than 1 pair.  I only started wearing underwear again on the Trail when I put a hole in the crotch of my pants and didn't have a sewing kit to fix it.  That's unheard of here in middle class suburbia.  I have to remember not to inspect my feet while sitting in the kitchen having breakfast.  That's uncouth.  Unhygienic.  And just kind of gross.  Yeah, I get it.  I just have to think through it.

I was at a high school volleyball game - and there was a lost and found.  I saw a cool hat.  Score!  I put it on.  Then someone reminded me that the hat wasn't mine and someone may be looking for it.  I couldn't just take it - that was stealing.  It never occurred to me like that.  I just figured the lost and found was like a hiker box - take it if you need/want it.  Put something back in if you don't need/want it for someone else.

And so as the Northbound class of 2013 thru-hikers graduate back to reality and forward to the next chapter in their lives, we all fade away from an elite class of bad-asses who climb mountains before breakfast, to simply... just another person on the bus.  One moment you see us, the next you don't.

Sometimes, you end up in a cave - this was part of Mahoosuc Notch

The view from this shelter was AMAZING!  But I'm giving you a glimpse of us hikers.

Patchouli sighting!

AWOL and me.  He wrote our guidebook.  This is at McGrath's Irish Pub in Vermont.

This is Miss Janet - mama of all hiker trash and has the BEST unmarked, white cargo van ever.  Love her!

Sometimes, you find yourself rock climbing when you mean to be hiking.  At least I had the ropes!

Mt Moosilauke - the precursor to the White Mtns.  Beautiful.

Wouldn't you want to be here?

This picture just looks like a ghost bird.  I feel a kinship - we're all apparitions.

Sifting sh... erm, compost from the privy.  Doing a work-for-stay.

I'm about to die according to the sign.  Why am I smiling?

Again, who wouldn't want to be here?  Y'all are missing out.

Evidence of lots of hikers.  This garage was pretty rank, I must admit.

***FYI, I stole this phrase from an article in some long-distance backpacking magazine I saw at some hostel.  Credit to whoever came up with that, because it wasn't me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

In lieu of my Katahdin picture

When I was a kid and before I learned the lesson that human children MUST grow up to be human adults, I used to want to be a moose.  Yes, I grew up wanting to be a moose.  I mean, if you think about, who wouldn't?  They're majestic.  They're brave.  They look somewhat unassuming, but they can kill wolves or bears or just stomp over human adults before breakfast.  They are the Chuck Norris of the antlered mammals.  So, as a kid, I would pretend I could shape-shift into a moose. 

Then I grew up, and realized, no, human children don't grow up to become moose.  They have to grow up and become... a contributing member of society, an insurance carrier, a responsible... adult.  *gasp* and Ugh.

So, I go hike this really long trail on the east coast.  I cancel my car insurance.  I get rid of a lot of my worldly possessions.  I quit my job.  I choose to be unemployed and homeless for 6 months (and less than clean).  I make Maine within walking distance of Georgia.  I rival the Canadian goose in its migration patterns.  Yeah, and I fly a little short of the original goal.  I land in Rangeley Maine, a sleepy little town with a sports bar and a quilt shop.  I do not get to stand atop Mt. Katahdin and get my obligatory picture of me triumphantly waving my trekking poles by the sign.  And that's important.  It's THE picture of all pictures for thru-hikers.  You made it to Katahdin.  Congrats.  So, what do I get in lieu of my Katahdin picture?

Well, I get to be a moose. 


Sure, it may be a fairly anti-climactic, unassuming picture.  But in the grand scheme of things, I just fulfilled a childhood dream.  For 6 months, I lived in the woods: majestic, brave, and unassuming.  And in Rangeley, Maine, it seemed only appropriate that this be my final picture of my trek.  I grew up and was a moose.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back to the "real" world

Having a few days with friends in Boston is a good thing.  They didn't have much warning that I was coming so they weren't able to take off work.  During the day, I'm on my own.  But in the evening, they hang out with me.  They are even going through all 2000 pictures I took while on the Trail.  That is a sign of true friendship.  Two THOUSAND pictures.  We're on evening #3; we might finish tonight.  So, here's how it's gone so far since my horrific bus ride.

Evening after bus ride:  Jaime and Dan took me to Five Guys hamburger restaurant.  I realized I would now need to start counting calories - well, LIMITING calories - no more hiker hunger satisfaction for me.  Back to sedentary metabolism, preparing for menopause and learning how to not eat... anything.  I failed - had a huge cheeseburger and a whole bag of fries.  OK, will start the permanent diet tomorrow. 

By 9 pm I was really tired - afterall, the sun had gone down and "hiker midnight" had come and gone, but we were hardly home yet, and I hadn't seen them in a year so I should stay up and talk with them.  They went to bed at 11:30.  "Goodnight Sarah!"  "Goodnight Jaime!"  "Goodnight John Boy!"  Doors close, and I'm all alone.  In a room that could easily sleep 2 more on the floor and a bed that could hold 2 people.  Yeah, 4 people should be sleeping in this room.  Why am I alone?  I realized I hadn't really slept by myself in 6 months.  It was kinda' lonely.

Day 1:  wake up and cry; wonder if I made the right decision; look at weather in Maine about every 30 minutes on the internet; look at Facebook to see if anyone posted new pics from the Trail every 15 minutes; call friends and family to let them know I was off Trail and where I was.  cry more.  In between, I walk around restlessly in the four walls of Jaime's house.  I could go outside, but it's all cars and road, and I don't know my way around the streets.  I should go get clothes, but... well, I have clothes on, and they've been good enough for 6 months. 

I realize around 2pm that I hadn't eaten anything.  I open the cupboards and am overwhelmed by the choices.  Now, the kitchen is not a strength of mine to begin with and I'm usually at a loss of how to put together all the individual ingredients staring back at me.  Today was total overload.  I saw peanut butter- what a comfort.  I grabbed jelly (it was even strawberry).  And though they didn't have tortillas, they did have a flat bread product.  Perfect.  Tomorrow, I will try to begin to eat like a normal human.  Today, this seemed productive enough.

Once Jaime and Dan get home, it's OK.  We all make dinner together.  We get through about 600 pictures.  We all go to bed, and I'm alone again.  It's not quite as weird tonight.  Deep breath.  I can do this.

I learned something about myself - I love community and being with people more than I even realized.  I need to go home.  I was thinking I would do a little more traveling before I went home.  I thought that would be a good transition back to real life.  But no.  I think I need to go home and be surrounded by friends and family.

Day 2:  wake up and determine that I will be somewhat productive today.    Maybe yesterday was a needed zero day for me.  But first, I needed to have a good cry.  Then, I put on my shoes and start walking toward the consignment shop to buy clothes (after checking for Trail pictures on FB and the weather in Maine).  The shop was closed, and I realized that if I wasn't traveling around for a bit that I really didn't need clothes, so I kept walking.  I passed several people on the sidewalk.  I began asking every one of them where the Walmart was - just so they would have to stop and talk to me.  I knew where it was, but it was a good excuse to interact with strangers who were also walking on the same sidewalk as me (we had that in common at least).  I found Walmart and a grocery store.  I walked around the grocery store for an hour, talking to my mom on the phone, trying to absorb all the various food choices again.  Wow, canned goods - so heavy, and yet... I don't need to worry about that anymore.

I get the brilliant idea to make dinner for Jaime and Dan tonight.  First attempt - get overwhelmed, buy nutella, go outside and sit on curb and eat it.  Ah, that feels normal.  I look for packs leaning on the wall outside, or bearded men with filthy shirts.  Oh, this is not normal.  Deep breath.  Go back inside - learn to cook a real meal.  Second attempt - not too bad.  I ended up with ravioli, pesto sauce packets, salad fixings, and a brownie mix.  Not exactly cooked from scratch stuff, but still, not too shabby in my book.

Before I went on the Trail, I was a night owl - rarely went to bed before midnight of 1 AM.  I'm realizing how much of that is because of artificial lighting.  How quickly my body moved back to wanting to stay up late.  I was certainly cured of hiker midnight.  I went to sleep a little after 1 AM. Part of that time was spent online looking at car insurance - something I will need to purchase before I do too much else when I get home. 

Day 3:  Woke up this morning ALMOST feeling normal.  Felt able to make decisions on how to get home and when.  Made actual plans for this weekend (no I won't be home quite yet).  I haven't even been on Facebook yet today (that will be next).  Rather, I looked at some fun classes I could take when I got home.  I looked at a few places to see if they were hiring.  I compared a couple more insurance quotes.  Huh, it's like I'm a civilized human being again.

And sadly, the Trail is already starting to seem more like a dream than reality.  It was "this thing I did".  It's not so present.  Oh dear, now I get to cry again.  Better go do a Maine-weather check.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

All good things come to an end

Well, at some point the Trail has to come to an end.  I made it GA-->Maine; all 14 states; just shy of 2000 miles (1,965.5 to be exact).  I didn't quite reach Katahdin, the terminus of the AT.  Remember that little setback in the ER in Massachusetts?  Well, after getting my full pack returned to me in Gorham NH, and hiking for a few days with that, I realized that my back was not as healed up as I was hoping.  Maine is a very remote place, and I was realizing going into the 100 mile wilderness may not be the best idea with my back still not completely healed.  I certainly don't want to deal with MRSA in the wilderness. 

So, a bittersweet end.  I felt I needed to make a long-term decision for my health rather than the desire to stay in the woods for another 3-4 weeks.  So, yesterday, I got a ride to Augusta ME where I could pick up a bus to get to Massachusetts to stay with friends for a few days and regroup.  Now what?

The bus trip was... quite honestly, terrifying.  Here were so many people in such a small space, and NO one was talking to each other.  20+ people with 20+ silent, impenetrable bubbles.  Why weren't we talking?  Plus, we're flying down the interstate.  How can anyone see the trees or rocks?  What if there was a moose by the pond we just whizzed by?  Do all of these silent people not care about seeing a moose? 

Then, we got to the city.  It was after dark.  Wow, so many lights, so much stimuli, going by my window oh so fast.  I couldn't take it all in.  I had to shut my eyes.  We went through a tunnel, brightly buzzing with fluorescent lights, trying to comfort the claustrophobic (like me).  The bus spit me out at the airport where my friends were going to pick me up.  All alone, surrounded by concrete and echoes of engines reverberating off the road above me and beneath me.  People passed me, and I'm sure they were choking on my sweat-vinegar-pack-stench as much as I was choking on their perfume and hairspray wafting behind them (which, by the way, masked the laundry detergent). 

This world... so familiar, so foreign.  I've stood at this very spot previously at this airport.  I know about manicures and business suits and mascara and patent leather.  But it's been so long since I've seen it.  It all seems very... overwhelming. 

Yes, I'm a little lost - not having white blazes to follow now.  The path isn't quite as clear and there are many forks to choose from.  Which one do I choose?

But, ahhhhh, the Trail provides.  My friends came, and they were a comfort.  They asked about the Trail and my stories and I could begin to process the meaning of all the monotony that was the green tunnel of the Trail.  I  could start to share maybe a glimpse of why someone would want to sleep in mouse-infested shelters, eat peanut butter every day for six months, walk every day with every step having a pain in the knee, forsake the comforts and conveniences of tunnels and lights and manicures and perfume.   

I'm going to continue blogging because it's my way of processing this experience of the Trail.  If you keep following along, you'll keep hearing stories, and I'll post more pictures.  And someday, I'll get back to Rangeley Maine and I will walk those 220 miles north to Katahdin.  I think I've actually already finished the Trail - as Odie said, "Some people don't need the WHOLE Trail (and some need more than one trail)", but other people need a photo to prove the accomplishment.  And I would like it as well.  Maybe after I get the Katahdin photo, I'll swing back to Vermont and finish the Long Trail.  Or fly to Europe to hike the Camino.  Or...  *sigh*  Where are those white blazes?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Perception is Reality

I'm in Maine!  After 1900 miles and 13 other states, I'm on the home stretch.  Yesterday, I traversed Mahoosuc Notch, known as the "darndest" mile on the trail.  It takes an average of 2 hours to go through 1 mile.  It's all bouldering mostly over, but sometimes under (and through), large rocks.  Odie and I hiked with Kentucky, a section hiker who plans to finish up Katahdin next year.  It took us 2 hours and 50 minutes.  In the guidebook, this mile is is described as either the most fun or most difficult mile of the Trail.

Now I ask you, if you had a choice, would you choose to take the most fun mile or the most difficult mile?   What if you didn't know that they, in fact, were the exact same mile?  Would you choose it to be fun or difficult?  Or, maybe, both?

I LOVED the Mahoosuc Notch.  It was challenging, remote, beautiful, used ALL your muscles (not just the legs) as you hauled yourself over a rock, clinging to a small ledge enough for three fingers, or using a (hopefully well connected) tree root to lower yourself down a sheer slope.  In fact, I loved it enough to do it twice.  Once through northbound, then back through it southbound.  I mean, lwhen will I be this way again?  I better get my money's worth now.  Second time through... I'm guessing it was about 90 minutes.  Odie made me promise to get to the trailhead before him (he and Kentucky climbed the Mahoosuc Arm and back down a side trail) or else he'd worry.  So, I made it a challenge to go through as quickly as I could.  Fun!  The darndest mile on the Trail - twice in one day.  Yup, I felt pretty hardcore.

So, we all chose to to make the Mahoosuc Notch the most FUN mile, rather than focus on its difficulty.  That worked pretty darn well.

Now, let's fast forward another 3-4 weeks and another 300 miles.  Summit Katahdin.  Get the obligatory picture with the sign.  Look around and... for the first time in 2185.9 miles do NOT follow the white blaze.  Do NOT go North.  Huh.  Now what?

I'm observing that many people came out to the Trail to figure out what they would do next (including me, to a degree).  And as Katahdin looms in the not so distant future, many are becoming very nervous.  They only have 300 miles to figure out what they gave themselves 2200 miles to figure out.  And they haven't.

As for myself, I have no idea what I will do when I descend from Katahdin.  Heck, I don't even know HOW I'm getting home - greyhound, airplane, hitch?  Then, when I get back, I suppose I should find a job.  I've considered the ministry.  I've considered health coaching.  I've considered bartending.  Is it possible to do all three?  I think so, but not sure.

I may not know what's around the next corner, or in the valley after Katahdin.  There's only one question I can ask myself:  Shall I choose to consider this next Trail after Katahdin fun or difficult?  Or both?



Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wind Storms and Ice Caves

Phew!  I made it through the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  I've been nervous about them since I started the Trail.  They are definitely the motherload of hiking.  In fact, sometimes it's more akin to bouldering or technical climbing (without the luxury of rope and harness) than it is hiking.  And except for a few minor slips on wet rocks, I made it through unscathed and uninjured.

My mother was very worried about me hiking over Mount Washington in bad weather.  And who wouldn't be worried?  Mount Washington has the worst recorded weather in the world!  Now, not on a daily basis, mind you.  But many people have died over the years and, admittedly, it's got its dangers.  I was nervous about it.  But we had great weather, well, over Mount Washington.

It was a gorgeous day.  We hiked from one hut to the Lake of the Clouds where Odie and I washed some dishes in exchange for coffee and a bowl of soup.  Then we started the ascent to Mt Washington - the tourist trap of deadly places.  We got to the top, and I headed over to the side to get a picture of the view.  The view was of a two-terraced parking lot over the side of the mountain.  Yes, you can drive there.  You can take a train there.  You can get on a mini-van and get shuttled there.  Why in the world was I hiking?  Odie and I had a really good laugh at that.

However, we needed to keep moving.  Rain was moving in during the afternoon, and we still had 2 miles of ridge above treeline to hike before we could get down safely.  Well, that was not to be.
The clouds were coming in and we decided to stealth camp at this one little place just at treeline by a spring.  Beautiful place.  Pitched the tent and crawled inside.  No thunderstorm (thankfully) but it rained pretty hard and the winds really picked up speed.

In the morning, we crawled out of the tent into dense fog.  We HAD to get off that ridge, and it was 1.5 miles to the next hut where we could get out of the weather.  There are small piles of rocks (instead of white blazes) indicating where the trail went on the ridge.  The fog was so so dense we couldn't see the next rock pile (called cairns) from the one we just passed.  So, that was slow going.  Also, there were gusts of wind that almost blew us over, probably nearing 60-70 mph.  Not to mention the wet rocks to boulder over.

But we got the beautiful weather AND the scary ridge-running moment (Odie wanted that) - all within 24 hours!  Perfect.

One more story about the Whites.  Odie and I had this crazy idea that we could slack 16 miles.  That was our 1st mistake.  We left our sleeping bags and tent behind, and started hiking.  10 miles later, we realize we aren't going to make 16 miles before dark with the ability to get off the mountain and hike back to our gear.  So, we make it to the last hut in the Whites - Carter Notch Hut.  We admit to the stupidity of what we did and asked if we could work to stay on the floor of the dining room, with perhaps the luxury of a blanket.  They fed us, they gave us mattresses and blankets, and we had great conversation and guitar performance.  In the morning, they gave us breakfast.

And then they told us about this ice cave.  Who could pass that up?  Led by one of the hut caretakers, Odie and I crawled through these collapsed rocks and down into the earth  below the mountain.  We got this amazing sight of ice and water droplets reflecting back like diamonds against the lichens that lived there.  Wow.  I didn't have my camera so this is an esoteric experience I won't be able to share with you.  But diamonds shining in the darkness.  So amazing, an ice cave.

We ended the day by hiking the rest of our "failed" slack pack, taking a gondola ride down the mountain (great pictures of another storm over Mt Washington) and hitching into town to an all you can eat chinese buffet.  They put us as far away from the other patrons as we were just so muddy and wet, smelly and I did get a few scrapes on my legs from the sharp rocks in the cave.  But nothing that didn't get washed away in the shower at the hostel that night before a good night's sleep.

And you all think I'm roughing it out here.

It's been a good week, and I think I'm adjusting to Odie's hiking style, and he's adjusting to mine.  We're communicating much better and I think it would be a delight to summit Katahdin with him.  We'll see what the Trail provides.  And what I decide on the Trail too

Wind Storms and Ice Caves

Phew!  I made it through the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  I've been nervous about them since I started the Trail.  They are definitely the motherload of hiking.  In fact, sometimes it's more akin to bouldering or technical climbing (without the luxury of rope and harness) than it is hiking.  And except for a few minor slips on wet rocks, I made it through unscathed and uninjured.

My mother was very worried about me hiking over Mount Washington in bad weather.  And who wouldn't be worried?  Mount Washington has the worst recorded weather in the world!  Now, not on a daily basis, mind you.  But many people have died over the years and, admittedly, it's got its dangers.  I was nervous about it.  But we had great weather, well, over Mount Washington.

It was a gorgeous day.  We hiked from one hut to the Lake of the Clouds where Odie and I washed some dishes in exchange for coffee and a bowl of soup.  Then we started the ascent to Mt Washington - the tourist trap of deadly places.  We got to the top, and I headed over to the side to get a picture of the view.  The view was of a two-terraced parking lot over the side of the mountain.  Yes, you can drive there.  You can take a train there.  You can get on a mini-van and get shuttled there.  Why in the world was I hiking?  Odie and I had a really good laugh at that.

However, we needed to keep moving.  Rain was moving in during the afternoon, and we still had 2 miles of ridge above treeline to hike before we could get down safely.  Well, that was not to be.
The clouds were coming in and we decided to stealth camp at this one little place just at treeline by a spring.  Beautiful place.  Pitched the tent and crawled inside.  No thunderstorm (thankfully) but it rained pretty hard and the winds really picked up speed.

In the morning, we crawled out of the tent into dense fog.  We HAD to get off that ridge, and it was 1.5 miles to the next hut where we could get out of the weather.  There are small piles of rocks (instead of white blazes) indicating where the trail went on the ridge.  The fog was so so dense we couldn't see the next rock pile (called cairns) from the one we just passed.  So, that was slow going.  Also, there were gusts of wind that almost blew us over, probably nearing 60-70 mph.  Not to mention the wet rocks to boulder over.

But we got the beautiful weather AND the scary ridge-running moment (Odie wanted that) - all within 24 hours!  Perfect.

One more story about the Whites.  Odie and I had this crazy idea that we could slack 16 miles.  That was our 1st mistake.  We left our sleeping bags and tent behind, and started hiking.  10 miles later, we realize we aren't going to make 16 miles before dark with the ability to get off the mountain and hike back to our gear.  So, we make it to the last hut in the Whites - Carter Notch Hut.  We admit to the stupidity of what we did and asked if we could work to stay on the floor of the dining room, with perhaps the luxury of a blanket.  They fed us, they gave us mattresses and blankets, and we had great conversation and guitar performance.  In the morning, they gave us breakfast.

And then they told us about this ice cave.  Who could pass that up?  Led by one of the hut caretakers, Odie and I crawled through these collapsed rocks and down into the earth  below the mountain.  We got this amazing sight of ice and water droplets reflecting back like diamonds against the lichens that lived there.  Wow.  I didn't have my camera so this is an esoteric experience I won't be able to share with you.  But diamonds shining in the darkness.  So amazing, an ice cave.

We ended the day by hiking the rest of our "failed" slack pack, taking a gondola ride down the mountain (great pictures of another storm over Mt Washington) and hitching into town to an all you can eat chinese buffet.  They put us as far away from the other patrons as we were just so muddy and wet, smelly and I did get a few scrapes on my legs from the sharp rocks in the cave.  But nothing that didn't get washed away in the shower at the hostel that night before a good night's sleep.

And you all think I'm roughing it out here.

It's been a good week, and I think I'm adjusting to Odie's hiking style, and he's adjusting to mine.  We're communicating much better and I think it would be a delight to summit Katahdin with him.  We'll see what the Trail provides.  And what I decide on the Trail too.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Running down a mountain

OK, this is something you ALL must do.  I don't care how bad your knees are, or how old you think you are, or how mature you consider yourself to be.  You must try running down a mountain sometime. 

Here's how:  
  1. Find a cool mountain and climb it.  Have trekking poles at the ready.
  2. Have a fantastic self-revelation at the top.
  3. On the way down as you are rejoicing at your self-revelation, begin to let yourself rely more and more on the trekking poles, using all 4 appendages to propel you down the trail.
  4. Beware of tree roots and rocks as they can impede a nice jog and land you in a faceplant.
  5. Continue to gain speed until you are on the verge of being out of control.
  6. Maintain this as you lope along using your trekking poles to help you leap over rough spots in the trail.
  7. Feel free!
Yup.  That's what happened today.  It's a lot of fun.  No faceplants, just sheer joy!

Oh, and what was my said revelation?  Well, it's difficult to explain.  But, in non-well-thought-out words... I realized the difference in doing something out of love rather than doing the same thing out of pride.  I experienced (yet again, maybe now I will learn to heed this more instantaneously) that feeling of what a correct answer is internally, and to stop all this rigamoroll (spell check?) of trying to think something out when I already have had the answer all along.  It's a bittersweet thing to experience joy and sorrow at the same time.  But it makes running down mountains that much more fulfilling.  

More to come, I'm sure :-)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Integrity

My last post put a very positive spin on the way that I seem to be hiking the Trail right now.  It has been a LOT of fun, I've met some very nice people.  Even yesterday, I ended up trying to hitch hike, and ended up for a day and a half at a crawl***.
 
Although the way I'm hiking has been a lot of fun, I've also taken 9 zero days out of the last 18.  That's not a lot of hiking.  And it makes me a little sad.  Actually, it makes me feel like I'm not being very honest with any of you to say that I am still THRU-hiking.  It's been difficult when EVERY person who sees me with my little backpack questions that I'm a thru-hiker.  Some don't believe that I started in Georgia.  I desperately still want to be hiker trash, but, it would seem, I now have too many differences.  Sure, some hiker trash wouldn't care how much I hitch-hike, but I do.  A very few hikers think I'm badass for staying on the Trail after a MRSA infection.  But HALF of the past 18 days NOT on the Trail!!  Sigh.

I'm trying so desperately to adapt to someone else's hike.  And sometimes I feel like I'm the bad person for wanting to have a plan.  And I feel like the killjoy for wanting to actually get up and just hike instead of waiting to see what fun the "Trail" will provide. 

So, I'm trying to figure out what to do.  Is it posible to hike by myself?  Without a tent or water purifier?  Will it still be any fun?  I remember getting very lonely after 10 days in the Shenandoahs by myself.  And this will be a month.  So, please pray for me.  This is a very difficult hike at the moment.  Even though it is very fun.  And even though I very much enjoy Odie's company. 

So, yes, there is a positive way to look at this, and that is the way I'm trying to see this, trying to adapt.  However, there is still a part of me that is not content.  With all integrity, I cannot say that I am hiking my own hike.  So, it's about trying to figure out how much I need to bend and sway and adapt and how much I need to stand by what I want from this Trail.  It's not an easy decision.


***For those that don't know (as I didn't until yesterday), a crawl is when people raise up the chassis of their truck or jeep, put huge tires on, and then drive through the woods, tearing through the trees, bouldering over rocks, creating large swaths of tire tracks. They create really steep hills to try to muscle up, and long mud trails to try to floor the gas pedals and force their vehicles through. I know that we do have this in Wisconsin, but I had never been up close and personal to it, much less in someone's jeep while getting stuck in the sand on said really steep hill.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Not a purist... or "hitch-hiking still uses the word hiking"

It's pretty cool who you meet when you stand on the side of the road with your thumb out.  When you are captive in their car and you put your trust that they aren't carrying a shotgun and a shovel in their trunk.  And they are trusting you to not have a pistol and bottle of lye in your backpack. 

I love hiking the trails through the woods, but I will admit, trees begin to look the same after a while.  I took lots and lots of pictures of streams and trees and fungus and all manner of things early on the Trail.  But, I have less to take pictures of now, it seems.  It will simply look the same as pictures I've taken before.  But when you hitch hike, you meet all manner of new people with new stories and new opportunities to learn.  Don't worry, I'm still hiking the trail under the power of my own two legs, but I'm also adding in several opportunities to hitch-hike.  Yeah, I probably won't hit the 2000 mile mark.  Ah well.  I heard from another non-purist hiker today that being a purist is just another way to stroke one's ego.  Perhaps.

Yesterday, I met a mother.  She had two sons in her car.  One of her "sons" was a boy who lived in the Bronx and was part of a program to come to Vermont in the summer to experience the out of doors. 

A few days ago, I got a ride from a lawyer who loved sailing.  I learned a LOT about different boats and how to sail and also of a great little pub in Scotland that can only be gotten to by hiking or sailing.  New destination on my bucket list.  I also learned the Odie has a love of sailing.  Who knew?

I stayed with a trail angel last night, and had a lovely 2 1/2 hour conversation with her about all manner of random things.  She fed me lettuce and cukes from her own garden.  She fed me homemade bread, homemade granola, and homemade yogurt for breakfast, along with rhubarb that came out of her neighbor's garden.  She showed me her compost bucket and also pictures of her when she did some community theater. 

When I was at the Inn at Long Trail (Killington VT), I schmoozed with the locals and hikers at McGrath's Pub.  Met a great pair - Yonder and MoonCall.  They were hiking the Long Trail, and I think I could have hung out with them for years - what good souls!  In fact, Yonder gave me a new trail name.  I asked him what he'd name me if I didn't already have a trail name, and he suggested "Phoenix" because he sensed that I'd risen above some ashes of my  past.  It's amazing what a good Guiness will tell about another person!  And, no, I'm not changing my name - but it was the 1st trail name suggested for me in 1700 miles!

When Odie and I tried leaving Inn at Long Trail, we found some rock climbers.  The gal wore the same size shoes as me, so I borrowed her climbing shoes and harness and climbed the 5.7 difficulty (moderate difficulty) of Deer Leap.  I was successful!!!!  Woot!  While I was climbing the sheer rock face, Odie ended up slipping on a boulder getting a picture of me and gave himself a good goose egg bruise on his thigh.  It ended up we only hiked about 2.5 miles where we found a private wedding going on at a lodge.  We ended up talking to several of the wedding party, and tried to stay out of the pictures of the bride and groom.  Then, we hitched back to the Inn at Long Trail and camped out across the street.  Schmoozed more at the pub, and I got the opportunity to buy a drink for the threesome that let me climb on their ropes. 

We hitched with a section hiker up to Woodstock VT, and stayed 2 nights with a guy who just lets hikers sleep in his yard.  We ended up jumping in his truck to go "get breakfast" right when we got dropped off.  What we ended up doing was helping to clean up from a community dance the night before to help save the local community store.  Pretty cool to meet the locals.  Saw their local community theater space.  Then, back to Daniel's house to cook all day for the warrior hikers coming in that night and partying with them and other locals.  Needless to say, we didn't hike.  Well, we hitch-HIKED 23 miles that day just to clean and cook :-).  Hitching is still "hiking".  At least, that is what I'm telling myself.  I'm still heading north - that was my goal all along, right?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Another meaning to manna

I'm a planner.  Sure, I can be spontaneous, but mostly, I know I can be spontaneous when I have planned things out and know what can give or not.  I don't think that's a bad thing.  I think the ability to plan things out and execute said plans is a good skill.  There is another skill; one that requires a lot more flexibility and finesse.  That is the skill of living day to day with contentment.  Apparently, that is the skill I'm being provided the opportunity to work on.

Manna from heaven is a great gift.  All the things the Trail provides on a very regular basis seems like complete magic.  (And it is complete magic, given by very real angels.)  The thing is, however, daily manna does not make much room for the ability to make plans.

Since landing in the ER two weeks ago, my entire hike has changed.  Now, don't get me wrong, my hike has changed several times before, depending on who I was hiking with.  But overall, many things were the same.  People's faces were familiar and I knew most everyone on the Trail.  I knew what I'd eat because I was getting the maildrops I had made up for myself before the trip.  I could easily plan where I'd go into town, when I'd skip a town, where I'd stay in the next hostel, or take a shower, or get to do laundry.  It was fairly easy to plan.

Now, things are a little different.  Odie has a much different hike than I do.  He doesn't do much in the way of planning.  He takes spontaneity to a whole new level.  He lives for the moment, and only the moment.  And, it would seem, he doesn't have much interest in learning the skill of long term planning.  So, I will adjust my hike.

I've had to lessen my grip on my goal to Katahdin, or at least, when and how I get there.  Yes, Katahdin is still the goal for both Odie and I, but I don't keep looking to the end.  I look at tomorrow's hike, and maybe, just maybe, the shadowy idea of the next 2 or 3 days, but certainly no further.

I've had to lessen my grip on what we plan to do each day.  We say, "let's do 20 miles tomorrow."  And I know that there are things that hinder going 20 miles - rain for instance.  What I didn't know was that many, many things could hinder 20 miles - lack of sleep the night before, finding an interesting southbound hiker to smoke with, climbing a fire tower could well take a few hours.  Oh, and sometimes, a section hiker will loan you his truck that's sitting at the trailhead so you can spend the rest of the day shuttling other hikers to various places in town.  No, really, that happened.  We got to borrow a truck from someone we had met for only about 10 minutes.  OK, that's a good reason to not do 20 miles.  How often does the Trail provide a Ford 350?

I'm needing to learn that I am not in control, even of things that I technically could try to be of control of.  Rather, manna from heaven means accepting the place I find myself, looking ahead to goals, but leaving the present moment to present itself for me to simply enjoy.  Odie is fantastic at finding the joy in each moment.  I'm only OK at that.  But I will choose to embrace the opportunity to learn.

Well, apparently, someone made pancakes at this moment, so I'm going to go eat some.  Carpe diem!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Prayer Walker's post AND Matt's Diabetes Hike

Here is a link to a video another hiker took of me. It's not quite current as we met in the Smokies a few months ago, but here it is! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCCHIC-aPHs&feature=youtu.be Also, here's a link to her blog. She took pictures of a LOT of hikers, so you may see some folks I've mentioned, plus a lot I haven't: http://www.prayerwalkerat.blogspot.com/ Oh, and PLEASE check out Matt's Diabetes Hike. Matt, aka "Odie" is the person who is carrying my stuff in addition to his own pack so that I can continue on being a thru-hiker. He's walking to raise money for diabetes because his grandfather lost his leg to diabetes and can't hike anymore. His goal was to have 1000 people donate $10 each. He's short of that goal, and I would love to help his cause out because he's helping me finish the Trail. If you can help, I think this would be a great way for me to thank him for helping me. The link is http://main.diabetes.org/site/TR/Events/Tributes-personalfundraising?pxfid=566193&fr_id=5721&pg=fund

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm still a Thru-Hiker!

I'm back from my Silent Retreat. Well, sort of silent. I spent time almost every evening hanging with whatever hikers were staying in the hostel and spent time on the phone talking to friends and family back home (when I had signal). However, I also read a couple of really good books - one particularly about Celtic Christianity. No wonder I've always struggled with the American Church overall. It's because I'm really much more of a Celtic Christian than I am a Augustinian Christian. Yeah, I know that makes no sense to most of you... and that's OK. It's really not important. And really not what this blog post is about today. But in case any of you are interested, I'd be delighted to talk about the differences when I get home. Today, I'm just going to update you on what the Trail is providing for me. I had gotten my brain wrapped around the fact that I was injured to a point that I was not going to be hiking with a pack. The nurses from the ER said that I shouldn't be wearing a backpack for 1-2 months. MONTHS! That veritably ended my hike as I knew it. I was content with that idea. Perhaps it was time to take a little more time with some day trips for closure, and then go home. Perhaps, I could figure out how to slack pack several more short distances and then be done. I slackpacked by myself on Monday. I just didn't feel like a thru-hiker anymore. I was just a day hiker. No more camping at the shelters. No more staying at hostels. Welcome to the world of laundry detergent. So, I figured I would slack pack across Massachusetts and call that good enough. 1600 miles, not too shabby. I called my sister's friend who said I could stay with her if I needed to figure out how much longer to heal and move on (either home or day hiking). I called a friend to see if I could stay with her. Both said yes. OK - I had a place to land until I could get myself home. But I still wanted to be a thru-hiker - even if it meant I couldn't get all the way to Katahdin. I still wanted to be a thru-hiker right now. Then Odie caught up to me. You might remember my post on Outside Dog (now renamed Odie) from early on in the Trail. I offered to let him slackpack with me for the couple of days I had left in Massachusetts. I was already closing my mind's door as I said goodbye to the Trail going over Mt Greylock. Then Odie suggested that he carry my stuff so that I could continue thru-hiking with just a day pack (which wouldn't, hopefully, re-infect my back and let me continue to heal). What?!?! No, I couldn't possibly accept such an offer! I mean... I'm a strong woman. I don't need people. I'll do it on my own, thank you very m... oh, there's that damned self-sufficiency again. Ahem. OK, OK, maybe the Trail /is/ giving me not just a sherpa for my stuff, but also a friend who I'd love to climb Mt. Katahdin with. So, today, I shipped my back pack home with lots of my gear. I'll be depending a LOT on Odie and his capacity to carry his stuff and my stuff. I'll be trusting that Odie will WANT to hike with me the rest of 600 miles and 3 states. I'll be praying that God protest my own back from the new pack that Mother Nature gave me to use from her stuff and that I won't be too far from a clinic/ER in case it decides to get all infected again. It's a different hike, that's for sure. It's a new level of trust and inter-dependence. Maybe I should have been more careful when I pontificated on my need to address my damned self-sufficiency on this Trail. Look what it handed me. Just what I needed, apparently. But, at least, I'm still a thru-hiker. For another day, and by the grace of God, another several weeks. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What I've Learned...

I spent some time this morning re-reading my previous blogposts, reminiscing and reminding myself of how far I've come, what I've experienced, and what we've all shared together here in this forum.  Since I still need some time off trail to heal up, I naturally began waxing very philosophical.  Give a girl a few minutes to think, and will she ever run with it!  So, here is what I've learned on the Trail:

  • I'm never alone
  • I like people.  Huh. That's a revelation.
  • Walking in Nature helps.  Helps what?  I think just about everything.
  • God always provides.
  • I'm part of something.
  • It's not up to me.
  • I'm loved.  I knew this cognitively before, but now, I've experienced it.  With no strings attached.  At least, I've experienced in such a way that let me really see it.  
  • I don't do anything by myself.
  • Boot straps are over-rated
  • Having needs is a good thing
  • I'm an oasis just by being myself
  • I AM enough, even (and especially) when I am not enough
  • I can hitch alone
  • I enjoy other's hikes.  I like to be a part of lots of journeys.  I'm not just a drama queen; I'm just not uncomfortable by other people's drama.
  • I'm comfortable in new experiences.  I can really enjoy a lot of things for a time.
  • People are quite similar, no matter what the background.  People want grace.  People want to be loved.  People want to be a part of something, to belong.
  • Most people don't feel they belong.  They feel "different" (and not in the good individualized way)
  • I AM a strong woman though it's not mandatory for be to be so all the time
  • Fear is what holds me back in pretty much anything I get held back in.  I'm getting over that.
  • Self-assurance.  I think I'm just more comfortable in my own skin. 
And just to leave you with one more random thought before I go to my silent retreat (no really, I'm staying at an interfaith silent retreat center for 4 days!  Talk about my philosophical overload!), here's a little ditty I wrote yesterday as I was thinking about the world's problems:

If I could wish one thing for the world, it would be one day set aside for tears.
A day when , globally, we could all cry for whatever hurts.  We could cry for ourselves, our broken families, our regrets, our unfulfilled dreams, our unanswered prayers.  
We could simply wail through our grief, our hate, our rejection, our injustice.
And if we got done with all that, we could cry for others: for those who've broken our hearts, for those worse off than us, for those who have left the earth with their tears still unshed.
And there would be no shame because every other person would be weeping - the entire world - simply grieving it's own failure and lonlieness.
Perhaps, at the end of that day, we would all feel a bit more space inside.
And as we look into each other's eyes - undignified and swollen from grief - we could truly see each other... and smile.


Well, that's what's in my brain today.  Hope it give you some food for thought.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

One more picture

This is the picture from July 4th that didn't come through before.  Can you believe I'm wearing (1) a dress, (2) loud pattern, and (3) red, yellow AND pink????   Oh and do please notice the fashionable green crocs to go with said dress.

In the front is Pink Lady, me and Professor.  In the back is Woodman, Barbarosa, Roadrunner, and Subaru.  This was the July 4th family picnic we went to.   

Update on health, provision, and the rest of my hike

People are so willing to help!  I think my GenX brain has been too cynical about humanity.  Perhaps I should give them a chance now and again (part of my DSS recovery program).

Here's the scoop... I get to stay another night at the nurse's house, but they are going to be very busy the next few days and I figured it would just be better to not overextend their generosity.  I met another ex-nurse today, who happens to be a trail maintainer as well as avid hiker.  Her name is Mother Nature.  Between her and Cathy, they are going to keep on eye on my back until I hike out.  I will be staying at a retreat center for the next 4 days - my own room and food is included, and very inexpensive.  Yes, that's a LOT of time off trail, but I think it will give me the best chance to finish my thru-hike successfully.  As well as give me the best chance not to get a return infection.  The two nurses also said that if I needed a place to stay after 4 more days, they'd help me figure something out - I could come back to one of their houses or whatnot.  In short, the almost 40 year old hiker is totally getting "mom-ed".  And I can't say I'm minding it a bit.

In addition to the nurses, my sister has a friend that was willing to let me stay at her place, and that may yet be a possibility if I find I hike out too early or something like that.  She's a ways off the Trail - even by car standards - so the retreat center seemed better since it's only a couple miles off Trail. 

I confided in some of you that I was considering ending my hike.  Actually, I wasn't quite ready to come home yet, but I was considering skipping ahead, seeing some of the highlights, doing several days of day hikes, and then cutting my time short.  After all, I've hiked more than 1500 miles.  No one can really snub that, can they?  And no one who loves me would.  I trust that.  You'd all be proud of me.  And really... I'd be pretty darn happy with that as well.  I didn't come out here to just walk 2185.9 miles.  I came out here to experience the Trail, to learn, to grow, to help, to listen, to be an oasis.  I think I've done that.  So, I don't think I'd have any regrets if I did come home sooner. 

But then... Cathy, Shawn, and I went out for dinner last night.  On the ride back to their house we passed by 3 hikers hitching into town.  (We couldn't have picked them up.  They drive a cute and tiny little car that wouldn't have fit 1 hiker plus pack, much less 3.)  As soon as I saw them, I just knew.  I wasn't ready to stop being a thru-hiker.  I wasn't ready to cease being a part of that community.  Sure, I know that when I get back on Trail, I'll have to meet new people.  Everyone I know will be ahead.  But, that's OK.  I'm sure I'll meet people.  And even if I don't, I just want to be on the Trail.  Will I feel that way for the remainder 30% I have left of the Trail?  I don't know.  But for now, that's where I'm at.  I want to hike. 

The cool thing is that I think the Trail (and God) really was giving me the choice.  There was no "perfect" way to go.  Either would have been fine and acceptable.  Sure, I could be wrong; hindsight will probably tell me that later if it feels the need.  But for now, it's like God said, "You love this Trail. You love your home.  There are good things waiting for you in each.  You can choose where you want to spend the next bit of time."  The call of Trail and Home were both very strong.  I know that when I leave the Trail, I won't ever visit it again... at least not often and not for long, and not in the community of being a thru-hiker (unless God has very different plans than I do).  And I hope I do not sound like I'm taking Home for granted, but Home will be there when I summit Katahdin.  It is still here while I'm hiking.  You are all surrounding me in spirit every moment, on Trail and on zero days.  I miss seeing so many of you in person, but I know you are with me in spirit. 

So... let's keep hiking! 

Random beauty

Local little girl and her cute little kitten!  Awwwwwwww...

Jersey-ites consider this a good place to swim... see below where we swim on the AT.  No, the beach isn't officially on the Trail.  Road Trip!!!!

No, the 9/11 memorial is also not on the Trail.  But is on the way back to the Trail from Jersey Shore.

However, a very large statue of Walt Whitman IS on the Trail.  And I love Walt.

Umm, hiker humor. Sorry.  We all thought it was really funny... enough to take pictures.  I blame the heat.

More random beauty

Cocoa - the wonder hiking dog!!!!  This is Angel Mary's dog.  Yes, the Chihuahua hikes the Trail.  Yes, those are Chihuahua-sized sunglasses.  Yes, she wears them.

Very awesome random beauty

Brownie Brittle and her car full of goodies.  Thanks for the slack pack!

Barbarosa and Waffles in front of a stuffed elephant at the largest Cabela's store.

I stepped right over this guy on the Trail without noticing him until Barbarosa pointed him out.  Oops. 

This is where thru-hikers swim in Jersey.

And this is how hikers FIND the unmarked trail to the beach to swim.  Yet another use for trekking poles. 

By the way, I won't have computer access while I'm at the retreat center.  Though I should have limited cell signal (I can get it about 100 yards down the road).