Thursday, February 21, 2013

604 Steps

BEFORE one gets to the official Appalachian Trailhead on Springer Mountain in Georgia, there is an 8.1 mile long approach trail.  In other words, Day 1 of hiking will be GETTING to the AT.  Hike 8.3 miles to the first shelter on the AT, and you’ve accomplished 0.2 miles of the 2, 174 miles you plan to walk.  Blow up air mattress, flop in sleeping bag, sleep peacefully from being so exhausted that you did a whole 0.2 miles.  Personally, I find it really funny.

Oh, and to add to the hilarity, there are 604 stairs that one needs to climb on that 8.1 mile approach trail.  Six hundred and four stairs.  I don’t know about you, but that seems like a heck of lot of stairs to me.  I wonder how many people plan a thru-hike to Maine that give up BEFORE they reach the actual trailhead?  Six hundred and four stairs. 

So yesterday I strapped on my 33 pound pack (did you notice it’s down from 42?  Woot!) and “hiked” 604 stairs.  16 stairs at a time.  16 up from the basement, 16 back down.  16 up, 16 down.  To keep track, I realized that if I did 6 sets of up and downs that I would have gone up 100 stairs.  So I needed to do 6 sets of 6 up and downs to get to 600 stairs up.  I turned on some Gypsy Swing music, and had a glass of water waiting for me at the top of the stairs as a reward. 

Every time I got 6 sets done, I took a little mini-break to drink some water.  I didn’t sit down or take the pack off, but just gave my knees a moment’s rest.  Then I’d do another 6 sets.  Then another.  And another.  Before the 2nd song of Fishtank Ensemble was over (they are long songs), I was 2/3 done with only 2 more sets to go.

To keep a uneventful story shorter than I normally would make it, I completed my 6 sets of 6 faster than I thought and my knees weren’t hardly even complaining (I’m not even sore today!).

But here’s what I learned.  Well, two things I learned.  First, 6 repetitions of 6 sets of 16 stairs does NOT, in fact, equal 600.  It equals 576.  Oops.  I told you math is not my forte.  To help, I did have to end at the bottom of the stairs and do one more 16 steps back up to the main floor – so I did 592 stairs.  OK, just needed to clear that up for all you Einstein’s who were beginning to think I was an idiot.  Yeah, I figured it out just now with a calculator. 

More importantly, I learned the value of meeting little goals within a larger task.  6 sets of 16 stairs seems do-able.  Six hundred and four stairs makes my lungs hurt just thinking about it.  It takes about 5,000,000 steps to hike 2, 174 miles (that does not include steps taken to get into a town to restock or that poor miserable day you hike 10 miles SOUTH before realizing Maine is not in that direction).  But my trek is not 6 months of 5 million steps.  It’s 3 days then restock.  Then it's 5 days with a reward of staying in a hostel.  Then it's 4 days with happiness brownies waiting for me in the mail drop.  Then 7 days, then 5 days, then 6 days... you get the picture.  If I just keep an eye on the next “set” of days, and forget about the 5,000,000 steps, I’ll be on Katahdin before you know it!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Home (where my love lies waiting silently for me)

Four weeks left of work.  Five weeks until I leave.  Six months away from all the things about ‘home’ that keep me tied to Wisconsin.  ‘Home’ has been a word I’ve struggled with the past few years, or perhaps most of my life.  I’ve desperately wanted a home, someplace to belong.  At the same time, I’ve fought against it – wanting to be free.  I’ve been a home-wrecker in various ways over the years.  Simultaneously, I’ve encouraged others to sink more deeply into their own home.  I’ve tried to not need it, told myself I don’t deserve it, and have attempted to find lesser substitutions for it – but let’s face it.  We all, on some level, want someplace to belong.
Now I wonder if I am absolutely crazy – to leave behind all the things and people that feel like some semblance of ‘home’ in order to be homeless for half a year.  I mean, it’s a bit counter-intuitive.  If I need a home, why become homeless?  And what will be here for me when I return?  Everyone else will continue living while I’m gone; everyone else will move on.  And I’ll have to try to catch up.  Conversely, I’ll have 6 months of creating a different trajectory from everyone here at home.  Will I be so different that I will end up fitting in even less than I do now? 

Yes, yes, I know.  That’s fear talking.  Not faith. That’s shame talking, not love or hope.  Give me a moment.  I’ll come around.

The Sunday School answer is “God is your home.”  And in many ways, I’m realizing that more and more.  I’m just a thru-hiker on earth, making my way back home to heaven.  Yes, the answer to the question of the Universe really is simply “God.”  And perhaps when we all achieve nirvana, truly transcend life’s fallen circumstances, when we find Utopia, we’ll all sit around, playing harps, laughing as we reminisce about days on earth and how we struggled for the answer when He (the Answer) was calling to us every moment of every day.

However, I’m not in Utopia, and I haven’t transcended all my doubts and insecurities and imperfections.  So, therefore, I live divided.  I know God is home.  I know He is enough.  And yet, I still want more.  And God, in his infinite goodness, has something for me.  If I am patient enough to sit in my non-transcendent state until that Home on earth develops.  Egads, I’m waxing philosophical. 

I’ve been listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” quite a bit.  I’m putting it on my mp3 player to take on the Trail.  It seems ironic.  I’m the opposite of homeward bound, and yet, this trek feels like a step toward home – toward what could become a place I do belong.  Perhaps it’s merely a settling more into who I am so I belong in my own skin, and not always trying to fit in with others around me.  Perhaps it’s a break away from the patterns and substitutions for ‘home’ that I’ve made for myself that aren’t healthy.  Perhaps it’s a sieve through which what isn’t ‘home’ now will fall through, but that which is remains steadfast to the end of the Trail.  Perhaps it’s a time away from all that’s familiar so I can sift through internally what is truly ‘home’ for me here.  Perhaps I’ll become less divided, and God can really become my home.  Everyone else will be a blessed extension of God’s home for me.  And perhaps I can become a better home, a better oasis – for God and others.

My journey away from this version of home begins very soon.  I have no idea what will happen when I step into that void of solitude, of anonymity, of total surrender to the elements of nature around me.  It’s a white fog – one I can’t see into or through to the other side.  The reality of the relationships I could lose (or significantly change) in the next six months is becoming tangible.  I grieve for the potential loss, and I’m not quite ready to embrace the potential new future because I haven’t let go of the present reality.  That’s where I am today – recognizing a need to let go of one potential for the sake of another, but not quite ready to do so because my fear of losing what I have of ‘home’ now is larger than my faith that God will provide what I really need. 

They say self-awareness is half the battle.  Thanks for the opportunity for a little self-discovery.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Art of Administration

Today’s post may be very boring for some of you.  If you don’t give a hoot about organization, if words like ‘management’ or’ maintenance’ make you shudder internally, or if you just don’t think that structure and programs are very in tune with the Holy Spirit, then this may not be the post for you.

I only know this because I used to not care, used to shudder, used to think that all things ‘administration’ were of the devil (after all, the devil IS in the details).  Many of you may also chuckle reading this because I work in (gasp!) administration.  The very word is in my job title!  Wonder of wonders, this was not my dream job (however, I have a great boss and co-workers, so it makes it good).

What does this have to do with hiking?  Well, strangely, quite a bit when one will be hiking for 6 months straight.  There’s a heckuva’ lot planning that goes into this.  Not only are there decisions on what gear, how much gear, where to put said gear… but then there’s food.  Do you buy food along the way?  Do you do maildrops?  How much of each?  How many pounds of dehydrated fruit do you really need?  Well, let’s see, ¼ cup for breakfast, another ¼ cup for a snack in your gorp.  OK, multiply that by 150 days (assuming 30 days in towns).  There’s 14 servings per pound of the average dried fruit.  But wait, I want more dried apples than raisins, and definitely need some mangoes and apricots to keep things interesting.  OK, you get the point.  Math + administration = Not my biggest passions in life.

Thanks Mr U. for ordering me the 2013 book!

Currently, I’m going through the trail guide to determine a tentative schedule of where I want to sleep each night, and where I want to tent (near a shelter or not) vs. go into town or stay at a hostel.  Naturally, a lot of this might depend on torrential downpours or horrid heat or those pesky mosquitos.  And I can’t administrate those things.  So, therefore, I try to have a back-up plan.  For example: I’ll hike 24 miles to this campsite, well, unless it’s really hot, rainy, or buggy – then there’s a shelter at only 21 miles that I could get to.  Yup, that’s close enough to still make miles but able to decide depending on weather.  Oh, and if I’m really tired or it’s nasty, there is another cabin at only 11 miles – kind of expensive, but it’ll do if I just need a slower day.  Or am craving a shower.

You get the picture.  There’s an gifting and an art to administration.  And, boy howdy, do I really appreciate people with that gift these days.  Thank God I’ve been in a job for *mumble mumble* years that had ‘administration’ in my job title.  That’s right, I just thanked God for my job in administration!  I don’t think I have the gift naturally, but I’ve been taught the skill over those years.  I’m grateful because, with all this planning right now, I should be able to better flow and roll with the punches weather, insects, injury, and general chaos will bring me and my hiking buddies on the Trail.