Sunday, March 31, 2013


My main feeling so far on the trail has been gratitude.  We were stopped by a snowstorm for the first two days and we were fortunate enough to be able to volunteer at the Len Foote Inn while we holed up indoors.  It was a welcome rest to a 24 hour greyhound bus trip and a very cold night in a shelter.  We met two hikers - Catfish and GrandBob.  Catfish gave me his gloves when I told him I didn't have any and I was concerned about my slight nerve damage in my fingers and toes.  GrandBob was going to slackpack us over Blood Mountain.  Slackpacking is when someone else carries your pack while you hike.  He was going to drop it off at Neel Gap for us and take us back 10 miles.  Unfortunately, we missed our gap to be picked up, so we just packed it over.  GrandBob still drove to Neel Gap and tried to get us a cabin - but they didn't take reservations.  Fortuantely, we still were able to get a cabin when we got in.  A girl names Alpine gave me some Arnica for my back (which seized up 2 days ago, but is getting better). 

So many kind people, so much good Providence, beautiful scenery.  God is good.  And even most humans are good :-)

Gratitude... love it.

If you are in the ilk of praying, I would appreciate you prayers for my back.  Once the pack is on, it's OK, but lifting it up, or all the bending one does to set up camp and break it down in the morning is quite painful.  But, if that is my biggest complaint, I'd say life is pretty darn good right now. 

Hopefully, I can get a picture up here sometime, but let's tackle one techno-learning curve at a time.  Sorry for any typos, I won't be re-reading these posts as most of my computer time will be limited.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First Answer to Prayer

Well, I know I shouldn't count my chickens before they hatch, but I just checked for Springer Mountain.  Looks like the weather on our first couple of days hiking will be partly cloudy and fairly cool.  Of course, cool is much nicer than this Wisconsin weather (first day of spring, my foot!).

Lows at night will be in the upper 20's or low 30's, and hiking during the day will be in the upper 30's/lower 40's.  Sure, it's a little chilly, but definitely do-able.  The answer to prayer is that there isn't any rain in the forecast.  With so many new habits and routines needing to be established for "Trail life", I had prayed that God would hold off rain for at least the first night on the Trail.  Looks like He's seen fit to give me that break.

Now, I know that all could change, and if it does, well, it doesn't mean that God is any less good.  It just means... well, it just means it's raining.  There will have to be different routines in setting up camp in the rain than when it's nice, and all that will be a learning curve.

Folks keep asking me if I'm all ready.  Honestly, I feel like I couldn't used one or two more days to just play with my pack in the comfort of my home.  But, alas, that is not to be.  And I probably don't NEED those days - everything is getting done with some long hours.  I'm very glad we aren't leaving any sooner than we are.  But, man am I tired at the moment.

Folks also keep asking me if I'm nervous or excited or if it all feels 'real' yet.  There was a moment two weeks back or so when I hit a wall of absolute freak out.  It was at that moment where I had everything under control - all my gear was pretty much set, dehydrating food was simply a new routine to be done, and I was wrapping up most of my duties from this 'current life'.  And I thought to myself, "Hey you!  Yeah, you on the treadmill.  Who do you think you are anyway?  Think you can hike this whole Trail.  Think you can do this for six months.  Sheesh, you have delusions of grandeur."

I realized that I was transitioning from the planning/preparing stage to the action stage.  You know, the planning stage is a 'safe' place to be.  You can dream, research, talk about, try stuff out - but you can always hit the brakes.  Sure, I had committed to doing the Trail, but so far, all of this had been preparing, planning, figuring it all out, moving forward, but always with the Trail a seeming 'long' ways off.  Then, the day came I couldn't take back my job resignation, I realized my room was emptier since I started putting things in storage, I was having to give up responsibilities and say no to future obligations.  I watched as friends started making plans with me present, but I wasn't a part of them.  That's when I realized, "Holy cow, this is real."

Once I had a moment (or two days) to transition - to really realize the action I was going to take - it all settled.  So, am I excited?  Yes, but at the moment, I can't wait to take a nap on the bus going down to Georgia - I'm tired.  Am I nervous?  *pause*  Probably, but I'm more excited to just get moving.  But then, I  realize how tired I am.

And that makes me thankful it's probably not going to rain on the first night on the Trail because I'm betting I'll need a good night's sleep after this flurry of a week getting last minute preparations done!  Phew!  And Good night!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Test Drive

Louise the best dog ever
Sarah's food production
 This is Mr. U and Sarah testing out the theory that they will successfully update this blog together once Sarah is on the Trail.  Congrats.  If you are reading this, it worked.  Even  better, if you see a photo, we had even better success.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

If Francis of Assisi and Counselor Troi had a kid...

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Children are either closer to the truth because they see things in much simpler terms than adult, or they have much better imaginations.  Perhaps the answer is both, and their imaginations are more true than we give imagination credit for. 

I used to have a very over-active imagination.  The whole world around me was sentient.  I could talk with trees, animals, and dead people.  The past and future were somehow melded into this one instant called the present.  Objects could retain the memories of things they had witnessed, and if we listened hard enough, they constantly whispered their stories.  I was Francis of Assisi and Counselor Troi (Star Trek empath character) all rolled into one.   I couldn’t really explain it, but I just knew it had to be true.  I really wanted to do a global social experiment where we didn’t have ANY Christian ANYWHERE praise God for 5 minutes – all at the same time – 5 minutes of global non-worship.  Why?  Well, I really wanted to hear the very rocks cry out in praise.  Yeah, it’s in the Bible.  I don’t take the Bible completely literally, but that one verse (Luke 19:40) seemed incredibly plausible in my mind.  In fact, anywhere the Bible speaks of the trees clapping their hands, or the voice of God being in the whisper of a wind, or the rocks crying out in praise, my brain-as-a-child said, “Yes, that’s right.  That’s what trees and wind and rocks do.” 

As a kid, I could easily wrap my brain around miracles.  When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it didn’t seem that difficult in my mind.  After all, death was just a change in life.  Disease was just a black splot or a shadow within the body, so it could be easily sponged away or removed.  I always wanted my superpower to be the ability to remove pain.  It just made sense.  (I also wanted to be able to turn invisible, but that’s just because invisibility is cool.)

Then, as I got older… and didn’t see very many miracles and science laughed at my anthropomorphist approach to nature (yes, apparently you must be classified as “native” or “indigenous” in order to NOT be seen as silly for such things – it’s sort of patronizing and insulting to the native or indigenous, don’t you think?).  And so, I let go of such things.  My world got more orderly, more categorized, more diagnosed.  Definitely less magical.  Less imaginative.

But, as of very recently, there has been another switch.  I’m getting too old to continue being so… adult.  I miss my imaginations.  I miss being one with Nature, and feeling swept away in the majesty of gratitude for the One who made her.  I miss witnessing the clapping of the trees’ hands.  I miss listening to streams and winds.  I miss being overcome with unashamed joyful abandon at the feel of mud between toes.  I’ve gotten away from experiencing the deep and wide love of God through what He’s given us in nature.  And it’s time to get back.

So, this next six months is to do just that.  And not just with Nature, but with the people I’ll meet as well.  As I mentioned, I’m not just part Francis of Assisi.  I’m also part Counselor Troi.  If humans were created for community – with a desire to connect and communicate with fellow humans – then we all have the ability to do so.  It’s only the walls we put up  around our hearts that breakdown that connection (which aren’t real, by the way – we just act like they are, and by golly, they seem very real indeed then).  And we wonder why we feel so alone and isolated.  The one thing we imagine – the walls – is the very thing we believe, as adults, is real... so community breaks down. 

What if, on the Trail, I could imagine taking down my own walls and inviting others to take down theirs.  I imagine the Trail is a place where people go to find something – community, solitude, healing, perhaps the next chapter in life.  What if I could sense that in people and help in whatever small way I could to give that to them?  After all, I’ve received a lot of training as an adult – life coaching, motivational interviewing, basic first aid, emergency response – what if I could combine all the knowledge of an adult with the wisdom of a child’s imaginations?  What would that look like?  What could happen on the Trail?  What could happen if EVERY one did that – no matter what trail they were on?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Comfort in the Unknown

Last night I watched this 50 minutes National Geographic documentary.  I think I needed that inspiration.  I was so neck-deep in little plastic baggies and instant rice, that I was forgetting the beauty and ruggedness that awaits me.  Seeing all the panoramic views in that documentary made me realize where I was going, and partly, why I was going.  It was both inspiring and overwhelming.  I was like *gulp* - am I really prepared?  Do I really know what I’m getting myself into?
And yet, I’m thinking, yes, I do – at least starting out.  Those mountains – Blood Mountain, Curahee, Springer Mountain… those are MY mountains.  I’ve hiked those.  I’ve slept on them.  I’m not afraid of them.  In some ways, I feel like I’m going home.  Home to my mountains – finally!  But, I know I’m not.  Those aren’t my mountains.  I was a younger, angrier, very different person back when I last hiked those.  My knees were in better shape.  I didn’t care if I lived or died.  I didn’t know about West Nile or Lyme’s.  Bears were less habituated.  Mother Nature wasn’t biting back quite so viciously 20 years ago – now, it seems, she is taking some vengeance on our abuse of her.  And I may be caught in the middle of one of her storms. 
Of course, none of that is stopping me.  But, it does give me a healthy respect and a certain feeling of helplessness in the face of such vast power - which, I suppose, is a good thing to have.  But it’s not a comfortable thing to have.  I guess it’s good I’m not going out there to be comfortable. 
I wonder if the anxiety comes from the unknown.  I can’t replicate the Trail on the treadmill, in my room, in a backyard, even at a state park.  I’m in flatland.  I’m in a city.  I’m in three feet of snow (and Mama “N” is not giving up winter yet).  So, there are simply some things I cannot prepare or roleplay.  I love improv games, but I hate doing a full blown musical without lots of rehearsals.  The Trail is a full blown musical, and having sung karaoke in a few bars just isn’t going to land me the lead role on Broadway.  Or even a chorus girl.  So… how can I really know if I’m ready? 
Ah yes, faith.  Allowing myself to be a leaf on the wind (thanks Joss Weedon!), to be blown as the wind pleases, not as I please.  To know that I am never truly ready, that I can be torn apart at a moment’s notice, that it’s not by my power that I am moving at all. 
I have to give up myself, and allow myself to be at the mercy of what is more powerful.  Nature = more powerful than me.  God = more powerful than nature.  So I surrender to Nature, knowing it is non-sentient and nonselective.  And I surrender to God, knowing He sees me in the midst of Nature, that He is good and merciful, and that He has led me to this path at this moment in time for reasons that I cannot hope to understand.  And perhaps in hindsight, I will learn some of the why, and perhaps I will see when I was being led and when I was attempting to lead, and I will see some of the consequences.  But for now (before hindsight kicks in), I must trust that God knows me, sees me, loves me, and has a good plan for me.  Even if that plan isn’t comfortable... Or always pleasant... Or clean - like the Trail.  Yet it is ultimately satisfying.  There is an inexplicable joy in being a leaf on the wind, one that cannot be rehearsed from the comforts of an air-conditioned condo complete with microwave, French press, and pizza delivery.  That’s what I go to seek, and also to give – inexplicable joy beyond comfort or happiness or pleasure.  I don’t expect to always find it, to live serenely as a leaf.  I expect I will be grumpy and clawing for a measure of control and comfort more often than not.  But perhaps, some of the time, I will be able to float on the wind, and that will encourage others to do the same, to try to surrender to the One who directs the wind.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

At last... a gear list

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I realize I’m so constantly in my head that I forget that other people may want to know something other than whatever philosophical thought I’m chewing on.  So, to be totally practical and physical… here is my Gear list!!!
My base pack weight is about 23 pounds.  Add food and water, and I’m look at 36 pounds or so.  A little heavier than I wanted, but acceptable. 
·         Down sleeping bag = 1 lb 14 oz plus 5 oz for a silk liner. 
·         Sacred sleeping clothes = long underwear and socks (those will stay dry at all costs).
·         My beautiful Deuter backpack is 3 lbs 14 oz – a little heavier than I wanted, but I tried a few lighter ones and the Deuter was just OHHHH so much more comfy. 
·         I was going to take a closed cell foam sleeping pad, but it’s just too uncomfortable – so I’m taking a blow up one = 18 oz (actually 1 oz lighter than the closed cell, though it’s only 60” long – my feet just hang off the edge a little, but not so much to actually touch the ground – I’m so short!). 
·         Alcohol stove, rodent-proof bag for food, odor-proof bags to put in rodent proof bag to help against bears.  1 pot plus a plastic mug.  Plastic mug is a late addition that will be a luxury item for me.  Also, long-handled titanium fork, BIC lighter and matches.  Swiss Army knife.  And (I’m so proud of myself), I made my own pot cozy from a car sunscreen to keep my dinner hot longer.  Yeah, I’m /that/ hardcore.
·         Nope, I’m not taking a gun or bear spray (I’ll depend on my amazing Ninja skills). 
·         I am taking DEET and spraying my clothes with Permethrin – ticks are probably the biggest danger.  Oh, and sunscreen.  And Benadryl.
·         Pepto tablets, ibuprofen, beano, gas-x.  (Lots of beans=smelly hikers!  It’s not just the sweat, folks!)
·         I still need to seam seal my poncho/tent – yes, they are one and the same.  My rain poncho is also my rain fly for shelter at night.  I don’t have a tent.  If it rains, I’ll pitch the poncho over me with my trekking pole.  If it’s buggy, I have a bug net that can be pitched with that same trekking pole.  And I’ll just use a painter’s plastic drop cloth for a ground cloth.  All for 22 oz, including emergency bivy in case of really hard rain.
·         Water is heavy!  3 liters (a scant day’s worth) is 6.6. pounds.  Collapsible water bottles are not heavy.  Chlorine tablets should kill anything swimming around in the water.  And my hiking partners have a Steripen – kills stuff with ultraviolet light – very cool. 
·         A week’s worth of food will be about 10 pounds.  It’s really hard to believe that I may get so sick of peanut butter that I won’t want to ever eat it again.  However, I have read that more than once by others. 
·         Repair kit including duct tape and extra “p-cord” (i.e. parachute cord, or as I called it to an REI associate – “string” – yes, you too can be a thru-hiker). 
·         Toilet paper, trowel, and hand sanitizer.  Toothbrush, paste, and floss.  Moisturizer (another luxury item). 
·         Plastic bags – keeps stuff dry, used for waste, makeshift ground cloth, or to waterproof shoes through a stream. 
·         Croc-imposters – Used as camp shoes or to ford streams and keep hiking boots dry.
·         Trekking poles (doubles at tent poles, back scratcher, bear bag getter)
·         Electronics will include an mp3 player (music when I can’t sleep), camera, cell phone, and head lamp – all can be recharged with my solar charger (I think it’s a great idea – we’ll see if it actually works well in “Trail-world”). 
·         Heavy and bulky items are my 2 layers of insulation and a light wind/rain jacket.  I get cold so easily, and layers is better, so 2 layers it is.  When I’m walking, it should be fine, but I get chilled once I stop pretty fast.  Also, pretty sure I’ll take a 2nd t-shirt with me (merino wool) that will be “town shirt” so that I will smell a little better when I’m near civilization.
·         You know what else is surprisingly heavy?  Vitamins.  Yeah.  Go figure. But I got ‘em.
·         Besides sleeping socks, I’ll have 1 spare pair plus a pair to wear (3 pairs total), plus a spare pair of underwear (sorry if that’s TMI).    Oh, and skip this sentence if you are squeamish about TMI, but I’m also taking a diva cup.  Google it if you really want to know what it is (hint: men don’t have to use this).
·         I have a compass, whistle, thermometer, and guide book.  Also, a small New Testament and a booklet that someone is making me with some of my fav worship songs.  Notebook and pen.
·         Urgent Care/ER only insurance
·         Various and sundry compression sacks, dry bags, and stuff/ditty sacks to have some semblance of organization to all of this.
I’m probably missing something in this list, but not too bad.  Back to my regularly scheduled pontification on gnostic thoughts next post. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

“Death cannot stop true love…”

“… all it can do is delay it for a while.”  ~Wesley from The Princess Bride

I’ll connect the random thoughts in a minute, but I need to start out by saying, “BEST DENTAL OFFICE EVER!”  My regular dental hygienist, Jen, is the gal who taught me to ride and shoot guns off horseback.  She has been an encouragement to me for years to do the adventurous things that are a little off the beaten path for most folks.  I went to the dentist last week.  I had a different person clean my teeth.  But I had the opportunity to talk about my upcoming trek. 

Then Jen stuck her head in my room and exclaimed to her co-worker, “Diane!  This is the person I’ve told you about!”

Embarrassment and paranoia took over my brain, but the tone of voice was so positive and excited, I figured whatever she said couldn’t be too bad.  I just never think that I’m someone that people talk about when I’m not around, so it confuses, and somewhat frightens, me when they do.

Once there were no hands in my mouth anymore, we spent a bit of time catching up and talking about the upcoming events in our lives.  I walked out of that dental office smiling a big, bright smile.  Not only did I not have any cavities, but I also felt like there was no way that I could possibly fail in my endeavor to walk the Appalachian Trail.  Why?  Well, for starters, Jen reminded me of who she knows me to be – adventurous, tenacious, doesn’t give into fear, willing to try, and someone who stands up for what I believe in.  Diane reminded me that who I am is something of value to others – my experiences can help someone else, whether they are past, present, or upcoming experiences. 

I walked out of the dentist more determined to stay on the Trail, more determined to fight through the bugs, the muscle aches, the rain, the moldy food, the heat, the cold, the hole in the blow-up sleeping pad.  Then I started thinking of all the people who have hiked the trail with even more challenges in their way.  Like the blind guy who hiked the whole trail, and fell over 500 times.  Or the kids who broke a rib – twice – on the trail, but still hiked the whole thing.  I thought of the people who started the Trail but needed to leave due to budget or family emergency or illness or injury, but eventually they came back.  Maybe in a few months.  Maybe in a few years.  They got back to the Trail, and finished it.  Maybe it took them several trips back and forth from home to the place they left off.  But they never gave up. 

And then that Princess Bride quote popped in my head.  It’s True Love that keeps people on the Trail.  For the love of something – be it nature, or the challenge, or the solitude, or the adventure, or the metaphysical journey – Love drives people along the Trail.  Maybe they need to get off for a while.  It seems like death.  It seems like failure.  It seems like the end.  It seems an impossibility to go back. 

But, all that can do is delay it for a while. 

Princess Buttercup saw death as the end to her true love with Wesley.  She didn’t know True Love would simply take a different route to get back to her. 

There’s no reason for me to leave the Trail, even if I have to come home for a time between the start and the end.   And if a blind guy can hike the Trail.  If someone can hike with a broken rib, surely someone who’s been tossed of a horse with a gun in her hand can hike it, right?  What’s the worst that could happen?  I get delayed. 

Well, that doesn’t seem like a very big deal.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Taking wing... just who is learning to fly?

It’s hard to believe it’s almost here.  Two weeks left of work.  Three before I leave Wisconsin.  This past weekend I turned over the “little black book” that is all the information I carry for Stephen Ministry.  I’ve been training a few different people to take it over while I’m gone, trying to organize everything so they have fewer burdens on them, and attempting to impart any and all wisdom and knowledge that’s in my head into theirs. 

Stephen Ministry is near and dear to my heart.  I love training people in how to listen and care for others, in becoming more self-aware and gaining emotional and spiritual healing.  Nothing excites me more than witnessing someone experience an inner-transformation so they become more the person God made them to be. 

And now, I’m giving all that up to go trudging around some mountains for 6 months.  I have to trust others to carry and care for the people I’ve trained as well as the people receiving care through the ministry.  I see each Stephen Minister and each care receiver as my responsibility.  Someone God has placed in my path for me to care for, to protect, to encourage.  At this moment in time, that’s over 30 people.  It’s like I have these 30 little chicks that I want to train up and teach to fly, and someday, watch them fly away from me to make their own nest – the way God intended things to happen.  They weren’t meant to be under my wing forever. 

And, boy, are they ever flying!  I am so encouraged when I see what each one of them is capable of, how they are growing and learning.  There is one person in particular (you know who you are!) that has so transformed, it’s amazing!!!  I see that person, and I am so honored to have been a part of their path, to have witnessed the jump out of the nest and make it on their own.

There is another side to this though.  It’s not just the Stephen Ministers that need to step up into leadership and move on without me.  Oh no.  I’m getting nudged out of the nest too.  I’m realizing I’m not the “mother hen” looking over her chicks.  I’m one of the chicks, and God is slowly nudging me out of the nest.  I have to learn to fly on my own – without the identity of “Stephen Leader”, without the assurance that life WILL INDEED fall apart for these 30 people if I leave.  I have to realize that I am not the one who teaches anyone to fly.  I’m simply a fellow featherhead , having to take my own leap of faith, to stretch my wings – not in my own strength – but in trust that the wind will catch me.  And in trust that as my Stephen Ministers take wing, it’s not my training or nudging that will keep them up, but rather, the wind will lift them up and make them soar. 

I’m learning one of my goals in this hike.  I wanted to learn to let go of things.  Initially, I thought that meant material things.  But I’m realizing so many other things I need to let go of – my identity, my pride, my accomplishments, my failures – those are the things that weigh a person down even more than material possessions, and I’m finding they are more challenging to let go of.  But none of those things matter when you are flying.  It’s all about taking wing and trusting the wind.