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). 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Manna from Heaven

I often say the "Trail always provides."  By that, I hope you all know that I mean "God always provides."  No matter what happens, no matter what I need (or even just sometime want), the Trail provides what I need.  And since I can't carry much with me, I can only deal with my needs in short spans of time.  I can't worry about where I will sleep in 3 days or how I will hitch into the next town.  But the Trail always provides for the next several hours (or maybe next 1-2 days) at a time.

Yesterday, I needed medical attention.  The Trail provided a side trail to get down to the highway 12 miles sooner than I was going to get to a road crossing.  It was also the first time I would need to hitch alone... which made me a little nervous.  It only took me about 10 minutes to get 2 very nice guys to get me to the ER.  I didn't know where I was going to sleep last night.  I have a cousin I have never met that lives near where I am, but we were planning to meet the following day, 12 miles further down the road, and he wasn't sure if I could stay overnight or not (something to do with the landlord's rules).  I called, and he was able to work it so I could stay at his place last night.  Thank you Jake!!!!!

I had to go back to the ER this morning, but I didn't know where I would stay tonight.  One of the nurses offered to take me home while I healed up.  I know I have at least 2 nights with her and her husband, her cat and dog.  Time to sleep, heal, think, regroup, etc.  It's a quiet place where I can be alone, but I'm not alone.  The Trail provided.

I'm writing this at the nurse's breakfast nook table.  My back is very sore from the incision that was used to get out the infection, so I'm going to keep this post a little shorter than usual.

But here's what I've learned constantly on the Trail.  God provides for our needs and our wants.  He does so in ways we would never expect.  There are angels among us that God puts in our path just for us, or us for them.  We are the manna to provide for the next several hours in someone else's life.  Or others are the manna for us.  Look at the lilies of the field; they don't work or worry, but they are always provided for.  Sure, some die sooner.  Some get diseased.  Some get picked and put in a vase on a kitchen table.  That is still provision.  That is still grace.  It's still manna that we receive from angels each and every day of our own Trail.

And thank you to all who have reached out in your concern and prayers and thoughts.    If I haven't responded to your texts, I do apologize.  I spent a lot of time at the hospital on the phone with family, and my phone died before I could call/respond to everyone.  And now, I only have access to the computer.  There is no cell service at the nurse's/angel's house.  But that's ok.  The Trail provides!

Please pray for my back.  It is very sore and there is a very deep incision that needs to heal that is right where my hip belt sits on my pack (and most of the weight).  We are working on some potential ideas of how I could pad around the wound so I can keep hiking sooner than later.  So, I'm staying with a nurse and a carpenter.  How much better can it get?  But I still would love your prayers for quicker (ummm, miraculous?) healing. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Us vs. Them

I'm a thru-hiker.  That means that I have developed the ability to tell the difference between a day-hiker, and a thru-hiker that is simply being slackpacked (they don't have all their gear on them because someone is meeting them up the trail with it).  Often, it's my nose that tells me the difference.  I can smell the laundry detergent on a day hiker; it's slightly less strong on a short section hiker.  But I'm a thru-hiker:  I haven't showered in 6 days, haven't touched laundry detergent in 10, have hiked in 90 degree weather that entire time.  My backpack straps have a white dusting of dried sweat, well, when it has a chance to dry.  And I'm pretty darn proud of that stench.  It means something out here on the Trail.  It means I'm a thru-hiker.

I'm not sure if it's jealousy or pride (or both) that makes us thru-hikers become derisive to section hikers.  Don't get me wrong - we don't mock them to their faces.  But, man, do we have this condescending attitude toward day or section hikers.  It's like we're better because we've hiked a few more hundred miles, or because we stink more, or because we're less hygenic.  It's a badge of honor to have departed from such social niceties.  We joke with each other because we have truly turned into a spectacle - like the bears and other wildlife.  We like that we are "different."

OK.  That's part of being in community.  We DO have all of that sweat, hiker GI issues, lack of hygiene, ticks and mosquitoes in common.  And, oh yeah, we're all hiking 2,185.9 miles.  We have quite a bit in common.  And that binds us together. 

The other day, a few of us "really cool" thru-hikers passed two day hikers.  They were moving VERY slow, they were overweight, wearing cotton (another sign of a day hiker), had a daypack that weighed half of one of our backpacks (i.e. they were carrying WAAAAAY too much).  I could feel, in myself and my companions, the "better than thou" attitude.  Obviously, these two weren't going to hike ALL they way to Maine.  Heck, they may not even make it back to their car.   Ha. Ha. Oy.

Yup, sad to admit, we made fun of the day hikers.  Not to their faces, and I pray to God they didn't overhear, but many of us tend to talk fairly loud.  And that's when it dawned on me.  I'm a hiker snob!!!!!!  I get so upset when people are snobs for anything else - sports, food, drinks, especially religion.  And here I am being no better.

So I spoke up.  I said, "Hey, at least those two got their asses off the couch and are out here.  They are enjoying the outdoors in the way that they can.  And if we make fun of them, how can we expect them to EVER consider possibly trying to thru-hike?  Hell, why would they WANT to hang out with hiker trash like us?"  Sorry, mom, my language has devolved.  Ahem.

So, now, when I smell laundry detergent on the Trail, I try to make a point to say hi, ask about their hike, tell them it's awesome they've made the time they do have to be out here.  If they're hiking the opposite direction, I'll ask about the Trail coming up, so they can tell ME, a thru-hiker, something I don't know.  I mean, if I came out here to be an oasis to others, then that should include day and section hikers.  They need grace and unconditional acceptance just as much as the next person.  After all, it was only 4 months ago that I was "just" a day hiker.  And technically, I'm stilly "just" a section hiker.  I won't be a thru-hiker until I get to Katahdin.  I can't believe that I was that heiniously snobbish. 

In fact, there are some thru-hikers that may not consider me worth of that title because I've yellow-blazed, I've slackpacked (both north and south bound - not sure why that makes a difference, but it does).  I'm not good enough in some eyes because I'm not ultralight enough with my gear, I don't hike big enough miles, etc. etc.  There are always reasons to differentiate "us" from "them".  But really, is there any difference? 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Faceplants and other methods of falling

I hope that none of you think that being on the trail is a thing of grace and beauty.  Oh no.  Not only are we sweaty, dirty, and bug-bitten, we also deal with the very practical things of athlete's foot, passing gas while going uphill with someone behind us, not to mention other GI issues that come with gorging one's self on town food and then hiking out.  Ahem.  No, not pretty, and not graceful.

Another thing that is not graceful is when a hiker falls down.  It's inevitable.  2200 miles, 5 million steps. You're guaranteed a misstep now and then.  Here's some of the categories I've experienced:

1.  "The Traditional Faceplant"  This happened to me outside of Hot Springs, NC.  Walking on dirt, minding my own business, and suddenly, I find myself face first in the dirt.  I roll over, and eventually stand up - quite surprised.  Looking behind, I see nothing that I might have tripped over - a rock, a tree root.  Who knows?  Maybe I fell over my own two feet, or my trekking poles (which happens, but they also have saved my life numerous times - thanks Dean!).  But, I just simply fell over, and before I knew what was happening, I was eating dirt.  Injury: Minor abrasions around my eye.  Treatment: sprayed it with hand sanitizer.  Made full recovery.

2.  "The Trail-is-not-meant-for-short-people Fall"  This happens when I try to go over downed trees that sit just above hip level (or mid thigh level for a "normal" person).  I swing one leg over, get my tippy toes just barely touching the ground, and then overswing the other leg.  The swing creates too much momentum with the added weight of the pack, and I tumble over on the other side.  Injury: none but my pride.  There is another version of this where I try to go over the tree by wrapping myself around it and sort of squiggling over.  That also results in a relatively embarrassing tumble to the other side.  Thankfully, I've seen others do this and so learned not to mimic that.

3.  "The Trail-gets-back-at-tall-people Fall"  There are a few times when it pays to be short.  A very few times, downed trees end up across the Trail at head height (or slightly above my head).  The other day, I walked under a tree just like that.  However, Barbarosa was not so lucky.  All I heard was a hollow thump followed by a scuffle and another thump.  I turned around and he's sitting on the ground.  He didn't realize he needed to duck under the tree, hit his head and it just knocked him down.  Injury: None.  We had a good laugh once I asked him several questions to make sure he didn't have a concussion.

4.  "Pennsylvania Rocks Suck Fall"  The picture below is similar to Knife Edge, which is the cliff that I fell off of.  The rocks are not above tree line, but the trees are fairly scraggly, so at the very top of the Knife Edge, we were kind of standing above the trees.  Like I said, it only takes one slight step gone awry, and little off balance, or a slick rock that makes you go rock surfing.  I took a step, looked up to determine my next step, and got a little off balance.  I couldn't find my balance again and I simply fell backward.  My backpack muffled my fall into the tree off the rock edge.  I broke several branches and I just tried to grab the branches to stop my fall head first to, God knows how far down.  I stopped with my legs sticking out of a slightly flattened tree.  As soon as I realized I was stable enough to not keep falling down, I exclaim, "I'm OK.  I'm Ooooooo...K."  I'm not sure if Barbarosa waited until he heard that to start laughing or not.  Injury:  None, except my pride.  It could have been worse.  As I was uprighting myself, I reached behind (and below) me to find a jagged rock a few inches from my head.  Thankfully, my fall did not send me any further down that tree.

And now, for my favorite fall on the Trail thus far:

5.  "I'm Batman.  Oh no! I'm not!"  This was near Roan Mountain.  The winds were gusting at 70-80 mph.  I was wearing my rain poncho and hiking alone.  I've written about Roan Mtn in a previous blog, but I don't think I included this little story.  I was having a blast fighting the wind, leaning into it and not falling over, etc.  At one point, I thought it would be fun to try to get airborne in the wind.  So, I took off my pack and waited for the wind to gust.  When it did, I pulled my rain poncho taut by my sides and exclaimed "I'm Batman!"  The wind picked me up and promptly threw me on my back on the ground.  I probably only got off the ground a few inches, but it freaked me out that suddenly I could be swept off the mountain altogether.  Equally freaky was how hard I hit the ground.  Injury: none.  Treatment:  I'm not Batman.  Nope.  No way, Don't wanna be.  I'm good as Patchouli, thank you.  But, as Patchouli, trying to fly seemed like a good idea at the time. 

Fourth of July

I spent the night in jail on the 4th of July.  Ok, ok, so it was a hostel in the basement of what was going to BE a jail in Palmerton PA.  However, it never was used as a jail.  The police just let thru-hikers stay there now.  Still, I got "processed" at the police station and sent down to the jail.  Kinda fun.

The day I walked into Palmerton, Barbarosa (the surprised looking guy with the big red beard below) and I walked the 1.5 mile side trail into town.  Why?  Because we thought it would be hard to hitch.  It was hot, buggy, and the trail had this one marshy section that soaked my shoes.  I didn't care how long it took tomorrow morning.  We were finding a hitch back out of town.

Much to out surprise, Professor (the older hiker sitting next to me in the white hat) was already there.  He had a lady pull over at the road and ask if he needed a ride - without him even sticking up his thumb.  Now THAT'S Magic!  Lisa brought Professor to the jail and then invited him to her family's 4th of July picnic.  He asked if he could bring a "few" others.  She said sure - she'd swing by with the cargo van.  Professor invited all the people you see below (Pink Lady, Me, Professor, and in the back from L-->R: Woodman, Barbarosa, Roadrunner, Subaru). 

It was a great day, and we all had our fill of food and fun conversation.  The next day, Lisa and her friend Jay slackpacked us from Palmerton to Wind Gap (a 20 mile day).  Slackpacking meant she picked up all our gear and we got to hike without our packs on.  She dropped our gear off in Wind Gap, and found our way to the Beer Stein there, a place that offers thru-hikers a space to tent behind the bar.

More magic there!  We met Lou.  From what I can tell Lou is a local and semi-regular at the Beer Stein.  He was feeling happy because his horse won something or other in some race (I didn't quite follow the inebriated progression).  What I did follow was that Lou was buying rounds and food for ALL the thru-hikers there - about a dozen of us.  Really nice of Lou.  Great guy.  Thanks Lou!

So, now I've spent the night in jail and then in a bar.  The next day, I hiked to Delaware Water Gap, where I decided it was high time to get some religion.  So I spent two nights at a church hostel nursing a summer cold.  And I got my new boots!  Time to keep hiking!

Oh, by the way, do notice the dress I'm wearing.  Yes, that's pink and orange and white.  Yes, that's pattern.  Yes, I picked it out all by myself from Goodwill before going to Gettysburg (well, I picked it out, but I got feedback from another hiker).  And yes, I may actually consider wearing this once I get home.  It's really comfy.