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!