Tag Archives: hiking

After the Trail

3 weeks of pain, misery, and trudging long after I wanted to stop because I couldn’t find a place to stop has left me with tendon damage and relief that I finally made myself stop.

I listened to more than a few hikers talk about the incredible amounts of ibuprofen they took every day to keep getting their miles in. Hikers who talked of “open wounds on their heels that shot pain up their legs with every step,” who kept walking because they had to get so many miles in. Is it worth liver damage, blood that may or may not clot properly if they sustain an injury, just to get to Katahdin?

I felt shame, the inevitable sense of failure, until the day I actually stopped walking, standing on feet that could barely hold me up and said “I hate this!” Then, relief. I have lived for years with the sense of panic that I might not make the rent, that my car won’t get me to work and back, that I won’t sell the art I’ve put in shops, that something I do won’t work out as I hope. That same sense of constraint, of being in a type of prison, was with me every step of the trail. I couldn’t stop when I saw something beautiful (oh, I did, sometimes, but not with the usual feeling of awe and satisfaction) or even when I was tired and my feet hurt. I couldn’t tell how far I’d walked and even though I knew how far the next shelter was, I couldn’t tell how far I’d come, how far I had to go. I knew I needed to find a campsite before full dark, with a water source, and I went through long stretches where I couldn’t stop because of terrain. I was carrying about a quarter of my body weight so uphill was slow going. I met every step with a growing sense of panic. Where could I stop if I didn’t make it to the shelter? At the shelter were campsites, water, and the safety of people, even though I wasn’t interested in lots of interaction. The point is that I found every day meant nothing more than walking, constantly, for 10 hours to get to the next shelter.

I had trouble eating. Trail food was so far removed from what I normally ate that I really had trouble getting it down and keeping it there. When I’m really tired, and anxious, I can’t eat. If you walk with a pack on rough terrain, uphill and down for hours and hours, you use a lot of energy. I needed to eat and I couldn’t. That added to my panic, and of course, made eating even harder.

Many days I encountered no one until I got close to the shelter. That didn’t bother me, and it gave me hours and hours to think. I realized that my life on the trail was not so different from the life I’ve been leading for years. Getting from one rent day to the next was a lot like making it from one shelter to the next. Wishing I could stop and just look at the sky was a lot like wishing I could spend a day making art instead of going to a job that would leave me exhausted, physically and creatively. I had no more freedom on the trail than I did in real life. Less, in fact. In real life, I did find time to write, to make art, just not nearly enough. On the trail, I couldn’t draw, or write. The longer I went without doing those things that have always sustained me, the harder the days became. I couldn’t sleep, no matter how exhausted, because of the pain in my feet and my heart. I wanted to draw. I wanted to write. I wanted to read.

The trail taught me, in far less than 6 months, that I wanted to return to my life and refine it, enjoy it. I learned that freedom is a concept more than an actual environment, and we often make our own. When I go into the woods to get away from noise and work, I feel refreshed and grateful. I left the trail because I don’t want to spoil my relationship with the woods, with Nature. She doesn’t care, of course, but I do. I will still go hiking, backpacking, and spend the night out when I want to get my fill of stargazing and peace. But I’m not going to do more damage to my feet and ruin my love of the outdoors so I can say I hiked the AT.

I hiked the AT long enough to realize that I can find what I need here. I can’t speak for what other people find, or don’t find, on the AT. What I found is that I need to write, to make art, to eat fresh food and stop walking when I want to stop walking. I found that I want to get back to making my own life again, constraints and all.

I have art bouncing around in my head, stories weaving themselves in and out of random thoughts, and I can’t wait to get busy. My feet still can’t hold me up, but I can write. I can draw. As soon as I can walk, I’ll be back to work. I’m looking forward to rebuilding my life. I have a lot more appreciation for my humble building blocks.

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Random thoughts before leaving

There are only 3 days before I leave for Atlanta. The trip is still an abstract-though it is getting clearer, like driving through fog. My brother, who loves to buy things, gave me a new backpack yesterday. I must use it, of course, and he says he eagerly awaits the return of this fabulous backpack and stories of how it performed on the Appalachian Trail. I had asked him not to buy anything unnecessary. I wanted to make this trip with what I already had, or could borrow. It is a big part of my personal philosophy, my life’s core values. I use what I have. I take care of things, I keep them orderly, and well maintained. I don’t create unnecessary waste. I don’t  buy processed foods or many new items at all. I’m poor, so that is a big reason, but mainly I am trying to make as little impact with my presence as possible on the earth.

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I  buy only fresh, whole food. Because I don’t buy processed, prepackaged foods, I can afford the good organic stuff. I can experiment with exotic foods to create interest and balance in my diet. I must explain that I do buy some processed foods-dry beans, grains, tea, honey (raw), foods I cannot process myself in order to eat them.

I have only myself to please and support, so I know my decision to live this way is easier than someone who must deal with a husband and children who have become accustomed to Burger King and sausage at breakfast. But I maintain that education about the effects of meat production on the planet, the corporate cruelty, and the negative dietary results can eventually redirect any family toward a healthy, compassionate lifestyle-if they choose to do that.

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In planning this trip, I have thought a lot about my decision to live under the radar, to be as non-intrusive as possible, and I’ve shocked myself at my own hypocrisy. I stayed with friends in order to save money. So much of their behavior annoyed, disgusted and alarmed me that I realized I was only being accepting and compassionate when human behavior was abstract, something on TV or in the  newspaper. I could sigh and shake my head and wish people would calm down, accept their neighbors and their neighbor’s differences. I held my head in my hands when I heard about every little, brutal war in every little beaten-down country. The people who live there have no choice about where they are born and their lives are days on end of poverty and cruelty, their “leaders” bleeding them dry of money, hope, purpose. When I see the deliberate cruelty of corporate farms and the people who run them, casually tossing animals into trucks or beating them because they can, I weep and wish I weren’t  part of this mess at all.

After a few weeks with friends whose personal lifestyle appalled me, I had to re-educate myself. When I caught myself silently bitching about some behavior  (no, I’m not going to list sloppy housekeeping or personal hygiene here, that’s not the point) I would mentally step back, open my hands and raise my arms to the sky. It is what it is, I would chant, their life is not mine to change or judge. They are encouraging my decision and helping as they can. I do not have the right to belittle anyone’s lifestyle or behavior. It helped to breathe deeply, close my eyes and say “let it go.” It does work, if you want it to work. I did have to unclench my fists more than once, I had to bite my tongue. Once I had to leave the house and pay for a motel room, but it was worth it to be in a quiet place and gather my own thoughts. Once I had to let go of a relationship, but that, too, was easier to do once I accepted that the person was not who I thought they were, something we can’t know without actually living with them. And it’s alright for people to come and go in my life. I’m sure the person I let go of has also let go of me. I am not important in the big picture, after all. Yes, I am connected to everything, everything is connected to me, so my importance is no more or less than the boxwood by the drive, or the cardinal in the feeder.

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I’ve been reading essays explaining the basics of existentialism (we are responsible for our own behavior-there is no deity who makes us do anything, or decides our fate for us), Buddhism (we are responsible for what we do, everything is interconnected so compassion, being good, is good for everything, including ourselves. Karma is the consequences of every action) and variations of those ideas. I’m tired sometimes, when I read a basic tenant-you are responsible for your actions-and then the explanation goes on and on, page after page. Sometimes I think all these  books about a particular philosophy-take your pick-are long and complicated because we have this idea that philosophers are so much smarter than everyone else that when they say something it must take up hundreds of pages.

For Pete’s sake. I’ve long believed, deep inside most of my conscious life, that of course we’re responsible for our actions. I don’t CARE if your father raped you, that doesn’t justify beating your children until they bleed, or berating your employees in front of everyone else. Using a sad, abusive childhood to excuse your actions is cowardly and lazy. It seems to me that most of us have had traumatic events in our childhood and young lives. It’s like making pots. They are beautiful as wet clay, but useless for any purpose. They must be fired. Some don’t survive the firing process, but the ones that do are strong and functional as well as beautiful. We must undergo a firing process or some sort of rite of passage before we are truly adult. I’ve known people who appeared to have lived idyllic childhoods and they are mostly useless as adults. They don’t understand other people, they are pale and weak and often unable to make difficult decisions.

Having trauma in your young life doesn’t have to make you incapable of growing up, of accepting the consequences of your choices. You can learn to be an adult. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Education helps me see every day that my life, the one I have and the only one I figure I’m getting, should be lived with appreciation, enthusiasm, and no regrets. Oh, I regret not figuring this out sooner, but  I no longer regret the decisions that led me here. I mourn my youth, of course, and I mourn the time I lost because I didn’t realize it would pass so quickly.

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Now, I’m planning to walk 2,000 miles to listen to Nature in Her own element . I will emerge somewhere on the Trail, I hope, and will be a cleaner, purer Self, the one I’ve been trying to build these past 10 years . I am a little frightened, because it’s a journey into the Unknown (in spite of all the books written about hiking the AT) and because I don’t know who this person is that I’m trying to find. That sounds so 60’s and flakey but I haven’t figured out another way to say it.

By this time next week, I’ll be hiking the trail, trying to get used to the rawness of wind and rain and sleeping on the ground. I’ll be getting used to the sound of my own breathing, and the beating of my heart after climbing hills and mountains and rocks. I’ve hiked enough, alone, to know what to expect at first. Knowing it will go on longer than a few hours, or days, leaves me anxious, but not profoundly. It  will go on longer than some jobs I’ve had, I will be walking farther than I’ve ever driven. I will be my own world longer than I ever have before. But then, I’ll also be able to sit and listen and look as long as I want, as long as Nature allows me to be part of Her day-to-day activities. If I get in the way, I know She’ll simply brush me aside, so I must be mindful of what is going on all the time. She won’t be responsible for my carelessness, She won’t catch my arm if I go tumbling down a slippery hill. I will be on my own more than I ever have. There is fearfulness in my heart, but there is also a great anticipation, like going onstage. There is no real audience, except for me. The animals most likely won’t even reveal themselves, just crouch in the underbrush, giggling at yet another two-legger bumbling through their property.

I can hardly wait.

Ready to go!

I am testing my equipment, hiking all day to see how much food and water I need, before I actually set out on the AT. It’s the smart thing to do. My entire body is straining with the need to GO. I can hardly keep food down.

My brother is driving me to Atlanta next weekend so I only have to endure one more week. A friend sent me a text to let me know about the wild weather on the AT right now (tornado watch??) so yes, I am doing the right thing by waiting one more week. It’s going to be one long, long week.

People around me are talking about the insane price of gas, elections, celebrity gossip (I will not use the word news), and myriad other topics, none of which matter to me. In fact, they don’t seem to matter at all. I understand a lot of this is because my head and heart are somewhere else. But the same old chatter that has seemed banal and pointless for so long has become like TV static, loud and irritating and..pointless. I want to be in the woods. I want to be in the woods!

Leaving Asheville

Linda, who owns Fiddlestix (the first shop to carry my art in Mars Hill) and her helpers, Billie, Jean and Anne, gave me a going away party Saturday night. We drank wine and good beer, munched fresh veggies and homemade chili and mingled the way good-natured people do at parties. Everyone is supportive and cheerful about my hiking trip. They came to pat me on the back and warn me about bears. Linda  stayed after a tiring, busy day, uncorked wine and arranged crackers, cheeses and dip.  Jean brought fresh veggies and hummas. Billie and her husband, Bob, brought homemade chili and wine from Michigan. Donna and Lawrence, from Common Ground, came after an equally tiring day with big smiles and hugs.  My former landlord, Richard, came and reminded evryone he is still planning to meet me in Hot Springs –with beer! Shawn, another outdoor enthusiast made us all laugh with camping stories. Todd, who makes furniture from sticks, much of the time right there in the woods where he finds them, wished a safe trip. Susan and Bentley, who have been so encouraging and happy for me, gave me extra work to help finance this trip. Seth is caring for Annie and lets me sleep on the couch. Sherrye and Benson. Sherrye helped me get in my first major show here. She also gave me a bar of her wonderful handmade soap. Gyspybee.com is her soap company and you should check it out.

I made them all stand still for a couple of pictures. I don’t usually do that irritating picture thing at parties, but I’m going away for 6 months into the woods so it seemed …appropriate.

It was a fun party, it lasted just long enough for everyone to get to know each other a little better, and for me to realize how many good, solid friends I have made here. This is the place I think of now when I think “home”, I have friends to come back to. It makes leaving easier, and harder. Easier because I know they will be saving a place for me. Harder because finding a home as eluded me until just now. It’s hard to leave something you’ve just found.

My little house in Mars Hill was my first real home in the traditional sense, but after I made this decision to hike the trail I gave it up. The past 6 months have been teaching me that I carry my home inside me. It hasn’t been easy, and I fought it a lot of the time. I’m still learning to accept when old habits say resist, but I’m catching myself more often.

I’m still learning to step back, stop judging, stop bitching and let it go. I’m still learning to look inside for home, peace, self-worth.

Seth and I hiked yesterday, a trail that followed the Laurel River at Hot Springs. Even though there are places defiled with graffiti and trash (WTF?) the trail is absolutely beautiful. I realized I wanted to hike it again in the Winter, when the scenery should be spectacular. We talked about other trails, in other seasons, and I said “6 months isn’t such a long time.” I started thinking of what I want to do when I come back. I hadn’t let myself plan to come back until just then. I didn’t realize how much I thought of Asheville as “home.”

I understand that I carry my home inside me, but I also believe, because Asheville has taught me, that there are places that make keeping my inside home quiet, sane and peaceful. My hikes in the mountains have taught me that there is nothing more beautiful than the outdoors, nothing more interesting, nothing more fun, nothing more satisfying. I don’t go shopping for something to do, I go hiking; I don’t  watch TV, I sit by a river and watch what happens. Here you can listen to the woods, smell the juniper and fir, drink spring water cold enough to make your head ache, breathe air so crisp it slices. I can feel my own blood and muscle pushing me up the mountains. All of this I have done here, and it will take me through the Appalachians.

For many of us, Asheville is a place you find, a place where you  can truly live. It’s not a place you ever leave. Not really

Countdown

It’s February 15. Mid February. I’m counting in weeks now, instead of months. I have my tax refund, but other things have made serious dents in the money I’ve worked so hard to save for this trip. I don‘t  care. I’ll make every effort to have enough to be comfortable on this trip but if there isn’t much money, I’ll make do with what I have. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t been doing that for…how long now?

In the past few months, I’ve been living in other people’s homes. I try-very hard-to be a good guest and pay my way with housework, errands, cooking, anything to make up for paying with  actual cash. I’ve been more successful at some times than others. I don’t have nearly the amount I thought I would have by now but then, none of us can predict the future. I also would never have predicted some of the situations living in someone else’s home have created.

In fact, I feel terrible even hinting that there has been anything but graciousness toward me. To that end, I won’t post specific incidents, but I will say that I’m never going to do anything like this again. It feels like something else I failed at.  I have spent a great deal of my life feeling like a failure. Failing at marriage, love in general, my graphic design career. Owning a home, keeping a job, I’ve failed at pretty much everything we do as adults to build our lives. Don’t go leaping for the keyboard to tell me I shouldn’t feel that way. Should or shouldn’t has nothing to do with it. Feelings are feelings. We can’t control them. We CAN control what we do. So, every day I just keep getting up and doing my best. Every night, I hope it’s enough. When it isn’t I keep going anyway. I cry, I cuss, I blame the universe, I feel sorry for myself that all my work doesn’t matter…and then I get on with it.

This trip has actually given me hope, a goal, and a chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do, something that can help me define myself in terms other than what I didn’t do.

My art, my writing-my creative life-has helped me see that the other failures aren’t any more important than I let them be. Of course, failing to keep a job can certainly affect where you live, what you drive, etc., but I’ve also learned to just accept being poor and never having anything extra. I don’t want a big house, an expensive car, new shoes every week. I want to be able to keep a little money aside, I want to buy art supplies when I need them, and I want to be able to keep my car running. I have no desire to ever own property. I want enough to spend my days writing, making art, without worrying about rent.

So that’s my long term goal, I guess. A small, simple life that no one can interfere with, or judge.  The past few years have disconnected me to the point I find myself staring at people, wondering why they do it. Old, poor, miserable, panicked. Why? Why do I do it, is the logical sequence and too many days I have no answer. I ache for this time on the trail when I can stop and stare at the sky, listen to birds, drink from a Spring, feel the muscles in my body strain, hear my own breath, open myself to cold and heat and rain and hunger. Feel alive and connected, something I haven’t felt in a long, long time.

Appalachian Trail

My plan to hike the trail-all the way-has made a big difference in small things these days. I am not renewing any subscriptions, am planning to stop landline phone service in February, planning to actually move out of my little house in February as well. I hope to spend most of March visiting friends and family before I set out on my hike.

In the coming 6 months, I will be reading everything I can find on thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, backpacking in general, lightweight hiking and camping equipment, anything to ensure my plan is successful. A couple of thousand hikers start the AT every year-only about 10% actually finish. Only about 10% of that number are women. I plan to be in that tiny number. I may have failed at almost everything else I’ve attempted in my life, but I’m determined about this.

I alos plan to do this as a vegan. !!! Before anyone starts gasping and trying to bring me to my senses, check out some of these links-

www.myvega.com

http://thrivein30.com/introductory-lesson_time-to-thrive/

http://www.brendanbrazier.com/

There are lots of vegan websites and I subscribe to Vegetarian Times and the North American Vegetarian Society. It is possible to have a perfectly balanced plant-based diet. It’s also a lot healthier and kinder to the planet and the animals who share it with us. Don’t worry, there is no sermon forthcoming. I just don’t want to see a lot of warnings about hiking without meat.

The whole idea is exciting to me. I will be in a situation where each day will be consumed with survival and the most basic kind of life appreciation. I need that after living in a virtual prison for the past 3 1/2 years. My life has been a constant struggle since my split with my “dream man'” as he called himself. The struggle has evolved from a daily struggle to pay bills to a struggle with the point of it all. When I realized I was getting a small bonus I decided to save it for the Hike. The Hike was something I planned originally for my retirement in 4 years. I don’t think I can wait 4 years. I’ve been gasping for breath for a long time. My art and writing is suffering-as it always does when I start sliding down the Depression hill.

Then, it hit me. Why wait? WHY? We aren’t guaranteed anything. What if something happens in the next 4 years? What if something happens in the next 4 days? Do I want my last thought to be “Why didn’t I DO anything?” As the old saying goes, “If not now, when?”

I’m poor now. I’ll be poor 6 months from now. I’ll be poor 6 months after that. Why not hike the trail and be poor…with a real accomplishment under my belt.

So that’s how I made the decision. I’ve got to get through this Winter without any big expense (I’ve already had one…the effing computer monitor went out. But it’s early days. I can make this up.) And I will, dammit. Nothing is going to screw this up for me. I’m leaving for the trail in the Spring and I’ll be coming off once a week or so to resupply and make contact.

Already, my wonderful brother has offered to let me use his dehydrator so I can begin stockpiling dried food. It’s lightweight and nutritious. I’ll be packing boxes to be mailed to me along the trail so I can resupply at minimum expense.

I’m researching lightweight backpacking (another whole world out there on the Web) and reading everything. Other hikers’ experience can help me avoid costly mistakes.

Anyone who has advice, questions, suggestion, please comment. My current assignment has me out of my home for 5 days at a time so I won’t be able to read them until next weekend, but please, comment! And if anyone wants to join me, come on! (even for a day or so)

Think positive, outdoorsey thoughts!

Long, long thoughts

William Wordsworth ended one of his most famous poems with the phrase “…and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts”

I remember wondering about the meaning of life and what the years ahead held for me. I pondered deep subjects when I was 16, 20, 25. Mainly I wondered if HE would ever love me, if anyone would notice that my clothes were old and poorly fitted, if anyone would remember me, if I would be invited, accepted. Those aren’t such “long, long thoughts.” Maybe Wordsworth wasn’t referring to teenagers and early 20’s Youth. Maybe, by youth he meant people who still had 50 years to live and that when we get about halfway we start wondering what the hell we’re doing here-who we are  in general. I don’t mean religion. That’s a club set up to make sure no one has to question too deeply, that no question goes unanswered, nothing remains unexplained-even if the only explanation requires “blind faith.”

The pieces that follow are bits that came up in some of my “long, long thoughts” but I think they apply to everyone sooner or later. Comments welcome.

The Woman I Could Have Become

That could have been me. That woman there, walking by dressed in Ann Taylor. Her smile is warm and shows off perfect white teeth. She’s reaching up just slightly, her firm tan arms reach for the shoulders of a tall well-made man. He’s smiling down at her. His teeth are white and perfect too. Look, they’re walking slowly now, his arm at her back, Now, his hand is moves lightly to rest on her trim hips. Their heads are leaning toward each other as they walk in perfect time. Look now, they’ve arrived at a car, something red and new. He’s holding the door for her. Such a gentleman, he is. She’s turning her face to him flashing that perfect, white smile! How lightly he steps after he closes the door. So happy, satisfied. She looks so happy, satisfied. They’re driving away, smiling, happy and satisfied.

I could have been that woman; who’s to say I couldn’t?

Early Morning Hike

Clear notes of a Cardinal slice through the air.

Rustling fallen leaves mark the path of a black snake.

Painted lady shivers on a daisy petal.

My shoes beat rhythmically against gravel and sand.

 

GETTING OLD

Aging should be a good thing. I might as well think of it that way since I can’t stop it. Even if I had the money for cosmetic surgery, I could only make it a little nicer, take away some of the tracks of pain. How could I cut away the roots of it? Wouldn’t the bloom of it still show in my face, given time? Better to step out of my own cage, focus on the outside – other people, children, animals, making and creating. This incessant introspection has left me exasperated and tired. Tired of myself and my ceaseless need.

PREY

Unbidden memories slice my senses – a lion on unwary antelope

ripping away the fragile flesh of years exposing the still pulsing heart.

Bleeding, draining into the everlasting earth.

Questions

How did I love you? With my heart, my mind, my body. Not until you left did I love you with my past, my present, my future.

Why did I love you? Because you asked me to; oh you did. With your eyes, your smile, your arms. Only after you left did the question become the answer.

Sighting

I saw you in Belk’s- I knew it was you before I sighted the familiar beard. Your salty clean scent pressed against my senses in Kitchenware . Whirling around my arm shot out to steady a display of crockery shaped like cabbages. My eyes locked onto your familiar gait -broad shoulders above the shoppers between us. When you turned your head to follow a pretty teenager  I saw your profile for the first time clearly, at a distance. I watched you watching her, following her until she was out of sight. You bumped into an older woman and never even apologized.