CHAPTER THREE

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

CHAPTER THREE

I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking,

all the hills were swaying.

Jeremiah 4:24

MAY 6, 2016

I write the answer to “what’s on my mind” on Facebook: 

Calling all friends who have back country skills and equipment! I have an opportunity to hike part of the Appalachian Trail coming up very soon on a shoestring budget. I would welcome and take good care of any items you might allow me to borrow. Need: a less than 5 lb. 1-person tent, a trail worthy backpack, sleeping pad, lightweight sleeping bag. Plus, anything you know from experience might be helpful.

I click “post” then grab my son’s empty L.L. Bean backpack. I put a couple text books inside to add weight to the pack, lace up the stiff new Swiss hiking boots, and begin going up and down the hill outside my house. We leave this month. I’d better do anything I can to get my body ready. From the trail plan, I know that climbing hills is going to be a tough part of the experience.

Three times down and up my perfectly paved suburban sidewalk leads me to take a break. I sit on the porch with my love handles drinking water while out of breath. Then I begin the descent and climb again and again until I am certain Netflix calls my name to go back inside the house. Sweat is overrated.

MAY 7, 2016

Today is Saturday. I am at my second job. A beautiful spring day is outside through the window and beyond my grasp. I miss the boys.

My supervisor gave me a quarter raise above minimum wage last week like it was exuberant cause for celebration. I try to be grateful. I tell myself: this is a season in your life. Carry on. Having to clean bathrooms at the end of each shift when the body already aches is the most humbling. I have gagged more than once.

I convince myself that the small additional paycheck helps with groceries for two hungry teenage boys. They are worth it.

Some of the worst moments here are when people I knew from better employment years come into the store and eye me with questioning eyes or pity. They are in a rush on their way to a bridal shower or stopping by for luxury beach accessories on their way to Florida. They complain about trivial things like a broken nail or how on earth they could possibly pick a fine china place setting pattern from so many choices. Today a guy visiting the customer service desk asked me, “Didn’t you used to be my boss at…?”   

“Yes,” I smiled and did not offer one bit of explanation.

I hustle upstairs to my locker on a ten-minute break in hopes of a text or sign of life outside the walls of me saying “Would you like a gift receipt?” and “Would you like to purchase the item of the month?” to every single customer. You never know when the next customer might be a Secret Shopper who will report back about our store performance to the general manager.

I unlock my phone to find texts from JoAnn. Yes! Texts on break breathe life into me.

She sent a picture of a picture.

JoAnn—THIS IS FLAT KEVIN! HE IS GOING WITH US!

Who?

Flat Kevin is a 2D image of JoAnn’s nephew. She cut the background away from a candid photo of Kevin and laminated the remaining shape of his body. He is tall with dark hair and a kind smile. I recognize the wide bright eyes that JoAnn and many in her family seem to have. She says Flat Kevin will fit into her backpack perfectly. I guesstimate he is about 5 inches tall from the text. 

JoAnn fills me in about his story and why he is going. The real Kevin is 44 and the father of 6 children. His youngest is 3 years old. Kevin is fighting Renal Cancer. He has gone through a round of Interleukin so far. She tells me Kevin is living life as best he can right now. JoAnn is dedicating her hike to him. We will take a bunch of pictures with Flat Kevin during the hike so she can share those pictures with him after the trip.

My heart acknowledges his struggle. I have nothing left to internally complain about today. I text back my support for Flat Kevin on the trip and she continues with more news.

JoAnn—GUESS WHO ELSE IS GOING WITH US?!!  DRUMROLL….

No idea. JoAnn knows I am on a work break, so she does not leave me in suspense.

JoAnn—COURTNEY!!!!  AFTER GRADUATION SHE HAS A LITTLE BREAK WHERE THIS TRIP WILL FIT IN PERFECTLY.

So, she WAS interested in going. Cool. Courtney is a nice addition. 

Courtney and I ran a Girls Circle® group for 5th grade girls together during the winter. Before the students learned our names, they called her the “blonde one” and me the “dark haired one”.

Courtney has an old soul in a 22-year-old body. She was a reliable partner. I enjoyed her occasional surprise over what some of the young girls had to say. One of my favorite moments was when the girls mentioned that the next day school was going to have “the talk” with them about puberty. Their parents had to sign a consent form for them to participate. They asked Courtney if we knew what this means. Courtney replied, “Yeah, Glenna and I went to that class a long time ago.” The girls burst into an exchange of giggles.

The retail break time clock is ticking.

A group text pops up.

Courtney—MY ROOMMATE RACHEL WANTS TO GO WITH US ALSO!

JoAnn—OH WONDERFUL! WE HAVE FOUR SEATS. THAT WORKS!

The car is getting crowded, but I do like even numbers on trips. 

Courtney—GLENNA, RACHEL IS TO ME LIKE DEB IS TO YOU.  WE COMPLEMENT ONE ANOTHER.

Oh wait.  I recall some difficult stories with one of her classmates.

Glenna—RACHEL’S NOT THE “CRAZY ONE” IS SHE?

Gotta verify. I am too old for petty, jealous girl stuff.

Courtney—LOL. NO, RACHEL IS NOT THE CRAZY ONE, BUT WE ARE TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO TELL THE C.O.

Whew. Good.

I pause, then send a text to Courtney directly. I know that Courtney was involved in and valued her past experience in high school church youth groups, so this idea might go over ok.

Glenna—DO YOU WANT ADVICE ABOUT TELLING THE C.O.?

As a personal rule, I attempt not to give input without asking if people want advice first.

Courtney—YES, PLEASE.

Glenna–BEFORE YOU TELL HER, PRAY FOR A GOOD TIME AND AN EASY PATH FOR COMMUNICATION. THEN HOPEFULLY A CONVERSATION WILL OCCUR NATURALLY, NOT FORCED.

I have been to the movie of dealing with a few Crazy Ones over the years. Jealousy filled and irrational relationships wear me out. I have found that God has a way of working out the crazy upfront when you take the time to ask. So, perhaps I will pray right now too.

Dear God,

Please help Courtney and Rachel tell the friend that they are going on a trip without her. Soften everyone’s hearts involved and allow there to be a peaceful exchange.

[pause]

And please work out the crazy circumstances in my own life too.

Thank you.

Amen

Then I think about how even if Rachel is not the Crazy One, she is still an “unknown” for me. I hope she is not someone with a bad attitude. I do not like when there is a dud on a trip. 

The time clock makes the punch back in sound.

MAY 8, 2016

Jacob hands me the Mommy Boot Camp notebook I made him. For the last month he has been completing household tasks along with preparing his body for basic training and working. The home version boot camp is not because I want him to clean or repair our house (a nice benefit), but because I want him to know how to do things when he is living on his own. 

We tried to teach him life chores as he grew up, but he is a dismissive one. He often surprises you later that he was paying attention at all.

Mommy Boot Camp has been a bit like Karate Kid’s “Wax on. Wax off.”  He has done laundry, yard work, made calls to get information, wrote paragraphs about the dangers of drinking and driving, cleaned the crevices of our 6 panel doors, reviewed articles about youth who made big mistakes while abroad, prayed, looked up helpful life Bible verses, swept, mowed the lawn, drove his brother to appointments, was left alone with a banana and condom (while also having conversations about the benefits of waiting), folded clothes, Googled various topics like how to reduce anxiety, wrote down the Serenity Prayer, did countless sit ups, pushups and more.

“Mom, I’ve learned and done everything you asked.” He continues, “Now I’d like a few weeks off to relax before I’m gone for most of the next 6 years.”

“Ok.” I hug him. My tall handsome boy smells faintly of manly cologne.

I go to a quiet spot in the house to let a few tears pass.

MAY 13, 2016

NOON

May 31st is 18 days from now. My mind is racing about all I need to prepare and what I need to learn before we depart. 

I realize that I have never put up a tent by myself. Maybe I helped once or twice in the past by holding a tent pole for someone else while they did the real puzzle work. 

Fortunately, there is YouTube and Google. I search for videos, articles and how to information about hiking the AT:  what food to pack, how to select and put on a proper hiking backpack gear, how to protect yourself from the elements, how to keep bears and critters from your campsite, how to sleep in the deep woods at night (Eek! It is going to be DARK!).

Sounds like the most important things are to not leave food out to attract animals and to not be smelly yourself. And by smelly, I do not mean smell good or fragrant with normal wash products. It is important to have as little scent as possible.

Oh, and apparently people have trail names. You can have a special name just for the hiking experience. Given my recent life challenges, I could use a departure from reality. I ponder what my trail name will be.

1:00PM

News breaks that a man, age 49, was bitten through his tent by a bear while sleeping along the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains. Through his tent!?! 

It was just two days ago that I felt peaceful that I probably will feel safe enough at night once I am inside a 1-person tent. The dark will remain outside. I will zip up at dusk and not come out until daylight. That was my solid plan.

And now I am thinking, bitten THROUGH his tent by a bear?! I yi yi. He was inside.

I group text the story to Courtney, Rachel and JoAnn.

Courtney—OH MY!

JoAnn—THAT GUY PROBABLY HAD FOOD OR AN ODD SMELL IN HIS TENT.

JoAnn—ALSO, I’M BRINGING BEAR BELLS AND A BEAR BAG.

Courtney—I’LL GLADLY CARRY A BEAR BELL.

Rachel—DOES THE BEAR BELL ENCOURAGE THE BEARS TO STAY AWAY FROM US?

Good question.

JoAnn—BEARS DON’T LIKE BEAR BELLS. AND AT NIGHT WE PUT ALL OUR FOOD IN A BEAR BAG AND SLING IT WITH A ROPE HIGH OVER A TREE BRANCH ABOUT 200 YARDS FROM CAMP. I’VE BEEN PRACTICING.

Rachel—OH, OF COURSE. BELLS, BEAR BAG, ROPE, GOT IT. THIS IS ALL NEW TO ME! CAN’T WAIT, LADIES!

JoAnn has been practicing. Good to hear.

JoAnn—IF YOU’RE GOING TO WEAR DEODORANT, MAKE SURE IT IS UNSCENTED.  NOT EASY TO FIND, BUT THERE IS A BRAND CALLED TOM’S THAT MAKES UNSCENTED.

IF we are going to wear deodorant?  I add to my shopping list:

  • Unscented deodorant

I do not think I can give up deodorant. I also do not want any rodents or bears curious about me. 

4:30PM 

At an after-school club I tell co-worker Maria about the trip. I know she is an outdoor person. Maria had many adventures around the globe in her 20’s.

“I think you’ll love it,” Maria says. “And you need to read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.”

“Is it a book about the AT?”

“Yeah.  You will learn a lot of tips.”  She continues, “Like cotton is rotten.”

“Huh?”

“You don’t want to wear anything cotton. Cotton stays damp and gross. You need to wear things that are synthetic. Synthetic materials dry fast.”

“Really?” I’d already been planning cool cotton attire and a couple of my favorite summer outfits. Do I own anything NOT cotton?

“Oh, yeah. Very important. No cotton.”

Once again, I am re-thinking what to bring and what to wear.

5:30PM

I stop at the Half-Price Bookstore. I already looked online to see that A Walk in the Woods is checked out of the library.

Ah-hah! Half-Price has a few copies. I use a bag of change to purchase a copy of the book plus a blank journal and head home. I want to keep thoughts and lists for the trip in one place. 

6:00PM

I walk down the neighborhood hill and back up several times. 

9:00PM

I am in bed reading while thinking I should still be cramming exercise into the day. My legs are sore. I wish I had more time to prepare.

My eyes enlarge. On page 6 of A Walk in the Woods, the author is preparing for his AT hike.  Included in his prep is awareness that:

“…there is the little-known family of organisms called hantaviruses, which swarm in the micro-haze above the feces of mice and rats and are hovered into the human respiratory system by anyone unlucky enough to stick a breathing orifice near them—by lying down, say, on a sleeping platform over which infested mice have recently scampered….”

What?!

In YouTube videos I remember seeing occasional AT platform shelters in the woods where the above quote could be a problem if we sleep on one at night.  No thank you. I vow to stay in my tent. Two, I need to add buffs or handkerchiefs to my packing list! I will cover my mouth, nose, ears and all orifices while sleeping.

In the back of my journal, I make a page for my packing list:

  • Buffs to cover face at night
  • Synthetic, quick dry clothing–No cotton!
  • Bug spray
  • Food –what kind of food?! (need to research)
  • 1-person tent (need to find or borrow)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Some type of pillow (or use rolled up clothing at night?)
  • Advil/Tylenol
  • Magic boots
  • Socks
  • Unscented deodorant
  • Travel toothpaste and brush
  • Hair ties
  • compass
  • Other items TBD

I turn off the light and pull the covers over my head. I try to comprehend what pitch-black dark will be like out in the woods at night.

MAY 14, 2016

This is really JoAnn’s trip. I remind myself of that. She has been planning to go since September. 

The timing fit and the boots fit, but the origins of this trip are hers. I vow to respect that.

JoAnn turned 60 in November. She was super busy around that time and so was I. It bothered me that I did not get to properly celebrate with her on or near her birthday. But I have an idea about how to have a celebration moment for her while on the AT.

I message her husband, Steve, on Facebook to ask what her favorite candy bar is. He replies Babe Ruth. Perfect. 

I saw a Pinterest video recently about making a little cake of candy bars attached to a small round Styrofoam piece. I can pick up miniature Babe Ruth bars and a small floral Styrofoam half ball from Wal-Mart. Oh, and I guess glue would be best to get the wrapped bars to stick to the Styrofoam. I can pack the completed “cake” in a Ziploc bag with a birthday candle. It will be a sweet moment while on the trail to celebrate.

I read about the importance of minimal weight supplies on the trail.  You carry everything on your back: tent, change of clothes, food, etc.  It is best to be as light as possible. I think this small cake idea can be lightweight.

I do not want to wait to the last minute to make the cake, so I begin working on it.  It takes a while for the candy to stick to the foam, so I upgrade to a strong epoxy tube of glue.  Soon the cake takes shape.

I text a picture to Courtney and tell her the mini birthday celebration for JoAnn plan.

Courtney—LOVE IT! VERY SWEET IDEA.

Glenna—THE TUBE OF GLUE SAYS HIGHLY FLAMMABLE, SO WE’LL HAVE TO LIGHT THE CANDLE AND HAVE HER BLOW IT OUT QUICKLY.

Courtney—YES! NO EXPLOSIONS ON THE TRAIL. I’LL HELP YOU ON THIS.           

Glenna—GOOD. THANKS!

I am beginning to call this trip Highway 2246 in honor of our decades. Two are in their 20’s, one is in her 40’s and one is 60 years old.

MAY 15, 2016

I am struggling overnight and this morning thinking about Jacob’s departure to basic training next week. Tomorrow he has a last briefing with his recruiter. I connect online with other military moms. Turns out a lot of them are crying too. Knowing there are other moms like me out there makes me feel somewhat more normal and not as alone. 

Only 1% of young people join the military in the USA. No wonder I do not have any local friends going through the same thing at this moment. This is not as common as I thought.  There are few brave young men and women who sign up to protect and defend our freedom.

MAY 16, 2016

12:00PM

Surprise! The recruiter said we get to keep Jacob around a little longer due to his emergency appendectomy recovery time. The USAF Surgeon General wants to give him an additional 90 days to heal. Now we wait for a new ship date.

This was a practice round.

I pause to adjust.

I think about it briefly, then decide I am still going on the AT.

6:00PM

A group text begins as often is now the case with the 4 women of Highway 2246. 

Courtney—I’M LOOKING AT OUR HIKE PLAN. WE END AT A DIFFERENT PLACE THAN WE BEGIN. HOW DO WE GET BACK TO THE CAR?

JoAnn—PEOPLE HITCH HIKE ALL ALONG THE AT. THERE’S A LOT OF GOOD PEOPLE WHO WILL PICK US UP AND TAKE US BACK.

I receive a direct message from Courtney–&^%$?  IS SHE SERIOUS?

JoAnn might be serious. 

Or she might be joking. I do not know.

Texting takes a timeout as heart rates increase.

Then we read:

JoAnn—I’LL RESEARCH AND GET BACK TO YOU.

8:00PM

JoAnn—I FOUND A REGISTERED DRIVER. HE’S AGREED TO DRIVE US. AND HE HAD A LOT TO SAY. TALKED MY EAR OFF. SOME OF IT WAS HELPFUL.

Rachel—OH GOOD. 

Courtney—WHAT’S HIS NAME?

JoAnn—DICK.

Pause.

Glenna—SERIOUSLY?

JoAnn—DICK RICHARD

Pause.

Glenna—SO HIS NAME IS DOUBLE D…

I do not finish.

Courtney–MUAHHHHH

JoAnn—LOL. DICK PROMISES TO BE ON TIME. HE’S AWARD WINNING IN HIS TRANSPORTATION AND AT GUIDANCE.

Rachel—WELL, WE CAN’T QUESTION DICK THEN.

Courtney does her own research. She texts a picture of Dick within minutes. I am impressed by her rapid fire online investigative skills. In the photo Dick has white hair, a white beard and is holding up an award. 

JoAnn—THAT’S DICK!

Glenna—I FEEL SAFER ALREADY.

Not really. But I am going with the flow. Surely JoAnn speaking with someone in advance rather than hitch hiking is a good thing. He is “registered” whatever that means.

Courtney—DOES ANYONE KNOW THEIR TRAIL NAME YET?

JoAnn—I THINK I’M GOING TO BE SUNFLOJO. 

The rest of us do not know yet.  We have a little time to figure it out.

10:00PM

My mind wanders. 

My heart is heavy. I need to de-burden, defragment, and cleanse my soul.

Fresh air will be good.

I hope to find the tallest mountain ridge and spend time with God. I thought the delay in Basic Training date would help me feel better, but there is so much more going on with our family. I have no words, but I feel the stress in the space that has opened up further in my mind.

MAY 17, 2016

Paul and I watch Appalachian Trail YouTube videos. There are a lot of them. 

  • How to cook on the AT
  • How to pack for the AT
  • Let’s talk Food on the AT
  • How to prepare physical endurance for the AT which totally makes me feel like a slacker at this late date!
  • And my favorite title: Preparing for My Thru Hike So I Don’t Die.

I watch and re-watch How to Pee Outside along with other ladies’ guides to peeing in the woods. This is vital information. I eye my backyard wishing the neighbors did not live so close. I do not plan to practice before going (pun intended!). I will be ready when there is no other choice.

I have a backup plan just in case I cannot manage to go when it is time or if I must figure it out at night.

This girl will not squat over mystery grass in the dark! So, I bought a guy version portable urinal. It is lightweight and has a smallish opening with a lid. I am confident in this Plan B because when I was in China several years ago, I cut off the top of a Pepsi bottle, made it work, then dumped the pee in the hole in the floor for waste. That is a whole other story involving dress clothes that did not work well in that country. If you have ever been to China, then you know what I am talking about.    

Paul and I watch one video and then watch another and another. In-between he gives me tips or encouragement.

He is getting into this. He prints out enlarged 8 ½ by 11 pages of each part of our hike plan.  He walks me through each page with a different color highlighter to mark each turn on the connecting paths.

I share with him, “JoAnn has taken classes and she told me she has an official AT trail guide map, but I’m glad for the blown-up versions so I can anticipate the experience up close on the map a little in advance.”

He knows I am visual, and he appears to want me to come home if lost. I will have more landmark names in my head than I need thanks to him.

Paul says, “Let’s go over it again. You follow the trails and make the turns with your finger. Describe each turn. You flip the pages. Let’s make sure you’ve got this.”

I begin, “We hike the Lower Hawksbill Mountain Trail first. We will climb the mountain to see the view from the highest peak in the Shenandoah National Park. Then we take Salamander Trail down the mountain to connect with….”

We practice the whole thing late into the evening.

I am amazed how much energy he can put into helping me with something like this.

MAY 19, 2016

I am tired.  The next payroll week looms as I wait for invoice payments to arrive this week.

Semi-facing the inevitable, I meet with a local career strategist, Dr. Angie Taylor.

Angie asks, “So how long have you been struggling with your finances?”

“Three years, maybe four.”

Angie states, “Glenna, you know the definition of insanity, right?”

“Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?”

“Right. The non-profit is like your baby. You don’t want to let go, but you’ve got to do something different. It sounds like your spouse’s earnings are not going to change and you’re not in a good position to sell the house.” She sighs, “If you have to answer right now, what do you do from here?”

Defeated I say, “Get another job or different part-time job so I can pay the mortgage on time.” What I do not say is that the paperwork and effort to change course, though, seems daunting.

“Alright, let’s talk about how to go about doing that.”

We brainstorm how I can make room in my schedule and obtain new sources of income.  Resentment brews in my heart. 

Angie is wise. I am grateful for her time, but why do I have to do this?!

MAY 21, 2016

I have begun to meet people to collect supplies. Today I meet with Amy K, who used to live and have outdoor adventures in Alaska.

“Here you go,” Amy K hands me a 45 Liter backpack. It has many pockets to discover. Best of all, it is red, my favorite color.

“Inside is a sleeping pad that you roll up and hook to the outside while hiking. You don’t have to blow into it at night. Open the valve and it will inflate on its own.”

“Wow,” I say.

She unzips a side pocket, “This is a little ring of flatware. And, I don’t know if you’ll want it, but this contraption becomes a chair if you fold it right. Sometimes a bit of back support is nice when resting in the woods.”

“I wish I could go,” I see the sincerity in Amy’s eyes. She is another person we know that has knee problems at the moment.

“Maybe next trip,” I say. “If this goes well for JoAnn, she plans to do many sections.”

“Yes, I hope so.” Amy and I hug. I leave grateful for the pack. It is perfect. I already feel one with it. It has compression straps which I know from videos will help distribute weight evenly.

I stop at other friends’ homes. The support and willingness to share has been greatly appreciated.

I return home to try out the growing pile of borrowed equipment in our dining room.

Paul is there looking through the boys’ closets. “This will fit you.  And this will too,” He says.

He has a stack of shirts and shorts which are made of synthetic material.

“This is great. Thanks,” I think about the savings but am a bit sad that I’ll be wearing all boy clothes. I have stopped at a few thrift stores and not found any trail clothes that will work.

I share, “I’m a little concerned about creepy crawling things and would like to have pants on the main hiking days, but I’m not sure what pants will work.”

Paul thinks for a moment then takes my hand to our shared closet. “What about these?”

He holds up his old pair of Boy Scout pants. For a few years he was one of the leaders for Jacob’s Cub Scout group.

I laugh, “Let me try ‘em.” 

My brain connects the outdoor pants with images I’ve seen in AT videos. The pant vents, cargo pockets and zippers make sense for the first time. 

“Tah dah!” I spin around once and stretch in the bedroom. No seams rip. That’s a good sign.

“They fit well,” he observes.

That settles it. I toss my new-found clothes in the wash and then hang them to dry. I have pieces of clothing from each of my guys and none of it is cotton.

MAY 26, 2016

I wake up at 5am to walk the neighborhood hills wearing Amy K’s backpack for an hour. 

In my early morning thoughts, I face that I haven’t cared much if I live or die in recent years.

Now, surviving the AT is fresh motivation. I want to both live through it and not hold back my group.

It feels good to want to live. 

I see this quote in a devotion book while getting ready for work. I dwell on it for the day.

When we are no longer able to change a situation,

we are challenged to challenge ourselves.

–Viktor Frankl, survivor of 4 concentration camps

MAY 27, 2016

Courtney and Rachel stop by the non-profit office. They come to collect excess equipment that caring friends have said we can share.

This is the first time I get to meet Rachel.

Courtney walks into the room, “Whazz Uppp?” She has been working out this morning. Her hair is in a ponytail. She wears her favorite Cross-Fit t-shirt.

“Hi.”  I am wading through end of the year student survey data.  A bit of spring air wafted in when the girls opened the door.

“You must be Rachel.”

“Yes, I am.”  Rachel is a tall brunette with a sweet smile.

I fan out little plastic bags with fabric inside. “These are buffs from Deb’s mom. She thought she would want them when she went through chemo, but she did not. They’re all brand new.”

Rachel says, “Ooo. There’s a bunch.”

Courtney says, “Tell Deb I’m grateful for these.  Nothing is allowed to crawl in my nose while I sleep!”

I agree, “Same here.”

Rachel chooses a turquoise blue. “Look, Court, it matches this backpack.”

Perfect. JoAnn had dropped off a few of her family backpacks to choose from. The girls load up.

“Yes, we’ll have to color coordinate a little bit on the trail,” Courtney smiles. “We’re off to buy food for the trail next.”

“Oh yeah, it is hard to commit to food choices,” I say.

Rachel shares, “It’s like you have to be ok with the fact that what you pack could be your last meal or something.”

We chuckle. “I’m committed to get through this, ladies. Yet, I have some doubts.”

Courtney says, “I am right there with ya.”

I offer, “I bought snack size peanut butter tubs, crackers, organic marshmallows—yum, tried some—cashews, ginger chew candy, packs of noodles that we can cook quick on JoAnn’s stove. Oh, and beef jerky in a few flavors.”

Courtney says, “Jerky is life. I’m all about the jerky.”

“We’re gonna need protein,” Rachel says.

“I hope we don’t see any snakes,” Courtney offers.

We all agree. I type into my computer and say out loud, “How to repel snakes.”

Rachel says, “Research. Good idea.”

Not as many articles or tips come up as I hoped. “Hmmm.” I point at one short piece of information, “Looks like snakes do not like moth balls.”

“I don’t know much about moth balls,” Courtney says.

“Well, they are kind of toxic for humans,” I say. “I’ll put some thought into it, though. There might be a way to incorporate them safely into some type of snakes-stay-away-system.”

I walk the girls out to their car.

It is time for me to leave for the day too. I welcome the warm afternoon sun. 

On the way home, I stop at Wal-Mart.

I walk around the camping aisles for general inspiration and stop at the knife case.

Jacob has asked me a few times to take some type of protection. I purchase a light weight yet menacing looking knife that flips open easily.

This metal will be clipped in my pocket during the trip because you just never know what might happen.

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© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards

Thanks for reading or listening. Check back next Sunday for CHAPTER FOUR.

Highway 2246 is almost on the road!

CHAPTER TWO

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

CHAPTER TWO

I lift my eyes to the mountains–where does my help come from? 

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalms 121: 1-2

Yes, I want to go! Can I fit this into my schedule? Will Paul freak out? Will the boys be ok without me around?

I will be off the grid. OFF THE GRID—how wonderful that sounds. Probably no cell service.

Can we afford this? Isn’t camping supposed to be cheap? Oh, wait a minute, when is my period? I am NOT doing a cycle in the woods—no way.

JoAnn asks, “Whatcha thinking?”

“Um. If I can make family and work stars align, if I can borrow some equipment from friends who are into hiking, then I am all in.”

I have a few camping type folks in mind to ask. There is no budget for me to go hiking otherwise.

“Oh honey, no worries. How about this? If it is meant to be, it will be. We won’t force or pressure it to happen.”

Then my biggest fear pops up, “You know I am out of shape, right? I might be a slowpoke.”

“No worries,” she says. “We won’t rush. If you want to and get to go, then we’ll take our time.”

“Alrighty.  I’ll talk with the fam and get back to you.”

“Ok!”

JoAnn texts me a picture of the hiking plan:

BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING TRIP GUIDE. 

FOUR DAYS, THREE NIGHTS. 

HAWKSBILL TO SWIFT RUN VIA LAUREL PRONG. 

TRIP DESCRIPTION:  MOUNTAINS, STREAMS WATERFALLS, RAPIDAN CAMP HISTORIC SITE. 

The twists and turns over varied terrain and elevation changes are listed as if the line dashes on the map are no big deal. Easy peasy.

23 MILES – IF all goes as planned.

MAY 04, 2016

I wait for the right moment. I pace from the kitchen to the laundry room to the family room. 

More pacing. There is no right moment.

Paul rests on the couch. I eye him. After all these years, I remember the butterflies we shared when we pretended not to look at one another the first time we met in the Young Adult Sunday School class.

He had been a visiting college intern in his last semester. I was there that day because my campus minister challenged me to go back to my home church one last time before moving my membership officially to the church where I had been attending for months. Being there was me fulfilling a promise.

If I had my way, that day was just a formality. A box to check, then move on.

But someone caught my eye. Everything changed fast.

While dating, we celebrated our total opposite personalities—bragged about it even. I would say things like, “He likes a home to be organized.” Then he would say, “She likes a home to be clean. This should work out perfectly.”

Once married, simple differences like how to set up house overflowed into differences in how we view the world. Even though we see things somewhat similar, it became cumbersome to constantly translate the nuances. Over the years, we evolved from both wanting to prove a point when we tried to talk or argue to me agreeing with whatever most days. I grew tired of expressing, “We are saying the same thing.”

I still adore his broad shoulders. I like the way he smells like Lever 2000 soap–and sometimes after shave when we can afford it. I appreciate the way he nurtures and cares for our kids. The pictures of how lovingly he looked at both newborns are forever in my mind. He acts like he is going to be fine with Jacob leaving soon, but I am fairly sure he will struggle when departure day arrives.

I am both mad at him for 23 years of reasons and mad about him at the same time. Down deep, I love him in a way that is eternal no matter what. Our shared faith has been the foundation that did not crack although the metaphoric home built above the foundation is not as strong.

It is time. 

“I need to talk with you about something.”

He hesitates, “Oh boy.”

I take a deep breath and tell him about the trip opportunity. Then I get serious. 

“Look,” I say.  “I’m dealing with a few things.”

“Ok,” he says.

“My brain is fried. I need this hike to take me out of my comfort zone. I need to get away. Like, deep into the woods away both mentally and physically—something I can’t believe I’m saying.”

He turns off the TV.

I continue, “I am incredibly sad. Sad because Jacob is leaving. I am in denial that Ben is old enough to go to high school. And I’m angry.” Pause, “Angry at you.”

He says nothing but listens with his temples pointed in my direction.

“I am mad because it seems like you never made a solid effort to get a better job when I switched to non-profit work. I could totally accept if you tried and failed, but not trying is hard for me to accept.”

Shoot. I said the word never. We agreed long ago not to use trigger words like ‘you never…’ or ‘you always….’

We are silent for about 30 seconds. He has not moved.

I go for the summary, “So, two main things:  One, I’ve got to let go of this anger toward you. Going through the motions of being nice when I do not feel nice has worn me out. I need a break.” 

I exhale. “Two, I am super sad because we have to let go of Jacob. He is so young.” My eyes become wet.

“Basic training means we are not going to be able to talk with him for weeks. Then there may be times where he deploys to fight a stupid war that most Americans do not seem to know is still happening. Technically this kid is joining during a time of war. This is not like moving to a college dorm. Signing up for active duty is a change much more abrupt and final feeling. This feels like a sacrifice. I’m struggling with why our son? And, why anyone’s son or daughter?”

Paul is either tuning in deep or blocking my words to protect his own feelings.

I sniff. My tears are a steady stream now. “Plus, I may have to let go of the organization that I worked all these years to develop. I love what I do. It does not seem fair. Worse, I find myself mad at God for not providing. We have had too many years of financial strain. I picture going on this trip, sitting on top of a mountain, throwing my dreams off the side while saying ‘Take it and do your will, Lord. Take it. Take it all. I cannot carry these burdens anymore.’”

I whisper, “If word from the mountaintop is that I am supposed to let it go, then I will. Someone else can lead. Or, we’ll close the doors.”

Silence.

Then Paul looks at me for the first time, “Go.”

He has an understanding look on his face—not at all the look I expected. “Do what you need to do and have fun.”

That’s it?

I expected him to give me reasons why I should not go hiking given my lack of experience. No doubt, he would have multiple valid reasons.     

I take a breath. “Ok.”

His kindness and acceptance are a terrifying miracle. Um, maybe you should talk me out of this, Babe.

“I’ll send you a text of the hiking plan. If you want to help me plan or gather things, I’m open to your ideas.” Long ago the man was in the Army National Guard. I know he has outdoor survival skills knowledge.

He nods.

Later I tell the boys. Ben-Just-Ben shrugs, “Ok”. Jacob says he wishes he could go with me, but he is pumped about going to Texas soon.

I text JoAnn—I AM IN!

MAY 5, 2016

A group of us are going to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and our friend Deb’s birthday at the local Cancun restaurant.

After working professionally together for over a decade, Deb and I have accepted in recent years that we have become good friends.

I have not had a chance to tell her about the AT trip. It would be fantastic if Deb were going too. She would be wonderful addition to team camaraderie.

Last night and this morning, Paul and I began making a list of supplies needed. He also began giving me tips like, “Don’t set up your sleeping bag on a tree root. Look for a soft spot or spread leaves out underneath where you rest.” I have been thinking about details while still processing in my own head the fact that I am going at all. There is lots to do and not many days to prepare.

Deb, JoAnn and a social work intern, Courtney, are already seated at a long table when I arrive. There is room for other guests who will come and go as part of the birthday celebration. A boxed cake is on my end of the table. 

We exchange happy birthday greetings and food orders arrive. We also celebrate that Courtney is about to graduate May 14 from Xavier University.

My mind quietly thinks about the AT trip while people joke and chat. I do not plan to discuss the trip at all today since this is a gathering for other reasons. I want to tell Deb on my own when I get a chance.

One of the silent things I ponder is that the cost of this trip is an issue. I can’t make purchases. We have no credit cards and the debit card is stretched to the penny each month. I consider who in my neighborhood and friend circle might allow me to borrow equipment.   

Knowing where my mind might be, JoAnn interjects, “Hey Glenna. You’re going to need a good pair of hiking boots.”

Deb says, “For what?”

I am surprised. JoAnn must REALLY be over the top excited about this trip. 

All eyes turn to me. I answer, “Well, within the last 24 hours I’ve agreed to go on an Appalachian Trail section hike with JoAnn. We’ll be in the Shenandoah National Park area for almost a week.”

I look at Deb. My raised eyebrows ask if she would like to go.

Reading my nonverbal cue, Deb says, “That sounds fun, but my knees could not do that.”

Courtney, though, looks more than intrigued by the idea. She asks about the dates and if other women can join the team. Is she interested in being part of this idea?

“Are there bears in that area?”

JoAnn answers Courtney, “Oh yes. We will have to put our food in a Bear Bag, then use a rope to throw the bag up and over a tree branch away from where we set up camp.”

My eyes widen.

“Snakes?” Courtney asks.

“Yes, some poisonous. Some not.”

I start to think that Courtney going on the trip could be good. She is young and probably could run for help if we need it.  

Then an opportunity-to-help-look comes over Deb’s face. She says, “Boots!  A few months ago, I stopped by a shoe outlet in Louisville. There was a $7.50 sale on Swiss hiking boots that were originally priced $110. I don’t hike. They were not my size, but I couldn’t resist knowing that someone I know surely will need them especially for that price! What size do you wear?”

I reply, “9.”

Deb says, “I had no idea why I couldn’t resist those boots. This must be why. I will go home tonight and let you know what size they are.”

The table oos and ahhs. “This may be divine,” JoAnn says.

Then Courtney offers, “My sister is into this kind of thing. She has hiked a lot and has all the equipment. I can ask her for advice.”

I will welcome all the advice and divine intervention I can get.

As we are in line to pay for our food Deb says to me, “This will be good for you to get away after Jacob goes.”

I nod, “Exactly.” 

7:00PM

I receive a text from Deb with a picture of the boots—SIZE 9!

Glenna—WOW.  MAGIC BOOTS!  THANK YOU.

Deb—THIS TRIP IS MEANT TO BE.

If you’d like to listen to the Audio Version or support this creative work, click here for my podcast chapters.

Fun fact: I am beginning to include extra content that only can be found on the podcast.

Thanks for reading or listening! Check back April 4, 2021 for Chapter Three.

© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards

CHAPTER ONE

Welcome to

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

In the LORD I take refuge; How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain…?!”

Psalm 11:1

CHAPTER ONE


MAY 13, 2016

9:00AM

I have agreed to go on an Appalachian Trail section hike May 31 through June 4.

Sounds simple enough: take long walks, camp overnight, repeat 4-5 times, then go home. How hard could that be? 

But I am 44 years old, overweight, stressed out because life is not going as I planned, hoped, or dreamed. AND, I have never gone pee or poo in the woods. 

Never. Not once. 

I am in research mode to prepare for the hike. So far, I read that an Appalachian Trail hiker carries 30-40 pounds of equipment on their back. I already have that much extra in fat that I carry around my waist and hips every single day. Is it possible that I can carry more than my own fat for nearly a week in the woods?

Neither friends nor family would describe me as an outdoor person. Once upon a time I was a Cub Scout Den Mom for 8 years for our two sons. I did not lead the outdoor activities. I outsourced what I did not want to do or what I had no clue how to do. 

I asked other outdoorsy type parents to lead lessons that involved sweat. Or trails. Or fires. Or bugs, fishing, snakes…yeah, pretty much anything having to do with outside was outsourced. I was great at sending emails, keeping a schedule, carpooling, and leading a craft or two. I rocked soap carving and enjoyed taking 6-10 young kids to new places. Guess it is my turn to take a field trip. Yet this is exactly the kind of field trip I would have avoided as a Den Mom.

Cub Scout days are long gone. I hold onto contact information and scout files as if we could start back up at any time. I have a plastic bin filled with Pinewood Derby Car race supplies. Each year I think I will donate them to some younger mother but have not gotten around to it. There are extra car decals, paint, weights, glue, officially licensed Boy Scout of America wheels, a scale and graphite powder which I am not sure is legal in the BSA rules, but everyone used it on race day anyway.

Our children are on the cusp of being grown physically. I am 5’10. In the last year both sons have become over 6 feet tall. Somehow, I am now the shortest person in family pictures.

Jacob turned 18 years old a couple weeks ago. He graduated high school last summer at 17 because he was determined to serve as soon as possible in the United States Air Force. He wanted to clear his path to depart months ago, but the wait game has been challenging. We have taken no less than 5 trips to a Military Entrance Processing Station two hours away from our home. For months I have run back and forth to schools and doctors getting letters and documents together. Jacob finally has a date for Basic Military Training coming up May 24. 

I feel sick and stressed inside. Is Jacob ready to be an adult? He is by far the child I have worked the hardest to support and coach along the way. My shy boy is becoming an adventurous man. What scares me most is his propensity to learn the hard way as a rule. When he was little the moment after I told him not to touch the hot stove, he proceeded to lay his hand flat on a burner. I am shocked by his no fear and eagerness to leave so soon. Older and wiser friends who have already been through this say I should be proud that he has the confidence to go. I try. 

Last month Jacob had an emergency appendectomy. When he was recovering post-surgery, I considered it a privilege to stay overnight in the hospital with him. I stared at his sleeping face as the rain poured outside and the parking lot lights gently shone into his room. What a bookend moment it was. I thought about how the same month 18 years prior I stared at him for hours overnight in a plastic crib after he was born in the same hospital. Now he is departing soon for Texas and who-knows-where in the world after that. He is brave.

Then there is Ben-Just-Ben. He is our youngest, 14 years old. His real name is Benjamin, but he announced after coming home from kindergarten years ago that he is no longer the full name of Benjamin. With a small hand cutting motion he stated, “I am Ben just Ben from now on.” This guy, once the cuddliest child ever, is close to 6’2 tall and begins high school this year. High School?! Wow. One minute you are trying to keep the calendar straight for school age children. The next minute you grieve them leaving home.

I am a risk taker of sorts, but now it is our kids turn to take risks. No matter that them leaving is completely normal and healthy, it hurts. Down deep in my stomach and soul there is a grinding and twisting that I feel these days. I must figure out how to work through the tears of this life transition. 

It does not help that other parts of my life are unstable. I run a tiny non-profit with 7 staff members. We teach positive coping and life skills to children in grades K through 12, and for parents of preschoolers.  Being a small organization means I wear lots of hats. The pay is not great and sometimes the boss, aka me, simply does not get paid. 

My reward is seeing children who once struggled in the classroom then learn new strategies and succeed. It is hard to imagine doing anything else because I love what we do so much. With new skills and knowledge people can make better choices and, in some cases, break negative cycles that have been passed down for generations.

The desire to build the non-profit began in 2005. I thought I heard clearly from God that this was what I was supposed to do. I was confident that if God put the dream in my heart that He would provide. Yet as some of my students say about other things: the struggle is real.

I adore my staff. I am so proud of the work they do. Most of them have spouses who are the main breadwinners. They do not seem to feel the same pain that I do trying to cover the mortgage and decide whether to buy groceries or pay the gas & electric bill. 

My husband, Paul, is a loving, caring spouse and father, but striving to make a good salary has never been an actionable priority for him. We have been married 23 years. He agreed that he would seek a better job or salary when I left the corporate world and took on the non-profit, but to date the steps necessary to improve his pay have not happened.

No matter how much I say I believe in him, he will not believe in himself. He is an intelligent person. I admire his brain, but he is plagued by self-doubt, a touch of OCD and depression—in my unprofessional opinion. Basically, I am married to Eeyore. Loyal and loveable, lack of growth mindset, Eeyore.

Worse, his body is failing him. He is tired all the time. I am not the type of spouse that would say, “Get off the couch!”, but I am thinking it.

Especially due to finances, something must give. I am not sure what. 

In addition to non-profit workshops, marketing, administrative duties, taxes, payroll, school activities, orthodontist appointments, plays, proms, sports, home duties like cleaning, oil changes, laundry, grocery shopping, etc., I also have a side retail job. I wish the retail money helped more than it does. I barely notice the tiny additional funds, but I do notice how much my feet hurt. My brain feels squeezed. Too much. This is all too much.

FLASHBACK:  APRIL 5, 2016

I am in-between school day workshops and an evening parent workshop. I receive a text:

JoAnn–WOULD YOU LIKE TO MEET AT THE PUB RESTAURANT? I HAVE A LITTLE TIME BEFORE A GIG NEARBY.

Heck yes, I do! I love JoAnn. She is one of my favorite people on the planet. JoAnn is a high school social worker. We collaborate from time to time on projects and how best to serve students. 

JoAnn is 5’2 tall. She is 17 years older than me, but in much better shape. She runs marathons and any 5K event she wants to around the city.

We connect well spiritually, and we laugh every time we are together. In the last few years, we call each other “soul sis”. Like me, she grew up in an environment with a functioning alcoholic father and hard-working mother. I sense we both work in the Urban Appalachian town where we do because it is a lot like coming home for both of us. The culture is familiar. We “get” the unwritten rules. 

I arrive at The Pub. JoAnn has already portioned out half of her pot roast and mashed potatoes dinner onto a side plate for me. One, yum. Two, this is a good habit I have seen her do with food. She is a half eater. I am an eat the whole plate and may I have some more eater. 

I ask, “What’s your gig tonight?”

“A compass reading class over at REI.”

That does not sound like social work continuing education to me.

“Tell me more,” I smile.

“I’m starting my AT adventure this summer,” she announces proudly.

I have no idea what REI is either, but start with, “What does AT stand for?”

“Appalachian Trail,” she says. “Oh, I love to hike.”

I have never heard of the AT, “How long is it?”

“The whole AT goes from Maine to Georgia.”

“Wow-“ How in the world?

She reads my face. “Oh honey, I’m not hiking the whole thing this year,” she laughs. “I’m doing a section hike as a recon mission to see if I can handle it. Then I might do more sections each year until I complete it. I have been planning and plotting this adventure since September. I have taken several classes to prepare too.”

Is there anything JoAnn can’t handle? Seriously.

“Who is going with you?”

Then I ask, “When are you going?” And more questions all the while thinking that maybe she should ask me if I want to go.

I do not dare interject that idea. Clearly, this is her thing. She has a plan.

Look at me. I feel the pinch of my too tight pants. I would not be a good hiking partner. I would literally weigh her down.

But…the thought of going sounds amazing. 

My mind wanders. This could be the escape I need to be me-just-me for a week. I could be challenged away from my normal struggles. Lately I feel an ugly angry inside. On the outside most people may think all is well with our family, but the reality is painful. We live in a nice house that we no longer can afford. Our slow pay credit score makes me feel trapped. Moving is expensive. We have old cars that break down constantly. We are blessed with two amazing kids who each wear one pair of shoes for a year straight. Our water has been turned off a couple times and the boys knew when I rushed to scramble to get it turned back on.

JoAnn interrupts my thoughts, “Would you ever be interested in hiking sometime?”

I look at her. My head tilts, “Yes. If the opportunity comes up. Maybe after your recon mission success, then we can plan a different section hike sometime. Let me know how it goes.”

FLASH FORWARD:  MAY 03, 2016

7:00AM

I’m driving to work. The cell phone rings. It’s JoAnn. I put her on speaker.

She says, “Crazy idea. Do NOT feel like you have to answer right now. Sleep on it at least one night….”

“I’m listening.”

“My friend who was supposed to go on the AT hike with me hurt her back. There is no way she can carry the backpack required so she can’t go.” 

There is something about the way JoAnn lovingly pronounces “AT” that I admire.

She continues, “Would you like to go on the trip?  I have a mini camp stove and a bear bag already. I can text you a pic of our hiking plan so you know where we’ll be going….” She trails off. Pun intended.

Meanwhile, I am thinking, What in the world is a Bear Bag?


If you’d like to listen to the Audio Version, click here for my podcast chapters.

Thanks for reading or listening! Check back March 28, 2021 for Chapter Two.

© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards

Gus Deployment Part Two

Before soaring on United Airlines one day in August, two TSA people panicked when I placed a pet carrier on the security conveyor belt.

I said to their reaching hands, “It’s empty. Don’t worry.”

Whew! Their blue shirts relaxed a bit.

“I am heading to get my son’s cat,” I said to more people than probably wanted to know that day.

My mission: Get the cat. Keep my emotions in check. Spend as little money as possible. Stretch granola in backpack.

One thing I’ve learned about being a military mom is that tears are the enemy to be embraced. I can be happy for our son = tears. I can be proud = tears. Saying hello = tears. Saying goodbye = tears.

Fight them and the tears are worse. I attempt to embrace and let them pass. If you’re a military parent, you know this roller coaster.

Son-1 and I strive for what we call “the good good-bye”. He tries to laugh when my face swells. There is something about military life that makes the words “gut wrenching” meaningful as an experience rather than a phrase.

Once in New Mexico, I see in our son right away that he is feeling about his cat a little like what I feel when he and I separate for months at a time. He hugs Gus, plays with Gus, and takes long looks at Gus. I imagine he is burning the memory of Gus into his soul with enough love to last for many months until they reunite.

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Meanwhile on minimal sleep for a 24 hour trip, my mind focuses on how to get a cat across the country without losing him.

“Ok, Mom. You guys have to go now,” Son-1 said about 40 minutes before I planned to leave that morning. He did not want to cry. I understood.

We place a “calming collar” on Gus and put him in the pet carrier.

“Here. I got you these,” Son-1 hands me breakfast. It was thoughtful of him to stop at a gas station for Pepsi and Swedish Fish with me in mind.

I stress-nosh on the red fish when Gus begins to wail in the car. Have I mentioned that Gus and I had to drive 90 miles to the airport?

Son-1 and GF warned me that Gus does not like car rides, but I know his wail is more than a dislike of the car. Gus knew I was taking him from his people.

Gus cried.

I cried.

Hubby called once while I was stopped in the desert by a police blockade. Missiles were being tested nearby. Stopping only made Gus cry louder.

“It will be ok, Gus.” I turn him so he can see me through his net. That didn’t help. I wonder if his claws will rip the carrier netting. Then I remember that I packed a small roll of duct tape. Hopefully I will not need to figure out how to repair or get him back in the carrier if he escapes.

I hyperventilate on the phone to Hubby, “Don’t. Tell Son-1. That. Gus. Is.” Inhale, “Crying.”

“Honey, catch your own breath. It will be ok.”

Sure it will. I am in new territory: alone with a cat, saying good-bye to our son for his first deployment overseas, and driving toward El Paso, Texas which dripped with sadness in the air from recent events.

There are security options with a pet in an airport. I could take the cat out of the carrier and walk through the screening device. No way. Or I could request the private room to take the cat out of the container. Sigh.

In the private room, the TSA agents share horror stories, “One time a cat died right here at this check point.”

What?!

“Yep, the owner overmedicated the cat.”

I feel so glad we did not medicate Gus. I zip him back inside with our new bonding and determination. We can do this, Gussie-boy. G-ma will protect you.

At our layover, I bravely allow Gus to walk around an indoor pet spot.

I pose him for a picture near the airport’s USO. “We are on task, buddy.”

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He and I people watch at airport gates.

Inside the carrier is one of Son-1’s worn t-shirts. I explain to the cat that the shirt is for comfort.

“Don’t worry, Gus, your owners will be back for you.”

The t-shirt also connects the dots of smells for the pets waiting at home. Once back in Greater Cincinnati, there was minimal quarantine time and/or hissing by our welcome wagon pets. They recognized Son-1’s scent. They gave us looks like, “WTH? Meow. Ok, fine.”

Gus settled in with cat toys, scratch pads, and favorite play-sleep spots. He marvels at the new sights through our window: chipmunks, leaves, grass, snow flurries. It’s different here.

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And sometimes Gus hangs out near the door patiently waiting for Son-1 and GF to return.

Job 12:7 But ask the animals, and they will teach you…

Posts about Gus are dedicated to his cat parents who are currently deployed separately in the military. Please pray for the men and women who endure loneliness in the name of freedom during this holiday season.

Let there be peace on earth.

GF, Son-1, Gus, & their promise rings.

Gus the Deployed Cat

Our oldest son, let’s call him Son-1, has been in the military 3 years.

After moving out of an Air Force base dormitory and into an apartment in New Mexico, he began considering pet ownership.

He talked the idea over with us and his girlfriend (GF) for several months. Son-1 and GF landed on a cat being the best option for them. “But,” he asked me. “If I have to deploy, Mom, would you come get the cat?”

Would I come get the cat?! The words stuck with me for a while. I convinced myself that Oh, it will be a while before that could happen. And Oh, maybe if he deploys, then the timing will work out that his girlfriend or someone else can care for the animal. I won’t really be needed.

We are the type of family that stick with a pet for life. Ultimately I am glad Son-1 got that memo. Pet care is a serious commitment. He’s turning out to be a responsible guy. I think surely my son won’t need me in this way, but if he does, I said, “Yes. I’ll be there.”

I pause here to mention that when our first pet, an insane nearly untrainable and somewhat aggressive 10 lb. dog passed away, then it was a full 9 years before we were willing to have a pet again.

And–once upon a time, I was not a cat person at all. I harbored years of judgement against cats. What I saw and smelled at various homes growing up was not something I wanted in my life. But then one day in 2010 I fell for the tiniest little kitten in Jackson County. I remember our young boys whispered to Hubby, “Mom. Picked. Up. A. Cat.” And Hubby whispered, “Yeah, something’s going down here. She never does that.”

We brought that sweet baby home.

I bought good cat litter. We established twice per day scoop policies. The next year we gave her a friend. Two cats. Clearly I lost my mind.

Fast forward back to last year, Son-1 and GF chose a cat named Gus from a shelter. He had been left behind by other people once or twice. Gus would be left behind no more.

“He is cross-eyed, Mom,” Son-1 said over the phone. “The vet doesn’t think he’ll do well if he is out in the wild.” So Indoor Gus began a sweet life with his new mom and dad.

And Hubby and I felt somewhat like distant cat grandparents.

The first time I met Gus I observed that because of his eye situation he tilts his head back to see when you walk into a room. It looks like he says, “Whaz up?” every time.

Gus out of NM Window

For several months we enjoyed pics and texts about their life with Gus. They were a happy little pet inclusive family.

Then GF received notice of deployment. She had several months to prepare. The couple thought they’d cuddle with their cat until she left. Then we were all surprised when Son-1 received notice that he also would deploy but with only 3 weeks notice. Eek! Gus moved up on the extended family priority list. I had made the promise, so you know what happened next.

We rapidly picked the 24 hours that I would fly alone 3200 miles round trip on a tight budget to get Gus. Hubby and I couldn’t help but feel like I was going to get our grandchild-cat.

G-ma is coming!

[End of part one. Stay tuned for part two.]

Job 12:7 But ask the animals, and they will teach you…

Gus downward pose
*The story of Gus is posted with permission of his 21 year old active duty military parents.