CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER SEVEN

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

JUNE 1, 2016

It is Zero Dark Thirty.

My body stirs. I am unsure if I have slept hours or minutes.  

Did I bring the flip knife into the tent with me? My hands survey the darkness.

I promised Jacob that the knife would be in my pocket, but I forgot to get it out of my bag.

My eyes open to the nothingness. I hear a creature!

Maybe two? Three creatures?! 

Little snorts and sniffs graze outside the tent near my head. I guess these animals are not opposed to the scent of moth balls. I roll my eyes. 

Sniff, sniff, sniff.

Leaves rustle under whatever kind of paws they have. Sniff, sniff. 

My body freezes. What if it is a skunk? And it startles? What if it sprays a horrible stench? 

Or, what if it is the type of animal that will run away if I make noise? 

What should I do?

I contemplate.

What if I turn on my flashlight? Maybe that will create a shadow showing me what it really is? 

But–what if knowing what it is will make me feel worse? Knowing could be scary.

Nope. No shadow images. Thanks. I do not need to know!

I shiver in the cold night air. My arms cross inside Paul’s wind breaker style golf sweatshirt.

Is that a stick in my back? Ouch. No, it just hurts to sleep on the ground

While I am five feet ten inches tall, the borrowed sleep pad is two feet five inches long. Not much padding is under this body. I visualize the much longer pad I saw at a store for $59.99. That was too much to spend when a borrowed pad was available. 

Sniff, sniff.

While the nocturnal visitors continue to scurry near me, I think about the budget at home and how the boys wanted macaroni and snacks the week I said no to $59.99 for myself. My mind wanders on to thoughts about the timing of bills and the cash left behind that should get the guys through this week. Jacob is going to work a summer lifeguard job. That will help.

Arms tight and legs curled in an effort to find warmth, I fall back to sleep.

DAYBREAK

I awaken to chirping birds. My body hurts when I roll over inside the tent.

The birds are loud.

Anxious excitement arrives. This is it! Time to hike. It is about to be the real deal with no opportunity for escape to a nearby parked car. We are going into the woods!

I learned yesterday that Dick and SunFloJo revised the plan so that we will drive to our hiking end point today to meet Dick. That is where we will leave the car. Then Dick will drive our group to the start point for drop off. This way we will end hiking the trail back at our car.

Genius new idea? Yes, but this is not what Paul is picturing back in our family room. I think about him looking at our trail plan, probably reviewing it repeatedly. I can feel his mind visualizing our steps. He thinks our car will be at the starting point, not the end.

My phone no longer works in the national park so there is no way to update him. I trust that a search team would check both ends of the plan for our car and clues if needed. Let’s just hope we do not get lost. I am fine. Everything is fine.

When we purchased gasoline yesterday, I sent the last text to say I love him and the boys. I shared that I was putting the phone away until the end of the trip. I turned off the cell and put it in SunFloJo’s glove box.

I do not know what time it is. I recall that my backpack is in disarray. I have got to fix that. Maybe I can quietly do this before anyone else is awake.

The sound of my tent unzipping does not seem to disturb the young girls’ tent, but it turns out that JoAnn and I are unzipping in unison. We crawl out of our tents both with the same need to pee. 

We do not talk. We stumble around looking for a good spot. My back is on fire from the hours spent on the ground. My legs are numb. Also, I am not a morning person. I wave her toward the direction she seems to be interested in anyway and I head the opposite direction toward the parking lot.

Urinating in the light of day is something to figure out. I wander a bit. Decisions, decisions.

I take care of business in the grass behind a dumpster. Success. Who knew that figuring out how to pee outside would feel like such an accomplishment?

The stream runs under the dumpster and out the other side toward the parking lot and road. I will pretend like I do not see that if anyone happens to walk by. Next time I will do better in the grass somewhere deeper in the woods. I am building confidence in this new skill.

I walk back to camp quietly. The girls continue to snooze. Good, I need the picnic table space to spread out supplies. I will take down my tent, hopefully sort through my backpack, and then they can have the same space to organize if needed. Keep sleeping girls. I notice SunFloJo is back inside her tent.

But first I need to peek at the fire pit.

Darn it! The broken hot dog IS present in the ash. It did not burn up.

Uh oh. We were lucky no bears came overnight. –No bears that I know of anyway. Now I feel bad for lying. And I feel relief that we survived the night. I really believed the hot dog must have burned up. I walk the dog pieces back to the road and throw the remains into the dumpster. Good riddance.

I disassemble my tent. SunFloJo’s hand emerges from her tent. She tosses out the car keys. No words. She knows what I am up to. I appreciate that. Hoping I do not disturb her too much, I am happy to soon hear her snore again. Sleep all you can, I think. No doubt we are going to need every ounce of rest we can get out here.

Grass, trees, and the lingering fire scent smell fresh in this new day. My tent is rolled to fit into its little bag. My backpack is dismantled and reassembled. Anything I might not need goes into my overflow tote bags and into the back of the CR-V. 

As I work, I look down toward who I will now refer to as Shut-Up-Guy. He is up, out of his tent and packing his bag. He has an interesting look. He is thin, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, has bright white hair, and I think he may be Asian. Maybe. At one point he grabs what I recognize is a mini-shovel and heads north into the woods. He is gone a long time. Must be his poo time I suppose based on YouTube lessons. Ugh, I really hope I do not have to figure out the shovel thing on this trip.

When I put things back in the car, a park ranger in an SUV stops to ask if someone was in our spot last night. I had not thought much about it but as a matter of fact, “Yes.”

Shut-Up-Guy was in our spot. So, we were supposed to be in 1A1 by ourselves. We certainly would have had more room if he had not been there.

No idea what the ranger is going to do about it, but now I feel better regarding our first night that included minor noise and nervous energy.

Inside the car, I change into my outfit for the rest of the week: Paul’s Boy Scout pants, dri wick shirt formerly belonging to my sons, Fruit of the Loom Cool Blend underwear. Then I place the knife into my cargo pant pocket.

Back at the picnic table, I open my last Pepsi can and sit down to munch on a Pop-Tart for breakfast. I stare into the trees and listen to SunFloJo sleep.

Dear God,

Thank you for the beauty of nature. Please bless our trip. Keep us safe from injury and danger. Guide us and take care of our families back home.  Thank you. 

Amen.

The girls come out of their tent as I finish breakfast. I feel organized. Ready for the day.  Let’s do this. It’s almost time to meet Dick!  We told him we would see him at 9am.

“Do you know what time it is?” Stalker C asks the very relaxed me.

“No idea,” I say. Isn’t it lovely? I am awake with the birds and that is all I know.

The girls observe that my stuff is packed. I whisper, “I don’t want to be late for Dick.” Sunshine and Stalker C giggle.

Shut-Up-Guy grumbles a monotone “Good morning” toward us as he gathers items and leaves camp with supplies on his back.

The girls shared that they slept off and on through the night. They had layered up for cold, but it turned out the layers made them too hot. Also, they were closest to the mystery tent guy and it occurred to them that stranger danger could be an issue.

SunFloJo comes out of her tent as the girls begin packing up. “What time is it?” I ask.

“6:00AM.” 

“That’s all?” Wow. I have been up a long time.

Stalker C and Sunshine Rat softly scoff at my surprised face.

We will have ourselves together in plenty of time to meet Dick. 

Sunshine, Stalker C and I sit on top of the picnic table.  We reflect about the trip so far.  Sunshine brought a lightweight journal.   

“Thank you, Sunshine. I do not want to forget the details of what we see and do along the way. In just 24 hours so much has happened already and so much is ahead,” I say as Sunshine writes notes about our adventures.

Rosemary the deer returns to camp briefly. She walks near our picnic table and nods toward Stalker C. 

Everything back in the car, we drive to the camp store before leaving Loft Mountain Campground. SunFloJo and Sunshine get morning coffee. The building smells of fresh cut wood.

“Delicious,” Sunshine says about the coffee. Stalker C and I pour energy powder packets into water bottles.

The sun gently tickles the tops of our heads as we put on hiking boots for the day. The guy from the store comes outside to chat with us. We exchange where everyone is from. He is originally from Ohio. He and his wife moved here ten years ago. 

My mind leaves the group conversation. I internally marvel at a quick mental list of things like:  Wow I slept outside last night. I am not taking a shower today and that’s kind of weird. Today I get to hike to the highest peak in the Shenandoah Valley area. And perhaps most importantly, I hope Dick is not a serial killer.

Oh wait. What time is it? Will I ever get used to having no clock with me?

Perhaps we are too Zen hanging outside the store overlooking another mountain view. Sunshine asks, “Are we running on time to meet Dick?”

The store guy says, “It’s about 9:05am now.”

The Steam Team stands up!

Somehow with plenty of time to get ready we are late. We are supposed to meet Dick in the parking lot of Lewis Mountain Campground a few miles down the road. 

On the way to Lewis we try in vain to get the girls’ cellphones to work. There is no signal.  I borrow SunFloJo’s phone and send a text to Dick that says “On our way” but the screen icon spins indefinitely and I am not sure if it goes through. Calling does not work on any of the phones either.

As SunFloJo picks up speed on curvy roads, I eye Stalker C who may be getting a little nervous about going into the woods where the bears live. Me too, Sister!

“Are you worried about the bears?” I ask.

She nods yes.

“At least there are not grizzly bears here. Black bears generally will leave you alone,” SunFloJo assures us.

“Good to know,” says Stalker C.

“Generally,” repeats Sunshine.

SunFloJo shares that one time in Colorado she encountered an injured mountain lion on a trail, “He was beautiful, but dangerous to the average human.” She was able to go for help and a rescue team came and nursed him back to health.

“And there’s no mountain lions in this part of the country,” I look at Stalker C.  “We’ve got this.”

We make it by 9:20AM. Dick has not left us. 

“I received your text,” says the elderly and in great shape Dick.

Dick wears a pressed Hawaiian short-sleeve button up shirt and khaki shorts. Every remaining hair on his head is neatly in place. His large white truck with extended cab has plenty of seating.

Dick stands at the back of the truck as we clumsily put our backpacks and hiking poles into the truck bed. I sense he is sizing up our lack of experience.

I slip into the backseat. My bag has been packed for hours at this point. I savor the cushioned seating while it is available. It is going to be days before I have a comfortable seat again.

Outside the truck, the girls fumble with their socks and extra items. They make last minute decisions about what goes with us and what to toss back into SunFloJo’s car.

On the driver side visor there is a sticker outlined in red that reads “Hello My Name Is Dick”. I snap a picture of the sticker. I brought Ben’s old camera to take a few images of the experience. I wonder what Ben is doing this morning on his first week off from school. Probably sleeping. I bought this cheap 35mm camera for Ben when he was ten years old. That was the year he went to Boy Scout camp and lost his glasses at the bottom of the lake. I smile at the thought now while remembering how upset we were that insurance only covers glasses if the glasses are available to repair or replace. The fuzzy, hard to read 35m screen shows that I have a full battery. That should last the week.

I stifle nervous laughter while thinking, What in the world are we doing here?!

Once loaded Dick begins the drive. He points, “When you end your hike you’ll come out of the woods about here. The quickest way to get back to your car is to shortcut through those trees. Look for the steel grate on the ground and turn left. Then go through the next set of trees and you’ll arrive 30 minutes sooner than you would have if you walked along the road.”

I could not visualize or take mental note of his instructions. If I am the one in charge of that cut through at the end, then we are already lost. Hopefully, someone else caught Dick’s logic. No one asks him to repeat it.

JoAnn sits in the front seat and is in interview mode, “Tell us about your hiking experience, Dick.”

His deep voice shares, “I have hiked the whole AT once. Did it in sections. Took me 13 years to finish.”

We learn that Dick was an international traveler for work. He trained people all over the world on “something” that he would not share when we pressed. So we conclude inside our own heads that he is former CIA, FBI, etc. Don’t be vague, Dick. We’ll make stuff up to fill in the blanks!

Now retired, Dick is the president of Hiking Helpers.

We arrive at the drop off point. My heart leaps. We are really going to do this! 

In Hawksbill Gap Parking Lot, I put my backpack on right away. I am confident in how to do it with the extra back support because I watched the YouTube video of how to wear it properly. 

Sunshine Rat and Stalker C; however, have more questions for Dick about their packs. 

And Dick has more answers than necessary while my shoulders grow weary.

But the comfort and confidence built was nice to observe as Stalker C & Sunshine learned what each strap was for, how to put the pack on securely, how to put in their Camelback water containers, thread their water tubes, and more.

I should sit down on the ground, but I am afraid I could not get back up. If I take off the pack, I risk a lecture from Dick about how to put it back on.

SunFloJo asks, “What is the number one mistake that AT hikers make?”

I am going to topple over in the sun if this conversation continues.

He replies, “Not having enough water or not drinking enough water.”

We have a way to sterilize river water so we feel prepared.

Dick instructs the girls, “Don’t be afraid to pull these straps.”

He points to both of their arm areas where the straps hang and continues, “Just pull ‘em.  They will help you make the pack more compact and these straps right here will help lift the pack and make it more comfortable on your hips.”

He emphasizes again, “Don’t be afraid to pull ‘em.”

“One last thing”, he says 25 minutes later I am guessing. Dick takes our “before” picture. We pose as a foursome wearing our backpacks.

We combine our cash and leave money on his truck seat to say thanks for the lift. We are grateful to him both for transportation and advice.

Sunshine Rat says, “You are the bomb, Dick.”

Dick says, “I’ve never been called the bomb before.” 

He offers to take more pictures and more poses, but we are ready to go. The highest peak of the trip is waiting for us

We take our first steps onto the trail.

Thanks for reading and/or listening!

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

Check back next Sunday for CHAPTER EIGHT.

CHAPTER FOUR

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

CHAPTER FOUR

…. If you have the faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you. 

Matthew 17:20

MAY 29, 2016

7:00AM

Good morning.

We leave in two days!

Hmm. Maybe the exercise is helping. I felt physically better working at the store last night even after working all day at school too. My legs might be getting stronger. 

I have another retail shift to work today. Then it is time for more trip prep.

6:30PM

I race home to practice setting up the 1-person orange tent in our yard.   

Paul sits in a lawn chair next to my scattered supplies and a 5 x 7 size paper worth of instructions. It is an open book test for me. He is hands off, but there if I need him. 

After the second time putting up the tent, I get inside and roll back the door flap.

“Take a picture.” I pose one knee up and chin on my knuckles. 

I text the pic to Highway 2246 girls with the caption “This is for Plus Size Hiker Magazine” something that does not really exist.

Laughter emojis and hearts reply.

Semi confident, I secure the tent fabric into a tight little roll and place it on the dining room table along with other camping supplies. The dining room has turned into a staging area worthy of way longer than a week. It appears I could be gone for two months given the number of items in the room. I am having a hard time figuring out what I need versus what I can withstand carrying.

8:30PM

The doorbell rings.

It is Deb!  She offers a bag full of treats for the hiking team. Cheez-whiz, crackers, nuts, Slim Jims, a question/answer book for the drive so we can get to know one another better, granola, and what I know is one of JoAnn’s favorite snacks: a big tub of peanut butter filled pretzels. 

Deb holds a set of sealed envelopes. She says, “And these are reflection questions for the beginning, during and end of the journey. In the last envelope is a gift card for Cracker Barrel when you’re on your way home.”

Reflection questions? Cracker Barrel? You can always count on Deb. I wish she were going, but I know she will be cheering us on in spirit.

Deb says, “I shouldn’t interject my thoughts into your trip, but I’m doing it anyway.”

“Are you kidding? I am so glad. This is the perfect bag. Love the reflection questions idea too. And you know I would not say that unless I mean it.”

I add, “I will miss you.”

We pause. I ask, “Should we hug?”

She and I are not random huggers as a rule, but it does seem like the right time to do a farewell hug.

She nods, “Ok.”

On my porch, we do a quick hug and laugh at our awkwardness.

Her eyes say she is a little worried about our safety.

Me too. I look at her, “I will do my best to live through the experience.”

She replies, “You better.” And adds, “I want to hear all about it when you get back.”

“Thank you.”

I hesitate, “Hey. Um. You would help Paul get through the transition if I don’t make it, right?”

“Yes, I would.” She is my logical friend. I know she, together with my best friend could get Paul through the worst if the worst happens.

“About him,” Deb offers. “This is another stepping in where I shouldn’t thing.”

I nod. Go ahead.

“He’s been helping you prepare for the hike?”

“Yep.”

I think I know where she is going. And, I’ve been thinking similar thoughts. 

She confirms my guess, “Maybe helping you prepare is his way of providing. Some guys show love by trying to excel in a career but don’t know the first thing about how to do these types of supportive things.”

We nod.

“I hear you. And it’s true.” 

I sense she is concerned about having crossed a friendship boundary. “It’s ok. I’m glad you said it.”

MAY 30, 2016

Today is Memorial Day. I am thankful for a day off to pack and repack.

I spend 7 hours portioning and obsessing over what food to place in each of my gallon size clear Ziploc bags. There’s beef jerky, trail mix, pasta bags that just need water, fruit roll ups and more. I attempt to imagine what I will feel like eating on the trail. What will my body need or want?

I use a Sharpie to label daily allotment bags E, F, G, H in case anyone else uses A, B, C or 1, 2, 3. Then I add a Before bag and an After-Bonus bag. 6 bags should be enough!

Proud, I text pics of the finished bags to the team.

Courtney—US TOO! WORKING ON FOOD BAGS.

JoAnn—PACKING RIGHT NOW!

I direct text to Courtney —SHHH! AND NOW I’M MAKING SNAKE REPELLANT MOTH BALL BAGS!

Courtney—GOOD! THANK. GOD.

For better or worse, I’ve come up with a snake deterrent plan. With gloved hands, I put old fashioned moth balls into sandwich size Ziploc bags. I poked holes in the bags with my extremely sharp flip knife, then put them inside 2 sealed gallon size freezer bags. 

There is a perfect small compartment in the bottom of my borrowed backpack where the snake repellant invention can stay during the day. Hopefully, we will not smell moth balls during the day since they are double bagged. At night I will pull out the smaller bags with their vent holes and drop them around our tents. In theory, it is a smell barrier. I make 6 snake repellant bags in total.

11:59PM

I try to sleep. This could be my last chance for good sleep for a few days. 

In the morning may be my last good shower for a while.

My mind races about what it will be like to sleep outside in total darkness.

Paul is unsettled next to me. We take turns tossing and turning in our sheets.  No one is reaching deep sleep tonight.

MAY 31, 2016

7:00AM

I sit at the kitchen table. Paul holds onto the kitchen peninsula with one hand while he packs his lunch bag with the other hand. His legs are unsteady.

“You can do this,” he says. “Recite the hike plan without looking at the papers.”

I manage to say the trail name twists and turns out loud. He gives me a satisfied head nod, “You’re ready.”

He leans in to give me a soft kiss that lingers a bit and a hug. Then he is off to work.

8:00AM

With only 2 hours remaining, I struggle to commit to how much to pack. What is vital? What can I leave behind?

I wear the hiking backpack and take a selfie in our bathroom mirror. I post the pic to Facebook with the caption “About to get real”.

My pack is too heavy. Maybe I could repack it after the first night? I need time to think, but I am out of time.

I grab two extra tote bags. One tote is for a change of clothes after this ordeal and the other is an empty bag so I can compare notes with others and lighten the backpack before the hike officially begins.

Courtney and Rachel are going to park in my garage. JoAnn is coming to pick us all up here.

The air outside is warm and still smells like spring. The grass is bright green and thick because we have had plenty of rain.

The boys are awake and curious. Their legs trot around like youthful horses in and out of the stable that happens to be their home.

At 9:40AM the young gals arrive.   

Courtney says, “I’m not good at going in reverse.”

I ask, “Like reverse in a car?”

She says, “Yes.”

I remember what it was like to be a young driver. I back in Courtney’s SUV and make the keys accessible for Paul in case he needs to move it while we are gone.

10:00AM –On The Nose!

JoAnn drives her silver Toyota CRV up the hill to our house with windows rolled down and speakers belting out the song “Born to Be Wild”. 

The street thumps to the song. We feel the vibration in our limbs. She is more than ready.  She is pumped!

JoAnn hops out of the car, leaving the music turned up. We load our bags. 

I ask our sons to take a picture of the four of us plus Flat Kevin by the car. We pose with pride and anticipation of the adventure that awaits. 

I give Jacob and Ben hugs, a good long squeeze for each of them. They watch as I settle into the passenger seat and put on my seatbelt. They stand in the front yard and wave as we ladies hit the road with “Born to Be Wild” on repeat. 

Courtney and Rachel get comfortable in the backseat. Hitting the highway, JoAnn turns down the music to give us her 4-1-1, “Let me know if anyone needs it cooler or warmer air, whatever, just say the word ladies.” Courtney likes it cool and that’s good with me too.

JoAnn says to me, “You’re designated navigator. I don’t like to listen to GPS telling us what to do all the time.” She hands me a small square piece of paper with directions on it. I read it. I understand the first set of directions, but later I will need to turn on my phone GPS with the sound off when directions get tricky.

The hum of the road surrounds us. JoAnn is a get after it type driver. We are on track to arrive by nightfall.

I encourage the girls to open the goodies from Deb, “Open the red bag.” 

“Oos and ahhs” overcome the vehicle as they dig into the snack contents. 

JoAnn says, “Pass me the peanut butter pretzels!” She eats half of one side of the pretzel bite with peanut butter then tosses the other pretzel bread only side into a cup. She is the healthiest and most fit 60-year-old I’ve ever known.

We begin flipping through the conversation starter books. Rachel says, “Pick a page number between 1 and 150.”

JoAnn picks 54. Rachel reads, “If you could select someone to be commemorated on a stamp, who would you pick?”

“Hmmm.  I have to think about that one,” JoAnn says.  “There’s so many great people to choose from.”

“Court?” Rachel asks.

“100.”

“Ok. If you could spend time with anyone famous who would you like to meet and why?”

Courtney thinks, then says, “Probably Oprah and Gayle. That would be fun.” She adds, “When my mom asked why I want to go on this hike I told her I didn’t want to miss a chance to hang out with the Oprah and Gayle’s in my life. You two up front are like that to me with all your wisdom.”

JoAnn and I roar with giggles and in unison say, “Who gets to be Oprah and who gets to be Gayle?”  I don’t think we ever decide. I add, “I am honored.”

“Glenna?” Rachel asks.

“52.”

“If you could hang out with a president past or present who would you pick?”

“Mmm. That’s tough. One time I was at Mt. Vernon and felt all hot and bothered over George Washington. The jawline, the deep thoughts. It got me.”

We laugh.

“History is tough, though. There’s so much icky stuff that we don’t know or that I’m learning about the more I read,” I say not wanting to commit to one president.

We nod in agreement.

“Oh, the journey envelopes!” I point those out to the gals. There is a different envelope for each day of the trip.

“Do you gals want to open the ‘Beginning the Journey’ envelope from Deb?”

Everyone agrees we do. Inside the first envelope I read out loud:

“Beginning the Trip:

Off to see the Wizard. What an incredible journey! Dorothy (and Toto), the Scarecrow, the Lion and Tin Man. The Wizard of Oz is so many stories combined. One of adventure, trust, friendship, adversity and resiliency, not to mention finding one’s way in unfamiliar territory.

It is tempting to assign each of you a character. But as in life, we are never all one thing or another. We are never fully courageous or completely lacking discernment.  We are comprised of all these characteristics in varying degrees at different times.”

Passengers look at one another. Eyebrows raise and “oos” are heard regarding that deep thought.

“So, as you follow the yellow brick Appalachian Trail, remember each of you has great courage, are wise, show tremendous compassion and have great capacity for insight and awareness to find within yourself.

Be cautious of the Wicked Witch. And May the Munchkins be with you!”

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

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

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

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!

One Less Thing

I realized my self-talk whispers “ok, one more thing” over and over each time a new daily challenge arrives. This came to my attention when suddenly I experienced a fifteen minute window where I soaked in the joy of One-Less-Thing instead.

20191101_224343_HDR

My car dashboard mirrors my life with its scattered warnings. The tire maintenance light is forever “on”. I’ve had 5 nail punctured tires over 5 months.

The service engine light greets me each morning. The oil change guy hooked up a gadget reader to tell me the light is nothing to worry about, but I wonder. The brake light won’t go out even when the emergency brake is released. I stopped looking up what the other lights mean in the manual.

The dashboard reminds me of the running narrative in my mind. It goes something like this: I’m still sick. Stress is not helping me get well. Drop the kid off at school. Go to work. Repeat. My voice refuses to come back. The cat puked. -One more thing. I need to make dinner. Sweep the house. Keep trying to sell the house. Clean the bathroom. Move the laundry. I really should write a letter or send a care package to our deployed son. What just fell off the house?! -One more thing. If you sit down, you’ll fall asleep. Get up. Give Hubby the light weight fork because it is easier for him to manage. Position his shoes in a way that will help him be less likely to fall. Move his phone to his next location so he is not thrown off balance by carrying something when he travels inside the house. Help the remaining kid with college applications. I need to go to Lowe’s. Heavy duty caulk. A new vacuum bag. Take out the trash and recycling. Prepare for presentations at work. Who do I need to call back? Have I followed through on all work tasks? Scoop litter box. Check personal email to see if anyone has responded to my manuscript query letters. Send more queries. Do we have gas in both cars? Pay bills in a way that hopefully does not cause an overdraft. It’s going to be close again this month. Is Hubby breathing? Is the cat breathing? I really need to make a vet appointment. -One more thing. There are other people I want to check in with. I text them. There are other people I would like to be there for. My capacity is too narrow. I can’t believe he hasn’t been able to work for a year. We need some mobility equipment. That will have to wait. The kid needs an eye appointment. -One more thing. I can’t make that work financially. How many hours of sleep can I get if I go to sleep right this minute? Why can’t I fall asleep? And so forth.

I try not to complain out loud. “Just keep swimming” as Dory says. But seriously, if there is a Santa out there who wants to buy our house so we can leave and start over, that would be GREAT.

Today I uprooted this tree growing into our fence and felt delighted by the image. Yes, we are ready to be uprooted.

In an attempt to make extra cash, I placed an ad to be a Pet Sitter. I can squeeze in dog walking and more cat litter scooping. I can love on animals and give neighbors peace of mind. The first response? Someone needs help with a cat until they get out of jail in February. So many thoughts. Bless their heart. Sigh….

One day I will not feel so stuck. I visualize selling a manuscript and being in an affordable and accessible home. One day I’ll be in the land of all three. I have learned hard lessons. I can do better.

This week our youngest got a job. Go kid! And he broke my heart by saying, “You won’t have to worry about Christmas, Mom, ’cause I’ll be able to buy my own presents.” The sentiment is good. The reality hurts.

A new job means he needs new pants. We make a plan to go to the store Wednesday. I secretly stress about how to afford the pants, but I think we can make it work. I don’t want him to know how close we are cutting it.

On Tuesday evening I drag my work bag into the house as the guys say, “We have a surprise.”

There on the kitchen table are new pants one day early. Hubby even used a coupon. In my book, that’s hot. Hubby had a decent afternoon and they worked together. I hear that the wheelchair got stuck in the JCPenny door, and they figured that out too.

In the moment, I physically felt something fall off the to-do list. One. Less. Thing. This felt magical. I soaked in the joy for fifteen intentional minutes. I smiled in my own home. This surprise felt so good!

This was a glimpse that things can be better. Will be better. I will trust the process.

To all those who struggle, I send you a giant cyber hug. You can do this. We can do this. Deep, slow breaths.

And now I must go.

The cat puked.

Love,

Glenna

One Light Town

After a 12 hour hot date with Nyquil, I opened my eyes at 10am. It’s been a rough week healthwise. I feel much better now.

I live on the edge by wearing a favorite pair of jeans that are so thread worn in the booty that I should have thrown them away months ago. Clean and dressed, I head to the annual Books By The Banks festival in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Hubby reminds me as I go out the door to look for two writers with connections to his hometown.

McKee, Kentucky’s population is approximately 1,000. The town rests in a deep valley between mountains in Jackson County. There is one traffic light. If the light doesn’t stop you, it takes 20 seconds to drive into and out of McKee.

I have traveled to McKee to see family for 27 years. I love the rich green vines that cover trees and the bright starry nights. I sense nature’s peace there and less electricity in the air. The oxygen is dense. I often leave feeling rested even if I slept on someone’s floor.

The first thing I do upon arrival to Books By The Banks is to attend an author panel. I learn a few tidbits about publishing. The talk affirms that my work is heading in the right direction.

Then I head to the sea of authors and books in a large conference hall. I find Gwenda Bond. Her new book is the prequel to Stranger Things. [How cool is that?! We LOVE the Netflix show Stranger Things at our house!]

Gwenda is the daughter of Hubby’s high school chemistry teacher. I shared our connection and asked Gwenda how her mom is doing. She gave me an update to take home to Hubby and signed a book for us. She has other books I hope to read also. Her website is www.GwendaBond.com.

Next I find Keven McQueen. His books involve spooky tales from various areas of the country. Keven was a year ahead of Hubby in high school. He signed our book “Jackson County High School Forever!” Me, Mrs. Messenger, caught up a little with him. Keven and Hubby are friends on Facebook so they could connect later too. His website is www.KevenMcQueenStories.com.

How about that? Two best selling authors from Eastern Kentucky. Big wishes for much success to them and all the authors at Books By The Banks yesterday!

Before leaving I scanned my Instagram stories and realized one of the books I put on my read soon list is there too. The book is Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe. The author, Heather Webber, is represented by my current dream Literary Agent. I walk back to meet Heather. She confirms her agent is as great as I estimate from research.

I posted this on my Insta story:

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Too much? I dunno.

It was a good time!

Author Heather Webber’s website is www.HeatherWebber.com.

The world is big and small at the same time.

Love,

Glenna

* The authors included in this post said ok to picture posting and to me blogging about the experience. Other cool things happened too, but I didn't ask permission to share those moments. Join me next year at #BBTBCincy!

I love you, Ariel Gore

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She showed up for me.

We never met in person, but her words knew me.  I feel my face smile chapter after chapter of Ariel Gore’s book How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.  My eyes enlarge and my head nods each page turn.

Is this what it’s like when a writer encourages the deep inner being of another writer?

Yes.

Ariel,  thank you.

Around page 79 an unexpected tear escapes and a memory flashes through my brain.  I remember the day no one showed up.  Not a soul.  Every other college student had parents, grandparents, maybe aunts and uncles too.  Dang.

The ceremony is held in a red brick colonial style building with tall windows trimmed in white.  The large room has plenty of chairs, food that I am too scared to touch, and lemonade that I dare to enjoy.  I am thirsty.  My writing professors say hello and are pulled away because other people’s people want to meet them.  I find a seat in an empty row on a green cushioned chair with a straight backrest made of metal painted white.

While today that scene cuts me a bit, I assure you that on the actual day I am joyful and feel justice is about to be announced.  I am 22 years old and delighted.

“This year’s Best Graduating Senior Writer goes to…Glenna S. Edwards for her submission Bertha.”

I make my way to receive the certificate and $500 check.  Only on rewind do I remember the surprised audience members whose faces turn to question that the alone girl is a winner.  The money is a bonus compared to the certificate that I want most.  I need someone to say I am a good writer.  And they do out loud and on paper.  Boom!

This was the vengeance I longed for because four years earlier at a smaller scale spring time writers event, no one said anything.

That was high school.  Back when I participate in many extracurriculars, but the only award I ever hope for is the Golden Pen award.  A plaque hangs in the English department where the new winner’s name will be engraved.

Sitting in the cafeteria listening for the announcement, my 18-year-old mind practices being a good loser.  The only other candidate who might win deserves the prize too.  I will remain kind and congratulate her then run home to lament.

I also practice remaining calm and gracious if I do win.  I will not jump up and down though my legs may try to betray me.

The other possible winner may throw a fit.  She has a reputation.  She has publicly wailed sometimes when things did not go her way.  I try to remember her personal story about how her mom didn’t know she was pregnant until she went to the hospital for extreme food poisoning but came home with a baby.  For reasons I do not fully understand while in my youth, her tale helps me be patient with Miss Could-Make-A-Scene.

The teacher says into the microphone, “Thank you for coming tonight.  This concludes our evening.”

What?!  They must have forgotten.  I see the other candidate ask about the Golden Pen.  The teacher pretends not to hear.  We all go home never to know exactly why the 1990 Golden Pen is not awarded.

My adult self has multiple guesses why 1990 was skipped.  And I remain thankful 1994 happened.

To my writer friends, read Ariel Gore’s book How To Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.  It is encouragement served all you can eat buffet style.

To be fair to those who knew me in 1994, I didn’t know to ask for representation.  I realize now why the obvious choices didn’t jump at the chance.  Me becoming a writer terrified blue-collar adults around me.

To Ariel, I promise never to use the word p_ _ _ _ _ _ _ mentioned on page 82.  I get it.

Much love & peace to all readers & dreamers.  oxox

Signature GSE

3 Crazy Clutter Clearing Tips

It seems there is no end to the mess in my basement.  Once again I am determined this is the weekend that the clutter is finally gone.  To follow are tips that get me moving each Saturday morning.

1.  Have an out-of-body experience.

If I am struggling to begin, then I attempt to channel one of my friends who is good at eliminating piles and creating organization.  I pretend to love sorting like Maria.  She tackles household stacks with zeal.  One time she helped me clear an attic with broken toys from the 1970’s and dust dating back to the 1800’s.  She was 7 months pregnant and enjoyed it.  I was like, “Uh.  May I offer you a mask?”  My friend Deb uses “the power of 3 (or 7, 10, whatever number she chooses)”.  This means she picks a number and once she says go, then she has to move, trash or complete that number of simple tasks before sitting back down.  This catalyst activity leads to a productive day for her.  I reflect on memories of how friend Amy had tidy shoe boxes of stuff when we were kids and how her now adult hands still seem to frequently toss garbage from any surface, especially her car.  I draw from all of their energy and good habits to drag my booty away from the couch.

2.  Save steps for your happy dance.

The trap of multi story homes is the tiring stairs.  I don’t climb a set of stairs until I have collected multiple bags of donation items and full garbage bags.  Each bag moved to the base of the stairs feels like a win.  This also gives me a chance to ask the teenager of the house to help carry things when he stops to say hello.  When I see multiple bags ready to ascend, then I do a happy dance and call it a square footage of clear space win.

3.  Have conversations with yourself.

Without slowing down ask why did you save that?  Why did you think that would be useful?  And most importantly, why do you want to eliminate the clutter?  Give yourself pep talks to say “keep going, keep moving”.  I have read a lot of how to get organized books over the years.  All of those books are now located at the Goodwill in Florence, KY.  My favorite book on this topic is What Your Clutter Is Trying to Tell You: Uncover the Message in the Mess and Reclaim Your Life by Kerri L. Richardson.  If you struggle in the battle of clutter and can read only one book, then read that one.  This book helps you discover the emotional core of your clutter struggles.  The author opened my eyes in new ways.

Alrighty.  The sun is coming up soon.  Time for me to get moving!

Love,

Glenna

5 Reasons To See The Movie Eighth Grade

My son turned 16 this week.  We went to see the movie Eighth Grade together, and I’m so glad we did.  Yes, it is rated R.  I accepted in advance that we would have to deal with uncomfortable or inappropriate “stuff”.

I walked away from the theater thinking anyone who works with youth age 12 to 18 need to see this film, and anyone who is a parent or close relative of children age 0 to 18 need to see this (mostly without kids present).  Here are my reasons why:

  1. Eighth Grade is a culture capture masterpiece.  The main character, Kayla, is facing uphill social anxiety issues within a suburban life setting filled with social media overload, popularity issues, vlogging, and teen body development.  The movie gives adults the opportunity to feel the culture through Kayla’s eyes.  Most adults can not relate to growing up in the social media age.  For 1 hour and 33 minutes you feel the sharp edges of what today is like for many young people.
  2. There are mature moments that deal with everything from boys trying to take advantage of girls to feeling awkward in a bathing suit.  For me, this was an opportunity to talk after the movie with my son about what we took away from the movie.  We both had lots of reactions to unravel and I count every deep conversation with a teenager a win.
  3. As a writer, I cheered at the way the script set the scene from the get go.  The quick flash images of braces with rubber bands, a tumbling Crayola markers tower, etc. had me.  I was in the middle school setting.  I could smell the dry erase board.
  4. Elsie Fisher (Kayla) is an incredible actor.  I believed her character every second.  Josh Hamilton (the dad) nailed his part.  Oh my, I’ve been that parent!  Being there for your child in a culture that seems to dominate over common sense can be tough.  Kudos to all the actors and congratulations to writer/director Bo Burnham!  #Genius
  5. Parents of young children could learn a lot by seeing this film without kids present.  Use the experience to make decisions and prepare in advance for the adolescent years.  For example, I could not be happier that we waited to give our oldest child a smartphone until he was 17 years old.  We were concerned about impulse issues and it was good to watch his brain develop further before a phone was ever present.  Then, at a loss for a good Christmas present for the younger child, we gave him a smartphone much sooner.  He was 14.  I wish we waited.  Technology at a child’s fingertips is overrated.  I have a whole mental list of internet filters and turn off switches that I would have deployed if I’d known better sooner with my kids.

Another thought that came to mind is how painful it can be for young people to endure the current day culture if they don’t know of a Higher Power or higher purpose for their life.  No one measures up to photoshopped pictures of peers or celebrities.  Knowing peace in your heart and soul no matter what one sees online is helpful.  My prayer for young families is to not wait to give a solid foundation to your children.  Teach them early of the greatest love there is so they can withstand storms that arrive in various forms.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.  Proverbs 22:6

Sidebar:  This is a link to an academic paper I helped write about Conceptualizing Adolescence/ts in 2017.  If you are an educator, parent or mental health professional, I hope it is helpful.

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