Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path
of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. ~ Proverbs 4:25-26
We’ve got this.
I feel stronger after a little rest and protein. We trek south.
As we walk, SunFloJo asks me, “Why do you think that one guy thinks I’m SteelCut?”
“I think he was saying that he can tell that you’re tough.” I answer, then add, “Which is true.”
“Really.” I see she doesn’t believe me. “Well, we can look up definitions in the online dictionary when we get back to Big Meadow.”
“Hm. I suppose.”
“I think it’s a compliment. SteelCut fits. Could be your new trail name.”
Our path is about two feet wide with gradual downhill then uphill slopes. Eventually the drop over the mountain to our left becomes the drop over the mountain to our right.
Foot traffic meetings increase.
We need a break just as a tall shirtless young man approaches.
“What’s your trail name?” We ask.
He smiles through a developing beard, “Doc.”
“And how come that name?” SunFloJo inquires.
“Because I’m working on my doctorate and decided to take the summer off to clear my head and walk the AT,” He responds. “My friends thought that was a good fit, and I liked it.”
Stalker C occasionally dings her bear bell as we hike. Sometimes the quick path elevation change causes the bell to ring on its own also.
We walk and see another shirtless man, not as tall, sitting on a tree stump. His hair is dark and loosely curled around his head. His skin is a smooth, a deep olive tone. He peels socks from his feet.
“Hi there,” says SunFloJo. I can tell she is in an interview mode.
This guy is reluctant to speak at all until SunFloJo says, “Oh, I see you’re doing a sock change. Smart.”
Yep, that got him. He says, “Yes. Changing socks is one of the best things you can do out here.”
Sunshine Rat says, “Do you have any more tips?”
SunFloJo follows with, “I would love to know how you pack your food.”
“Ok,” He obliges and opens his backpack. “This is my protein. He points to various jerky meats. This is my mini stove. I cook pasta in there from a ready-made bag in the evening.”
“Uh huh. Mm,” SunFloJo listens as if she doesn’t have the same exact things in her bag.
“What’s your trail name?” Stalker C asks.
Great name. I estimate he is a thru-hiker. I ask, “What mile are you on?”
SunFloJo asks, “Do we look like thru-hikers?”
“No,” Hawaii responds quickly.
SunFloJo laughs. “How can you tell? No one ever asks us our trail names.”
Hawaii looks us up and down, “Well, your packs are too heavy for one thing.”
Hey, I have met thru hikers who had as big or bigger packs than us.
A fly or gnat flies in my mouth. I spit it out to the side of the trail without leaning my body or gagging. Wow, I have become one with the wild.
I stop listening to Hawaii’s tips for the most part. I hear him say something about packing toothpaste in a tiny baggie instead of a small tube. He stops in a town about every 4th or 5th day for a rest. He gathers and stuffs items back into his bag and stands up. He’s ready to head north, the opposite direction we are going.
As he takes off in stride, he turns to shout back at us, mainly to Stalker C, “And you don’t need that bear bell!”
SunFloJo, Sunshine Rat and I laugh. Stalker C reaches back to the bell and says to our group, “Oh, yes, I do.”
We walk on. This part of the forest makes me think of the first Disney movie I saw in the theater as a child: Snow White. I visualize the Seven Dwarfs marching along this area.
The trail takes a steep but short dip near a cliff’s edge. We still giggle over our interaction with Hawaii when we see a guy and girl sitting on a log. SunFloJo says, “Sorry if we were a little loud on the approach.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” the guy says. “We just saw a bobcat so a little noise is probably a good thing.”
The girl nods.
I suppose that means bobcats can be aggressive.
“Hey, we’re all meeting up at the Tap Room tonight at Big Meadow if you want to join us,” SunFloJo says. I notice the couple smiles.
Sometimes it’s just nice to be invited.
The girl says, “We’ll keep that in mind. I think the Tap Room is close to where we heard you can get blackberry shakes in Big Meadow. Hikers say they are delicious.”
Wow. Something cold sounds amazing right now. I’ve never had a blackberry shake.
Rounding another part of the trail we see a woman. She’s solo. Her sandy blonde hair is in two braids. She wears a purplish blue skort.
“Are you a thru hiker?”
“Yes, I am,” She proudly stops to chat. “I probably look a little clean because last night I got a shower.”
“Yay, you’re doing it,” Sunshine is impressed. “What is your trail name?”
She shares that she is at mile 1200 and pressing onward. She is doing the trail north to south. She began in Maine and is headed to Georgia.
We are getting close to Bearfence Rock Scramble. I remember the description on the map:
1.2 mile circuit hike to a spectacular 360° view. Short but challenging hike with a rock scramble—do not attempt when rocks are wet. Pets are not allowed on this trail. Only attempt if you have good balance.
I do not have good balance at this point of the trip. Anything could knock me over. Or knock me to my death if I attempt Bearfence Rock Scramble.
We slope down a hill, then back up again. We manage a dip, another incline, then a decline and so forth. This is a roller coaster of a trail.
Turns out we weren’t so close to Bearfence afterall.
We are tired. Sitting on rocks or logs here and there becomes more frequent.
“Hi,” A young tall, bearded guy and an average height dark curly haired guy approach.
They need to catch their breath, and so do we. Their panting looks more graceful than ours, like they’ve been hiking fast for several miles. Rest is a mere formality for them.
My marriage potential radar lights up on behalf of my Steam Team friends.
“I’m Tank,” says the tall one.
“And I’m Frodo,” says the other. Oh, look! He has a ring around his neck like Lord of the Rings. He even looks like Elijah Woods with his big blue eyes.
Frodo affirms the story of his name, “A girl early on the trail said I look like Frodo. Then some Cracker Jack box had this ring inside of it. I was like ‘perfect’. So, I found this cord to tie it around my neck.”
Sunshine eyes Tank, but fatigue brings her down—literally. She and Stalker C sit on rocks near our conversation but are not completely in the conversation.
Not to worry. SunFloJo and I have matchmaking responsibilities covered.
I ask, “And how did you get the name Tank?”
He proudly says, “Cause at the beginning of the trail people were amazed by how quickly I climbed up hills like a tank.”
SunFloJo asks, “So you started in Georgia?”
They nod and say, “Yes.”
“When are you hoping to finish?”
“By October. We were making good time, but I had to go home for a few weeks because of a leg injury,” Tank says.
“And I went with him,” Frodo says.
I ask, “So were you friends before the trail?”
Frodo smiles, “No. That’s the funny thing. You meet up with people at the beginning of the AT season and you just never know who you will click with. We clicked, and we didn’t want to lose the teamwork that was kind of natural to us. We are in this to the end.”
“That is awesome,” I say. I glance at exhausted Stalker C and Sunshine Rat. This really should be you two chatting over here.
SunFloJo extends our invite, “We are going to be at The Tap Room tonight at Big Meadow Campground if you want to come join us. They have some yummy appetizers and drinks.”
Frodo’s face lights up a bit. He’s the more social one, I think. He says, “That’s where we plan to camp tonight.” He smiles, “Maybe we’ll see you there.”
“Great,” I say.
Tank and Frodo exchange see-you-laters with us and head north.
We hike toward Lewis Mountain where our car is, but everyone else seems to be walking in the direction of Big Meadow.
We continue south for a while and then take a break to sit on logs facing one another. I say, “Girls, you kinda held back back there.”
Sunshine Rat smirks. Her knowing look, green buff that surrounds her head, and matching backpack make my heart smile. We are all dirt covered and sweat glistened.
Stalker C forms her cheeks a bit like Shirley Temple when she says, “Oh you two had us covered. You didn’t need us back there. We could rest up while you two did the talking.”
SunFloJo turns to me, “’Cause I’m the grandma and you’re the mom type.”
I smile, “That’s right.”
We stand up. Our muscles may snap. Soreness runs deep.
Soon we make it to the BearFace Scramble extra trail entrance.
And by soon, I mean it took forever. We wondered several times if we were still on the correct course.
I quietly hope no one wants to do the 360-degree view with tricky footing. There is no way I can safely crawl around the most dangerous of rocks in this area especially with a backpack.
A young college man emerges from a side trail, “Hi, he says.”
I curse the size of his itty-bitty water supply on his back. That’s it. Nothing else. And he looks so…clean.
Sunshine Rat asks because of his t-shirt, “Are you from JMU?”
We saw James Madison University on our drive.
He continues, “My mom is down here doing a section hike. I’m going to do BearFace and then go meet her later.”
SunFlo offers, “Well if you want to take her to the Tap Room at Big Meadow tonight, that’s where the party will be. We’re going to be there and we’re inviting everyone we meet to join us.”
I sense a snicker from the Stalker C who is sitting on a rock.
SunFloJo, er or SteelCut if she accepts that new name, learns more about him. It is fun to see her social skills in action.
This candidate is studying economics. He’s not 100% sure which career field he wants, but he has time to figure that out since he is a sophomore.
In response to the invite he says, “Sounds fun. I’ll keep that in mind.” He flashes a perfect smile and heads up the rocks that form a staircase leading to BearFace.
I turn to the girls, “Does anyone want to do BearFace?”
Stalker C says, “Definitely not.”
We later learn that people do BearFace without big packs. Sounds like a good day trip only to me. I suppose we could have left our packs on the AT and walked up, but the extra path is over a mile. No one has extra miles left in their legs.
The hike continues.
Stalker C pauses to pee while we turn our heads. Funny, she does not even take the backpack off this time.
We’re girls just doing what we must do. That takes talent and skill, Stalker C!
No one seems disappointed about not doing BearFace. I am so glad. I don’t want to be the reason anyone misses anything.
We trek onward. Rocks become plentiful as we climb higher on the trail. There are big rocks, sometimes wobbly under foot. My poles are part of my body at this point.
We, the poles and I, do the best we can.
Man, I’m tired. I sense total body shut down threatening my ability to finish.
The younger girls sense the end is near and surge ahead of us. It is weird to not hear, see, or catch up to them anymore.
SunFloJo could totally keep up with the girls. But when she notices that I lag, she walks back to me and talks me through.
I can no longer speak or respond.
Pole step, one foot, pole, the other foot, repeat. That’s where I am, all my focus is on poles and feet.
Sweat is an extra layer of clothes, heavy. Flies drive me nuts.
I see sunlight through the trees. Is there hope? The path appears to end.
We continue eating. Deer join us to nibble grass nearby. I appreciate their regal confidence. Rosemary and her friends have become a sporadic spiritual presence for us. I imagine them saying, “Hello there. Just checking in on you girls.”
Zippers close and last gulps of water enter our bodies. We load our backpacks. “Don’t be afraid to pull your straps,” Sunshine says.
“We’re not afraid,” Our voices tell the universe.
We turn south on the AT.
I am delighted by the immediate difference in terrain. The tall grass is soft. The path is not hilly or rocky, it is mostly just dirt beneath my thankful feet. Trees tower above forming a skinny tree version of a canopy with plenty of light rays offering warm touches along the way. This is how I envisioned the trail would be before we came.
We walk by a small graveyard without pausing to read any of the crumbling headstones. Then we enter a thicker section of the forest. Our legs walk faster than we have on any of the other sections. I remain the caboose, but I can see each team member easily in this stretch.
The tree canopy thickens. The path becomes lush, there’s so much beauty! Ferns cover the ground as if it could be a fairy playground in a child’s movie. I imagine magical creatures hopping among the fronds.
“Hold up,” I say.
I pull out Ben’s camera and take pictures of “us on the trail” in rows, in pairs, in hiking mode, and of course a group selfie. Once the moment is captured in post card worthy fashion, we carry on.
Ferns feather the ground as far as we can see on either side of the trail under the tall trees. I feel good. I sense the miracles around me.
Fallen trees decay and look wet here and there along the way. Sun rays filter through the leaves for a while, but our wooded room grows darker. There was a forecast for possible rain today. I am ok with rain if the trail keeps on like this. Dirt or mud below my feet is welcomed over rocks.
Silence blankets our group as if we enter a state of Zen walking. We are spaced about four feet between each of us. SunFloJo peeks behind her to make sure I bring up the rear ok. I truck along well.
I begin to think of a mental gratitude list. I’m grateful for each of my children. I think of their qualities, personalities, and talents. I thank God for bringing them into my life.
Jacob leaving for basic training in the Air Force will hurt this momma, but oh how awesome it is that he will go do what he longs to do. He has wanted to be in the military since middle school. If he were here, he would zoom along this trail. His body is fit and ready for his next phase of life.
Ben is going to high school. Where has the time gone? I love his humor. I wish he were hiking with me. I miss him.
I am thankful to work with children, young people, and families. How many people at my age or older have dreams that they wish they did and now regret not doing? We went for it. After eleven years and 6,433 students served in some way, how can I say that this dream was a mistake?
I think of Paul and how he helped me get ready for this trip. He could have given me a hard time, but he did not. He provides for us in unique little ways. Like the way he gathers school supplies for the boys every August, labeling each boy’s items with their name. Or the way he helps keep the laundry going or how he makes breakfast on weekends sometimes. That man makes the best scrambled eggs.
He may be wondering how I am doing right now with no cell phone and knowing that tonight is the night that we will be furthest from help. In my mind, I send him an “I’m ok” telepathy message. We’re going to get through this. We’ll be fine.
I am Surrender, and I am beginning to surrender. I feel it.
Thank you, God, for the opportunity to be fully present here.
The sky turns even darker, and I don’t care. Somewhere in my bag is raingear when I need it.
The bear bell rings. And rings again. Stalker C contorts her arm and elbow to reach it. We must be too quiet for her taste. She is not taking chances.
Sunshine Rat, SunFloJo and Stalker C lean their packs and bodies against a rock. I catch up and lean also.
“Girls,” Sunshine checks her boob-o-meter. “We have been walking at a 22-minute mile pace for the last 2 miles!”
“That’s amazing.” SunFloJo acknowledges and then wanders into a thicket to pee.
“We’ll be at Rapidan Camp before we know it,” I say.
Rapidan was built for President Hoover, his family and guests. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it since looking it up on the internet. How many times do you walk to a historic site and then walk away from a historic site without the aid of a car or other transportation?
“It’s after 2pm now. We’re making fairly good time,” Sunshine says.
Stalker C’s face says what is on her mind. She remains concerned about sleeping in the woods tonight.
Eh, we can do it. We are a team.
But this is not going to be pleasant smell wise. Sweat is building up. I am sorry for the stink in advance, SunFloJo. Two people in a one-person tent makes me nervous only to be trumped by the thought of anticipating the fear we may experience when it becomes completely dark among the trees.
Deep breath. We can do this.
Sunshine says, “I feel like I could carry on farther than I ever thought I could if the trail was like this all the time.”
We agree wholeheartedly, “Right?!”.
A gentle drizzle of rain reaches our arms. The forest protects us from getting more wet for a while.
When the drizzle increases, we each pull out our rain gear.
I wear my plastic hood on my head and then spread the rest of the jacket over my backpack. This is a perfect set up for light rain. The rest of the Steam Team dresses similarly. We journey on looking like floating jackets and ponchos.
We pass a guy who is headed quickly in the opposite direction. He pauses to tell us that he is supposed to catch up with other AT hikers who are having burgers tonight. He left one friend behind who is having foot problems. She will catch up with him and their friends soon. I can tell the idea of having burgers is a big deal to him. He does not want to miss it. I picture the group of young, attractive, dirt covered hikers including unshaven guys like him meeting up later to chow on meat with whatever condiments happen to be around and loving every moment.
The rain continues.
Then we see increased light because we arrive at a road. It is Skyline Drive. Huh. We are going to cross a perfectly good road that leads to civilization in order to continue our trail on the other side. Sigh.
So far, we are the good kind of tired. The gentle rain feels like a friend you have not gotten to spend this much time with in a while.
The road is on an incline. We turn to look both ways before crossing. When we see a beautiful person coming down the hill, we pause.
She is tan, wears navy athletic shorts, has two dark hair braids and may be limping. There is something striking about her olive skin and deep brown hair.
“Hi,” she says.
“What is your trail name?” SunFloJo asks.
She winces, “Sacagawea.”
“My foot is killing me,” Sacagawea says. “We’ve been walking since March. In the last town back, I had it checked out. I have a hairline fracture.”
“Oh!” The Steam Team all chime in making the connection to the last guy we passed.
Walking since March rattles around in my brain.
SunFloJo continues, “We passed a guy headed that way.” She points behind us. “He said you all are meeting someone for burgers tonight.”
“Yes!” She lights up.
We say farewell. Sacagawea heads into our beloved canopy trail. I say a prayer for her foot.
The Steam Team crosses the road and enters the next forest. Soon we see a trail marker post.
We depart the AT and head left down the mountain via Mill Prong Trail.
The rain is steady. I am excited because based on my memory of the map, Mill Prong is not a far stretch down to Rapidan.
I declare in my mind that Stalker C will get through this night. No bears or reptiles will get us. She is tense. I want to tell her not to worry, but I don’t think that will help.
I am so glad I decided to continue today.
I carry my water bottle and drink as we descend. I have had no urge to urinate today which by now is not a good thing. I am probably somewhat dehydrated.
As if a different picture clicks in our Viewmaster, this part of the trail is beautiful in new ways. We descend over and around mossy green rocks. There are gradual twists and turns leading into a valley of bright greens and browns.
Down, down, down.
I am not going to think about how my feet hurt from the number of hours we have been walking. Cannot be too much further.
Down, down, down. We cross over streams of water.
Hearing the rain and watching a rushing stream of water is almost too much joy for my Aquarius born soul. The sounds combine to create a forest symphony.
Almost out of drinking water, we pause to purify and refill water bottles from a creek.
Oh, this is the real thing now. We are roughing it! We will get water from the land–a gift from the earth.
Hmmm…should I trust SunFloJo’s aqua straw to purify my water or should I have her purify AND then add a purification tab that I have in my pack?
I think it over as she attaches my water bottle neck to her purifying straw. For a moment I consider how awful it would be to have diarrhea out here tonight if something fails with the purification process. Um…Exhale. Dismiss that thought.
I choose to trust her straw and leave my emergency tabs in my backpack. I brought the tabs only as a last resort if for some reason we become separated.
We do not fall into the creek as we steady ourselves on rocks to reach the water flow with our bottles. I consider not falling a big bonus.
The creek rocks are slippery. Injury right now would be terrible. At this point, we would not be able to walk out of the woods before dark. And it already feels like near dark or late dusk due to the weather.
After crossing the first stream, I attempt to get back to my gratitude thoughts like earlier. I say thanks to my Higher Power for every person I can think of…for food, for shelter, for clothing, for my life back home. I am not quite as meditative as before, but close.
I sense that some of the anger I could not shake before this trip is releasing, breaking up slowly like bad plaque in arteries. I visualize releasing tension several times.
And I picture letting go of Jacob, our first-born son. He is determined to protect and fight for our country. What a noble and brave young man. He was only ours to raise for a while. He is his own being. He is created for a purpose greater than what I can imagine or what I can offer from the home that helped mold him for this time in his life.
Down, down, down through the trees. Around. Down, down over rocks. Around. Down, down, down through an increasingly wet wood. Raindrops collect in my hair and drip onto my nose and lips. This is taking longer than I anticipated, but that is not a new feeling this week.
There is more water to cross. This stream of water is bigger, and the rocks look shiny. We pause before crossing to sit on two long tree trunks that have fallen.
“I’m kind of done,” Stalker C says.
Exhaustion sets into our bones. What we can see of the sky is grey. Drizzle continues. The stretchy buff around my head absorbs some of the rain drops before the rest slip into my eyes.
Sunshine says to her dear friend, “You can do it.”
We sit quiet with shoulders slumped.
Sitting on the log while still wearing the backpack is affecting my body. I wiggle to deal with an odd sensation. I share, “I think my lady parts are numb.”
Stalker C snorts a little laugh.
I continue, “How is that even possible? Nothing else is asleep; just my downtown area.”
SunFloJo crosses the mini river with zero slippery rock issues. She is off to scout ahead of us a bit.
Sunshine Rat chuckles, “Can you imagine that phone call? Doctor, when I sit on rocks my genitals fall asleep.”
“Yeah, then don’t sit on rocks the doc might say,” Stalker C shakes her head. I know she is tired; we are all tired.
In fact, I may be too tired to be tired right now. If we do not get swept away by this water source, this will be a good day. I cling to the meditative nature of this afternoon. I have had time to sort thoughts and cherish beauty.
Stalker C says to Sunshine, “I want you to cut off my foot. Like right now.”
SunFloJo appears at the other side of the creek. We stand up, but my girly numbness continues.
I am last across the creek, relieved that I did not stumble. The water moves quickly.
“Here,” I give one of my trekking poles to Stalker C. The pole might help her take pressure off her toes. I can manage with one now. We are still going downhill. The rocks are only about half as plentiful as when we were back on Lewis Falls Trail. How long ago Lewis seems. Was that really this morning, just earlier today?
The trail beat beats on. Mill Prong was only supposed to be 1.8 miles. We are well over that by now. Anticipating that we will see Rapidan soon, I carry the camera in my hand.
Our protectors, the trees, thicken, making our path even darker. Somehow, we still walk downhill over more rocks and turn on more twists.
We start to see piles of scat on the trail. It’s like we’ve entered nature’s public restroom.
I remember on the map that there is a horse trail somewhere around here. I know what horse poo looks like. Some of this is horse.
And some of it is not horse.
Stalker C eyes the piles.
I give her body language that says “Nah, that’s not bear. Nothing to worry about.”
But I remember the scat chart from Cub Scouts and the paw print chart too. Scanning my memory, I am fairly sure that is bear poo. And bear paw prints.
Yeah, I’m totally sure.
Stalker C quizzes me. She looks at a pile then looks at me.
I respond, “Deer.”
She looks at another.
SunFloJo is looking at certain piles with interest. She knows what I know.
Sunshine Rat is ahead of us. I see her side stepping to stay balanced down the wet hill.
Stalker C looks at what SunFlo is looking at.
I shrug my shoulders. Bear. Shh! Definitely bear.
And another pile. And another. All bear. Oh my goodness.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
And please work out the crazy circumstances in my own life too.
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
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.
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.
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?
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:
I do not think I can give up deodorant. I also do not want any rodents or bears curious about me.
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.”
“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.
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.
I walk down the neighborhood hill and back up several times.
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….”
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!
Food –what kind of food?! (need to research)
1-person tent (need to find or borrow)
Some type of pillow (or use rolled up clothing at night?)
Travel toothpaste and brush
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Courtney—WHAT’S HIS NAME?
Glenna—SO HIS NAME IS DOUBLE D…
I do not finish.
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.
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.
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.
Things are better for our family today than they were one year ago.
Or, today compared with the last seven years, seven years that got progressively worse until I thought my brain and heart might implode.
I felt fear typing the word “better”, but it is true.
And, thank people.
A key thing I learned especially the last three years was that help comes from the most unexpected places: complete strangers, acquaintances, neighbors, some friends, some family. There was a time when I would have refused help or tried to do it all my own.
I stopped being embarrassed of our mess and started saying yes.
Someone I trusted but did not know well sorted my jewelry and personal items. A team of painters from a church different from our own church came to our house for over a week, most that I did not know. Someone I barely knew out of town paid our electric at just the right time when I was debating the order and deadlines of bills. Grocery gift cards arrived. Encouragement came in the mail from both sisters (by blood and marriage) at just the right time every time. Someone ran a marathon to fundraise so that Hubby could get a mobile scooter. A friend spent 36 hours removing stubborn wallpaper at the condominium. One room had four layers! Eight women over 60 years old showed up to pack their cars with Rubbermaid containers to transport from garage to garage so that we could save time and money on moving day. This paragraph could be much longer with stories of miracle people showing up, but you get the idea.
One thing that rolled around in my head was that people do what they can when they can. I did not expect anyone to help. I think it is dangerous and mean to expect people to be there for you. For example, I am not a fan of Facebook chain posts that end with “and I think I know who will respond.” Yeah, no, at any given time, you do not know what someone is really experiencing or what they can make time for this minute or in this season of their life.
If you are going through a tough time, just be open without judgement. Say yes to those who emerge from the clouds. In addition, when you can, make sure you help others too. There are plenty of opportunities to be there for people when you can. Over the years, I have really enjoyed giving quietly when I was able. It was humbling to be on the receiving end. And, it was necessary to accept help. We would not have made it otherwise. Thank you to many.
When we have frustrating days now, I observe how quickly my mind thinks, “Thank You for my problems.” Right now involves acceptable water treading with a little space and capacity to roll with the waves. I feel the physical and mental stretch daily but nothing like recent years.
Last summer I was fortunate to visit Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The building is constructed with glass walls that provide a sanctuary in the woods.
While there, I thought about its openness to nature. I considered my openness to surrender.
Surrender means saying yes to God through the stress. Surrender says, “Sure you can sort these items in my bedroom. Seems like a personal place, but let’s go for it.” Surrender says, “Thank you for adopting my son to celebrate his high school graduation in ways that I would not have been able at that time to provide.” Surrender says, “Yes, please interview and find us the best realtor for our situation.”
Surrender is also the word that came to mind back in 2016 when I was out of shape and said yes to a near week long hike on the Appalachian Trail with a team of women.
I knew the ground was sliding under our family’s footing. Something was wrong. I thought I was losing my mind over our oldest son going to the military at 17 years old. Maybe if I ran away to hike and sleep outside, then I could get alone with God to work out my mixed up feelings.
However, there was more.
And, God was preparing me.
“Surrender on the Trail” became the title of the manuscript I wrote about our wild experience in the woods. Imagine four women committed to staying outside to maneuver rocks and mountains for 35 miles. Imagine getting lost in the rain at nightfall. Imagine tears and flies buzzing with an incredible 4,050 feet view above sea level.
I am thinking about publishing one chapter a week here on the blog. What do you think?
The manuscript has been complete and edited for a long time. Something in my heart does not feel like continuing to query publishers or literary agents right now. What if I make it available here?
People from 34 countries read this blog last year. What if I simply share?
If you have comments or ideas about this idea, please let me know.
Psalm 121:1a ~ I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD….
Lately I seek to increase the number of moments where I experience happiness by plugging into the bliss of simply being alive. I practice 1-5 minute mindful breathing and pause to notice random things or people around me. The key of being is in the noticing.
The world has been put in timeout for 12 months. I mourn for the silent voices lost: over 500,000 humans in our country. More around the globe. If those voices could speak, what would they say?
I wonder what humans have discovered inside the safety protocol walls of a pandemic. Is there a general set of collective thoughts that bubble to the top of mind as important?
While reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, I leaned into the joy of art, creativity, writing, and the delight of doing (or not doing) what you feel called to do. She seemed to support a phrase that a friend and I discussed in recent months: “It all matters. And, it all doesn’t.” Do or don’t, Creativity will find a vessel to express itself.
My takeaway from her book was the encouragement to enjoy your art, enjoy your creative endeavors. For me, that is writing. Writing isn’t easy for me, but it is the very thing nestled and happening inside my brain almost all day long. Often my mind writes without my presence at a keyboard. What does your mind long to do?
A pleasant surprise listen from the library this weekend was The Power of Myth with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. This is a fascinating group of interviews about the interwoven nature of beliefs around the world.
Two of my favorite takeaways are that the hero is prepared right before the task ahead and to connect with your bliss. This audio recording is packed full of great thoughts like how marriages that sacrifice to the relationship seem to last. If you sacrifice to the other person, you may grow weary since humans are flawed.
It is also important to change up activities in order to free up the mind. In March 2018, a friend in social work said there was a seminar totally unrelated to our jobs that looked interesting. Would I like to go?
Sure. My brain needed a break. I could learn about Bitcoin for a few hours. I had no idea what cryptocurrency was!
So we went: two ladies in a sea of men. My eyes glazed over. But bonus, I did not spend any time thinking about my life stress or work. It was fun to learn a tiny bit about something completely different.
When we walked away, I noticed how relaxed I felt that afternoon compared to the week overall. My brain had escaped. I felt better. Now I know that I was connecting to my bliss, which has nothing to do with Bitcoin.
My bliss involves learning. I love to learn. Crypto was the vehicle to my bliss station that day.
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says this type of experience is what Einstein called “Combinatory Play“. When you spend time creatively or across disciplines, it can help free your brain to rest and then ease the return to your work. If you’ve never tried this, I invite you to spend a few minutes crafting, writing, drawing, doing whatever sounds fun at the moment.
The subconscious mind is a place for truth though we may not recognize it at first glance.
Three nights this week included the constant noise of a mechanical bobcat in battle with the snow. I felt gratitude for the man driving the machine 12 hours at a time. I felt challenged by 3am continuous “beep, beep, beeps” that prohibited my ability to sleep.
I have struggled with bad dreams and waking up a smidge anxious for months anyway. Changes and stress have a way of demanding attention even when waking hours seem fine.
This weekend I have been able to sleep. And, I have been able to tackle neglected writing projects. It feels good to dive in where I felt stuck for a long time.
I suppose no one takes next steps until they are ready. Creativity calls. Only some hearts answer.
Then last night in my dream I was with Hubby, a wheelchair, and we were in what I would call the universal church fellowship hall of the 1970’s and 1980’s. I bet you can visualize the paneling, folding chairs and posters that were hung on walls far too long. Church was done for the day. Hubby was pleasant but tired. It was time to go back to where we were staying in Florida. Bonus: it was a travel dream.
Then I look down and see a scorpion. It seemed bad. But was it? I wondered.
I went to get a church deacon type to help. A young person ended up walking in to confirm that the creature was what we thought.
We weren’t afraid. There were simply things that needed to be handled.
Once awake, I looked up dream symbols. Sometimes dreams are pretty obvious regarding what’s on one’s mind. And other times a random symbol stands out. I mean, it is not like I see routine scorpions where we live in the upper Midwest.
I found that the scorpion can mean making peace with a challenging situation and moving on.
So the scorpion symbol added up fairly well. Life is semi-hard. Mostly I give thanks for my problems because things could be far worse. I try to be happy in the right now. And, the moving on part is likely because I am able to work on special writing projects that have waited for me patiently.
Thanks for reading and sticking around all these years. The best is yet to come.
It is that day when I promise once again that next year I won’t be in town on Valentine’s Day. I will be with girlfriends or on a beach, on a mountain top, anywhere else doing something–anything–not so ordinary.
Valentine’s Day is a double whammy. It’s also my birthday. Growing up, I loved celebrating with red hearts, white paper lace, pink streamers, balloons and all things Valentine.
As an adult, I realized many people have jumbled emotions linked to February 14. Happy feelings, angry feelings, dread, anger and so forth.
Then I married someone who expresses love inversely to what I anticipated. Let’s just say his first romantic gift was a bright yellow personal alarm to wear on my waist so I could pull the cord for it to wail and screech if someone nefarious came too close to me on my college campus.
We’ve worked it out. It’s taken a lot of tears and years. I’ve learned that the antidote to my occasional sad feels is to have less expectations, ask for something specific if desired, support or help others.
These days, ALS-21 plus a Pandemic make it so Hubby can’t get out to shop, or walk much, or feel good for a full day. I am happy simply when his words are kind. I like thoughtful and kind. Lately, I’ve been quietly thanking the writers of Call The Midwife. Hubby really likes that show. I call it his daily empathy exercise. Women have been through so much and that binge worthy series does not shy away from hard topics.
Speaking of writers, my feel better about Valentine’s Day activity this year was to support authors I care about. I directed Hubby to my wish list and he placed the order. I was excited to open the packages.
Janine Rosche is an author who picked me up off the floor when I received a bad news phone call at a writer’s conference. She prayed with me. Then I found out she was looking for a certain agent to meet. I am thrilled to say they met indeed and are three books into a successful journey. I now have a trifecta of inspirational romance to read:
William Klein’s book was lost in our move so I needed a replacement copy. This is a timely fictional story about a painful border experience.
And Jessica Terry is a writer that cracks me up with her Instagram stories. Like me, she was a basketball player in her youth. We’ve never met. I appreciate her work ethic and passion. So, I soon will read:
Who would you like to support? Someone creative? An organization that does something you value? Church? Someone elderly or ill? Doing a little something for others could brighten your Valentine’s Day. Earlier in the week, I called a couple people who I hadn’t spoken with in a few years. It was a good time on old fashioned phone calls.
Frequently, I think of the verse Love One Another (John 15: 12). Loving others does not result in only one direction of good vibes even when that should be our intention. When you love others, the good feels return to fill your heart and strengthen the weave of the universe.
Still in town,
P.S. Hubby also visited the Shari’s Berries website. Winner. Yum.
There is “a lot of togetherness for families right now”, a friend said–knowing how people at home can get on one another’s nerves after nearly a year of social distancing.
I dream of hopping in the car and taking long drives. Drives that land me in other states, on a mountain or on a beach. The sound of ocean waves is high on my YouTube search list.
Our family is fortunate to have moved just in time to our condo where accessibility for Hubby is much better overall. Our youngest is attending college online this semester rather than returning to a dorm. It has been a comfort to know Son 2 is home when I mask up and go to work. If Hubby falls, Son 2 is here to help at least for now.
While things are far from perfect, I count blessings daily.
Hubby and I have opposite personalities. Often I either have a different viewpoint altogether or am mentally translating that we just said something similar in a different way. I usually recognize the style difference first while he argues his point. I wait, then eventually say, “we said the same thing” which he may or may not ever believe. This fact has worn me out for near 3 decades–long before ALS added to our mix.
I notice a lot of couples end up on opposite sides of the picket fence so I want to encourage those who end up as spouse, friend and caregiver. Caregiver is a twist of sour lemon, but you can carry on and survive. I even believe thriving is possible. Not there yet, but I’m considering what “thriving” might look like. Stay tuned.
Occasionally I have a little island moment epiphany. This week I was knocked over by the thought, “He’s still here.”
And, I’m glad.
I can still figure out how to hug him–awkward and on me to initiate, but it is possible. I can still ask his opinion about something. I can still find a moment to catch up about our sons. Once in a while something on TV makes him laugh, and that is my favorite few seconds of eye crinkling. Last night he was able to sit in a chair long enough to play a couple rounds of a board game. That was a win.
Once upon a time, back when I thought I was tough, when I believed wholeheartedly that life will be what you make it, when I never cried at movies or much of anything besides a broken heart, my future husband and I took a road trip.
He played his favorite songs through the car cassette player. “Listen to Sammy Kershaw,” he said. “If we are going to get married, then we have to promise never to let this happen.”
The song was Yard Sale. The lyrics played:
Cardboard sign says yard sale Real estate sign says sold Family picnic table Holds all that it can hold On the grass and on the sidewalk Well there must be half the town Ain’t it funny how a broken home Can bring the prices down
Oh they’re sortin through What’s left of you and me Paying yard sale prices For each golden memory Oh I never thought I’d ever live to see The way they’re sorting through What’s left you and me
You left two summer dresses In the backyard on the line A lady just brought them to me Says she thinks they’ll fit just fine Well there goes the baby’s wagon…
By the time the baby’s wagon is sold, my lips are quivering.
Tears. What the heck?
And ever since that 19 year old day, I joined in on his idea of divorce not being an option.
When Hubby was diagnosed in 2017 with ALS-21, soon could no longer work, and he had to crawl if stairs were involved, I saw the dim light arrive over the home we once were determined to grow old in together.
I knew we’d have to leave.
And I knew our very real children’s wagon was in the garage. Do our sons need it anymore? Uh, no. Did we love it and use it a lot? Yes. That wagon toured the neighborhood many days, helped with Halloween, Cub Scout popcorn sales, and gardening.
I have cried about leaving our home for weeks while keeping my body sorting, packing, dragging, etc. Moving out of a home you’ve lived in over 20 years is more of a feat than a project. Plus, when leaving is a “have to”, the work can be extra painful. My heart resisted while my body ran the metaphoric marathon.
Then I learned that a 5 year old is part of the new family who bought our house. Turned out, she would like to have the wagon.
Take that, ALS-21! You can not have our babies’ wagon!
And that made me feel good. The wagon will live on in our neighborhood for a little while longer.
We are 4 hours into condo life without overlap with the house. There is a peace in seeing Hubby get around much better here. My mind & tired body will settle into the peace soon I hope.
Speaking of marathons, next Sunday Lisa Zupan is running 26 miles for two causes. One of the reasons is to help purchase a scooter and car lift for Hubby. If you would like to donate, click here.
This may be the last blog I write from the home we have lived in over 20 years.
I knew the uphill battle of grief kicked in when random tears began showing up at various times of the day two weeks ago.
Anxiety woke me up in the mornings via a scary dream or a feeling of panic or a headache well before my alarm. If you know me, this is wildly different than my zero problems with sleep usually.
How will I manage the calls that need to be made? Will contractors show up at the new place or old on time? Have I packed enough? What still needs to be thrown away? How will I do this physically, at this point, mostly on my own in the time of Covid-19?
And then sadness: Our grandchildren will never walk through the same doors our kids did.
I tell myself it is just a place.
Then I Marie Kondo try to honor and thank the house for the time we’ve cherished together.
I pray. I dream of an easier lifestyle.
I feel nervous about the multiple pages of condo rules. There’s no vacuuming after 9pm, for example. I kid that I am moving into assisted living at 48 years old.
Then I try to visualize a much simpler way of being. The idea seems serene to soon be able to write or exercise over yard work any day of the week. I am leaving yard tools behind–that feels out of control for this girl! I ponder if friends will allow me to occasionally pull their weeds. Seriously.
I read author Bill Klein’s blog post about Change after a startled 5AM awakening. He writes “The trick in dealing with change is in fanning the flames of optimism and possibilities that exist. How do we get the mind to recognize the power of possibility to inspire the imagination to arrive at new possibilities when we are facing fear at its most daunting?”
So I will try to fan the optimism and the thoughts of Hubby being in a safer situation. It is scary to live here currently with stairs, etc. I am frightened when I leave for work, and I stress about missing time together in the hours I spend working on the house.
Soon all the rooms he needs will be handy. I like the idea that we will be able to leave the condo behind any time we want for a short jaunt or trip. In some ways, we will be able to spend more time together. The next chapter will be more manageable.
If I could flip the switch and be on the other side of moving and the other side of these feelings, then I would. Instead, life demands that one feel the grief for a little while.