Embrace the Suck!

Grapeyard Ridge/Baskin Creek Trail 8/5 and 8/6, 2017

This is a term that is well known on the Appalachian Trail for thru-hikers….Embrace the Suck!  That’s because so much of the trail is hard to do, uphill, strenuous, exhausting, etc.  Well, I was reminded of this on Saturday when I started the Grapeyard Ridge Trail. Several days before the hike, I asked our fearless leader (Mr. D.)  if he thought I was capable of such a “moderate” hike as it is labeled, and he said, “The question for you is whether 7 miles with a backpack is still too much at this point? Or are you willing to go for it and see what happens?”  To me that sounded like a challenge….well, challenge accepted!  I should have known better….but wait, there’s more….

So my friend, Eventually, (this is her trail name), gets to my house to ride with me.  I am pretty excited about it, but nervous as well.  I have meticulously planned, coordinated, researched the hike, my gear, printed my permit, packed, repacked and packed my backpack again trying to cut out any extras that might save some weight because you want as light a pack as you can have.  I think mine weighed about 30 pounds which is way too heavy.  I am feeling okay about my pack when I remember I hadn’t even added my food or water to the pack….there is a few more pounds.  We get all of our stuff together and head off.

On the way to the trailhead, I am looking at my phone trying to figure out where we are going to turn when I look in my rear-view mirror and see a police officer with his lights on in the far distance.  I said, “I think he might be after me.”  Sure enough, I was speeding, but there was nowhere to pull off.  He came right up behind me and turned on his sirens now, so I pulled right over on the road, got out my license and registration and prepared myself.  I had no idea what the speed limit was.  I hadn’t been to Gatlinburg in years, and honestly I was looking at my phone at Google maps.  I know it’s wrong, but I thought I was paying attention.  He said, “Do you have any idea how fast you were going?”  I said, “No, sir.” because I didn’t know.  Well, I was going 60 in a 35!  Yup, that’s right.  I had not been pulled over by anyone in so many years, I was completely flustered and bracing myself for the worst.  I deserved it.  I even held up my phone and explained that I was looking at Google maps, not the speed limit, which is even worse.  I wasn’t going to lie to him, so there you go.  He then went into helper mode and told us where the trailhead would be and told me to have a nice day.  HAVE A NICE DAY!  I couldn’t believe it.  I haven’t even gotten to the trail yet, and I have already had so much adrenaline pumping, it was ridiculous.  I learned my lesson and drove about 20 miles per hour the rest of the way…  SOOOOO GRATEFUL!!!

So that was how I started my hike….jump forward and we get to the trailhead and I have to pee.  Well, I better get used to going in the woods for the next 24 hours so why not start now.  It wasn’t that bad, and I had meticulously planned for all types of scenarios for that as well.  All set and here we go!  It quickly breaks up into the fast group and the slow group.  Mr. D. is our trail sweep and our teacher as well, and he hikes the whole way with us, one patient step at a time.  Seven miles pretty much straight up the first day and three or so miles the next day.  It was roughly 500 feet per mile incline which is really steep (at least for me and my unconditioned legs, lungs and body), and we were hauling ourselves up there at about one mile per hour…yes, you heard correctly one mile per hour….SEVEN-ish VERY LONG HOURS LATER….we reached our destination at Campsite 32!!!  Literally thought I was going to die…seriously!!!

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Before the pain…

Now, let me paint you a little picture of those seven miles….First of all, we see a bear first thing walking off in the distance.  Then not one mile in I step in a very large pile of bear poo.  Nice.  Got so nauseated from the ascent that I nearly puked several times, got multiple charlie horses so bad that my hiking buddy had to rub my knee from spasming so badly.  Every few feet having to stop to breathe and quit sucking wind, with constant (and I mean), constant encouragement from our teacher not to quit, keep going, you can do this, I was there where you are, etc. etc.!  I was so exhausted and sore I almost cried several times.  I really ruminated about how nice it might be if I could just lay down and have a bear come drag me off and eat me.  Seriously!!!  It would be cheaper than a helicopter picking my ass off the side of a mountain, and I just didn’t care!

So seven and a half hours later, we had climbed seven miles….yes, 7 miles!!!!  OMG!!!!  I was beyond exhausted.  I was having charlie horses in my knees, legs, and ankles – yes, I said ankles.  Have you ever had a charlie horse in your ankle?  Well, it ain’t pretty!  I was dehydrated, had a headache, and I couldn’t even eat.  I laid in my tent and fantasized about being home wondering what the heck I was doing.  I couldn’t wait to get home.  I laid there for about an hour and finally started doing some stretches in my tent and got up, ate a little bit of food and drank a little water, and I started to feel a little better.  Everyone else seemed to be doing just fine and having a great time.  I just sat there and tried to think positive even though I was wondering what kind of craziness my life had spiraled into.

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My wonderful tent!

As the night progressed I started to feel even better and I finally did some yoga, took some Vitamin I (ibuprofen), and sat around an awesome campfire.  We listened to stories and adventures and it was beautiful.  We had wonderful weather, a full bright moon, and cicadas singing really loudly.  As we wound down the night, Mr. D. told us to gather round the fire for the traditional “thorns, roses, and buds”.  This is a tradition where you tell your experience of the day: thorns = what was bad, roses = what was good, buds = what you are looking forward to.  Okay, so I know what you are thinking.  But by this time, I had a little bit better attitude and some time to think and gather myself.  Thorns for me, of course, was the fact that my pack was too heavy.  I was too heavy, and I was hurting…duh…no-brainer, but the rose was the fact that I had a great teacher and an encouraging friend to help me up the mountain; to never give up, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  And the bud was that I now knew my limits and what I needed to work on, how I need to train, and that I need to find the Middle Path.  Another thing that was really awesome was that Mr. D. said that I was his rose for the day because I didn’t give up, and I was an example of what it means to keep going even when you think you can’t.  That meant so much to me!  He said that I would be a future story to someone else who was struggling with whether or not they could do this.

So off to bed…well, literally I pretty much passed out.  I only woke up once, but I slept really well.  I woke up very, very sore.  I could hardly move.  I didn’t want to get up.  I didn’t want to eat but I did, and I tried to drink as much water as I could.  We had about 3.5 miles out of the backcountry and we were informed that the first mile out was straight up and then it would be all downhill.  All I could think about was getting home.  Oh, yeah, and I didn’t mention we had about 8-10 small river crossings…yeah! That was fun, but it just slowed me down.  I was on a mission.  I wanted to get home.  I was tired, sore and now I was hungry.

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Whooped!

We had been told that a good steady hiking pace was about three miles per hour, so I asked Mr. D. to show me what that looked like because I wanted to hit that speed at least for a few seconds on the descent.  When I finally reached that pace, I thought to myself how cool it would be if one day I could catch the fast group who I knew was probably at least 30 minutes ahead of us, but it was a fleeting thought.  The next thing I know we come to a river, and I look up and there is the fast group.  We had actually caught them based on my pace.  I was pretty excited because every time we hit a flat spot on the way down, he would encourage me to pick up my pace.  It only lasted for a few seconds, but then the fast group was gone again.  I didn’t care.  That was the highlight of my trip, and I was on cloud nine.  The rest of the way down the mountain went pretty fast, and I was never so excited to get in a vehicle and be headed home in my life.

I know it doesn’t sound like I had that much fun, and I wouldn’t say it was fun.  It was truly one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, but the sense of accomplishment that I have is pretty great!  I know what I need to work on.  I have new goals, and I also picked up a lot of new skills for the backcountry.  Even though it was extremely difficult for me, I still want to go back.  I want to work up to that, be smarter about my hikes, reduce the pack weight, reduce my weight, and work even harder on it.  Once I make my mind up, I don’t give up easily.  I still love nature.  I still love the quietness of the forest, and I always will.  It’s my temple.

A very dear friend of mine asked me when I got back and she saw how sore I was and how hard it was for me to move, “What got you into hiking?”  I told her it was the solitude, the quiet, being in nature, and just really getting away from it all, and that still holds true.  I love it back there.  And the more I do it, the better I will get.  To me, the mountain is a metaphor for so much of my life…life is hard.  It is a lot of uphill with bumps, twists, turns, roots, rocks, snakes, bears, and so much more.  It hurts and sometimes you want to quit and give up, but I don’t.  And when you reach your destination, what you have accomplished feels so good, makes you feel stronger, and lets me know that I am way more capable of things than I think I am.  This is the mountain.  This is life!  This is hiking, and that’s why I Embrace the Suck!

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NEVER GIVE UP!!!

Living in the Hummmmmmmm!

The older I get, the more I realize that everything changes!  I know that this doesn’t sound like anything new or mind-blowing, but it becomes more and more apparent to me each and every day.  I realize that over my lifetime, even though things change, I have become used to MY status quo, but at the same time I become more acutely aware of the fact that I have probably lived longer than I have left, and I am not trying to be doom and gloom, just aware.  If things rock on for a time and appear to be going about the same, you know, the same routine day in and day out with very little difference between them, I think on some level that this is how it’s going to be. I get comfortable.  You know, get up, go to work, take my child to school, work, run errands, clean house, pay bills, cook/eat dinner, help with homework, play, maybe do something after work, get stuff ready for tomorrow, go to bed and get up and do it all over again.  You don’t think that one day you will wake up and, boom, this is the day you are never going to see this person again or that person again.  You don’t think to yourself, today my life will change in some way and never be the same as I am used to seeing it day in and day out.  You don’t think about the fact that this person could die or that person could leave or that friend will no longer be a part of your life for whatever reason.  We just don’t think that way, at least I didn’t.

We live in a space where we think things are going to remain the same a lot of the times or if there is change, it will be little enough that I can deal with it without being too uncomfortable, and even with that awareness I still forget that.  I forget.  I get comfortable for a minute and relax my guard and think it’s going to be smooth for a bit and live in the concept of “daily life”.  I can breathe.  Then, bam!!! wrong!  Something else happens.  I am coming to expect changes and I don’t always like it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like when cool stuff happens, but I like things to stay the same, that comfortable spot an old friend of mine used to call “the Hummmm”.  She used to say that if your life is less up and down like a roller coaster, less drama and trauma that we create for ourselves or that happens to us; that we just kind of move along okay, that we are living in the Hummmmm.  No drama.  I thought to myself back then almost 30 years ago, I will never live in the Hummmmmm.  I want to, but I don’t think that is possible.  And it’s not really, but depending on how I look at my day-to-day life and live it, I can live in the Hummmmm to some degree a lot of the time. It depends on my perspective.  I just have to be prepared for the ups and downs even if I am not creating them.  My perspective and how I deal with them makes all the difference in the world.  But you know what?  I get tired of trying to keep my perspective on point all the time….at least sometimes!

The fact is that people change.  People die.  People leave.  People grow and morph every day in one way or another even if it’s not in a healthy way.  And if these people are in my life, it’s going to affect me one way or another as well.  Not everyone is going to be my friend til death.  Not every partner will stick around til death.   Not every job will last til retirement.  Children grow up and move out.  Nothing is for sure except death and change.  If someone had told me ten years ago that my life would be like it is today, I couldn’t have imagined it, and I have an absolutely wonderful life.  I am so grateful for it!!! But why is it so hard to understand that and keep it in my awareness so that when shit changes I won’t be so surprised or blown away by it?  I don’t know, but it sucks!  I guess that’s why some monastic groups meditate on death and the decay of the body so that when it happens, it won’t be so horrible, maybe.  I don’t know, but I digress.

What I have come to realize as well is that it’s about balance and acceptance.  I am not always going to be happy about changes in my life especially if they make me feel sad or abandoned or if I didn’t choose them.  I am not always going to have a good, centered perspective.  I am not always going to be Zen about my day-to-day life, and that’s okay.  I am a growing, changing human with real feelings.  I can be sad and mad and happy and afraid.  I can CHANGE.  I can change my mind.  I can change course.  I can make a new decision.  I can do something different.  I can be creative.  I can make a new plan.  I can have highs and lows.  I can do anything I put my mind to…this I am sure of!  The key is balance and acceptance.  When my perspective is out of whack, it’s okay for a little bit.  As long as I am aware on some level that all things are going to change no matter how I live my life.  I can move along through it even though it will be uncomfortable because I know that this or that feeling won’t stay this way forever.  I can have balance about things and try to look at things as experiences that enrich my life and make me who I am.  It doesn’t mean I won’t be sad or mad or that I won’t make decisions that change my whole course or that I won’t make mistakes.  It’s all part of my path.  It is the path.  I am not “getting” somewhere.  Here is where I am.  This is it!  I just need to be authentic, real, honest, and as balanced as I can be with as good a perspective as I can have and accept that I have choices about how I do it each and every day!

This is just me, and I am okay with it!  Peace and love, Everyone!

Emmitt

So on May 25th, 2016, at 6:39 p.m. my world got even fuller.  My grandbaby, Emmitt, or as he is also known as (My G-baby, my Squishy baby, Grunty Baby or “him’s the tootest!”) was born!  Words really can’t describe what it’s like to be a Grammie, but I’m going to try.  He is the perfect blend of my son, Ethan, and his momma, Ashley.   They are great parents who love that little one so much!  They are handling their new roles like champs and with a great deal of ease, maturity, and poise.  I am so proud of them.  You know, it’s such an amazing thing to have children, to know that “this little human” is a part of you, but then when you get handed your grandbaby, well, that is a whole new level of life and awesomeness!!!  It’s legacy!  It’s spectacular!  I didn’t really know what that love was until that moment.  I remember getting the text from my son saying he was here, and I could come upstairs to see him for the first time.  I literally jumped up out of my seat and yelled in the middle of the hospital lobby.  It’s surreal.  The absolute two best days of my life happened on October 24, 1993, and October 20, 2005, when MY two babies were born.  But now I get to add a third best day, May 25, 2016.  Ten pounds, 14 ounces and 23 inches of the sweetest, most precious, most cuddly, preciousness ever!  I already have my next tattoo planned!  I love you, Emmitt!

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Waking Up…

So one night I am Skyping with my Great Teacher, a monk/priest in the Zen Buddhist tradition. As we are wrapping up the teaching, he asks me….”Are you awake?” I said…um…yes. I think so. Being awake requires one to be present in the moment and actually pay attention to what is happening in that moment all around you moment after moment. It’s the ability to be that way in each and every moment…something that escapes me 99.99% of the time every single day! When I try to be awake in the moment and pay attention, I try to hold on to that feeling, that presence of mind. This particular evening, I thought that when we get done with our teaching session, I would try to hold on to this thought long enough to walk through the house and onto the deck to tell my partner about what it meant to me to be awake. Now, let me also say that that requires walking through five small rooms to get to my deck. I am not proud of the fact that it took me literally two rooms to lose my present moment. I thought to myself, this is hard….remaining completely present in the moment and only being in this moment alone. I almost instantly and without any effort leap to the future or go to the past. It is very hard work maintaining “awakeness” every moment…moment after moment. Needless to say, by the time I walked through the five small rooms in my house to get to the deck, I had worked out so many things in my head, planned several events, figured out what we should have for dinner, redesigned my bathroom, etc. etc. all in my head and at the same time realizing that that is exactly what I was doing and thinking to myself…how is it that I can’t hold onto a thought for more than a nanosecond? Living in the moment, paying attention to the here and now takes practice every single day. On the rare occasion when all the stars align and I can actually stay in the moment for more than a moment, I feel more, I hear more, I see more, I love more….I am aware of more than just myself. I am awake…..even if just for a moment…..Zen Ragamuffin

My blog…

So why am I blogging? Really, I am not totally sure yet, but I think I need to say stuff. I have a lot of ideas about what I am “supposed” to say and how my blog should look, but really it’s about stepping off the edge and diving in, being vulnerable and letting others in. It’s about saying what’s on my mind and saying it not for approval, but because it’s part of my creative nature. It’s about helping and sharing.  It’s not about if someone likes it or not, because quite frankly there is a lot I have to say that a lot of people probably won’t like, but I can’t write for them. I have to get out what I want my legacy to be, my fingerprint on this life, what my children will someday look at and say to themselves, “Wow! my mom was pretty kick-ass.” My grandbabies will hopefully say, “I wish I could have met her” or “Can I hang a piece of her art in my room, Dad? What? She made jewelry, too, and she was vegan?  That is way cool.”

Yeah, I am vegan. I could write an entire book on my food journey, but I won’t because how way boring is that? Let’s just say I WILL write about veganism and animals…that’s just who I am.

I am also a Zen Buddhist in seminary studying to be a priest. That’s a huge part of my life and my journey.

I am an artist. I make stuff. I paint. I decorate. I do murals. I create. I love to create all sorts of things, and I guess this blog is just another outlet for creativity.

But most importantly, I am a mother. This is one of the main reasons I was put on this plane of existence was to be a mother. Talk about a book!!! Well, my two boys are the most important, awesome two boys a mother could ever have. I will write about them all the time.

I like to say things bluntly and to the point. I don’t like to sugar-coat anything. Say it like it is. Why waste time with anything less? Life is too short for guessing games.

Really I want to blog about stuff that may possibly help someone, too…help them to think outside the box, outside the matrix.  I want to use the matrix to educate about the matrix….stay tuned.  I want to empower people. I want to show them that they can do things that they don’t think they can do.  I want to share my life in the hopes that it could give hope, encourage, and give determination to those who need it.

So if any of the things I write about bring up emotion in you or give you something to talk about, great.  If you want to talk about any of it with me, that is cool, too.  I would be happy to chat.  I want what I say to create dialog.  This is me diving in.