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!!!

My hike on the AT!

Okay, so now that I have your attention, yes, I hiked on the AT!  Granted it was only about roughly two (2) miles of the entire Appalachian Trail, which is roughly 2,200 miles give or take.  It changes yearly by a few miles because of re-routes, etc.,  but I was hiking the AT nonetheless!  I was excited about it, and I imagined what it would be like to actually thru-hike the AT someday.  Will I ever do that?  Who knows, but I can certainly aspire to be a better hiker.  So let’s back track a bit, shall we?

About a month and a half ago, I am sitting around my van with my family, and I mention to my sister that the next big thing I want to tackle and try to do is backcountry hike.  I really want to get away from it all, get away from the hustle and bustle and be one with nature.  Within a few minutes, she had pulled up a local hiking group and sent it to me to check out.  Within a couple of days I had chosen a Backcountry 101 hike to try.  I had chatted via email with the group leader for the hike and discussed gear, food, and my lack of being in shape.  He assured me that they would have gear for me to use if I didn’t have certain pieces and reassured me that I could do this trail.  It was only a couple miles in to the shelter and the elevation was 300 – 500 feet per mile.  It was to Max Patch in North Carolina, and we would be hiking into the Roaring Fork shelter for the night.

Image result for max patch

Image result for roaring fork shelter

So here is my modus operandi.  When I set my sights on doing something and I actually decide, this is what I am going to do, then I dive straight into it.  I study.  And when I say study, I mean study!  I read.  I watch videos.  I look at reviews.  I go to company websites and study dimensions, details, tutorials, etc. on whatever it is I am thinking about.  I watch other people doing what I want to do on YouTube and learn from them.  I write lists.  I practice.  In other words I do everything I can to be completely prepared as possible.  So that’s what I did with this as well.  Now, mind you I don’t have a lot of “hiking” gear.  I have some camping stuff and some things I use for my camper van, but a lot of that was either too small, too big, too heavy or just not appropriate for backcountry hiking, because with this type of hiking you want to have as light a pack as you can have because you are carrying everything you need to live and survive in the wilderness on your back.  And the hike leaders all suggested not to purchase a lot until after the clinic because they were going to teach us all about the different types of equipment one would need for this type of hiking.  So I borrowed a backpack, trekking poles and rain jacket just to get through this weekend.  I did purchase a sleeping bag just because I didn’t want to borrow that, and I had a few of the others things I needed.

Now, let’s talk about me and my physical issues.  I am overweight….(no, I am not one of those teeny tiny little vegans who only have salads and eat grass….I LOVE FOOD!)  I have a bad knee from a previous injury, and my back is not the greatest, but I thought hiking would be a great way to get into shape, lose weight and strengthen my back and knees so I was willing to push through.  However, about two to three weeks before I was to go out on trail, my left foot started hurting, the ball of my foot, out of nowhere!  Seriously!  I was so frustrated.  I did everything I could to try and help it and it just didn’t get better.  So I made an appointment with a podiatrist but that appointment wasn’t going to happen until after my hike, so what to do.  I thought about canceling because I didn’t want to do further damage to my foot, but I was so excited about going and I had done so much to prepare I didn’t want to give in either.

(SIDE NOTE:  For those of you who don’t know or couldn’t guess, I am vegan, and I am a member of the Gentle Barn here in East Tennessee, an animal sanctuary.  One of the sweet animals they have rescued was Dudley, the cow, and he was precious.  He was rescued from a farm when some wire got wrapped around one of his legs, and it had to be amputated.  He was brought to the University of Tennessee to be fitted for a prosthetic and was rehabilitated.  People from around the world came to see Dudley and hear about his amazing story.  I went to meet Dudley with my boys, and it was an experience I will never forget.  Over the two years that Dudley was with the Gentle Barn, he had to go in for different updates and procedures to his prosthesis which is normal.  A week or so before my hike, Dudley had to go in for another adjustment because of a small wound on his residual limb.  The short story is that Dudley became ill and they made the very difficult decision to let him go.  Dudley passed on June 24th, 2017. Dudley changed lives.  He was an ambassador for a vegan lifestyle.  He helped children and adults suffering with their own emotional pain.  He was a beautiful spirit that will be missed forever.  For more information, please visit http://www.gentlebarn.org/tennessee/. )

 

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So I am definitely NOT comparing my story to Dudley’s, but when I heard about this, I was so very sad.  I loved Dudley so much, and I thought how great would it be to hike in his honor!  He had a prosthesis.  He was a survivor.  He never gave up, and showed the world how determined he was to live and thrive!  He would be my inspiration!  So that was it.  I was going to hike for Dudley!  With every painful step, if I hurt at all, I just thought about what he must have gone through before he got help and rescued and what he went through all the time adjusting to his prosthesis. And I kept going!

We learned sooooooo much.  We learned about survival skills.  We learned about gear, pitching tents, how to filter water, cook stoves, backpacks, simple first aid, how to hang a bear bag and why, trekking poles, hiking boots versus trail runners and trail shoes, gaiters, how to keep food warm longer, how NOT to walk around in the dark, and the list goes on and on.  When I got my tent set up and finally crawled in to go to sleep, I was scared.  I heard so many (scritchy-scratchy) noises, it made me crazy.  I didn’t know if it was mice, snakes, bears or what.  I imagined all sorts of things.  I finally decided that if I was going to try to sleep at all, I would have to try to put ear plugs in to drown out the insanely loud forest.  I thought which is worse, hearing “it” coming or being oblivious to “it” and dealing with it when “it” happened.  LOL…I slept pretty terrible.  I kept waking up.  I got cold.

Oh, yeah, and then “IT” HAPPENED!!! I had to pee in the middle of the night!!!  I had decided before I went to bed that if I HAD to get up and pee in the night I would just do it behind my tent a little ways away and then take care of “things” in the morning.  I wasn’t about to climb out of my tent in the dark night and trek about 100 yards away to a privy that was lined with what I was sure to be snakes, mice, spiders, and probably bears just waiting to eat me alive in the middle of the night!  I am sure you are laughing right now, but for real, this is what I was thinking.  Well, the thing is, I didn’t just have to pee if you know what I mean, which meant that I had to make the trek.  So I held it.  I held it for a long, long time, PLANNING!  I held it until it was either make the trek or there was going to be a catastrophe.  So I get my headlamp (which was way too dim for backcountry hiking), I got the little flashlight that one of the leaders gave me that would light up a football stadium, and my phone flashlight so I could set it down and light up the privy.   That is 3 lights, count them, 3!  Everyone had said that if you have to go to the privy in the night you can just turn on the lowest beam so that you don’t wake people with bright lights.  HAHAHAHAHAHA….not!  I lit up everything.  I am pretty sure I could have landed planes with the lighting upon my person.  Then when I got to the privy, we were taught to slam down the toilet lid so that if there were creepy crawly things under the lid, they would be dislodged and you could safely sit upon it.  Trust me when I say, I slammed that lid.  I slammed it hard.  Finally taking care of business while trying to light up the night sky in the middle of the forest was quite the adventure.  I thought what in the hell am I doing?  Well, the truth is I am having an adventure of a lifetime.  Back to the tent I went with a renewed sense of accomplishment.  I somehow felt like a pro now.  I had conquered the demons.  I had faced my fears.  I felt stronger somehow.  I think I drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the night, and when morning came, I felt like I was capable of just about anything.  I thought I can probably thru-hike the AT!!! I drank coffee, ate my granola bar and peanut butter, and went to the stream to learn to filter water.  It was glorious!

We packed up camp, and hiked up to the top of Max Patch.  It’s a beautiful “bald” as they are called where there are no trees and you can see 360 degrees.  It was breathtaking.  It was a feeling I can’t describe.  I cried at the top because it was just so emotional to see such beauty and to know I had accomplished so much to get there, and not just going to the bathroom at night in the forest, but the physical pain, the emotional game, all the steps of my life that brought me to that point.  That was it.  I knew this is what I wanted to do.  This is how I want to live out my years.  I want to go on as many hiking adventures as I can.  I want to day hike, backcountry hike, section hike, you name it!  It was so challenging but so rewarding.  Our teachers were amazing, patient and kind.  They helped me every step of the way.  I made new friends who were helpful, funny and caring.  I came home and joined a women’s hiking club that I plan on doing a lot more hiking with.  I am going to get in shape on the trails.  I am going to become stronger, and long-term goal is to section hike the AT one day!

I was the last one on the trail.  I was the slowest up and down the mountains.  It was muddy, slippery, wet, cold, hot, and everything in between.  It was hard and challenging in every way.  I was sucking wind.  I was scared in the dark. I was nervous and scared, AND I DID IT ANYWAY!  It was one of the greatest experiences of my life!

Since I have been home, I have studied and done so much more research on what and how to hike safely.  I started making gear lists and learning about what I need to do.  I have started studying orienteering.  I have joined some online backcountry/hiking groups to learn more.  I have studied trails and gotten apps.  Hiking is my new adventure in life, and I plan to make the most of it.  Stay tuned.  Peace, love and hike on!

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!