All Day on the AT/LT

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My Final Course. It was not 15 miles, actually.

 

It was Thursday when I decided that Sunday seemed like a good day to hike from Route 103 in Shrewsbury, VT to Route 4 in Killington along the AT/LT.  Some research informed me that it was approximately 15 miles.  At my typical speed, I imagined it would take me eight hours.

 

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The Clarendon Lookout.

 

Eight hours, trekking through the woods. It’s peak foliage around here – makes doing anything except taking in the breathtaking world around me difficult.  My eyes are literally delighted at all times by the applause of color.  I was excited to spend all day melting into the forest that had dyed its leaves to become a redhead like me. I couldn’t think of anything better in the whole world… except swimming.

 

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It’s just so gorgeous.

 

 

I got off to a later-than-I-wanted-to start.  Mostly because I was just slow that morning. I was sure it would only take me 8 hours, but I packed a head lamp and extra water just in case.  If I’ve learned anything from adventure swimming, it’s to be prepared.

The first 4 hours or so were just what I expected – colors and deciduous trees, random rock walls, and dirt road crossings.  It was enchanting and breathtaking and hard to keep walking and to not stop to look at or take pictures of EVERYTHING.  The best part was that I scarcely saw 6 other humans the entire first half of the hike – it was just the brown dog and I.

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Guri.  My most favorite.

At some point though, I began to be aware that I was dawdling a bit more than I should and I tried to be more mindful of where I was going and less enamored of the whole experience.  But it was hard not to romanticize the bridges I came to, or the country roads and farms and all the trees and that beautiful blond boy by the river…

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The last vista I had time to enjoy.

I was just entering the Pico portion of the hike- about halfway through – when the landscape gradually changed.  Everything got quieter as I got farther from civilization.  The last person I saw was at a shelter just before I began my upward trek towards the ski resort.  I didn’t see any more people, had no cell phone service and felt myself pulled from enchanting fairy forest to something more wild and more demanding.  It might have almost been sinister, if I had stopped to think about the uneasiness I felt as I made my way deeper into a thought provoking silence.

It was so far away from anything human or machine that I found my ears reaching for sound as far as they could.  The wind was all I heard.  The wind and Guri and all my thoughts.

I thought about the folks I am coaching at swimming for a long, long time.  Water and kicking and breathing and strokes and what might work for one person and what might work for another.  I thought about school.  I thought about my house and the upcoming winter and surviving it all.

I thought about… about never getting married. Ever. I thought about how I’ve always wanted to get married and have children – about how I could not imagine a more noble venture than to be a wife and a mother.  But what if… what if some people are just supposed to be single?  What if they have to be single, not so that they can do whatever the hell they want, but because they just need to be devoted to something greater?  What if I build a business that gives 100 fathers the ability to raise their children?  What if that allows 100 mothers to stay at home?  Can’t I trust that that is enough?  Can’t I trust that my legacy will be carried on through some other means than genetics?  I could mentor or something. Nobody and nothing owes me my hopes and dreams.  Would it really be bad to be just me – all by myself forever?  None of my friends will let me go crazy.

Maybe… maybe it’s just finally time to stop trying.  What a relief.

The trees changed.  No more leaves crunching under my feet.  Pines everywhere.  I was thinking about Christmas for over an hour when I realized that it was probably because of the pine scent in the air.  The terrain was much harder here, too… narrow and rocky and severe.  Many, many trees had been uprooted in some violence and had been tossed to and fro every which way.  The forest was denser, stranger.  It gave me pause.  I did not stop for photos. Something about the aura, I knew, would never translate through an image.

And then suddenly the miles of quiet, dark forest opened to the Killington Shelter and I knew exactly where I was.  The familiarity was strange, but welcome.  I briefly debated about going a different, shorter route down, but I thought I should have enough time to make all 15 miles.  It was only about 3 o’clock and I should have only had about 3 hours left.

I continued on my path.  It wasn’t much farther up the trail that I misjudged the step off a wood walkway and violently rolled my ankle.  I fell to my knees and gasped.  I waited as the pain subsided.  My first thought was that that wasn’t good.  My next thought was that it’s a good thing I have swimmer ankles – all flexible and limber – and maybe I didn’t hurt myself that bad.  But I knew that my ankle was going to hurt.  If not now, then later.

I got to my feet and put some weight on it.  It hurt, but supported me.  I let out a sigh of relief and kept going.

I have always been surprised by the things that do and don’t scare me.  I am not afraid of spiders or open water or public speaking or snakes.  I am not afraid of heights or flying.  I am not all that scared of the dark, anymore, either.  I am not afraid of walking miles in the woods by myself with my dog. But this – this ankle hurting in the middle of the woods with night falling in October – had all the components to be a real problem.  Every step hurt just enough that I was becoming evermore concerned.

I began to run scenarios.  Who did I know who could come and get me if I couldn’t continue?  I thought of several strapping young men who could rescue me and quickly checked their calendars to find them all too busy.  But if I really, really needed help, they would come.  I know people who would come.  And what would they do for me when they got here?  I’d still have to walk out.  I’m a freaking Viking – they aren’t going to carry me out of here.

Somewhere after mile 12, I realized that I wasn’t going to be going the speed I wanted down the mountain.  Additionally, based on the map on my app, it was definitely farther than the 3 miles I should have left.  I was glad to see that I now had cell service and I quickly texted Apostle Jim and Natalie to let them know where I was and what had happened and my concerns.  Just knowing that they knew put my troubled heart at ease.

I guess that was all I needed to do to settle back in for the final few miles.  I was already planning a three day hike over the Fourth of July next year.  I’d bring my brother.  Brothers are good for adventures.  We’d camp.  On the trail.  It would be awesome.

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Somewhere in between rolling ankles and before nightfall.

Darkness began to fall.  My steps began to be more and more painful. I rolled my ankle a second time, but I didn’t cry.  It was obviously becoming more unstable.  Micah had arrived at the car parking lot meet up point and texted me.  I was glad I still had cell phone service and called him.  He started up the trail to find me.

 

I was never so excited to see anybody ever as when Micah appeared on the trail, calling Guri by name.  For her part, she stopped and stared at him, bemused or bewildered or something – as if she didn’t expect to meet anybody she knew out here.  It took her a moment to realize that it was Micah and she did her happy dance greeting – wiggling in delight and rubbing her body against his legs.

We continued on down together in as night took over.  Just talking with Micah was everything I needed and I walked my way out of the woods without help.  I don’t know if it was pride or just that I really didn’t need any help.  I am a redhead and we are more pain tolerant – I think.  I wondered if it is a bad thing to be so fiercely independent…

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The swelling was much better last night after icing it.  You almost can’t tell which one!

 

But I think, sometimes, you just have to walk your own path out.  It doesn’t matter how you got wherever you got, you just have to keep going until you finish.  I did the responsible things and informed the right people and had all the right equipment with me.  I kept my discomfort from becoming fear.  That was the key.  Because fear just becomes panic and panic makes you even more stupid than religion does.

It was one of the best days I’ve had.  Spending all day in the woods with my dog… it is a beautiful, beautiful life I get to live.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Honestly.

Rolled ankles and all.

The Dog, The Heart

I have been afraid, lately.  I am facing a very long layoff this winter and with the investment of time and money for school – it troubles my heart more than my mind. My intellect sees the risk and the reward  and I am looking forward to navigating the future with excellence.  I am excited to make the most of this gift, but the emotional weight of it is heavy.  I have been exploring the option of leasing my house and moving away. It feels like losing my home.  My safety and security.  My comfort. A place where I belong.  Home – it’s my home.  And, ultimately, along with that home is all that hope I had for a family of my own.  I feel like I am losing all of that.  The feelings are not true, but they are real.  I feel like a failure unable to care for that which is mine, which is also not true.  This is a season and it will pass.

I spend a lot of time ordering my thoughts – over and again.  I haven’t been so successful at being a well adjusted human being this week.

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The other night, I decided to go for a walk.  It wasn’t cold, yet, but the moon was sharp and bright.  I left the farmhouse and walked down the driveway, past the pond.  My restlessness was not a friend to me, but the fresh air and the stars were.  On this particular moonlit walk, I watched as Guri scampered ahead to play.  Her sleek form went stalking through the grass and bounding through the brush.  She would resurface on the road some paces ahead and turn to look at me.  Her tongue hung out of her mouth, panting for joy as she waited, quivering with delight, to see where I would go next.

“Are we still going this way, mom?” She seemed to ask.

When my feet continued forward, she took her cue and bounded into the grass and brush again.

I watched her watching me.  I watched her awareness of me.  She kept me in her sights, kept me in her senses.  She was content to roam around me without bolting to some wild freedom.  I am her anchor.

She is tied to me.  Without leash.

Here, she can roam and run freely because she is safe.  There is nothing to hurt her here on the happy land that is the farm where we have found our temporary rest. That brown dog was such a picture of what I wanted for my poor, pathetic heart.  She doesn’t care where we go or if I happen to leave her for a time.  She trusts me.  She knows me.  She knows I will come back.  That I am doing what is best.  If only my feelings could be so certain that I am going to be okay, that this is not failure…

Someday, I want my heart to realize that my spirit is its anchor.  Not a house.  Not a farm.  Not an idea of a family someday that it so desperately hopes for.  None of those things.  In fact, I will let them all go for the path that takes me toward my purpose. I want my heart to keep me in her senses and awareness… to not be so afraid that it can’t do anything except fight against me with all its might.

Because we must go forward, little heart.  Because this is the best option.  Because it will all be okay in the end and maybe it won’t be what you expect… regardless, there’s nothing to fear.  Nothing.  Nobody will let you fall.

Trust me.

Recovery

I overdid it.  Again.

It started as a tightness in my neck and ended with me physically holding my shoulder in place with my opposite hand.  I listened to it crackle and pop. I tried to keep it still and in place.  I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad.  It doesn’t hurt too much.  It’s fine.  It will be fine.  I need to swim.  You don’t understand.  I need…

To recover.

Again.

Too much energy.  Too much passion.  Not enough strength.

But I need…

I don’t know what I need.  I need the moonlight.  I need to listen to her silent echo across the black sky.  I need the stars.  I need the crisp, cold air.  I need the trees to hide me in their beauty.  I need the mountains.  I need to sink into the cold water with breath and will power alone.  I want to be lost and found, wild and free.

It takes so long to gain the strength particular to the journey.  The one comes as you participate in the other.

When will these steps forward not be marked by steps back?

So we stop.  But we don’t stagnate.  Back to step one.  Strengthening.  Devote your passion to the pursuit of wholeness.  Funnel your energy into embracing the earth without injuring yourself.

You are not taking a step back.  All of them are leading forward.

It’s not too much to ask to take just a little more time.