Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stargazing: The Universe and I

I am staring up into the darkest, winter night sky. The moon is new, taking a night off and the air is crisp and clear. I am astounded by how many stars there are above me, only 20 minutes from the light polluted suburbs. 

There are meteors falling, space matter crashing from its orbital soaring in to the atmosphere of my planet and burning away before my eyes. I feel the weight of this universe on me now as gentle and as tight as the skin over my flesh.** This weight binds me, intertwines me with all of perceivable life. It holds in the reverberations of the whole universe, a vibrating energy within me. I am by my self but I can never be alone. What I see outside of me currently, this cosmic light show, this meeting of worlds, is but a sampling of what I carry inside of me. I am of an endless capacity, which I will never see to become full. Boundless. A simple, finite, human. As inconsequential as the next speck, yet a key stone among all.  Each one of us, the most important creation.

**The universe is my skin. We have known each other always and I fit seamlessly into it. It grows with me. It protects me. I damage it. I keep it clean. Through it I perceive at the most intimate level. Through me it comes to life and remains in motion. The universe and I. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Art School vs. Art Trail

Up until this week there has been one little thing standing between me and fully concentrating on the trail: college. But now, that's done. After a long 5 years, I have a Bachelors of the Arts with a Concentration in Photography from the Art and Design School of Kennesaw State University.

It sounds far more prestigious when I say it like that. And sadly, I feel that of all my graduating peers, I will be making the most use of my degree by walking up and down mountains for months on end. All that is say is... it's a bleak world for recent art grads. Art jobs nearly don't exist outside of simply deciding you're going to "be an artist" and making it work.

I truely do believe that my peers will keep shooting and keep creating art and I hope some are even lucky enough to go on to find freelance gigs, or do wedding or event photography. As for me, I have resigned to not pursuing such a route, simply out of personal taste, and am walking the trail as an artistic journey just as much as a spiritual and physical journey.

Not only have I vowed to still create art on the trail, with multiple "projects" already lined up in my mind, but I also want to use it as a time to ruminate on what I just spent half a decade focusing on. There are a million things I could do with what I just learned, including dropping it forever.

Unfortunately, I don't feel that being an artist is so much of a choice, but more of a natural way of being that you either act upon or don't. It is a means and way of perceiving your world. I sometimes feel frustrated by my lack of say in being an artist and that tells me I could ever drop it.

But with that being said, there is an obvious change that will come in my life when eating, sleeping and setting up/breaking down shelter become the most important things in my life. Art will either become wholly superfluous or the single most interesting thing I do.* How will this affect my work? Will I be too tired to make it or it be all I want to do? (Obligatory rhetorical question, my signature move)

In the end, I would love to have a large collection of fairly related cross sections of work I created while on the trail. It is a major season of someone's life if they choose to do this, and an interesting one at that, so I hope to make the best of it artistically. 

*I believe that statement is an exaggeration of two possible sides and feel that most likely neither will fully happen. It just gets the point across!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cohutta Wilderness Weekend!

As typical, it had been too long since I updated. But I come baring gifts of a photographic nature! (no pun intended)

In the beginning of November, my brother and sister in law were able to fly down from New Jersey for a weekend and the whole family went backpacking. Yes, we even convinced our mom to go. I am surprised she complied after Blood Mountain this summer.

We hit the trail head just about sunset and descended into a mountain valley via the Panther Creek Trail in the Cohutta Wilderness, a beautiful little sanctuary in north west Georgia. Several camp sites lie in the valley just moments away from a really neat waterfall that over looks the mountains. But nothing describes it better than photos!

This is an overlook as we were nearing the trail head. The Cohutta Wilderness isn't much more than a labyrinth of dirt forest service roads with lots of great trails.

 Here is a little pano from the top of the waterfall. It is a really cool place to watch the sun set or just hang out and take in all the greatness around you.

 This is my brother poking around the fire, as always. I have got to say though, he is a Michelin star chef among backpackers! And check out this great site. Three sides of notched logs to sit on. Someone paid attention in boy scouts. 

 This is just an example of the sort of things the catch my attention about nature. Love it. 

And this is how I leave my mark behind.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fruits of Labor

The last time I posted I said I would write again when I began to see the benefit of the changes I made in my life. I had sufficiently moped about the downsides of suddenly swinging my entire life into a new direction. But this time I am here to say that the good has began to sprout out of the ground works of my efforts.

With the inception of this blog, I challenged myself to learn to love. I am so calculated about and scared of love that it has fostered an emotional dam in my heart which is (was...? dare I say?) seemingly impossible for some one to breech. Don't get me wrong, I am a sweet and loving person who is passionate about many things in life. But there has seldom been a time when I have been able to properly receive and offer up meaningful and deep love. 

I have seen that my last relationship was a final effort to culbinate all I know about love and activate all the tricks up my sleeve to bring myself into coexistence another. A worthy cause, but I didn't know how to love very well and I didn't (and still don't) have many tricks to offer up. I think the reason I ended it was because I realized all of that. I realized that I needed to retreat and, like all things in life, that I needed to learn how to love before I could go out and actually do it. Go figure. 

A novel idea, but how does one do that?! How does one open up their heart to breathe in the fresh air that the fates are good enough grace it with? Well, for me, I just asked. I was raised via a down home southern baptist upbringing and through the drug haze and mind expansion of high school and college, I have retained the idea that there is something out there bigger than me. My hiking and travel supports this idea. When dangling your feet over the edge of a 700ft cliff of the western coast of Ireland and you spit into the wind and watch it swirl on forever out over the ocean... when you curse your way up a brutal mountain and sling your pack down on a peak over looking the blazing colors of a breathtaking 360 view of autumn in full, life restoring action, you can't deny the orchestration of life. 

So in that way, I challenged the universe, the world, God, whoever was listening to help out a real hard case with an ernest desire to change. And I'd say so far it is working. Simple as that. 

Of course, it is a bit more complicated, but I have just had wild revolutions one after another that seem so simple and yet are doing real work on my heart's ability to open up and just be. To accept and give. 

Things like, loving yourself is good practice for loving another person. I have a very healthy self esteem, but there is something more to loving yourself than thinking highly of yourself. You've got to be okay with the dirty, annoying, human side of yourself.

Things like, I don't have to be a persons very best friend to love on them. That I can just give them the time of day, respect them with all I have in me, and try to offer only the best I can to them in our interaction. I can walk away and never see them again in life and still have made a positive impact on them.

Things like, there are, unbelievably, men out there who are of my same breed. Suburban Georgia may not have many of them and the ones who are like me have either already run off or have stubborn plans to run off, much like own. But, they do exist!! They play guitar in the drivers seat when traffic is bad, they hike barefoot with me through mud when I forget the right shoes, they carry Buddha in their luggage and treat all people like I remember the bible saying Jesus treated folks. Maybe just one exists, maybe I will meet more on the trail. Still, this is massively inspiring and relieving.

In the end, I am just wanting to love people all the way from Georgia to Maine and leave on their hearts the memory of my own. Suddenly, I am feeling more prepared to do this!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

On Changing Your Life

I apologize for the hiatus in posting. It is a side effect of the busyness of my final semester of college. Bad excuse, I know.

The good news is that due to the amount of time that has past, I have something of substance to report: I’ve changed.

Oh, yeah, sure. After a month or two don’t we all? Yes, but how much? I suppose I should say, I have changed and made change quite a bit in a relatively short amount of time.

I blame it on the weather. (another bad excuse)

The cool breezes of fall began to creep into the Deep South and I was awakened. It’s my favorite time of year, a season where I feel most aligned with myself, and as it rolled in I realized that summer had taken a toll on me. My life and myself were like a lock and key that no longer fit together. I had been melted by the dog days of Georgia’s heat into something the crisp autumn leaves would never recognize. I simply awoke one day and realized I had to change my life, a lot of it.

This meant breaking up with my boyfriend in realizing that I needed to use my time more wisely and more accurately curate the influences in my life in order to help me become what I want to be. This meant getting back into training for the Trail: waking up early, making a decent breakfast, running at the mountain and doing strength workouts. This meant putting a lot more of my time and energy into my artwork, which is teetering on a very important crux at this time, and spending a lot more time in the studio and in the darkroom hashing out ideas. This meant recalibrating my priorities all together.

So I made these changes and began to live in this way.

And let me tell you, I do realize it all seems a little crazy to be suddenly struck with (and act on) this incredible need to change the way you live your life (particularly to the guy who gets dumped in the process), but this is not the first time I have done this and Billy** is not the first boyfriend to suffer the consequences. It is a very frustrating side of my self, that I see a truth in my life and have to follow it even when it seems to uproot me completely. I have very few explanations for friends, family and involved partners as to why I must follow these ideals in my mind besides just that I simply MUST.

All I can do is trust in them to lead me somewhere new.

And for the record, so far it kind of sucks. Change is not like a magical pill tat brings light into the darkness of feeling out of alignment with oneself. A lot of the time I am tired and don’t want to wake up and run. And my weekends are mostly spent at home, by myself, instead of watching a movie cuddling on the couch. And, over all, my social life is relatively lack luster in comparison to the summer months. And it seems that not matter how much work I try to get done and how much “extra” time I have opened up for myself, I cant seem to get ahead of the curve with school work and artwork.

So, why, then?

Because I have to trust myself that something good is forming in the ether. That I am being remade and reformed for a future I can’t see yet. Time will tell, and when it does, I will relay the news.

**Billy and I remain good friends and he some how has always understood and accepted how I function (or maybe more like malfunction). For that, and all the great things I was exposed to through him (I know how to order a cocktail now and really enjoy them, it was IMPOSSIBLE for me to do before no matter how hard I tried) I am forever grateful. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Strangers Named Jeremy

One of my biggest anticipations for the trail is all the people I will meet. The ones I will walk with and become as close as family to, the ones I will pass by and have a single conversation with, the ones who will  be there with a service or the ability to meet a need just as I am on the verge of loosing hope. Strangers of varying degrees. 

As of late, I have come across a couple of notable strangers in my life, ironically both named Jeremy. The first is a very normal looking guy, typically dressed in neat, yet casual, jeans and t-shirts, with a pair of those well built flip flops that seem like men always make last forever. If he is just standing there and you're not paying close attention, he retains that normal demeanor with the support of his short cut hair and closely watched after beard. But when he walks, and if you listen to what he says in conversation, you realize you're dealing with a fully developed hippie. He has a quiet and unconcerned swagger in his step and  between a plethora of recanted tales of travel, you can pick up on his disconnection with our society and it's ways of working. He is a thru-hiker and the son of my mother's co-worker. I met Strange Jeremy #1 at a bar for drinks, interesting enough, at the request of my mother.  More accurately, at the begging and pleading of my mother. I suppose she believed that he held the single nugget of information I needed to successfully and, more importantly to her, safely finish the trail. Nothing like the love of a mother. So I, very reluctantly, met with him only to find out, as if it should have been a surprise at all, that we have a lot in common. Go figure, that two people who wish to or already have put their body, mind, and soul through an extremely trying bout with wilderness, have some things in common. I am sure we would remain good friends and that I would make him my official AT Prep sensei, but he travels far and wide with a job that keeps him gone all but a few weeks of the year. So besides email, phones, and Facebook, all the modern modes of connection we use today, I have all but lost this friend, much as I will time after time with wonderful people on the trail in the months to come. 

The second Jeremy was pretty close to a normal guy as well, dressed in a naturally distressed Earl Small's Motorcycle shirt and a pair of beat up jeans. His short hair was the same flaming red as his impressively lengthy goatee hanging from his chin and his face had the freckled markings of gingerdom, contrasting with his thin rimmed glasses. His normalcy dissolved when he first spoke to me in his thick, twangy accent of a back country boy of North Carolina. I found myself standing in his front yard, camera in hand, on one of my photographic wanderings into the Southern Appalachian Mountains. What I had believed to be an old, abandoned store turned out to be his home. I wanted to photograph the gorgeously rusted out and over grown cars of yester year crowding the lot. A passerby pointed me toward the door with the name of a man who owned it all. I walked down a well worn, yet well hid, pathway to a white washed screen door which hardly served its purpose. I knocked and a voice answered to open the door. I peered into the darkness, lit only by sparse natural light, at an incredibly disheveled room that appeared to be an office, den, and storage space all in one. Directly in front of me, stretched out on a couch as if he had belly flopped right onto the length of it after carelessly letting the screen door flap closed  behind him was Strange Jeremy #2. I asked if it was alright if I photographed the area, repeating the name Raleigh, as the woman outside had told me to, in hopes of gaining credibility. He said he was the son of Raleigh, who was in the kitchen, but that he probably wouldn't mind. I looked in the direction he motioned toward the kitchen, thinking that my slight frame may not be able to weasel through the clutter to it even if I did possess the guts to try. I thanked him and walked out of the cave like dwelling to begin photographing. A moment later he came to find me outside and it was only now that I actually could see him well enough to describe later. He asked if I was headed up the river, that he was looking to get to PBR. U.S. 19 follows the Nantahala River all the way through the Nantahala National forest from Murphy, NC to Bryson City, NC and he lived right in the middle of the mountainous gorge. I told him I was and that I knew of the place, a popular post-rafting trip eatery named Pizza By the River, and that he could have a ride. He went back in to fetch his guitar and I continued photoing as I thought of all the ways my offer could could go bad. When he came back out, he stood around for a moment waiting for me to finish up and we headed out. Once in my car, he profusely spouted praise to the "nice" and "new" car. My car is nice (in my middle-class opinion), but it is nearly ten years old. No where near new to those who live around the suburbs of Atlanta. I suppose when all the cars at your house are being eaten by vines or are sitting on cinder blocks, a ten year old car looks really great. In the several miles of the winding, two-laned highway that we drove, he said several statements that alluded to the idea that he lived nearly fully off of government aid. Things about "disability" and "collecting back pay". We talked about the state of America and I tread very lightly, knowing this is rural North Carolina and also remembering the "Save America! Vote Republican!" billboards that his father had erected, a liberal's warning sign to stay away. I mentioned the trail and wanting to be outside of it all and taking care of myself. He told me about friends who still don't have drainage systems in their houses. Eventually, we fell to travel and though country meant two different things to us (to me meaning: Mexico, France, Japan, etc. and to him meaning: mountains, coast, plains, etc.), it appears that we will both go to dire extremes to uproot ourselves and explore another land other than home. He had sold prized four-wheelers and dirt bikes, I had moved back home to save money and rearranged my college graduation to work better for the trail. It was all very fast and nerve-racking, to consent to a ride and give it and trust the best will come of it. But it was an incredible experience to speak briefly with a person who I will never see again, from a place I now see I know very little about and am actually very uneasy in, and realize that despite the two worlds we were raised in, simply put, we just both long to satiate the same feeling of wanderlust in our lives. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Waiting on Spring

Most of my training for the AT thus far has been day hikes, with or with out a full pack, and running trails to build cardiovascular health and endurance. The occasional backpacking trip is thrown in whenever the schedule maker lightens up on the sentencing, but I am realizing that I have to ration my backpacking expeditions for the sake of those around me. That I still have a life here which I need to be tending to and can't go running off into the woods whenever I desire, at every chance that presents itself. I am having to balance out my Wants and Shoulds.

I want to go backpacking as often as I have the time. Every single stint of off time long enough would be spent in the mountains if I didn't have this guilty feeling of abandonment towards the life I am leaving behind. Being a daughter, friend, girlfriend and co-worker, I feel I have to be available to fill those roles and their expected deeds. As much as this feels like a hindrance, and honestly a total bummer, I feel that I owe it to the people in my life to be around up until the time I said I would be gone.

Come March, it is my sole job to walk off into the woods and be without all the people and pleasures of my old life and I feel that I should fear that more than I do. Quite the opposite, I feel nothing but excitement and yearning for the trail and the thought of leaving behind my life seems as if it should create a stirring inside me. It does not. I have no feeling towards it. Perhaps one will form. But from here stems the guilt.

Why am I so ready to leave? Why do I not fear leaving the people and places in my life behind? Am I that prepared? Am I that independent? Am I that cold of a person?  Or am I simply that hellbent on a dream?

Maybe, as in classic Carlie fashion, this disconnection is a simple defense mechanism to spare my heart the pain of walking out of all the people, places, and things I have come to love and depend on.

**An Edit: Lord Byron once wrote:
"There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is  society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more."

This only slightly consoles me, as I am not alone, yet I seem to be striking a cord with a misanthropic ass...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Woody Gap to Tesnatee Gap: A Photo Essay

The trailhead at Woody Gap: 
Beginning of the Blood Mountain Wilderness 
inside the Chattahoochee Forest 

 One of many views.

A tree, or trees, in the shape of an "h'. 
I saw it and exclaimed, "This hike brought to you be the letter 'h'!"
You know, like Sesame Street.

The Blood Mountain Shelter as you approach it from Jarrard Gap.

 To the right of the shelter as photographed above, there is a very big rock with a fantastic view from the top. Here is the newly (2011) rebuilt (wooden beams and ceiling) Blood Mountain shelter from the top. 

Part of the view from the top of the rock next to the shelter. 
I wish I could have gotten on the tip of the cliff jutting out on the right. 

The sun setting through the stormy clouds from the top of the rock.

Me, at the base of Blood Mountain, in Neels Gap.

 Mating bugs on the Jarrard Gap sign post.

 A fern gully in Miller Gap.

 Sun set from the top of Blood Mountain.

An indention in the cement floor of the shelter. I am not sure if the floor has been reworked since the shelter was first constructed by the CCC in the 1930's, but maybe it is an antique hammer form.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lessons Learned on a Mini Trip

About a month ago I had a near nervous breakdown about the Trail while visiting my brother and sister-in-law in New Jersey and I knew this marked the completion of another stage of preparation for the AT.  Upon first deciding to do the Trail, I felt the I need to read, a lot, and gain more and more knowledge, which I did until I was comfortable with what hiking the Trail meant. Then I got really, really stressed out. So I felt like I needed to put the books down, close the forums, and get out on some trails to work on my body, which I did until I had built up great stamina and endurance. Then I got really, really stressed out... again... and may have cried... just a bit to Evan and Katelyn when I was visiting them. I had the know how and the ability but I knew that wouldn't walk the trail for me. I knew I needed to get out and see where my preparation had gotten me, if any where. But nay, I have a job (sure looking forward to not having one of those while on the trail). Don't get me wrong, I love my job as a Custom Framer at Michael's. For an art student, it is a great part time job and I wholly enjoy it. Still, it seems to get two days off in a row is a mighty difficult thing. Until...!

Some how, miraculously, I got a Friday and Saturday off work. In the past 11 months my job this has not happened, so I took full advantage of it. My mom was able to take Friday off and we set out for a one night backpacking trip. I fully intend to have her meet up with me several times throughout my hike so I've got to break her into the game slowly.

We began at Woody Gap, about 20 miles North of the trail's official beginning point at Springer Mountain. Our ending mark for the first day was the summit of Blood Mountain, which is the highest peak on the AT in Georgia. The ascent up to Blood Mountain Shelter is a good 8 mile trek. I was expecting to die. Here's why: The day before (Thursday) a friend and I had hiked the 7+ mile Vineyard Mountain trail on Allatoona Lake, right near home, and, as a pre-game to backpacking, I carried a full pack. About 5.5 or 6 miles in, I was so lacking in energy and water and so, so over heated in the wicked humidity and heat, I was on the verge of vomiting. I count this trail as a tough little booger, for sure, but I only assumed that the highest peak in Georiga's section of the AT would be a lot worse.

To my pleasant surprise, I nearly bounded the 8 miles up the side of Blood Mountain on Friday. Maybe it was the adrenaline, or maybe it was just the fact that I made sure to east enough and keep eating enough to keep my energy up. Lesson #1: Eat! A lot! On a normal day, I don't eat much or often. When backpacking, I have learned that I can eat whatever and whenever and it's only a good thing. Lesson #1 is because of Lesson #2. Lesson #2: Hiking IS NOT Backpacking. Backpacking is like hardcore hiking, but not the other way around. I can bust out 12 to 14 miles a day hiking and do it with fair easy, but with 25lbs. on your back, its a whole different game. That's why I nearly bottomed out on the lake trail. It had been so long since I had backpacked that I forgot that it is much more demanding, and, like I said, that you've got to eat!

So we made it to the Blood Mountain Shelter with only the best sort of rain on the way up, light enough to cool you and the air but not heavy enough to slow you down. The shelter has a cement floor and rock walls, but the wooden roof and support beams were redone in 2011, more or less because the joint was rotting away. It was a really nice set up and just outside was a rock formation even taller than than the shelter itself. No one else stayed at the shelter that night but everyone who stopped by climbed up the rock to see the view. I struck up an interesting conversation with a guy named Will who stopped by for a short hike on the way back to Sandy Springs from his grandmother's farm just outside of Blairsville. He had attempted a thru-hike a few years back but had run out of money in Pennsylvania, but he had a lot of good advice to give me. Which brings me to Lesson #3: Always engage strangers! Even just this over nighter showed me that this is probably the very best part of the trail. There was a lot of spirit lifting beauty to be seen at every switch back and mountain top, so that is saying a lot.

After dinner my mom and I drank wine from a box (she requires certain luxuries) and we suffered through a frightfully chilly night. Even during the day time it was 20° cooler on the mountain top. After a while a busted out my hammock (brought just in case I needed to sleep in it) and wrapped myself up in it and finally was able to sleep. Lesson #4: It's better to be too hot than to be too cold. I foolishly anticipated temperatures based off of what I had been experiencing at home and packed a sheet to cover up with. Dumb. I now know that it is definitely worth a bit more weight carried to be warm enough. Even if it seems too hot for a bag liner, I am sure I could have worked out a leg out, leg in system.

We woke to a beautiful morning and no hot breakfast. Lesson #5: Bring back up matches! Or, better yet, watch what you do with your matches. Don't throw them into your pot all nilly-willy when you just cleaned it out with water. Yeah... So I ate a Snickers bar. Backpacking 101: you can eat a Snickers bar whenever and however often you want, even for breakfast. After that sad realization, we started the day's hike, another 8 miles. Two miles in, we hit Neels Gap, which North Bound thru-hikers hit on their 3rd to 5th day on the trail. The guys who work at this shop and outfitter are awesome and they are willing to go through your pack for you, chucking out and sending home the things you think you will need but are really weighing you down. I'll be hitting them up in the months to come for sure.

We set out for Tesnetee Gap and not too long in my mom was dragging, like really, I mean even more so than she was before. I could feel some blisters trying to form, my boney hips were getting it good and the collar bone I broke almost a decade ago was beginning to bug me but due to my training it didn't slow me all that much. In her old age, she claims, her joints were getting to her. I could visibly see her pain, as her knee began to hurt her more and more. She's tough and I am proud of her for doing so well, but I bet it will take a while before I can get her out on the trail again. For me, there were points where the shine began to fade and I started getting cranky in my head, cursing inclines in stead of conquering them. Lesson #6: Take a break when your body says to. As soon as I took a break, aired out my feet and got some food (aka energy) in me, I was loving on the mountains again even as they seemed to endlessly go on.

At long last, we reached  Tesnetee Gap and struck up a conversation with a middle aged guy with a pick up truck. I had previously offered my mom a deal: I walk the last mile of our trek, to Hog Pen Gap where the other car was parked, alone and come back to fetch her down the road. But this stranger swore the last peak was impassible in this heat and asked if we wanted a ride. Before I could politely decline and tell him our plan, my mom had already accepted, thanked him and gotten her pack halfway in the bed of the truck. It appeared she wanted this badly, so I gave up the last mile for the ride. On this Trail this guy would be known as a Trail Angel, someone who offers a hiker a ride, gives them food or money, or who simply in some way helps out a hiker in need. So we rode up the road a bit in the bed of this guys truck and he dropped us where the car was parked, thus ending a 16+, two day trip. A stellar way to wrap it up, even though I had to shave off the last mile.

I hope to have several other mini backpacking trips just to get more accustomed to trail life. During my two days out, as I was laying in the pitch black mountain night, I had a fleeting thought, "I can't wait to be back at the car." This is not because I wanted to leave the trail, but because I wanted something that I knew, something comfortable, a natural human yearning. Before I get on the trail, I want to break down this barrier that makes the wilderness out of my comfort zone. I want to know it like I know my car. I want to pitch my tent and cook a meal as automatically as I plug in my music, pick a song and throw my car in drive.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Lists

I am currently reading a book by Zach Davis, a funky thru-hiker of the 2011 season, called Appalachian Trials. Yeah, it took me about 30 pages in to stop by mind from automatically seeing 'trails' instead of 'trials'. But, for anyone looking into the trail, this guy has a very new approach to preparation. As expected, of course you want to put a lot of thought into good gear and get your body in shape, but that doesn't prepare you at all for the hardest parts of the trail. This, as I anticipate, would be the multiple mental break downs had after days spent hiking endless miles in rain, snow or heat, evading life threatening lighting storms, running across large animals beyond human control, wrapping up the 100th blister, cooking up yet another batch of chicken ramen, and the unmatched filth that one lives in for months on end. Appalachian Trials focuses on these moral downs, the most dangerous pit falls, as the most important part of preparation. Being mentally and emotionally ready for the low points is what keeps someone on the trail, according to Davis. In his book he suggests creating a series of lists to have on hand that remind you why you're on the trail, what the trail will do for you, and how you will feel if you don't complete the trail. I can see how after a long and terrible day, your perspective can be changed by reading all the reasons you wanted to do this and all the reasons you will hate yourself until the end of time if you give up. So I've taken his advice and filled out my lists, which I will review often both before and on the trail.

I am Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail because...
1. I want to revert back to a more simple lifestyle
2. I love and respect Mother Nature and want to know her better
3. I want to jump start a new life for myself
4. I want to do something that many other people are not doing
5. I want to discover who I am with out the influences I have always had around
6. I want to discover who I am in the toughest moments of my life
7. I want to meet more people like me
8. I want to disconnect from mainstream life
9. I want to challenge myself with the seemingly impossible
10. I want a real education
11. I've graduated, now is the time, might as well
12. I want to say I've done it
13. I want to be that friend or family member that people I know think of, talk about and worry for
14. I hate working in retail, at a computer desk and never want to be in the food industry
15. I need to figure out what I love most and how to do it for all of my life
16. I want to escape
17. I want to learn how to love

When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I will... 
1. Think I can do damn near anything ever
2. Have bragging rights til the day I die
3. Have months and months of good stories to tell at bars, parties and social gatherings
4. Be wholly self sufficient and know that I can rely fully on myself, nature and God
5. Have a better grasp of who I am as a person
6. Have a more clear idea of what I want to do with my life
7. Have a skill set I am proud of and feel every one should have
8. Know I can live a more simple life than the modern day monster of America can handle
9. Have met a large amount of incredible people and had awesome, once in a life time experiences

If I give up on the Appalachian Trail, I will...
1. Not want to come back home and face my old life
2. Have no choice but to fall back into my old lifestyle
3. Have to settle for that old lifestyle forever
4. Experience extreme shame, grief and misery
5. Prove to myself that I am what I've always been afraid to be
6. Never want to try anything big and scary again
7. Feel I never deserve anything big and exciting again
8. Fail, fail, fail

The numbers denote no level importance and these will grow on and on, but for now, this is how they stand.

Monday, July 23, 2012

On Loving and Leaving

A long time personal fact that I simply accept: I have been wrought by genetics and life experiences to have scaling walls of inaccessibility. My newly "official" boyfriend knows this well from the past months he has patiently spent watching me dive in and out of his grasp based on my mental state of mind, but never my feelings for him. After a perfect alignment of influences only the quirkiness of life could orchestrate, I have for the first time realized I want people to flow in and out of my life with the same intensity I let places flow through me.

Ever the traveler and nature lover, in October of 2011 I decided to fully buy into the escapist lifestyle.  I easily committed my mind, heart and body to the grueling feat of hiking 2,181 miles over the 14 states that make up the Appalachian Trail. This means leaving the only home I've ever known and all the friends and family I have. All of this is given up daily as I work toward my goal and on that Fall day I gave it up nearly without thinking, instantly grabbing onto the idea as it popped into my head. Why, then, did it take me months of deliberation and hearty efforts at fooling myself about my feeling to make myself take a chance on a boy who has captured my heart? To let him in seemed a more treacherous trial which I feared more than 6 months of living alone in the wild. My default setting is to flee from the closeness of others and keep tight reigns on any unruly emotions that do dare to arise in me. This characteristic is often met with the soft berating of more open hearts reminding me of the optimists' most idyllic cliché, "It is better to have loved and to have lost than to have never loved at all." This Hallmark money maker creates a deep sickness that grows in the center of my gut when I hear it, not only because of its utter fool-hearted cuteness, but because, I fear, more than love itself, that it is true.

This is one of man's greatest uses of fear: to be able to stack them against each other, see which looks as if it will hurt your life the most, and hinder you from living the way you've always believed you would. I have laid my fears side by side and watched as they trailed off in the distance. For the first time, I have seen the paths they create for me. So I am mounting up on this greater fear, using it as a vehicle to either tear down the walls around my heart or to swoop down out of the sky and rescue my heart, taking it to more fertile land.

I have a lot of questions in this endeavor: Am I setting myself up for a hard beginning of the trail as I leave behind a boy I've come to love between now and then? Will the stresses of life, his two jobs, my one job and last semester of college, pull us apart and render this all for not? Maybe, most namely, will I eventually decide that this path of the loving optimist is not for me and go back to responding to its romantic motto with the same pessimistic quip I have for years: "Easier said than done."? These are, of course, only questions time can answer. And I am sure it will.

As for now, I have a boy who can some how over look the glaring hang ups that render me low on the "ideal mate" ladder and a dream that keeps me crushing out the miles in 67% humidity on 92˚ days.

Here comes a rambling tale about love and leg work.