The “AT Experience”

I recently read the Summer 2017 issue of AT Journeys magazine from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). One article included the official ATC policy on the AT experience. I found these policies interesting to ponder…especially as they relate to the therapeutic value of hiking the Appalachian Trail with my daughter “Andowen.” (Read more about how hiking helps her HERE and HERE.)

“Integral to the trail experience are:

–Opportunities for observation, contemplation, enjoyment, and exploration of the natural world.

Time for contemplation when camped beside a waterfall along the AT in Virginia

–A sense of remoteness and detachment from civilization.

The world disappears when sitting atop a mountain above the clouds!

–Opportunities to experience solitude, freedom, personal accomplishment, self-reliance and self-discovery.

Writing in a journal and making drawings is a great way to record and process our experiences

–A sense of being on the height of the land.

Sometimes it feels like “on a clear day, you can see forever”

–Opportunities to experience the historic and pastoral elements of the surrounding countryside.

If only the ruins we pass could talk…what stories we would hear!

–A feeling of being part of the natural environment.

Hugging Keffer Oak–the second largest tree along the AT. It has an 18′ diameter and is over 300 years old!

–Opportunities for travel on foot, including opportunities for long distance hiking.”

“The mountains are calling and I must go…” –John Muir

I’m sure many of these experiences can be found in other places in nature…but they certainly are part of why we continue to return to the Appalachian Trail for more backpacking adventures!

Advertisements

Adventure…some days it’s HARD!

The number one rule of successful adventure is–Never Quit On a Bad Day! As  John Denver sings “Some days are diamonds, Some days are stone…” It is important to remember that there WILL be sparkly, bright days again, even when this particular one feels dark and heavy. 

Most days we can celebrate the “diamonds” found by spending extended time in the mountains/woods. We enjoy seeing the beautiful views, hearing stories from fellow hikers, and feeling tired pride at the end of the day–the pride of a job well done.

On other days, however, this all feels like a heavy, cumbersome “stone.” We wonder why we are out here. We get teary and angry and just want to quit. (Take a moment of silence in sympathy for my poor hubby when we finally have cell coverage after a few hard days in a row….)

A few days into our trip, daughter Andowen pulled off her backpack and plopped down beside a cross-trail. She was adamant that we were going to hike down to a hostel, call daddy and go HOME right then. I insisted that we would talk about it two days later–after a night in a soft bed and a belly full of town food. We argued about it…but eventually she grabbed her pack and angrily stomped off down the trail. 

Another day I was exhausted. I was physically tired of hiking day after day…and mentally weary of worrying about whether or not there would be water at the next shelter. (The drought in this area causes us to have to carry pounds of extra water each day…ugh!) Being careful to save water so we can make dinner even if the water source near the shelter is dry causes us to skimp on drinking while hiking. Dehydration is a terrible thing! The unrelenting steep climb at the end of that day made things worse. By the time I got to the shelter, all I wanted to do was crawl in my sleeping bag and give up. 

On hard days, adventure comes down to attitude. It is important to acknowledge and feel the full range of emotion. But then, we need to choose. We remind Andowen to reframe the negatives–and look for the positives. This is the first time she has felt homesick—but that also means she finally has friends and roots in our new location. For me, I remind myself to let go of worrying about things I can not control (my daughter’s emotions, the lack of water, how much my muscles ache).

And we remind each other on those hard days—Never Quit on a Bad Day!

Climbing Mountains

I am frequently reminded on this current backpacking adventure of a saying I heard this summer: 

“Stairs are just organized mountains”

Mountains are beautiful, but can be intimidating to hike up and down. 

(Can you find “Andowen” starting up this mountain?)


Sheer rock faces or slippery steep dirt are intimidating. It sometimes feels like we will fall off the side of the mountain! 

It is always easier if there is at least rock jumble or tree roots to help us keep our footing. 

And, of course, rock steps or log steps are a huge help. (Thanks, volunteer trail maintainers!) 

 

So next time you see a set of stairs,  whether rustic or fancy, remember to say thanks for those “organized mountains” that make life easier! 

 

Coral of the Forest?

This backpacking trip we have seen amazing variety in the fungi found along the Appalachian Trail. Every imaginable color, shape, and type is represented.

When we noticed this one, Daughter made an interesting observation: what if they aren’t really fungi but are the Corals of the Forest? Or perhaps, scientists have it wrong, and the colorful collections in the oceans should be called Fungi of the Sea… 

Sometimes the “Coral” are standing tall and proud, in plain sight beside the trail. 

Other times, they are shyly hidden under leaves or in the crevices of tree trunks. 

Here are some of the most interesting we have found so far. What do you think they should be called–Coral or Fungi?

These look like budding plants…but they are slimy.

This tree wears a skirt full of ruffles!

This one must be related to jellyfish…it’s translucent!

According to Mario, this is a mushroom. But perhaps that is just another type of “Coral”?

We still aren’t sure what classification these things should be given. We found Sponge Bob’s pet snail the other day.  If his Pineapple appears in these woods, we will all know that these should properly be called the CORAL of the FOREST! 

UPDATE: by the time we finishe’d our hike, we found two more connections to the sea: suckers from octopus tentacles, and another jellyfish wanna-be. AT_fungus_octopus suckers

2017-10-21 11.48.23

The Last Adventure

Life can be filled with adventure. Or it may be spent quietly at home, in a gilded cage of routines and responsibilities. We get to choose how we live. Eventually, however, we run out of choices. We face the last adventure: Death.

The mighty tree has fallen…new life begins…

I haven’t written any blog posts in the past six months. It felt like I had little to share. I wasn’t pursuing epic adventures nor was I making much art. I was staying involved with my folks as my Dad’s time here on earth was coming to an end. His heart beat its last rhythm on April 28, 2017

It felt like this was a time of small deeds, of simple words, of loneliness and isolation. Looking back, however, I realize these same things are elements of what makes an adventure “epic.” It is in overcoming obstacles large and small that humans are stretched beyond daily routines. According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, an epic adventure is “any task of great magnitude.” Looked at through that lens, these past six months have indeed been a big epic! What can be greater than helping a loved one move on to the next world even while helping oneself and others grieve that loss here on earth?

My dad lived a life filled with adventure. He traveled many places around the world, both for pleasure and to help others. He adventured on the water and on long road-trips across the United States. He finally fulfilled his dream of taking epic motorcycle trips—to all four corners of the USA and even in the back country of The Gambia, West Africa!

In the past year, Dad gradually lost mobility. Other health issues limited the time he could sit in a plane or in a car. His last trip was to visit family in Montana (my son and his brother) and in Idaho (his nephew). He treasured the memories of that adventure, even in his last few weeks.

Although his health was declining rapidly, Dad enjoyed a family gathering at the end of the year. He was “tickled pink” to welcome a new grandson-in-law to the family and meet the fiancé of another grandson. A few weeks after the party, Dad realized his prayers had been answered: he had the opportunity to see his family members all together one last time.

During the winter, Dad’s world continued to shrink. He could no longer go to the airport to say hello or goodbye to traveling family members. With the cold weather and his limited mobility, Dad enjoyed the few days that were sunny enough to sit outside. Eventually, even getting to church became too much for him.

I sat with Dad weekly through the winter and early spring. Talk meandered here and there: sometimes reminiscing, sometimes talking about practicalities of medical issues, sometimes just sitting together in silence. I treasured those times…and so often I cried myself to sleep on those nights. How can you bear seeing your dad struggle more and more with life? How do you say goodbye to your dad?

In the last ten days of his life, Dad’s world closed in around him, even though he was still at home. He was confined to bed. He needed help to eat or drink. He couldn’t even move without assistance. My siblings stayed at the house twenty-four hours a day, helping Mom to care for Dad. I came in each day, to give the caregivers a break. During this time, my sister and I spent hours playing his favorite hymns. He took comfort in the music just as he found moments of calm in prayer.

And there was waiting, lots of waiting. Dad dozing and crying and begging for the waiting to be over. His family staring out the window, taking walks, seeking the comfort to be found in nature. All of us asking God for hope and comfort and a peaceful passage for him into the next world.

At one point, near the end, Dad asked “When will this trip be over?” Finally, he took his last breath, and started his new journey. We are still grieving his loss…but this photo summarizes the last adventure quite well:

The mighty tree has fallen…new life begins…

“The Peace of Wild Things”

Last week, we were living a favorite poem by Wendell Berry. We always enjoy the peace of walking in nature along the Appalachian Trail.

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, head to the woods_seek peace

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. AT hiker_into the woods

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. wild ponies_AT_Grayson HIghlands

I come into the presence of still water. AT_Laurel River_Still Water

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. AT sunset

For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” AT_mountain ranges

Wand’rin’ Star

“Not all who wander are lost” — JRR Tolkein

In case you haven’t noticed, I am a Wanderer. Sometimes I can fake “normal” and stay in one place for months at a time. But then the compulsion hits and off I go.  Even a houseful of kids never stopped me: traveling with a large family just meant more logistics for this queen-of-lists to organize.

Going on adventures has always been a guilty-pleasure. I love the planning and the going. I enjoy the coming home. It seems so reasonable…at least to me! But each return brings questions from family and friends: “When will you stay put?” “Did you get that out of your system this time?” “Why can’t you be stable and put down roots like everyone else?” I laugh about being a “free-spirit.” I joke that others need to look outside-the-box. But deep inside, these comments continued to erode my confidence. Obviously, there was something wrong with me. Surely I would “grow up” someday and be content where I was planted. the mountains are calling

There were times I wondered if I harmed my kids by doing so much schooling on the road. (Others certainly thought so…) Sometimes I imagined how my husband’s life would have been different if he had married someone who was more consistent and bound by routines. (Time after time family questioned how I could leave him home alone while the kids and I traveled…) I tried. Really, I did! But then the next adventure called to me; the next location pulled my heartstrings. I had to go, wandering again and again. AT trails

This summer, in an attempt to continue being outdoors as much as possible, youngest Daughter and I lived in an RV at a campgrounds close to a small town. We fell in love with the people and the places around town. We were welcomed and invited to dive deeper into relationships. We began to put down tentative roots. It felt right, but there was a feeling of grief as well. What would these new friends say when they discovered my broken urge to wander? RV travels

In the past few weeks, I’ve had some aha!-moments. Hubby sent me a link to a song and affirmed that I really was born under a wanderin’ star (and implied that this was okay…) See video clip HERE

Last week, I commented to the pastor of the new church we are attending (in the small town we love) that it felt like we are putting down some roots. And maybe I would finally stop running. He firmly told me that there is nothing wrong with wandering. It is a gift and a privilege that so many never experience. A few days later, Daughter’s psychologist affirmed the same idea, telling Daughter that it is a privilege that she gets to wander with her mother. Every time I remembered these words, I cried. Maybe I wasn’t broken after all. Maybe this urge to wander IS “normal”…at least for me. texas river walking

And then…while I was pondering how to celebrate my wandering spirit, an artist friend posted a painting for sale. I’ve wanted to buy something from this artist for quite a while, but couldn’t decide if I wanted a mountain scene, a view of red mesas from Navajoland, or a southwestern landscape. See Sharon Baker’s art HERE. When I saw the title of this particular painting, I just KNEW this was “my” painting. It is called “Wandering Star” and was painted many years ago in response to the same song my husband sent to me. I will hang this painting with great pride in my home, to remind me who I am… Painting by SKay Art

I’m no longer lost. I am a WANDERER!

Who Should Be “Allowed” to Hike?

I am passionate about backpacking. I feel fully alive when I’m living in the woods. My daughter feels the same. Beyond simple pleasures, however, hiking is a key therapy to manage her anxiety and mental illness challenges. Nature brings her peace. So we return to the woods again and again, no matter who questions the risks or suggests we should pursue “safer” activities for her. We continue to backpack because of her disabilities, not in spite of them. hiking partnersThere are many of us who love outdoor activities and love someone with disabilities. Because we understand both worlds, we must be the ones who speak up. We need to stand beside those who might be discriminated against. Anyone who dreams of taking a walk in the woods should be encouraged. Outdoor adventures should be available for everyone.

I am passionate about backpacking. I have also become an advocate.

Advocate: 1. a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. 2. a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor. Synonyms: champion, proponent, backer.

When a hike is successful, everyone celebrates the courage and perseverance of the blind thru-hiker or the one with artificial legs. But what happens when things go wrong? Do tragedies or close-calls “prove” that the nay-sayers are right? How does the outdoor adventure community find an appropriate balance between personal freedom and personal responsibility for participants?

This year alone, a variety of incidents along the Appalachian Trail have provoked strong opinions and arguments among hikers in online forums. An older man with Alzheimer’s got confused and was lost for a few days. A person with brain cancer wanted a friend to take her on a first-ever backpacking expedition. A young man with Multiple Sclerosis needed intervention when he overheated. Parents are taking very young children on an attempted a thru-hike (walking almost 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine in one long trip). Are these “okay?” Or should the mythical “someone” intervene and prevent such risky behavior? And, if prohibition is such a good idea, then who decides which situations are okay and which are too dangerous?

Whenever there is a close-call or a tragedy, fingers are pointed at the ignorant adventurer, at the family, at the doctors, at search and rescue personnel. Online discussions grow heated. It seems so clear to some readers that the person with mental illness or with physical disability should be protected (even from themselves) by not allowing them in the woods.

Usually, I step away from contentious arguments. However, in a recent online discussion, I realized I can’t just run away from conflict and find peace in the woods for myself and my daughter. I must not just write posts about the adventures I am privileged to take. I must also build bridges for everyone to pursue their own passions. It would be a sad day if the only hikers on the Appalachian Trail were those who were young, perfectly fit folks carrying perfect gear. (Hmmm…that would eliminate both of us and most of the hikers we meet!) With proper precautions and an attitude of taking personal responsibility for one’s decisions, even those with disabilities can continue to enjoy outdoor adventures.

I am passionate about backpacking. I am also an advocate. passionate hiker, I am an advocateWhat about you?

Hide and Seek

Everyone expects the beautiful views enjoyed while traveling in the mountains. But how many of us discipline ourselves to focus on the tiny details along the trail? Daughter and I were challenged to search for Nature’s Hearts on our recent backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail. (You can see a blog post with photos of our finds HERE.) In that quest for small treasures, we discovered many other camouflaged creatures. Here are a few of our best tips for playing hide and seek with nature:

Look for Movement. The shapes and colors of critters often blend in with the background. Flutters and flickers are an invitation to look closer. More than once we found groups of butterflies gathered in a heap on the ground. butterfliesSometimes there will be a burst of movement, then the creature freezes. Patience will pay off when the critter eventually moves again. Or perhaps you will notice the tiny quiver of a lizard breathing. lizard

Listen for Sounds. Trills and songs might help you find a bird in the underbrush or in the treetops. (These are usually hard to photograph…unless you are carrying a heavy telephoto lens.) Dry leaves crackling or rustling might eventually reveal a snake, or a chipmunk, or a BUG! centipede

Look for the Wrong Shape or a Different Color. Snails are the same color as the leaves or rocks they hide among. However, their rounded shells stand out against angular backgrounds.  snailsThere were many times we noticed bright colored fungus or lichen on trees and rocks. Often, if we looked closer, we would find drab slugs. lichen, fungi, slugThis is one of my favorite photos from the entire trip. We actually saw a group of deer wandering across the campsite, nibbling at bits of grass. When I walked closer to get a better photo, this young deer put the trees between us, and then froze, hoping I wouldn’t notice him… deer in trees

Walk in Silence.  I’m sure some of you wonder if we encountered bears. Not this time, although other hikers had problems with Yogi trying to steal food sacks at some of the shelters we had stayed at earlier in our trip. We tend to make noise when we hike: laughing, singing, talking, telling stories. Most animals, including bears, will move away if they realize a human is nearby. So, if you WANT to encounter more critters, move silently through the woods.

I’m curious. What’s your favorite critter sighting? We would love to hear your hints for finding more tiny treasures in Nature’s game of Hide and Seek.

Moving to Our Summer Palace

After finishing our spring adventure on the Appalachian Trail, daughter and I are in the process of moving to our summer palace. It’s located in hilly country at a family-oriented campgrounds an hour and a half from our home. We will have plenty of scope for outdoor adventures with walking trails, a creek to play in, a swimming lake, and plenty of time to socialize with other campers. We will live there full time, with a trip back to town midweek for appointments, friends, and shopping. Dog and Guinea Pig will live there as well. Hubby will join us on the weekends. rv camping

What? You don’t consider an RV to be a palace?! After backpacking for 5 weeks, it certainly feels like one to us…

Unlike a shelter along the AT, our RV has four walls, windows, and a door that closes. Plus, the RV has 3 rooms and 400sf of living space compared to one “room” of approx 100 sf. RV palaceAT shelter

We have soft beds (rather than throwing our sleeping bags on a hard wood platform). RV comfy beds AT shelter sleeping space

We have a comfy couch and a full kitchen (much fancier than sitting at a picnic table to boil water to rehydrate a meal). RV couch and kitchenAT backpacker kitchen

There is running water, including a flushable toilet and a shower! (Almost double the size of an AT privy, and much nicer than peeing in the woods!) RV bathroomAT privy

And our patio has chairs with backs on them (see post about this comfort HERE) which facilitate conversation, reading or lounging. Plus these comfy chairs are easily moved to sit around our fire pit. RV patioPicnic table

Now you understand: we really WILL be living in a “palace” this summer!

(PS–don’t worry, I will soon return to posting stories about our backpacking adventures…)