When I told my mom about the Long Trail, she responded (without hesitation), “you should buy a gun.” The look on her face did not seem like the universal look of parental concern. It felt more specific to me; like she wanted to say, “I know you, and this isn’t going to be good.” In fact, people close to me have been giving me a lot of speeches about safety lately. As I sit here and reflect, I realize that those speeches started long before talk of the Long Trail. It’s possible that safety awareness isn’t my thing, and I’m starting to think that everyone knows it.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a keen sense of danger. It’s just that I only feel those instincts when nothing is happening at all. Have you ever seen that episode of “New Girl” where they explain how Winston either dramatically over-pranks, or dramatically under-pranks? They show a clip of him as a child saying, “let’s pour orange juice near her shoe.” Then another one saying, “lets hit her in the throat with a ski.” That’s me when it comes to safety awareness. The other day, I was hiking a new England mountain in the winter, and I thought for sure that I heard a rattlesnake. A rattlesnake, you guys. A rattlesnake.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, my Dad used to look after my great aunt. In her later years, he wasn’t comfortable leaving her alone overnight. He was going to visit his Mom and brothers in Phoenix one year and asked me to stay with her for the week. The first morning, I heard a car come down the long driveway, and turn around. Second morning, same thing. On the third day, I called my dad, “look, someone’s casing the joint. I’m sure of it. I don’t know how I’m going to protect her. Am I supposed to carry her out of the house? I found a Machete, but that’s all I have.” He was like, “you found a Machete? Where did you find a Machete?” “In the garage, Dad, focus. At 5:30, every morning, someone pulls into the driveway and pulls back out shortly after. I hear them, but I also saw tire marks when I went out to get the paper.” (It was a dirt driveway, and you could tell someone had turned around). He paused. Even though he didn’t say anything in that pause, I could feel the weight of disappointment settle in the air. It was the kind of pause that asks, was I really responsible for raising this person?
So, you see tire marks, when you go out to get the paper?
“When you go out to get the paper, that someone delivered, you see tire marks.”
“Put the Machete away, Kelly.”
As I said, if I’m not being overly-cautious for no reason, I’m not being cautious at all. I’ll find myself deep in an unsafe situation before I realize that I’ve made some bad choices along the way. Like the time I decided to go Geocaching in the woods. During hunting season. Wearing beige. I didn’t realize what I had done until I was a mile into the woods, and started hearing gunshots. I immediately looked down at my clothes like… oh, crap.
I don’t know how I got like this. My sisters are cautious people, and so is our mother; low-risk choices, safe drivers, use words like “golly.” Ok, so I made up that last one, but I’m trying to paint a picture here. Actually, I wouldn’t put it past my mom to throw in a “golly” or two, to be honest. My sisters- though golly-less, are still incredibly cautious. My dad used to buy a bunch of fireworks around the fourth of July and we would set them off in the yard. Kristina’s favorite fireworks were the snappers. You know, the ones that you just throw on the ground, so you can hear a little “pop”? Lots of risk there. My dad and I would take different kinds of fireworks and tie them together like, “screw it, let’s just see what happens.”
(Wait. Scratch the first sentence. I just figured out how I got like this).
Kristina would respond with a terrified and somewhat high-pitched voice of reason, “Ummmmm? You guys?!?” Kourtney took more of a neutral stance. She’s both cautious, and a bit of a risk taker. Except when it comes to stairs, for some reason. Kourtney turns into a 90-year-old woman if she sees someone standing within 15 feet of a set of stairs. “Hey, watch the stairs, you’re gonna break your neck”- as she shakes her cane at you. (Yes, that’s right, she acquired a cane in this story). Otherwise, Kourtney’s the kind of person who educates you on the risks involved but also lets you be who you are. To the fireworks, her response probably looked a little like this, “Kelly, did you know that nine people had their hands blown off from fireworks, in this state alone?” “But here, might as well tie in this Cherry Bomb too.” Meanwhile, in the background, there’s Kristina- snaps in her hand, fear in her eyes, a quiver in her voice… “Ummmm? I don’t know about this, you guys!”
The more I think about it, the more I realize that my sisters and I are all a reflection of our Dads behavior. We just responded to it differently, as we grew into adulthood. When we were kids, my Dad put egg whites on his mustache and chased us around the house saying, “I need a tissue.” I thought it was real and started gagging, while Kristina yelled, “Dad stop!! You’re gonna make her throw up! DAD!” That became our primary response to his shenanigans; “DAD!!” During a BBQ at his house, I walked away from the table, and he quickly poked a hole in my coke can, so when I drank it, it poured down my shirt. “DAD!!!” When Kristina got her first job, at a coffee shop, my Dad went through the drive-thru and tried to order jelly. Just jelly. “DAD!!” Then there was the time my Dad pretended to cut himself with a fishing knife. He had strategically opened a ketchup packet right beforehand, and I think you can imagine what happened next. “DAAAADDD!!”
It looks like his pranks had no limits, but rest assured, he wouldn’t actually harm us. Well, except for that time I fell off the snowmobile because he purposely took a corner too fast. Or that time he tried to “snow plow” Kourtney while snowboarding (that’s where you kick snow back at someone), but he got too close and clipped her board. She called it a “flip, roll” type of crash. He basically tripped his daughter on a ski slope. He waited for her to catch up to him, and he tripped her. On a ski slope. But there’s something to be said about intent, right?! The intention of giving us a funny childhood, and toughening us up at that same time… and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it, but here we are now… the living, breathing, result of my Dads fearlessness is a 35-year-old woman with a sensitive stomach and no rational concern for her safety. What can I say?
I’m realizing that I have to start thinking in terms of safety, because, presumably, the risks will be greater on the Long Trail. So, against my instincts, and with the help of my camp, I have developed some training ground-rules. They include: not training at night, buying reflectors for my clothes (just in case), telling at least two people where I am and what time I’m expected back, not going out on a mountain unless my phone is at least 50% charged, and bringing supplies, even on short hikes- water, extra layers, and some form of defense. My friends were not impressed when I said, “I’ll bring these”, as I tried to flex my biceps. So, I guess I’ll just get a knife or something. One friend even told me to bring Wonder Bread bags for my feet. A real New England Grandma move, but whatever.
The point here is, the further into training I get, the more this hike seems possible. I have never been more dedicated to something in my life. I don’t want to ruin that prospect by falling off a cliff or being eaten by a rattlesnake. (That’s how that works, right?) I don’t want to worry the people who care about me either. So, I will take their suggestions and be more cautious. Except for your suggestion, Mom. I’m not buying a gun. Clearly, I’d just end up shooting the paperboy.