Dear Eleanor,

The tallest peak on the Long trail is Mount Mansfield, 4393 feet. I’m sure that’s a regular Saturday afternoon for you more experienced hikers, but my first post-Long-Trail-training hike was Burnt Meadow Mountain, standing in at 1575 feet. I couldn’t make it to the top, because of snow drifts, but truth be told, I was tired and winded anyway. More than winded, I felt done. Like, I did it. I took steps up a mountain. I’m a hiker. Everyone can go home now. Because Mount Mansfield is the tallest peak on The Long Trail, she has been the goal peak lingering in the back of my head, as I train. She’s my Eleanor. The unicorn. The unattainable. The 1971 Ford Mustang Sportsroof. The fable creature who is impossible to capture. I went back to Burnt Meadow Mountain recently, with my partner, to see if I have made any improvements; to see if I’m any closer to the unattainable. I made it to the top and though there were still some tough spots for me, it was easier. I don’t normally go back to the same mountain. Im sure I’ll cycle through them at some point, but I’ve been trying to pick a different mountain every week, so I can use my training as a way to keep pushing myself. I’m glad I went back to Burnt Meadow though, because it didn’t just provide me with insight on how far I have come, it also provided me with a few laughs.

As we head down the mountain, there was a rustle in the woods. It got closer and closer, and I thought to myself (as I usually do) “this is it, this is the day we are going to be mauled by a bear.” My partner grabbed a stick. Not a stick, a tree. It was a tree. I started running and thought she was tailing me, until I heard screaming. I had it in my mind that she was back there defending my honor, in some kind of inter-species duel, as she yells, “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!” I get back to her, and she’s flailing her arms, bear-less, and covered in fire ants. When the screaming stopped, she said, “I hope I didn’t scare that bear.” The look in my eyes quickly goes from panic to more of a “are you kidding me?” She explains that her intention was to use the stick (tree) to make noise enough to deter the bear from approaching. She recovers from the ant invasion enough to continue walking, and says “what did you think I was going to do, physically fight a bear? I don’t want to take a long dirt nap right now.” (Long pause) “I have to buy contacts.” Well folks, we bought another day, she needs contacts. (Small pause) “I feel bad that I disrupted that ant habitat.” To be clear, she isn’t avoiding death to buy contacts, but I wanted to show you how her brain works. It’s not unlike her, actually, to be a log-toting, bear fighting, little lady protector… but only in the least restrictive way, of course. We wouldn’t want to scare a bear or disrupt a habitat. She also quickly pointed out that I would be neither a lady protector, or a bear fighter, because my instincts were to run, and that’s just what I did.

We all know how I respond to threats of safety, I’ve written about it in multiple blogs. I’m not proud of myself, but as my grandmother always says, “whatta ya gonna do?” I am who I am. One time, I was with a group of children, who were being attacked by Guinea Hens, and still ran. I worked in Recreation program at a shelter for survivors of domestic violence (yes, I know, that makes it worse). We took the kids on a field trip to a local farm, and the Guinea Hens started to revolt. My instincts, as they are, were to run. I got about twenty feet away, remembered the children, and turned back to see my boss fighting off Guinea Hens and bleeding from the leg. I ran to help her, but the damage was done. We all knew who the hero was. I told my partner this story, as we continued down the mountain, trying to reassure her with this wisdom, “if I didn’t save a group of homeless children, I’m sure not saving you.” Of course, she responded as she does, by saying that although my first instinct is to run, in both scenarios, I stopped myself and came back for the fight. She’s right, I suppose. If there is a space somewhere between fight or flight, that’s likely where you will find me nesting.

Oh yeah, I guess I should stop here and say, you know that girl I was telling you about, back when I realized I was Titanium? Yeah, she’s back. Actually, she’s sitting next to me now, in a book store. I can see her face in the reflection of my lap top, and I keep stopping to look at her. She’s very expressive when reading, it’s like you can actually see her mind expanding. She keeps laughing in her book, which intrigues me, because she’s reading a finance book about living simply… but we all have our things, I guess. For those of you who didn’t read that post, it involved a brief romance in the fall, that ended abruptly and felt unfinished. Well, I guess it was unfinished for both of us. The truth is, we have this habit of finding each other. I’d like to think that this time is the one that counts. If you’re still struggling with the mustang reference, her name is not Eleanor, just to be clear. This post isn’t really about her. Well, in a way it’s about her, if added to a list of fears to conquer; Mount Mansfield, failure, commitment, vulnerability, trust… but again, we’ve all got our things. It’s about the things in your life that are too hard. Or at least seem too hard, until you fight harder for them.

I’m looking at my long-trail calculator, with 39 days before the start and a half a month more before I meet my Eleanor. It’s upon me. These mountains are still tough, and maybe that won’t change. I think I imagined that at this point in my training, I’d be running up a mountainside without breaking a sweat. Well, I’m not running up them, but I am getting up them. One after the other, I am getting up them. When I started this adventure, Eleanor did seem unattainable, but I have started using her to calculator to my progress, and I gotta say, she’s starting to feel less like a Ford Mustang and more like a Ford Explorer. I’m learning that when you start believing you can do something, it stops feeling unattainable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I’ll reach the top of Mount Mansfield chanting “Eleanor” through my tears, but that’s a story for another blog. This blog is just an Ode to Eleanor; a letter, if you will.

Dear Eleanor, You’re no unicorn. You’re just a mountain. Stay right there. I’m coming for you.

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Tuesdays with Laurie

I have written this before, in my post about break-ups, that it’s incredible how a friend can say something in passing, that changes your direction. It’s even more enlightening, when a person steps into your life as a stranger and changes the way you think, or makes you appreciate the world around you. If you listen, if you embrace those moments, you’ll realize that there are so many people in this world to learn from. To grow from. This is a story about a woman I meet with once a week, who, whether she knows it or not, has taught me a great deal about appreciating the world I live in. I wanted to change her name, for confidentiality purposes, and because we happen to meet on Tuesdays, it felt like “Laurie” was most appropriate.

I think the definition of “elderly” has changed over the years, and I certainly wouldn’t want to insult the woman I have come to respect, but I guess for description’s sake, Laurie is an elderly woman. An avid reader, collector of books and self-described recluse. She’s cultured in a way you wouldn’t expect an older, reclusive, American woman to be cultured. Don’t mistake my usage of the word “cultured” with education, that’s not meant to insult older American women. Perhaps “progressive” is the right word; ahead of her time. She’s attempting to read though the books she has in her apartment, with a plan to donate what she doesn’t want to keep. We all have a stack of half-read or will-read books, right? She’ll admit that she gets caught up in the books she has already finished, but wants to read again. I really like that about her, actually. As for my roll? I’m a book messenger, of sorts. I’ll take them to the library, or a local community center. In fact, I have even left a few in one of those little library boxes you find on trails. I like the idea of another hiker picking up one of Laurie’s books. I will admit though, that with little persuasion from Laurie, I have even read a couple. Every time she gives me a book to donate, shes says, “read it if you want… at least read the first and last page. If you have a pull for more information, read the book.” It has me wondering what she would think of the first and last paragraph of this blog post. Even though she will likely never read it, I’ll try to finish strong.

Laurie used to live in Chicago. She once told me that she looks back on her experience there and recognizes that she didn’t use Chicago the way the city deserved to be used. During one of our visits, she looked out her window and asked me if I knew what happened with the restaurant across the street. She can usually see the neon open sign from her living room chair, but it hadn’t been on in over a week. It turns out that they were still open, but their sign was in repair. That conversation gave me an aching new perspective of Laurie’s day. For whatever reason, Laurie is not in a position to use Maine either. It’s the sunrise or the sunset, whichever is the case from that window, but not both. She can see the cars that drive down the main street in her town, but she can’t see the people walking in and out of the shops two blocks over. It’s a reminder of the things we take for granted; a simple walk across the street, to see if a diner has closed. She uses her space quite well; stacks of books and magazine and pictures of her great nieces. The TV playing “Rocky Mountain Vet”, or anything else that will give her joy in 700 square feet. But her curiosity is resolved to the confines of her apartment, to the confines of the words in her books. Laurie told me that someone once suggested that she was a book in your past life. “I’d like to think I was the ink.” I didn’t have to ask her what that meant. The book is just a vessel. It’s the ink, the words, that are filled with possibility. The writer decides if a book exists or doesn’t exist. But ideas, insight, those things can come without our permission. They are free.

My visits with Laurie are short, but every week I leave more enlightened than the last. She has been seeing a physical therapist for a leg injury. After eight leg raises, the therapist asked why she didn’t do ten and Laurie said “because I don’t think like that.” It’s not if you can do eight, why not do ten. I made a plan to do eight.” She compared that logic to her sister’s advice, when they were kids. “She used to say, let’s run to the end of the street.” “Why? Why the end of the street?” Why not just run until you want to rest?” I laughed and told her that I use that logic while I’m hiking, “just get to the next tree.” She said, “yeah, well at least the tree will be there to hold you up.” Laurie went on to say that if she had used that logic, maybe she would have been as active as her sister. “She did start crawling uphill at nine months after all.” Not Laurie though. Laurie didn’t defy the odds when it came to child development, and as an adult, she describes herself as someone who is “not the save the world type.” Its sounds pessimistic when you read it like that, but that’s not how it read in person. It’s realistic. She’s an older lady who has lost the mobility of her prime, but she is also not sitting around saying, “I wish I had.” Every time I leave Laurie’s apartment, I appreciate the world a little more. Not just because of what she doesn’t have, but because of her eagerness to utilize every corner of what she does have.

Maybe the lesson here is that we don’t always have to meet some expectation of success. Ambition and discipline are positive characteristics. They move you towards success. It’s in the search for success though, that we can miss the ordinary, the simple. Maybe it should be about enjoying your life, enjoying what’s in front of you. For me, it’s about balance. I have seen such beauty in the world, since I started training. Beauty by way of mountain tops, beauty by way of unwavering support from the people who love me, and encouragement from the people who I’ve met along the way. There have been times when I’ve needed to tell myself just to get to the next tree, and there have been times when I’ve stopped purposefully, and looked at nature in ways I have never looked at it before. I do wish Laurie could see what I have seen though, just as I can tell from every book suggestion, that she wishes I have read all she has read.

Laurie’s sister got to the end of that driveway as a kid, and metaphorically, she has in her adult life as well. Laurie took the road less traveled, or at least the road traveled slower, and she seems to be ok too. She’s a person who knows her limitations and speaks of them freely. So freely, in fact, that it just borders self-deprecation. It’s something else, though. It’s self-awareness. Self-awareness, as anyone who has crossed paths with it will tell you, is war with yourself. Acknowledging your own faults and making changes, or worse, accepting them, is an internal battle between intelligence and insecurity. Ignorant bliss is a far more pleasant path to pursue. Laurie chose the path of resistance, and I don’t know if she’s better for it or not, but I am certainly better for having met her. Laurie said she hopes she was the ink in her past life, but the truth is, if the plot is about her and me, she’s already the ink.

The Guy with the Bow Tie

I have been trying to make a conscious (somewhat unsuccessful) effort to loosen my grip on control; letting the circumstances or challenges of my life guide me, knowing that everything has purpose, regardless of the outcome. If you get a flat tire that makes you late for work, but you learn something from the tow truck driver, than life is happening exactly as it should be. We tend to focus so heavily on the things that are disruptive to our day, that we miss the lessons or experiences that come with them. I drove to Vermont last weekend, to clear my head and to give a section of the Long Trail a shot. While in route, I decided to bring that concept with me, and just let myself be led by the circumstances of the weekend. My initial plan was to stop at the Green Mountain Club, to get a copy of the Long Trail Guide. Apparently, the Green Mountain Club is closed on weekends… so starts my trek up and down the beautiful Route 100, to find a bookstore that had a copy, do a little hiking, and maybe some soul searching along the way.

You may remember me telling you about my camp friends. I’ll likely speak of them often, and anyone who has spent their younger days working at a sleep-away camp, will understand why; we are bonded. The staff came from all over the world. One camp friend, Hilary, lives in California. In summer of 2013, she was going to a wedding in Vermont and had the idea to follow it up with a camping trip. Our friend, Marge, lives in New York and I am in Maine, so we are equal distance from Vermont. So, the three of us met in Vermont, at a lovely river-side campsite, in the Green Mountain National Forest. A campsite that I have since come to know like home. That is when it all started. I met Vermont. I met the Green Mountains. I met Route 100. A year later, I met the Inn Keepers. Two years later, I met the General Store clerks who I talked about in “Why the Long Trail”, and last weekend, I met the Guy with the Bow Tie.

Since that first camping trip, Marge and I have “met in the middle” a few times a year. We meet to campout or find some dive bar where we meet locals, drink Long Trails, and talk about our lives. One time we found the exact mid-way point between her house and mine. The exact middle spot between us. It was someone’s driveway, but that didn’t stop us from taking a picture there. Over the weekend, I stayed at a motel in Mendon, that Marge and I have stayed at before. My solo-Vermont soul searching weekend standards are not that high, I knew that motel was clean enough and cheap enough. The motel clerk asked me why I was in town, and I explained that I am hiker, practicing for a Long Trail thru-hike. How about that y’all, I’m reporting as a hiker now. He then told me about an “easy” mountain trail, just down the road. He said “45 minutes in total”, and “those are the kind of hikes I like, the easy ones.” I took the directions and thanked him, but to be honest, I wasn’t really looking for easy. Well, easy enough, I guess, but comparable to what I’ve been doing in training. Maybe even a little harder, I am on the Long Trail after all. Instead, I decided to find a hike that was a bit more challenging, and I headed towards Brandon Gap. The hike I found was marked as “Moderate”; two miles with an elevation of 1300 feet, not what I was up to before the injury, but certainly a post-injury moderate for me. My hike intel was a little off, and it turned out to be 1.2 miles, with a 400-foot elevation gain. I was finished by 9:30am, and barely broke a sweat. I figured, what the hell, I’ll head for the motel clerk’s trail and maybe find that book along the way. Two easy trails are the same as one moderate, right?

I stopped at a few bookstores with no luck, and continued down Route 100, but didn’t realize that I was driving away from the trail. When I turned on my GPS, I saw that I was in Waitsfield, VT, 47 minutes away from my intended location. I thought to myself, if there are no accidents, then I’m definitely supposed to be in Waitsfield, VT right now. I found a small bookstore called “Tempest.” Walking in, I see piles of books; an organized mess, like you see in most used bookstores. I was greeted by a slender man, with a checkered blue and white shirt, a tan vest, and a multi-colored bow tie. The Guy with the Bow Tie. If Bill Nye morphed with the villain from Charlies Angels (the movie), he would be the Guy with the Bow Tie. From his first sentence, I knew not to let the mess fool me, this guy knew exactly where everything was. He took me the hiking section and shared that the only version of the guide he had was a first edition. Trekking along Vermont with a vintage copy of The Long Trail Guide? Heck yeah. I asked him the difference between the first edition and the latest, and he said “well, one is that there are no shelters listed on it.” If any of you have read…well, just about any of my blog posts, you know I need a shelter list. The Guy with the Bow Tie did tell me where I could find the latest guide, but not before sharing a bit about Waitsfield, VT.

I was blocked on my first trail by a sign that said hikers couldn’t go any further. When I shared that with The Guy with the Bow Tie, he said, “let me guess, some older lady bought a glass house on the top and she doesn’t want you blocking her view?” I said, “actually, it said something about protecting the birds”, and he said, “yeah, there’s that too.” He went on to tell me a story about how he leads a boy scouts troop, who were told they couldn’t use a trail anymore, or the cabin they had on it, because a woman just purchased the land, and her insurance said it’s a liability. “I told her that’s too bad, because the boy scouts really get a lot out of exploring those trails.” She said, “well you can’t use the cabin, but I will give permission for the boy scouts to use the land, if they clean up debris left from other hikers.” He wasn’t sure how it would be possible for the boy scouts to earn their keep, considering that she was refusing the public access to the land. Who would they clean up after? He gathered the boy scouts and said “listen, we get to use this land if we help clean it up, so this is what I want you to do. I want you to eat a bunch of candy before we go. That way, if you’re stopped by an old lady on the trail and she asks you what you are doing there, you can take the wrappers out of your pocket and say, “we are just cleaning up the land.” Circumstance led me well, and The Guy with the Bow Tie and I spent a little more time on small town banter. The universe worked pretty well for him that day too. He usually doesn’t open the bookstore on Sundays, but he had a biography to edit. He figured he was doing work anyway, he might as well do it from the store. Look at him now, now his story is being shared with all 230 of my blog readers. He’s basically famous. If you happen to be in Waitsfield, VT, stop in and let him know. I left the guy with the Bow Tie and headed towards the gear shop that he told me might have the Long Trail Guide. Not only did they have the Long trail guide, but they told me that they will act as a supply stop for Long trail hikers. The universe just keeps doing it’s thing.

I found my way to the motel clerk’s “easy” trail. He said 45 minutes in total, 1.9 miles. I calculate my time- 30 minutes up, 15 back, add 30 minutes for summit basking. I gave my sisters the details and expected return time… good to go. I don’t need supplies, it’s 45 minutes. By my calculations, I should meet the summit at .95 miles. I hit .95, no summit. Ok, well, maybe its 1.9 out and 1.9 back, I think I’ve got that in me. I reach 1.9 miles, no summit. I’m starting to think my motel clerk is a professional hiker, who ran up this mountain. 45 minutes. Pfft. At 2 miles, I hit a ski-slope overlook and wonder if this was the spot he was directing me to, or if I’m on a different mountain entirely. At this point, I’ve reached that moment that I think all hikers reach, if they don’t know the mountain that well. What if I turn back, and the summit was right around the corner? Someone close to me once said, “you know you’re getting to the top, when the trees start getting smaller.” Well, the trees seem to be getting smaller (I don’t actually know if that’s true or not, because I didn’t look at them when I started). 2.10 miles. “I’m not even sure if I remembered that advice correctly, to be honest. Do they get smaller? Do they get thinner?” 2.20 miles. “Or was it that they no longer look like trees? Shit. What exactly did she say?” 2.40 miles. The sun starts to set, and I know that if I don’t turn back now, I will be hiking back in the dark, and because I thought it was a 45-minute jaunt, I don’t have the proper supplies for that. I get back to my car and I decide to do a little research. Turns out, I was just walking the AT, you guys. I’m glad I turned back when I did, I really don’t have the time to go to Georgia right now.

I quickly realized the lesson in all this. If you believe that things happen as they should, your stress level will diminish, by default. Think about all the times in your life when you feel wronged or disappointment by something, but you never connect the dots. You didn’t get a call back for that job you really wanted, and though you accepted one that paid a little less, it’s there that you met your closest friend. Sometimes we focus so heavily on what isn’t working that we can’t acknowledge everything that has worked for us because of the things that didn’t. Even circumstances that result in regret have purpose. They must, right? However, while circumstance may lead you, you have to put a little work in too. You can’t sit idly by and blame it on the universe, or God, or fate or whatever drives you. I let circumstance lead me that weekend, and because of that, I hiked a part of the Long Trail, I met The Guy with the Bow Tie, and I know way too much about the culture of Waitsfield, Vermont… but maybe next time I shouldn’t wait for the universe to tell me to bring a flashlight… on an unfamiliar mountain… at 4pm.

Along came a Samurai

So… I’m back at it. My hip still hurts, but I’m taking it easier this time, and starting slowly; trying not to overdo it, stretching before and after exercises, and holding off on the pack training for a little while longer. As I begin the journey again, I have noticed that I lost a few things during my injury-break. I lost some endurance, to be expected, but I also lost some courage. I realized that the more time I spent training by myself, the less fearful I became. I told you in my post, “It probably wasn’t a rattlesnake”, that I have some unusual instincts when it comes to safety, but this is different. This is more people-focused.

On the first real training (again) day, I decided to go with a familiar, populated, trail around a small island. Mackworth, for anyone reading this from Maine. I know the rest of you are reading “island” and are probably picturing some secluded place where Leonardo DiCaprio is running around trying to save himself from himself, but that is not what’s happening here. The only thing separating this island from a residential area, is a quarter mile bridge. It’s really not that serious. I know this island too. My mom has been taking my sisters and I there since we were kids. There is a section of the trail where they encourage children to build little structures out of sticks, and stuff they find around the trail, to house the island fairies. My mom used to tell us stories about the fairies and gnomes who were living in the tress. I know what you’re thinking, but no, it wasn’t the stuff nightmares are made of, it was some real fairy-tale type shit.

So, I start walking around this very familiar trail, and right away, Samurai.

In the distance, I can see what is clearly a long sword, and the silhouette of a Kamishimo. (Yes, I googled “Samurai’s outfit” to get the name of that, and I’m pretty confident that you’ll google it now too). As I walk on, I can’t help but wonder if he is professionally trained, because I really don’t have the skills or the time to fight a Samurai right now. I walk a little further… yep, that’s just a regular boy. A teenage boy with a long jacket and a walking stick.

As I carry on, I see this guy who’s wearing jeans, a Carhart jacket, and work boots. I don’t know about you guys, but on the days that I decide to find a trail to walk, I don’t think to myself, “better grab the steel toes.” Naturally, I convince myself he’s got a bunker somewhere on the island and decide to tail him. By “tail him”, I mean that I was already walking in that direction. Everyone was. He looks back at me, I smile awkwardly and tell myself to “be cool.” Where the hell is Alex Cross when you need him though, amirite? Turns out, just a guy on a walk. Probably on his lunch break. I mean, he did have an iced coffee in his hand, so that should have been my first clue. It was from Starbucks. I don’t know. For some reason that just makes him seem less threatening. Thank God he didn’t lead me to a dungeon full of girls I’d have to save though, because I act tough, but I’m really not even about that life.

So, yeah, I made it through Mackworth, but don’t even get me started on the off-leash trail I accidentally walked through the following day… it was like the final scene from any one of the Twilight films.

Man, I make a lot of movie references.

The point here is, I’m going to be walking more than 273 miles, by myself. I guess I still have some work to do, in terms of learning how to hike and travel alone, and this injury has made me feel like I’m starting from scratch. One of my blog readers commented that the trail is a safe place. You have to walk miles just to get to it, which is a lot of work for someone to put in just to wear your skin on their skin, you know what I mean? Plus, you have trail angels and other hikers who look out for each other. The rational part of my brain knows that I will be safe, but the part of me who has watched one too many true crime shows, is preparing for anything. Samurais, Construction Workers, Gnomes… anything.

I am TITANIUM.

Here we are, at the final part of my three-part blog post.

I had my heart broken, y’all.

I told you in my post, “Why the Long trail?” that this hike was something I have wanted to do for a long time, and that was true. I told you that I was driven by the concept of my Dad not being able to finish building his shed, and that was true. What I didn’t tell you, was why I started training at that time. Well, you see… it was about a girl…. and ain’t it always?

I don’t even know how to explain this relationship. It was complicated, and lovely, and hurtful. The skinny love that Bon Iver spoke about; the kind that your gut tells you won’t last the year. A Shakespearean tragedy, even. You know, she drinks the poison, he drinks the poison, she goes for the knife, and all the readers are like, “ummm, I mean, why don’t you guys just use your words?” The connection between us was intense, and that made it feel like the relationship had purpose. It probably did, but maybe not the purpose that I envisioned.

The relationship ended abruptly, and as a person who has always struggled to let my guard down enough to love someone, and did, that was incredibly hard for me. I had conversations with my support systems that asked what the process of heartache would look like. Type A Kelly needed to understand how to heal efficiently. Everyone kept saying “time.” The proverbial “time.” In time, with time… time, time, time. They were right, of course. One friend, however, added a few more words and it changed the direction of my healing process. It’s amazing how one person’s advice can do that. Her name is Brooke. We met working at a summer camp, 12 years ago. We have a large group of summer camp friends, who try to stay in contact and feel an awful lot like family. She said that everyone else was right. “Time, Kelly, but there are two other things that you can do, and you need to do them every day. You need to shower every day and you need to exercise every day.” I went to the gym that night and started crying on the treadmill. “Screw you, Brooke, this was useless.” Begrudgingly, I did it again the next day, and the next. The gym turned into walks outside, walks turned into hikes, and hikes turned into the Long Trail.

Training has been a fight, for a lot of reasons. Heartache, sure, but it’s also winter, and I feel like it’s been a long one. Though I ran into a wise man the other day who responded to that by saying, “Ehhh, they all are.” He’s right, but this one has seemed like the kind of long that builds character against your will. The lessons that come on days when you are desperately trying to keep a smile on your face, but the universe laughs back at you. You know, the ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife- kind of winter. The kind where you decide to start training for a long-distance hike and then injure your hip. The kind where, at some point, the only response you can muster is “can I just catch a break?”

I have this cycle, when it comes to emotional pain; loss, heartache, or big life transitions. I have an immediate reaction to it, where I heal unrealistically fast and in what looks and feels like a healthy way; processing through and moving forward. Then, traditionally, a secondary reaction surfaces a few months later, and she is not so cute. Basically, I allow myself to feel stress, until it becomes unbearable, and then I tuck it right down where it doesn’t belong and ignore it until everyone around me gets to watch Mount St. Helen erupt and ravage whole cities. Historically, I have used that time in not-so productive ways; ignoring life’s responsibilities and spending too much money on useless crap that brings me fleeting joy. Training for the hike allowed me a physical outlet to dealing with that stress, but it still acted as a distraction. A needed distraction, but a distraction nonetheless. So, when I got the hip injury, and couldn’t train, Helen returned. Knowing my history, I had two choices: tell the townspeople to run for their lives, or deal with it head on. You know, the ol’ feel it to heal it.

Because the relationship ended so abruptly, there was no closure. A lot of people told me that, in this situation, a person cannot offer a level of closure that would make any difference. Endings are tough, and you have to figure out how to find your own closure. You have to figure out what lessons the experience taught and bring those lessons into your life. You have to find a way to forgive where forgiveness is required, and you have to move on. That, however, just wouldn’t sit with me. I knew her. I knew us, and I couldn’t accept that we would just exist in the world individually, with resentment towards each other. So, I reached out to her and was honest about the fact that I needed a better ending than what she offered me. I needed us to say some things that we hadn’t said, but should have, because we owed that to each other and to the memory of our relationship. She agreed, and we met for closure. The ending was as lovely and complicated as the beginning, with a few heavy conversations, and a dance to our song in the parking lot of a closed down bar.

As I drove away from that bar, away from her, I had a heavy heart. I was about to make another transition, and because I have had a lot of those over the last couple years, I keep going back to that place where I’m asking when I’ll catch that break? The song “Titanium” came over the radio, and I thought about the last couple of months; the unanswered questions, the tears, the hike, the injury, and I realized that though this is another transition, I’m strong. I’m titanium. The truth is, maybe we don’t get breaks, maybe this is just what life is. The world is happening to me, happening to all of us. Not for us or against us. Maybe real character is developed when you can see that the positive things in your life scream as loudly as the negative, if you allow them to. If you give them your focus. Yes, this year I have had my heart-broken, and my hip injured, and winter is still where spring should be- but I also allowed myself to love, and I started working towards a hiking goal that I once saw as unattainable, and my company car has heated seats, and Hulu added all seasons of ER, and the old man at the toll booth smiles at me with his whole face, and it’s a beautiful life.

Now, I have to work on healing. I have to work on healing my heart, I have to work on healing my hip, and I’m pretty confident that those things were supposed to happen together. That the training offered me a reprieve from heartache, and when the time was right, the injury offered me space to address it. I will heal though, and I’ll still want to do this hike. Not for her, or because of her, not even because of the loss of my Dad or the challenges my sisters and I have faced since then. Though I’m sure they will all find their place on the trail. It’s about me. It’s about setting a goal and accomplishing it. It’s about carrying on, relentlessly, and trying to do that with an open-heart. It’s about using my feet to show this earth that I am still here, and I am freakin’ titanium.

Oh, yeah, and I date girls. This is one way to share that, right?

It’s ok, I’m a Doctor.

In my last blog post, I told you it’s been a tough couple of weeks, physically and emotionally. I also said that I would spend some time over the next few blog posts explaining why. So… let’s start with the physical. I’ve got a bad hip, y’all.

I developed a plan to start training, slowly. To gradually increase in distance and intensity, as my body allowed me to. That was the plan. I had a plan! I wrote a whole blog post about it. I CALLED IT “THE PLAN!” I did not stick to the plan. I started doing all the things, all the time, as aggressively as I could. As if I’m not a fat girl who’s just learning to walk for the first time. Ok, so that’s dramatic, but my point is, I trained too hard too fast, and I’ve spent the last month paying for it.

I started feeling pain in my hip during activities. I would feel it at various times; a mile into a walk/hike, if I twisted a certain way in water aerobics, or used a new machine at the gym. The pain was light, and it would go away when the workout concluded. I assumed it was a pulled muscle. After a couple of weeks, the pain started appearing during times when I wasn’t doing any activity, and I started to feel it in other places (sometimes in my lower back, sometimes down the front of my thigh). I should have taken to my blog from the beginning. Who better to ask about hiking injuries than hikers? Instead, I did what any rational adult would do… I took to WebMD.

After careful research, it was determined that I have one of two things: Bursitis, or Diabetic Neuropathy. WebMD did not ask whether or not I have Diabetes, but I guess that doesn’t matter. I don’t, but I guess that doesn’t matter. The internet is a very confusing place, but I decided to go with Bursitis. I have a friend who is in school to be a Physical Therapist, and he did not think it was Bursitis… but I WebMD’d it, so what does he know? Even though I didn’t know what the injury was, I knew that if I treated it the way I usually treat injuries, the ol’ -Imma just ignore this until it goes away- method, then it could prevent me from hiking the Long Trail. As I said in my Instagram post about the matter, I will drag this leg behind me, before I let it stop me from doing this hike. So, instead of going all Lieutenant Dan on Vermont, I decided to cease activity and make a doctor’s appointment.

This was my first time seeing this doctor, but I brought Type A Kelly, and she needed answers. Like, grab him by the shoulders, asking “WILL I EVER WALK AGAIN?!” type of answers. Of course, he asked me what caused the injury… “Uhhhh, it was probably hiking. Or pack training. Or it could have been ice skating, or maybe cross-country skiing, or snow shoeing, or water aerobics, or Yoga, or Pilates, or Yogalates. Or the six-mile walk to Yogalates.” I think his literal response was, “maybe you should calm down.” Type A Kelly was still present, and wanted to respond, “maybe you should stop telling me what to do”, but then I remembered that he’s the doctor and I need him. His diagnosis was IT Band Syndrome, with possible inflamed Bursae. Of course, all I heard was “inflamed Bursae.” Suck it, PT school friend, I’m basically a Doctor. So, the treatment looked like daily stretches, ice baths, and rest for another 10 days.

All in all, the doctor’s visit was very helpful for me. I have been incredibly frustrated over this injury, feeling like my goal was halted abruptly. He was encouraging. He asked questions about the hike, out of personal interest. Like whether I’m training for external or internal reasons. I told him that I’m in the process of exploring that question, but the best answer I could give him was “both.” He told me about a marathon that he trained for, and how he felt like training was the best part of the experience. He said that pushing myself and learning what I’m capable of, is something that is going to change me forever. He gave me advice about meeting my body where it’s at, and not allowing myself to feel discouraged if I need to train in a way that supports what my body needs, instead of what my brain is telling me I should be doing. I told him my fears about not being ready in time, or worse, not being able to do it, because of injury. His response was simple, but the look in his eye and tone of his voice made me feel like I had another person in my corner, “oh, you’re doing it. We will get you right. You are doing it.” He was excited for me. It was endearing.

I started the stretches, and my best friend forced me to ice it far more than I wanted to, but it was helpful. In an added attempt to do whatever it took to remedy this hip issue, I also decided to take the advice of my sister and add massage therapy to my treatment plan. A tough decision for me, because I don’t like to be touched by people I don’t know. It’s my thing, I can’t explain it. I think it’s a combination of having sensory issues in general and a history of working with people in crisis. It only takes one head-butt to the face before you start watching your six, you know what I mean? Ok, so I guess I can explain it. The massage therapist was very professional, and it was not as bad as I imagined it would be. Except for when she got to my glutes. It was my instinct to punch her right in the face and run out of there yelling, “stranger danger”, but I kept it together. At one point, she pushed my hip in a certain way, and when she learned that I didn’t feel a sharp pain, she said, “generally, if it was Bursitis, you would respond differently to that.” You win this round, PT school friend.

The massage gave me some relief, and though slower than I would like, I am recovering. I still don’t know exactly what the injury is, maybe some of my readers will have some insight, based on the symptoms. For now, I guess I’m sticking with IT Band Syndrome. I have been given the ok to start training again, but I’m not going for the 10 mile hikes, 30 pound packs, or doubling my workouts (just yet).

So, there it is. I had a lot of momentum towards the beginning/middle of the winter, and I felt really motivated and accomplished. This injury stopped me in my tracts, and it’s been both frustrating and eye-opening. I realized that I have to adapt my pace to the liking of my body and that makes Type A Kelly want to flip all the tables over… but Type B Kelly is going to go with the flow and try to remember that this is a race against myself. I’m getting stronger every day and that is the only goal. And hey, if my career as a hiker is over, I’m still basically a Doctor.

The Other Side of South Portland

It’s been a tough couple of weeks, both physically and emotionally.  Which is why you haven’t seen a post from me since the first week of February.  I have a plan to tell you more about that, over the next couple of weeks, but it’s very much still unfolding.  So, for now, I’ll post a blog I started two weeks ago, after I took a trip down Memory Lane. It’s really called “Broadway”, but obviously that sentence wouldn’t have as much of a -last sentence of the first paragraph, preparing you for the story, in anticipation- kind of ring to it. So yeah, Memory Lane.

I grew up in a town called South Portland. It’s one of the larger towns (by population) in Maine, but it’s Maine, so there still a good chance you’ll see someone you know at the gas station on laundry day, if you know what I mean? There are two middle schools, Memorial (Go Wildcats!) and our rival school, Mahoney. We used to refer to Mahoney (and beyond) as “the other side of South Portland.” Obviously, the middle school you went to was determined by which side of the town you lived on, but we merged for high school. When I was in 8th grade, I envisioned the merge with Mahoney looking like a scene from Grease; a feud between The Scorpions and the T-Birds, with only one way to settle it… car races and leather jackets, of course. GO WILDCATS! To my disappointment, the transition into high school was subpar. There was no fight to the death. No one broke into song. I was the only one wearing a leather jacket, so that was embarrassing. “The other side of South Portland” stuck though, and just became a way to describe the opposite side of wherever you were.  A terrible descriptor, really, but I use it to this day….  “what street are you looking for? Oh yeah, that’s on the other side of South Portland.” Whatever the f that means.

Earlier in the week, I met my sister at our water aerobics class and decided to walk there, to double the workout. The water aerobics class is in South Portland, so I walked part of the way through the town.  The process was a bit nostalgic, passing memories with every step. At first, I didn’t realize the kind of impact a walk like this could have, until I found myself under a highway overpass that I’ve only walked under once before. I was 15 years old and with a middle school friend, who passed away a few years ago. I started thinking about her and that time in our lives; a time we saw as complicated, not knowing what complications adulthood would bring. It was raining, and we had been walking for a while, so we looked disheveled. We stopped at a gas station on the corner, to buy a box of macaroni and cheese. Some older man saw two disheveled kids, scraping together change, and he slipped her $10 on his way out the door. We laughed about how he must have thought we were homeless teens. I think we thought we were homeless teens too, to be honest.  We were having issues with our parents, as teenagers often do, and at the time, we relied heavily on the support of each other. It was nice to walk under that bridge again, almost 20 years later.  It was nice to remember what it was like to be childhood friends, and to take a minute to acknowledge her life and passing. It got me thinking about what other memories would come up, if I walked the entire length of South Portland.  So, that’s what I did. The following day, I walked 7.6 miles, from one side of South Portland, to what I thought was the furthest point on “the other side.”

I started walking by the mall, a place that holds a lot of memories for me, because my first job was at Orange Julius, in the food court. I worked there with my best friends, at the time, and I think it’s safe to say that those were some of the best days of our teenage lives. The first taste of independence… paychecks, but no bills, permits turning into licenses… it was like sweet freedom on the open road. Except for the fact that we were not making enough money to pay for the kind of gas that an open road required, and we didn’t have anywhere to go anyway. So, when we weren’t just driving around aimlessly, we were hanging out in the food court.  We started meeting other people our age, by food court trading. You know, “Hey, Au Bon Pain guy, I’ll give you a strawberry smoothie, if you give me a scone. Before you knew it, we became this community of teenage food court friends.  Ok, fine, we were mall rats.

Past the mall, was this neighborhood I lived in through most of elementary school and some of middle school. As South Portland neighborhoods go, this may have been described as one that put the “lower” in “lower to middle class”, but there was a real camaraderie there. It was an isolated community, and I lived there in a time when you could just tell your parents you were going “out to play”, and not come back until dark. Some of my greatest memories came from that neighborhood. Like that day we found a skull in the woods. Some real “Stand by Me” type of shit.  The kind of day where you leave your house as kids and come back as men. As an adult, I can fully acknowledge that it was likely the skull of an animal. Otherwise, this wasn’t so much a “coming of age tale”, as it was a “should have told your parents about that murder” tale.

I kept walking, past the street that led to the middle school, where I had my first boyfriend of more than three days.  Past my childhood best friend’s house, where I spent most of my high school years, and learned that familial love can come from people who are not your family. Past the street that led to the high school, where I grew into adulthood.  Past the house where we stole that pizza that time. You thought that was going to end in a different way, didn’t you?  The story paints us in a terrible light, but I’m going to tell you anyway. A group of girls were sleeping at a friend’s house and we wanted pizza, but didn’t have money. So, we concocted this plan to order pizza to our address, and to an address further down the road, but on the opposite side of town than the pizza place. On the other side of South Portland, if you will?  The delivery driver arrived, and half of the group put our acting skills to the test. Shocked and confused as we exclaimed, “we never ordered pizza, Sir!” “This is an outrage!” “Who would do such a thing?”   At the same time, two of the girls were sneaking down the front stairs, to rob him of the pizza we ordered for the second customer. You know, because we were geniuses.  Little bratty, thieving, evil, teenage geniuses.

Coincidentally, on the day of this walk down Memory Lane, my best friend, Emily, connected with our teacher, Tom, from high school.  We made a plan to meet for dinner at a restaurant in South Portland.  Emily and I met in Tom’s class, or “room 108”, an alternative education program.  It was one large room, with three teachers who found a balance between education, and the knowledge needed to function in the real world. We did Yoga, and nature walks for PE credits. I learned how to do my taxes in Math class. My history book was “A Peoples History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. We called the teachers by their first names. It was all very progressive. The program was designed as an alternative to mainstream classes, for kids who were at risk of dropping out, or not on track to graduate on time.  My family moved around a bit in high school, and my attendance suffered, as did my grades. As an adult, I can see that it wasn’t just attendance, it was also discipline.  Lots of teenage angst. I wouldn’t change it though, because I needed the lessons that Tom’s class taught, and I have carried them with me.

The three teachers in Tom’s class had very different, but distinctive personalities. We used to call it a “functioning dysfunctional family.”  We described Laurie as someone who had the role of the Strict mother. She stressed the importance of education in a way where you knew that her whole purpose was to make you a more informed version of yourself. She was excited by literature, and was the first person who showed me the joy of reading for pleasure, and not just because the curriculum required it.  She treated us with respect, but had a little less tolerance for our shenanigans than we would have liked. We described Tania as the “Fun Aunt.” Tania was kind, in the truest form, with unwavering patience. When I think about Tania, I think about how genuine she was in her will for me to succeed. To be honest, I think Tania wanted me to succeed more than I wanted that for myself.  More than I was capable of it, at that time. It took me a few years, after high school, to see in myself what she saw in me.  Imagine the kind of impact you would have to have as a teacher, for your student to look back 17 years and say that.

Then there was Tom.  How do I describe Tom? Let’s go with… Dangerous Mind’s Michelle Pfeiffer meets Jeff Bridges in ‘Snow Squall’, meets Mr. Miyagi.  Only Tom’s “wax on, wax off” sounded like “breathe deep, seek peace” and when I say, “Jeff Bridges”, it’s because he actually taught on a school boat.  Tom is the kind of educator who is more like a philosopher, and the kind of philosopher whose work echoes through generations. He has had a fascinating life… the walked barefoot for a year on a dare kind of fascinating. Through all the stories that Tom has shared of his life though, he never shines brighter than when he is talking about these three things: his wife, his kids, and his work as a teacher.

Meeting up with Tom, at the end of this journey, was something fateful. He gave me advice, as he always does, and I soaked it in, as I always do.  I told him about the Long Trail, my training, and other recent events. He told us about his kid’s successes, and how different the high school is now. As we were sitting there, Tom got a call from another teacher, who worked closely with 108, when we were students.  Someone who had a significant impact on me and Emily as well. It felt like the universe at work.  Seventeen years later, Tom and Tania are still working together, Emily and I are closer than ever, and Mr. Gafur calls just after we spoke of him. It was the perfect conclusion to this walk down Memory Lane.

The day was flooded with memories. It was an ode to the people who have come into my life to stay, and those who came and left lessons. The walk was a reminder of the kind of strides I have made for this hike, but it was also a reminder of the kind of strides I have made since 15-year-old Kelly first walked under that overpass. I’m grateful.  I’m grateful for the love and friendship I have seen in my life, and I’m grateful for the memories I have of South Portland… you know, from this side or the other side.

 

(I’d like to dedicate this post to the life and memory of Karyn Kundishora-Nowlin.  Thanks for the inspiration, old Friend. I hope you are resting in paradise)