It probably wasn’t a Rattlesnake.

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?
“Yes.”
“When you go out to get the paper, that someone delivered, you see tire marks.”
“YES!” Oh.
“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.

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New Year, Same Me (but a little stronger).

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I’ve been thinking a lot about New Year’s resolutions. How we take our experiences from the previous year, condense them, and decide that the year was either positive or negative. We do that with our character as well. We write a list of things we need to work on, to be better humans and we let that list determine whether or not we are a success or a failure. I have a list of my own, and it isn’t short.  I’m trying to take a different approach this year. I’m trying to look at my experiences individually; giving them all merit, either as memories to look back on or lessons to move forward with.  Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the concept of new year’s resolutions, and I participate in the tradition.  It’s motivating; the idea of a fresh start, a chance to fix your mistakes.  It gives you hope for progress, and hope is a powerful tool. Staring down a list of things you need to change about yourself, can be overwhelming. It can set us up for disappointment. I wanted to adapt the way I look at resolutions, to set myself up for success.

My best friend and I made vision boards, with goals for 2018; better health, self-care, financial responsibility etc. Little envelopes on a poster board. The envelope is marked with a resolution and holds an index card. Goals change, as we change, so I wanted the resolutions to be adaptable.  I can grab one of the index cards, and let that one goal be my focus for the day. The expectation of total perfection, that we want to accomplish by February, is wildly unrealistic. “I have to be kinder, more disciplined, healthier, more responsible, eat better, call my grandmother”, and all by the end of the day. I decided to stop thinking in terms of a total overhaul, and I’m hoping that if I allow myself to focus my energy on one improvement, it will become a habit. Under “kindness” for example, I have “think kindly” and “recognize anxiety, so you can better respond to it.” I consider myself a kind person.  I’m not sure if considering myself kind, speaks to my level of kindness, but here’s hoping my moral compass isn’t malfunctioning in some way.  Even kind people can act unkindly though, especially when you introduce life’s stressors. Put me in traffic, when I’m late for work, and I can show you unkind. I am trying to stop letting those daily stressors affect the level of kindness that I’m projecting- and sometimes I need that reminder.

“Fitness” has been a fun category. It’s fun because a lot of my focus right now is fitness, with the pending hike, but also because I wrote that I can’t say “no” when it comes to physical activity.  I made the mistake of telling people about this resolution, and they are certainly taking advantage of it…

My sister: “Do you want to take Bachata lessons?”

Me: “Ummm, I mean I don’t really have the coordination for that sort of…”

She interrupts:  “Well, you can’t say no, so…”

It looks like I’ll be learning the Bachata soon. So, I’ve got that going for me.

To be honest, it’s because of this “can’t say no” resolution, that I have had one of the most interesting winters of my life. I tried cross-country skiing for the first time. I started water aerobics, Pilates, and Yoga. (Pilates was a suggestion from a blog reader, actually- so it looks like I’m not saying “no” to you all either). Then there was my ice skating adventure.  Exercise-wise, ice skating was probably the least effective.  Take a minute to imagine a fat girl in her 30’s on ice skates for the second time in her life. Yeah, it looked exactly like that; close proximity to the wall, butt out for imaginary balance, hands ready for imminent impact, fear of passersby.  I was basically the ice skating version of an old man on his porch, yelling at the neighborhood kids to slow down.  Those damn hooligans, with their blue laces, and their funky tricks. Plus, I went with a friend who does know how to skate, and she was on some mission to “lap the derby girls.” I don’t really know what that means, but I just let her do her thing, and I did mine. I guess what I’m saying here, is that I spent more time in the warming yurt, with an Allagash in hand, than I did on the ice… but I put the skates on, just like she asked me to.

I feel better, physically, than I ever have in my life and I think this new year has offered me some emotional clarity as well. I don’t know if it’s because I am more disciplined, or just because I’ve given myself better direction, but it feels like I am making changes for my life and not just for the year; not for some obligatory resolve. I’m also learning that you’re allowed to cut yourself a little slack. We can’t use that slack as an excuse not to progress, but we can’t be perfect either. My friend, Rachael, once told me that she gives me the wrong start time, to decrease my chances of being late. Ok, so I have a small issue with time management. Don’t worry, I’ve added it to the list. She then said something that stuck with me. She said that people are made up of their positive characteristics and their… not-so-positive characteristics. We should strive to make changes, for a better life, but sometimes the not-so-positive characteristics mold you in the same way, and one wouldn’t be the same without the other. She described me as a whimsical person. I’m pretty sure that was code for “kind of a mess”, but that’s just not the index card I’m choosing to take with me today.  She went on to say that whimsy doesn’t necessarily fit with someone who is rigid in time management. If I were the kind of person who was always on time, and it came naturally to me, I probably wouldn’t be the kind of person who has the adventures that I have. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I reflect on 2017 and focus on my goals for 2018; to strive for forward-movement, but allow myself to fumble.

The truth is, my interest in these activities didn’t just start at midnight on January 1st.  I didn’t wake up that morning like, “you know what my resolution is going to be?” I’m going to change everything about myself and learn the Bachata.”  I had a long-term goal to hike a bit. That was it. Something that I have always enjoyed, but something that was tough for me, because I haven’t had the kind of endurance that hiking requires. When you resolve to lose weight, every other relatable goal, somehow only becomes possible after that weight loss. “Once I lose a little weight, and I’m in better shape, I’d like to start cross-country skiing.”  Then weight and diets become the focus, and you’re losing weight to cross-country ski, instead of cross-country skiing to enjoy your life and get healthier at the same time. I’ve decided that I’m not going to let my weight or anything else, be an excuse not to try something new. I’m learning to acknowledge that who we are right now, is and always has been the combination of all of our traits, positive and not-so-positive. I’m learning that we have to be grateful for the things in life that are grueling, like training for a hike, and the discipline that resolutions require. We have to try, of course. That’s all resolutions really are, a plan to try. We have to channel courage, and know that excuses don’t make changes, but we also have to see beauty in imperfection. Because it’s the imperfection that will keep us working towards our goals….. with the added perk of helping us maintain our individuality. Or whimsy, if you will?

Help me, please, anyone.

So, the hiking is going well… and by “well”, I mean that when I’m on the way up a mountain, I’m cursing father time, and on the way down, I’m all like, “I COULD DO 19 OF THESE!”  I couldn’t.  I have recently started walking with a pack.   Not on the mountain (yet), but I’m doing a lot of trail walking, so I’ve been bringing a weighted pack with me on the trails.  Between the pack, the blanket, and the dumbbells that I put inside of it, it weighs about 15lbs.  Today, I walked what us Mainers call “The Boulevard.”  It’s a 3.5-mile trail around a cove, that sits a few blocks outside of the busiest part of Portland.  The pack is borrowed from a friend, the hiking boots are three years old, and have not been broken in. I got them during my “fleeting idea days”, and they’ve been in a closet ever since.  So… my back hurts, and I got my first hikers blister this week.  It feels a little bit like a rite of passage, and also a little bit like a sore foot.  The more I introduce hiking gear into my training regiment, the more I realize that I have no idea what I’m doing.  I am getting some help from friends, but most of those conversation look something like this…

Me (while trying on packs): “How do I know which one will work best?”

Timmy (non-hiking friend who is barely paying attention): “That one should be fine.”

I’m not sure I should be making decisions for a 20 day thru-hike, over 53 mountains, based on phrases like, “should be fine.”  I may need to solicit the help of other hikers. I’ve started a supply list; relying heavily on the internet and not so much on my own instincts. I’m the kind of trip-packer who brings an extra bag just for the shoes and purses. I’d bring a shower koozie on this trail, if you let me. I can’t be trusted. I’m trying to figure out what I will need, what brands are most durable, and what supplies a new hiker would think are necessary, but will end up being dead weight. So, any supply/gear tips or hacks, would be incredibly helpful.  I’ll share my list below, feel free to tell me what to add or knock off…

Shelter and Comfort: Tent, pack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad.

Clothing: One short sleeve shirt, one long sleeve shirt, one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, three pairs of socks/underwear, one sports bra, one pair of hiking shoes, one pair of camp shoes.

Cooking/Food Supplies: Food, water, water purification tool, stove, spork/knife, (possible high-rimmed plate, but I’m not sure if that’s necessary.  I could just eat out of the pot and save myself that weight).

Utilities: Knife/multi-tool, bear spray, duct tape, rope, flash light, batteries, compass, flint/magnesium, a lighter/matches, hiking poles.

Toiletries: Toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, all-purpose camp soap, wash cloth, toilet paper, first aid supplies, sunscreen.

Reading Material: Guide book, map, one book of choice, small notebook/pen.

Extras: Camera, solar charger.

There are certain items that I know I will need, for sure.  I don’t think a single one of you is going to tell me to knock the water flirtation system off my list. No one has time for Giardia. But the options within are vast, and it can be overwhelming for a first time thru-hiker, such as myself.  So, I have a few (more specific) questions that I could use some insight on as well.

Water filtration: From tablets, to UV lights, to squeeze filters, to filter pumps, to bleach… what’s a girl to do? No, seriously, what do I do? I watched this documentary one time, where a couple of guys were trying to see if they could live on $1 a day, in an impoverished part of Guatemala.  One of them got sick from contaminated water, and now I have a real fear. I don’t even drink the water at my house, and I’m from the home of Poland Spring.  I’m leaning towards a squeeze filter, but I’m wondering if that is a realistic option for the length of this hike?

Pack weight: I read somewhere, that on a long-distance hike, your pack averages to about 1/3 of your weight. The average woman weighs 166.2lbs. Obviously that’s not the case over here, or I wouldn’t be writing a blog that starts with the words “fat girl”, but let’s just say, for research’s sake, that I was the weight of an “average woman.” Can we just pause for a minute here and appreciate how specific the average weight of a woman is… 166.2 lbs? Who did this math? Where did you get your intel? Doctor’s offices across the nation? Was there some sort of a poll on the street? “Excuse me Miss, we are trying to find the average weight of a woman, would you mind getting on this scale?” Anyway… if the average woman had a pack that totaled 1/3 of her body weight, she would be carrying a 55.4lb pack.

That seems completely unreasonable.

I’ve done a little research that said most people carry around 30lbs; 20lbs if you are an experienced hiker. So, this question is for anyone who has done a long-distance hike. From what I understand, the longest stretch between supply stops, on The Long Trail, is 5-6 days. What kind of weight should I expect to be carrying, and how much weight should I be training with?

Footwear:  Lots of internet debate around hiking boots vs. hiking shoes and waterproof vs. non-waterproof. It’s put me in a tough position, to be honest. If I can’t rely on the internet, who can I rely on?  The debate over hiking boots and hiking shoes seems to be a matter of weight vs. durability.  I read somewhere (the start of so many of my sentences) that 1lb on your foot is equal to 5lbs on your back, and that the average hiker will use 6% more energy with hiking boots vs. hiking shoes.   As far as water-proofing goes, it’s my understanding that any boot will get wet, inevitably, and water-proof boots are harder to dry out. I’m interested in hearing what kind of success you have had with non-waterproof hiking shoes?

There are so many other questions… like cooking: Jet-boil, alcohol, good ol’ fashion camp fire? Don’t even get me started on food. How do you consume enough calories to sustain 15-mile days, while peppering in a few mountain hikes… without having to carry 1/3 of a woman in your pack?  A funny question for a fat girl, because getting enough calories has literally never been my concern.

BUT… I guess I’ll save some questions for another day.  Thanks for your help!

Hear me roar, or whatever.

I’ve been going to the gym, on and off, for a few years now.  Mostly “off”, if I’m being honest.  I have a friend who calls it a “fat tax”, when you pay for a gym membership that you don’t use. The fat taxes in my neighborhood are outrageous.  I have recently come into some motivation though, in the form of self-talk that goes something like this… “great, now all of my friends know about this crazy idea to hike the Long trail. I better put down this box of Mike and Ikes.”   I have a pretty good cardio routine at the gym, but I don’t push myself too far outside of that routine.  I get on the treadmill at a steady pace, or the Arc Trainer, and I’m like, “suck it, exercise, I’m Jillian Michaels!” Then I give the stair stepper a try. Nope. It’s Peter Griffin, you guys. I’m Peter Griffin.  It’s when you push yourself, however, that you realize how much work you really need. The beauty in that, is that those are also the moments when you start to acknowledge what you are capable of.

I told you I was going to start training for the hike, by hiking, and so I have.  Small hikes, of course. Let’s not overreact. I’m still fat.  I went for a hike on a mountain that only had an elevation of around 1,600 feet, but I felt like I was at the pass of Caradhras. *Special shout-out to anyone who knows what that means. *  This Easy/Moderately-ranked hike was tough because there was a snowstorm the night before, and the trail wasn’t clear. Some of the markings were covered in ice, and I was only able to follow the trail because of the snowshoer who left shortly before me.  There was a moment when I reached a steep part of the mountain, and I kept sliding back down. I was tired from hiking in three feet of snow, and I considered turning back. I knew it would have been an easy decision to excuse; “there was a lot of ice”, “I don’t have experience hiking in deep snow, and I’m not going to be hiking in these conditions anyway.”  I realized that I wasn’t trying to convince myself; that dialogue would be for anyone else who knew I was on the mountain. Part of having a strong support system, is that you have that level of accountability, but we have to hold ourselves accountable too. I had to ask myself, even though those excuses are valid, can you go further?  Then I decided that I would claw my way up this mountain, if I had to, and that’s exactly what I did.  I used my arms and legs to keep myself from sliding down, and I didn’t stop until I was almost waist deep, and the snowshoer who had turned back, told me the trail was blocked by snow drifts.  Even then, I went a little further, because hear me roar or whatever.

Maybe it wasn’t a difficult mountain, but it wasn’t about difficulty, it was about discipline. We live in a world of convenience; with mobile banking apps, and full-service gas stations, and groceries to-go. The most amount of reward for the least amount of work. I’m a single person, who doesn’t have any children, and I am very much a creature of that convenience. A girl with fleeting ideas, who struggles with follow-through when it comes to personal goals. There’s an empty greenhouse in my yard. I have half a wing back chair reupholstered in my craft room. I have a half-organized craft room, that was once a gym. The reality here is, when it comes to training for this hike, I’m the only person I have to answer to.  Seven months from now, if I’m weeks away from the start of a 20 day thru-hike and have the same level of endurance that I have right now, I’ll be the one responsible.  Maybe that will be the case, maybe this idea will find itself on a pile in the craft room…. but you know what? Not today.

Why the Long Trail?

I know this girl, you see? Her name is Nicole. Yesterday she told me that she was missing something from my blog posts…  “Why the Long trail?”

So, here’s to you, Nicole.

A close friend of mine once said, “you’re always drawn to Vermont when you’re feeling sad.” The summer before my Dad passed away, I joined a couple of my friends for a camping trip in Vermont.  We couldn’t find the site we had researched originally, and happened upon a first-come first-serve site in the Green Mountain National forest, off the town of Granville. I’ve been drawn there ever since, in any mood, but she was right, especially when I’m feeling sad. I don’t know what it is about that area; down route 100, through Granville, Hancock, and Rochester. Small towns, with beautiful people, surrounded by beautiful mountains.  I think I belong there, to be honest.

Two summers ago, we got a flat tire and brought it to the Granville General Store. Neighbors helping neighbors is sort of the New England way, but this was different. The tire was difficult to fix, and required a lot of time from the store owner (Dan-shout out), and a neighbor (Nick), who came from across the street to help him.  It would have been easy to give it a quick try and then say, “sorry, this flat is irreparable”, but it was a holiday weekend and they knew we would either be stuck there, or have to pay for someone to come in-town.  So, they figured it out, and for no other reason than the fact that they are just good people. The sense of community in towns like Granville is palpable.  I’ve been there every summer since that first year, and I try to get the same site every time, because it’s surrounded by such lovely memories.  I’ve been there with friends, family, a partner; anyone who will go.

Then there was the time that I went by myself.

After my Dad died, I felt trapped in grief.  We just came out of a bad winter and I was working overnights.  I had a strong circle of support in my peers at work, who really understood what I was going through, but it was overnights nonetheless. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was over caffeinated, and I was running my body into the ground.  I had three or four days off and I really felt that if I didn’t get in my car and leave, I would suffocate right where I was standing.  So, that’s what I did.  I got in my car and I drove to Granville.  I stayed at the campsite by myself on the first night.  It was cold, and I was afraid of being in the woods alone; something I’m certainly going to have to get used to for the Long Trail.  The following night, I decided to stay at a little B&B in Hancock.  They didn’t charge me that night, but I had an envelope at my door in the morning that said (in pencil), “Gone to Rochester. You can leave the money in here. Fresh eggs on the table. Stay as long as you want.”  It wasn’t long before my Dad’s death that I was living in New York City.  We all know there is a sense of community there too, but not the kind where your hotel leaves a hand-written envelope at your door, and trusts that you are decent enough to honor your agreement.  Small towns, amirite?  I went for a walk, and did some reading near a mountain behind the Inn.  When they returned from Rochester, we sat in a sun-room and talked about life, and death, and Vermont.  It was all very healing.  They told me about the Long Trail, and shared that most of their clientele are Long Trail hikers, taking a day of rest.  I told them that I was trying to clear my head, and they told me about all the beautiful places that would help me do that.  I left to find those places, and found myself in a section of the Long Trail.  I thought about how amazing it would be to walk the length of it… someday.

Fast forward a year or so, my sisters and I are packing up the house, getting ready for the sale.  My dad had a pile of wood in the backyard.  He bought it to make a shed.  I remember standing in the yard, looking at the pile of wood and thinking back to a few months before he died.  He let me use some of it, to make a picture frame.  I picked out the pieces I wanted, and we cut them together in his garage. That’s it.  That’s the only thing he used that wood for while he was alive.  He never had a chance to build that shed.  As we were packing up the house, someone came to buy the wood, and I broke down.  Not because of some attachment I have to this pile of wood, but because of what it represented; things unfinished, his goals, our heartache.  The idea that my sisters and I had been so wronged by the circumstances of late, and we just had to accept it.  The idea that death doesn’t give a shit about your plans for life.  Here’s my Dad, buying this pile of wood with some goal in mind; not knowing, that in a few months, some stranger would be hauling it out of the yard for cheap, just so we could sell the house.  How life changes, so quickly.

The truth is, we all have a pile of wood sitting in the backyard, waiting to be a shed.  I wondered what form my pile of wood would take.  Many forms, I suppose.  All the dreams I’ve ever had.  All the things I haven’t finished.  All the people I miss.  All the “somedays”, and the “almosts”, and the “maybes”…

So, why the Long Trail, Nicole?  Well, I guess I just decided that it was time to build a damn shed. 😊

“The Plan”

My friends and I joke that there are two sides to my personality, and they are in constant battle with each other.  The dominate side, is the one who is spontaneous, arrives late, makes last minute plans, forgets to register her car on time (like, by a lot of time), and loses her wallet once a week. Actually, that’s my current reality. I haven’t seen my wallet in nine days. I’m sure its somewhere, but I guess I should think about canceling some things. That admission will not be a surprise to the people who love (and tolerate) me.  The other, contradicting, side to my personality, is the girl who writes an hourly itinerary when planning a trip. She is super competitive, and won’t accept defeat. She color-coordinates her closet; with hangers that represent short or long sleeves, and then puts those shirts in color order as well. This girl labels her labels, you guys.  My former boss called her “Type A Kelly”, so for identification purposes, we’ll just go with that.

Obviously, this trek is quite an undertaking, so I knew that I needed a plan. When I started to think about what that plan would look like, I panicked… “I have no idea what I’m doing”, “where will I even get the information I need?” “It’s impossible to plan something like this…”

Fortunately for me, Type A Kelly heard the echo of defeat, and busted through the door all, “hold my beer.”

She then created this six-part plan:

  1. Making it Possible
  2. Research
  3. Distance Training
  4. Mountain/Terrain Training
  5. Wilderness Training
  6. Meditation/Fear Awareness

Making it possible- The Long trail is 273 miles long, and takes people 20-30 days to complete. I have a regular-adult-middle-class-life over here, so one of the first parts of calming my panic is going to be figuring how to make that possible. That would include preparing myself financially; not only for the adventure (supplies/gear etc.), but also to maintain my life back home, while I’m out there. Bills keep coming every month, amirite? The other part is going to include getting my employer to agree to let me take a full month off from work. I don’t want to cross those bridges after I have already burned them to the ground (like Type B Kelly would do), so I added them to the list. I have the option of completing the trail in the six sections over the course of a few months, or attempting to complete it in two sections (10 days at a time).  The ultimate goal, however, would be to complete the entire trail in one swoop. End to End, as they say. I’m aiming for September, so I have a few months to make that possible.

Research- First things first, I need an idea of what I’m getting myself into. I’ve started researching the Long Trail, reading stories from other hikers about their experiences, and asking my hiker friends what kinds of things to prepare for on a long-distance hike (gear, first aid, fatigue).  I need information on long-distance hiking, but I also need Long Trail specific information (shelter/water locations, how to prepare for every section individually, supply stops). I came across some interesting books/maps on the Long Trail. One of particular interest, is the “End to Ender’s guide”, which will be my first purchase. Type B Kelly will probably leave it in the bottom of a drawer for a few months, but then Type A Kelly will find it and write her own cliff notes, so we’re good.

Distance Training– I’m going to start by, well, by walking.  My research shows that the average Long-trail hiker covers 10-15 miles per day. I’m starting off with five-mile hikes. I’m already doing 3-4 on the treadmill/Arc Trainer, and I’m trying to increase the distance gradually, not torture myself.  I did my first five mile walk in a snow storm; I had mascara running down my face from the melting snow. By the time I got back to my car, I basically looked like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Reverent, it was glorious. I am going to make a conscious effort to choose walking over driving, whenever time/distance permits.  I might even use this as an opportunity to train with weight (walking to the grocery store and carrying the groceries back in a pack etc).  In terms of trail/treadmill walking, I will listen to my body and gradually increase the mileage, probably a mile at a time, until I get to 15 miles per day.  I don’t know if I’m going to be the kind of Long trail hiker who completes the trail by hiking 15 miles a day, but I should at least be comfortable at that pace.

Mountain/Terrain Training– People keep telling me (and by people, I mean the internet) that the only way to train for hiking, is by hiking. It’s a rough season to start training in Maine, because of the weather and low temperatures. However, hiking in the snow will add a level of difficulty that could only help in preparing me for mountainous terrain. Right? Right?  So, part of my research includes finding local mountains, with similar altitude and terrain as the ones I will encounter in Vermont. I live in Maine, and closely border New Hampshire, so that is not going to be an issue for me.  The short(ish)-term goal, in terms of mountain training, is going to be completing a 30/50-mile hike, to gain insight on what it takes to hike long days and camp by myself.  I may even attempt to complete one section of the Long Trail, during the summer months, in preparation for the longer hike.

Wilderness Training- Yeah, so, I need to be able to make fire. Or wrestle a bear. Alright, so I can certainly start a fire, but I’m definitely not prepared to wrestle a bear.  I love camping, but I’m not used to back-country camping, where I may not be close enough to a local town, to get the supplies I need. I have to prepare myself for what it could look like, if something happens on the trail and I am a few days away from a helping hand. I don’t even know where to start. Youtube, maybe? Does being a Survivor super-fan give me any wilderness cred? It did teach me how to crack a coconut, but its Vermont, so…

Meditation/ Fear Awareness–  When I went camping by myself for the first time, it was scary for me.  I ended up at a B&B the following night; clutching my soft pillow in REM bliss. It’s my understanding that long distance solo-hikes can be isolating after a while.  I can train myself to walk for a month, and hike mountains, but if I get a few days in and can’t control my fear, I won’t make it through.  I’m trying to accomplish a long-term goal here, not leave the woods with stick I’ve named “Wilson”, you know what I mean? So, the final part of my plan is going to include acknowledging some of those fears, figuring out how to face them, and becoming more mindful, as a person.

So, there it is.  I have developed a plan and now it’s time to execute it.  I’ve created an Instagram account, specifically for my training adventures/mishaps, feel free to follow me!

About to Forest Gump this B.

I know, I know… “don’t call yourself fat!” Well, like many who came before me, I’m taking the word back. Or at least taking it with me, on a 273 mile walk through Vermont’s Long Trail.

I’m generally pretty confident, and I think I wear my body well, but I don’t treat it well. I eat food that I shouldn’t eat.  I don’t exercise when I should. I don’t prioritize sleep. I don’t drink enough water or get the vitamins that my body needs to sustain with any longevity.  I’ve always been overweight, even as a child, but I gained a significant amount of weight over the last few years and I can feel the effects of it.

Four years ago, my father got sick unexpectedly. Everything happened so quickly, as it does. We found out he had cancer on December 5th. On the 10th, we learned that the cancer had already spread throughout his body, and on the 13th, he was moved to a hospice facility.  I have two sisters, and the three of us were close to our Dad, so the news was devastating.  He knew what was coming, but we couldn’t face it. Before he was moved to hospice, I kept telling him that he needed to be more positive, everything was going to be fine. I remember him saying how difficult that was for him; “here I am, looking at my three girls, and they have so much hope.”  The story should end by me saying that he passed away and my sisters and I mourned at our own pace, but the universe didn’t think that was enough challenge for us. Our character needed more building, I suppose.  My older sister, Kristina, was born with a heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.   We found out about her heart condition when I was 7 years old. I’ve always known it to be a barrier for her, but didn’t truly understand the depth of her condition, until the day my dad went into hospice.  After learning that our dad was going to die, Kristina’s heart failed her. Our dad was moved to hospice and she was moved to a hospital.  There, she received her first pacemaker implant, at 33 years old.  Tough week, right? It kept on.  Our grandfather, “Papa”, who had been fighting cancer for a year, also declined rapidly, and was moved into the same hospice center as our Dad.  Papa was the grandfather on my mother’s side, so we had both sides of the family in this hospice center at the same time.  For as long as I can remember, that side of the family would celebrate Christmas Eve together, at our grandparent’s house. I’ll never forget the kindness they showed us that year. Our grandfather passed away on December 22nd, but our family reserved the community room at the hospice center for Christmas Eve. They returned to the place where they just lost a loved one, so that my sisters and I could still have the tradition of spending Christmas Eve with them.  My sisters and I knew that the series of events we had faced so far,  were so unimaginable, that the only choice we had was to prepare ourselves for more. So we talked about what it would look like if our Dad passed away on Christmas; knowing that, either way, Christmas would never look the same for us. We were given a reprieve, as Christmas passed and he stayed strong.  Not a long reprieve though; he passed away on December 27th, the day of our grandfather’s funeral. The next six months were foggy. Our father helped care for his elderly Aunt, in her home.  We took shifts, 24-48 hours at a time, so she could stay there as long as possible. When it was no longer safe for her to remain there, we found a nursing facility, and then sold that home to pay for it. Auntie Dot lived in that house for over 60 years. It was the only house my sisters and I had known consistently, and throughout our lives. We had years of memories there; holidays, like the one where I found out that Santa wasn’t real because he was wearing my fathers shoes. Family dinners, where our dad would cook shish-kebab on the grill, take it off the skewer, put it all in a large bowl, and call it a “bucket of wonderful.”  Even though my Dad once said, “its just a house, it wont love you back”, it felt like another loss. I still dream of buying that house back someday, but for now, someone else is making memories in it.  Auntie Dot passed away in the Spring of 2016, and I remember a conversation I had with my Uncle afterwards. He said, “now its time for you girls to go and live your lives.” I wasn’t really sure what that looked like for me, and didn’t feel very strong.  My sisters were a beacon of strength and we come from a long line of strong women.  My Dads mom never left my fathers side in hospice, and she showed a level of strength that you couldn’t imagine from a women at the bedside of her dying son.  Through his finals days, he got to see her as he always had, as we all have; strong and poised.  Kristina needed another pacemaker implant that first year, which she then had to heal from, again. We all visited Auntie Dot regularly, but Kristina handled the logistics of her care, almost exclusively; making sure the bills were paid, and Auntie Dot was being advocated for. Our younger sister, Kourtney, started an event photography business from the ground up, because our dads death, at 54 years old, was proof that the world wont wait for you to decide that its the right time to live.  I guess I had bouts of strength too, but I tried to ignore the grief, which at times, caused me to isolate myself. I started gaining weight steadily, and found myself 40lbs heavier by 2015. Last year, I started on a path to weight loss and self-discovery. I’m proud to say that I am now back down to (or a little below) my former weight.  Proud, yes, but I’m not stopping there. I’ve decided to walk my way to a healthy weight, and what better way to do that, than to start training for Vermont’s Long Trail? So, here it is… I’m going to share my adventure with you, and hope that you all give me some direction along the way.

Did I mention that I’m not a hiker? Right, so I’m definitely going to need that direction.