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.

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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 buisness.

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)

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.

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?