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?

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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)

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. 😊