May 30th – A very wet welcome

May 30th – A very wet welcome

It is only 6:30 pm, and we are already hunkered down for the night.  Our first day back on the trail has been filled with trials.  I had a hard time staying asleep last night, at about 2am I was finally able to get our update posted to the internet.  I finally fell back to sleep and not long afterwards, Ryan woke me up.  He thought that he was hearing mice in the shelter.  I thought that it was the rain and tried to fall back asleep.  The scratching sounds became louder and more consistent.  I realized that the sound we were hearing was coming from the same place that my bag was located.  I shook the bag, shined the flashlight in the area, but did not see anything.  The noice did cease though.  I finally was able to fall back asleep. 

We slept until about 7:45 this morning.  I think I was able to stay asleep that long because I was so tired from listening to the mice and hoping that they were not into our stuff.  Well, we finally got up, and low and behold… they had gotten into my bag, chewed a hole in one of the stuff sacks and eaten many of our Juice Plus supplements.  They broke some of the capsules open.  Now my bag smells like a fruit salad.  Well, that was my fault for leaving them in my bag, so I just had to move on.  Then we lowered our food bags that were hung so that bears and the like would not be able to reach the food.  Ninja mice, I swear!  Maybe a squirrel… but regardless, whatever it was gnawed a gaping hole through another bag, and ate 1000 calories of Belles food!  How in the world would something so small eat something like that and not keel over, right there?  So, our morning began mice 2 – humans 0… not cool. 


We got moving along the trail.  It is SO wet!  And cold!  It was nice to be safely out of a certain temperature point when we were in the south, safe from the threat of freezing temps, frostbite and the like.  Well, we are definitively back in that zone now.  

I wish that I could report that is was an incredible past 24 hours, that we were loving every moment, and so glad that we were back out on the trail… but I just cant.  Today is hard, and to make it harder, home is so close.  We are soaked through and through.  We each have a set of dry clothes that we put on when we got here to the shelter, but we are going to have to put on our freezing wet clothes in the morning… because the forecast is for more rain.  I think that we are all dreading that prospect. 

Again we did not get as far as we had planned, but the rain had the trail a slippery muddy mess.  The rain falling made it even more difficult, so we decided to hunker down in the first shelter that we came to.  We will do our best to pick up the miles, once the trail dries out… oh, I hope that it dries out. 

Here are a few pictures from the day…


Here’s to not quitting on a bad day.  Happy Trails. ~ The Thru Crew

I cannot leave the post without sharing atleast one positive thing…. We were given some Hungry Hiker meals to tryout… Dinner tonight was simply awesome!  It tasted like food that we would eat at home, which is totally hard to find for hiker dinners. Thank you so much Hungry Hiker for providing us a great meal to end an otherwise crummy day!

May 29th – Back to the trail

May 29th – Back to the trail

Our weekend at home went by so quickly.  Thursday we surprised some friends, and our family by just showing up!  It was awesome to see Maple again.  We have missed her so much!

Friday morning we slept in.  Our beds are so comfy!  We made a huge breakfast, and saw Ryan’s parents for a bit before Ryan and I headed over to Biddeford, Maine to visit the Hyperlite facility, while all of the kids went to the movies with their friends.

We had such a great time at Hyperlite!  Their facility is amazing.  Every product is manufactured right there, by hand.  It was awesome to see how everything is made step by step, even more awesome that we are now able to use packs and a new tent on the next leg of our journey.  Thank you Hyperlite!


When we got back home, we enjoyed dinner with Grammie, Grandpa, Uncle Jon, Aunt Amy and our beautiful neice, Abby.  She is getting so big!  

Saturday, we hung out at home getting our gear ready to go, doing laundry, visiting with our neighbor, and we went to Frekey’s for ice-cream.  It is just not right to go a summer without visiting atleast once.  I had a strawberry sundae in honor of my mom.

After ice-cream, Ryan took the kids to see some of their friends and caught up with some of our friends as well.  I stayed at home and took a nap… Definitely not something I frequently can do out here.

Sunday we went to church!  It was so nice to see so many of our friends and to worship with them.  We have only had opportunity to go to church twice since we’ve been on the trail, and though it has been a blessing, there is nothing like being with your own church family.

After church, we visited with more friends, Ryan’s parents and Grandma.  We had a great time… All the while preparing to get back to the trail.  

This morning, we woke up, ate a huge breakfast, put the finishing touches on our packing and headed out the door (much later than we had hoped).  

We had originally planned to start at Greylock, but decided to start just easy of Bennington, VT.  We ate lunch at Five Guys, and made it to the trail at about 4:30.  We only hiked about 2 miles, but made it in time to set up a tent for the boys, while the girls, Ryan and I settled into the shelter.


It is so good to be back on the trail, back into the woods, listening to the rain fall, and the frogs singing their songs.  It is much cooler here than it was down south, but we are prepared.  Tomorrow we have a long day ahead of us.  We plan to hike nearly 18 miles.
Happy Trails ~ The Thru Crew 

The Crutch

The Crutch

Not long ago on the trail a true friend looked me in the eye and confronted my jaded cynical crutch that has been all to common a companion in recent years of my life. These sharp and surgical words from my fellow traveler cut me quickly into the most needed place of my heart and soul where the most deadly of soul crippling cancers had taken up residence for far to long. 

Through the long and dark years that I had spent away from the ones I loved most my heart and soul had developed a thick and nearly impenetrable callus that I held onto with fierce determination. This condition developed over multiple years of pain and sorrow that I find difficult to adequately describe. I will attempt to paint a picture through an experience that will be burned into my memory for the rest of my life. This particular event came before I ever stepped one boot into Iraq in 2003….in fact, it was the day that I said goodbye to my precious family before loading out the plane that would fly me over for one of my multiple combat tours in the Middle East. The time had come to give that last huge and kiss to my wife and my two sons. Jeri Lynn and I were doing our best to handle to situation with minimal emotion and stay in control. However, despite my efforts to hold back my tears they began to fall like a strong southern thunder storm. I didn’t want my older son to see me loosing control of my emotions and cause him additional confusion and pain that he simply could not understand at the tender age of two and one half years old. The time for walking away had arrived, and I literally couldn’t breath…I feared that I was going to pass out from my anguish as I watched Jeri Lynn get into the car and put on her seat belt. The boys were tucked into their car seats in the back of our small white sedan….and the car slowly began to pull away from me. In that moment I realized the essence my commitment and oath, and the weight of it was becoming nearly too much to bare in that specific moment. However, my oldest son found it within himself to get his hand out the window as they pulled away, and I will never forget what his words sounded like that day, “Come home Daddy”, as his small hand reached out as to show me that I was not alone in my pain…at his young age, my oldest son felt the weight of what was about to define our lives for the next 15 years. 
I found a way to recover my emotions that day so that I could go find my squad, who needed me to pull myself together, to get them onto the plane and through our tour of duty in Iraq. The truth is I left something of myself there on that sidewalk. In that moment where I felt pain, sorrow, and heart ache that has only been matched by loosing a fellow Soldier. I subconsciously started the process of shutting off myself and the true feelings in my heart and the sacred beliefs within my soul. This process continued and intensified through the many other events like the one I have described above. Time and again the agonizing goodbyes and long months and years of separation pilled up…and the real me that Jeri Lynn had married, and the father that my boys had known, and should of had, began to disappear.
My oldest son is now nearing 17 years old, and he knows full well the costs that are associated with the current wars that are being fought still today…the very same ones that caused him to say good bye to me that day those many years ago. He is not alone, as I have four more children that all have this intimate knowledge of what the word sacrifice means on a level that most American adults cannot relate with. 
All seven of us are together in our journey as we walk this trail, and it is pulling the truth out of all of us in varied and differing ways. My truth that I have been addressing is the “crutch” that I have been carrying around for all of these years. I figured out a way to not feel anymore, and it has been rotting away the inside of me for many years now. This method of copping with my pain was not a healing device what so ever. 
The crutch, used properly, is employed for a temporary time until the injured person has recovered enough to start walking again and gaining strength for everyday activity. There comes a time when the crutch no longer provides the atmosphere and conditions for healing to take place…but it then stunts the essential growth and strength that is needed to ever truly walk independently again.

My best friend looked at me on the trail not so many days ago, and called out my crutch. My critical and highly cynical attitudes that have dominated my way of thinking and acting have been my go to method for avoiding any kind of realistic emotional growth. This crutch has fueled maladaptive thinking and patterns of behavior. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of positive ground has been covered for me in the last two years in my personal battles, but it is clear that this is the next one to tackle.
A true friend, like the one by my side on this journey, is absolutely priceless. They will look deeply into your life and not throw you out with the trash. But they don’t stop there…if they have our best in mind, they will tell us about our self destructive actions or patterns that will suffocate our lives and the ones next to us who we love the most.
My very real and life alerting pain and loss is now being put into its proper place; the place where it will fuel post traumatic growth and healing.

Happy Trails.

Home

Home

In Hotsprings, North Carolina, Ryan and I sang karaoke together.  It was a random thing that we did, and not something we have ever done before.  We chose to sing a song called “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  The first time I had ever heard this song was when we were in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, at a Western BBQ and dance.  We were celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary.  I have loved the song since then, and every time I hear it I think of Ryan. 

We have never had roots in a place that we call home.  Our roots are planted and entangled in one another, in the place where we are when we are with eachother and our children.  Alabama or Arkansas, no matter how much we love our ma or pa, there is something different about how we love one another.  We have never had a physical place that we look back on, since being married, that we feel was home.  

As I am writing this, I am sitting on my warm comfy king sized bed.  I slept in Ryan’s arms last night without the hinderance of sleeping bags to separate us.  I love that place.  In a few moments, I will take a hot shower without the use of crocs, and use a towel that has not touched a strangers body.  I will have to choose what I will wear (though because all of our clothes are packed away, it will be whatever is on the top of the box).  Then I will make breakfast in our fully stocked kitchen, with a full sized oven, pulling things from a fridge and utilizing a myriad of spices.  After we have all eaten, we will slip our dishes into the dishwasher, instead of heading off to find water at a nearby stream and getting our single cup and spoon as clean as we can.  I thought that I missed all of these things, but aside from being able to sleep next to Ryan, I dont.  In fact, this weekend has been harder than I could have imagined.  I am grateful, yet unsettled.  I feel more a stranger here, than I do out there.  I cant wait to be on the trail again tomorrow. 

Showers, laundry, cooking, shopping… all of those things are easier for certain when we are home, but the emotional and mental freedom that we have experienced on the trail makes the challenge of those things so worth it.  

All to often, we assign the word home to a building.  We work hard to have this home.  We work to fill the home with beautiful and pleasing things.  We dedicate hours to the upkeep of the physical building.  Often there is a never ending “to do” list of projects that need to be done to assure the functionality of the building.  And these homes become a litmus test for the success or failures of a family.  The days of knowing our neighbors and relying on them, for the majority, are past.  We drive cars to places where we can gather with people that are like us and that we choose to like.  None of these things are wrong.  But what we have experienced over the past couple of months is something so completely different, and in that difference I feel “home”.

What we are doing is not “normal”, but what is happening within each of us individually, and in all of us corporately is so amazing that I don’t know I ever want to live “normal” again.  We have time for eachother.  There are no walls or doors to divide us.  We depend on eachother daily.  We are united in the mission.  There are times when the trail is hard, but it is never harder than the things our family has gone through in the past.  Some of those difficulties can be attributed to the challenges faced from our time served as a military family, but others are because we made the choice to be bound to the typical American lifestyle.  In our attempt to have, we lost.  On the trail, we are stripped of the comforts of things, but we have found and will continue to find comfort and security in eachother.

Out there, we are known as “the family”.  We are known by who we are, not what we have, not what we do… simply who we are.  “The last one to finish wins” is a common reality check on the days where we might feel we aren’t making the forward progress that we wish we were.  We are surrounded by a community of people where everyone wants to see eachother find what they are looking for.  There is no judgement for those who dont finish (for the most part), instead of quitting, they left the trail becasue they had found what they were looking for.  We circle around eachother to make sure that no one is quitting on a bad day, but if they are leaving the trail, they are doing so at peace.  

I fear that I will finish the miles, but not necessarily be ready to leave the trail.  Having experienced the freedom that outdoor living provides, I am not sure that I am ready to bind myself to a building… and the common definition of home.

Maybe one day, this restless being will leave the trail ready to settle, but not yet.  None of us are there yet.  The place where awe at the beauty of creation and the continuous emerging of life within us and around us daily draws us to continue on.  This is the season we are in… And I love it, even on the hard days.

Happy Trails.

May 18th – A few miles, then on to Trail Days 

May 18th – A few miles, then on to Trail Days 

After eating dinner at the iconic Barn Restaurant last night, we all camped next to a parking area right next to the trail.  It was probably the weirdest place we’ve ever set up tents before, but it was good to be with everyone.

We woke up, ate a little bit for breakfast, and everyone decided that they really needed some time off the trail.  We’d been juggling the idea of going to Trail Days, but just hadn’t made a solid decision.  So, we finally made a decision that after a few more miles the Thru Crew would be Damascus bound.  

I left and headed to Damascus to set up tents.  After setting up at “tent city”, I got a call from Susie Montgomery, inviting us to tent in her backyard.  I knew that this would be a better place for Ryan and the kids, so I went ahead and moved the tents, then set out to go get my family.

Meanwhile, on the trail…  Everyone hiked another 11.6 miles. 


Ryan says that the trail has changed… The views are gone and the green wall is up.  Except for a few fields here and there, the trail has become more like a tunnel.  It is, however, warm enough now to enjoy the rivers that sometimes weave along the trail.


Ryan and the kids have hiked (northbound) daily since we hiked Carvers Gap to Roan Mountain on May 7th.  Carvers Gap is at mile marker 378.9.  After today, they reached Possom Creek, at mile marker 556.8! Do the math… They hiked 177.9 miles in twelve days!  No wonder they are ready for a break!!!

I arrived at Possom Creek after driving a long and winding road to find the family.  There were some nice people from Charleston, West Virginia, who had brought out some food for hungry hikers.  The fact that I was a little later than I had originally intended to be was of no consequence to them.  

We all climbed into the little Dodge Dart that I had been driving around.  


It was like a legitimate clown car.  We had to leave the windows open, because this car was filled with super smelly hikers, and hiker gear!

We made it to Damascus safely, and headed over to the firehouse for a free fried chicken dinner.  


We ran into our friend, Theory, and the kids begged him for the answer to the fuse riddle!  (We barely recognized him because of his haircut… Lol!). We still don’t know the answer, but we’ll keep trying to figure it out!

After dinner, we headed to see a few friends that had rented a cabin by the river for the weekend.


Belle played river fetch with Second-dinner for quite a while.  Ryan met new friends, Tim and  Neal.  Tim hiked the trail a couple of years ago.  He is a Vietnam veteran.  After the war, the woods were not an inviting place for him.  Deep down he knew that he needed to face his fears and find peace with the time he had spent in combat.  After he hiked the trail, he wrote a book called “The Good Hike”, and later he decided he wanted to go back to Vietnam to meet some of his “enemies” and make peace with them.  Neal, his close friend and producer, went with him.  They made a short film about Tim’s time in Vietnam.  The film is called “Naneek“.  

I know that Ryan has made a friend for life in Tim.  There is a bond amongst brothers that cannot be manufactured; shared experience unites them at a most base lavel.  In between the spoken words, is an unspoken language only understood by those who know the reality of war.  

The sun set on an amazing day, and we headed back to the quiet of the Montgomery’s backyard, slipped into our sleeping bags, and fell deep asleep.


Happy Trails ~ The Thru Crew 

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