Decision Time – Change of Plans

Decision Time – Change of Plans

We had to go to New York for a couple of days.  Ryan had meetings in Syracuse on Tuesday and Wednesday, so after Trail Days was over in Damascus we picked up a rental van and headed north.  Our plan was to head back to Virginia this morning, and tomorrow morning start hiking where we had left off last week. 

But, nothing is “us” unless there are changes to our plans.  We revisited our “Oreo” plan this morning, and took a vote by ballot. 

The Oreo plan is to do the beginning of the trail (which we have done), then to do the New England part of the trail, finishing with the middle, and sweeping up the last part of the Smokies, ending our journey at Clingmans Dome.

Five voted “Oreo”, two voted traditional northbound (returning to the trail where we had left off)… And still we had a further discussion, because we don’t just leave people’s feelings to the casting of a vote.  

After all concerns are addressed, and everyone was feeling good about the plan, we called Enterprise to see if we could return the rental to Concord instead of Virginia.  Initially they told us it would be an insane amount of money, but after some further conversation they waived the drop fee… And we home.

We will be here, at home until Monday morning, when Ryan’s parents will then drive us to Mount Greylock, in northwest Massachusetts.  We will spend the next almost seven weeks hiking to Mount Katahdin.  Taylor and Kole are going to camp in Connecticut July 16-21, then we will return to Mount Greylock on the 22nd and hike south again.  

We are able to hike approximately 95 miles a week, so we will finish early fall.

It had been so good to see a few friends and Ryan’s family again, and hope to see as many friends as we can squeeze into a couple of days that we are home.

The kids are so happy to be able to see their friends again!

It was awesome to cook dinner in my kitchen again!!!

And best of all… We get to sleep in our own bed for the next couple of nights! AWESOME!!!

Tomorrow, we will work on resupply and plans for the next seven weeks.  If you have been wanting to participate in Trail Magic boxes, we will have addresses coming.  If you are up on this area and want to meet up with us while we are on the trail, shoot us an email.  

We are so excited about this leg of the trip!  We are happy to be able to hike this part of the trail in some of this areas nicest weather, and will look forward to completion of the Appalachian Trail at Clingmans Dome.  

Growth on the Trail

Growth on the Trail

When we started to plan this journey, we had just found out that Ryan was going to be medically retired from the military.  He had been in the military for 17 years at that point, and had been diagnosed with PTS and a TBI.  This diagnosis came after over a year of treatment.  Ryan tried to return to duty, feeling strong enough to do so, but after an honest attempt it was obvious that it was not in his best interest or the units for him to continue to serve  on active duty. 

While Ryan was in treatment, we were simultaneously fighting for our marriage and our family.  As his wife, I learned everything that I could about the various ways that PTS manifests itself.  I learned so much about how a traumatic brain injury has impacted Ryan, and consequently how it has impacted our marriage.  Understanding became the solid platform from which we could launch into the next chapter of our life. 

When it was clear that Ryan was going to be retired, we started thinking about what we were going to do next.  We decided to head out on the trail.   Here we are two months later… 550+ miles behind us, many many more ahead of us.  We aren’t much closer to knowing what we are going to do next, but some things are much clearer than they were when we started up the trail on March 12.

Earl Shaffer hiked the trail to “walk off the war”.  What I know for certain is that one cannot simply walk it off.  It is not the walking that helps one to deal with the trauma of war, but the trail provides a natural boundary from outside influences and stimuli that sometimes hinder the healing process.  When we are on the trail, I see such peace in everyone’s eyes.  When we get into town, there is an initial excitement for showers and clean laundry, a little snack and sometimes even a real bed, but that excitement tends to last no more than about 24 hours.  Past that time, the excitement turns to anxiety and an itch to get back out to the trail.  

The past couple of weeks have not gone as planned.  With an injury, Trail Days and a meeting in NY, we have spent more time in town than we are used to, and it is during these times that I have been able to truly see how far we have come, and how far we have to go.  There is no set destination, but there are definitely things we need to address and work to overcome.  

It is so hard for people to understand the complexities of PTS.  Many times things look totally normal to the outsider, but with anxiety of being in crowds, conversations that are initiated by well meaning people about the war and our governments position on foreign policy, and the like cause an emotional distancing amongst us.  Though Ryan is the one diagnosed with PTS, there is a very real presence of secondary PTS within each of us… To varying degrees.  I’ve never really had issues with crowds, but now crowds cause me anxiety as I prepare for the way that Ryan reacts to them.  

As we prepare to head back to the trail, these are issues that will be at the forefront of our conversations.  With each trip to town, we will focus on growing in these areas.  Each of us have to face how things that are out of our control effect us, this includes how we react to how each of us react.
We have met many people along the way that have left the trail because they have found what they were looking for.  We may not know much, but we do know that we are not ready to go home yet.  Yet.  One day we will be there, but it is not right now. 

The Path: By Taylor Owen

The Path: By Taylor Owen

   Life has taken me a lot of places. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me at least, my destination has often been complete surprise. You don’t know where you are moving, or even if you are moving, very long in advance as a military family. This built something in me, a flexibility, a strength. I was hoping that I would be able to put that all aside once my Dad retired, but I’ve made a realization. I have not chosen a normal route for my life. I don’t want the regular, I will not accept the average, and the strength I earned from years of uncertainty is now the backbone for what’s coming. 

   I heard once that,”Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.” This statement has proven itself true to me. So many just sit at home, lead lives of “quiet desperation”, but my heart and my God are calling me to something greater.  Why settle for a comfortable seat in the average when I could work for a place in the spectacular? This not for my ego’s sake, but simply for the journey.  No, the years spent in confusion while my world was turned around and around will not be something I will allow myself to regret, but something I will use as fuel. 

   I feel pangs of sadness sometimes, as I watch people live “normal” lives. Prom season just passed, and my Instagram was filled to the brim with pictures of my friends and their dates headed off to what looked like a really fun night. I’m not going to know what that feels like, and it was a semi-saddening thought. But that just isn’t the path I’ve been put on. I’m called to something different, not something better, but something different. My own route has been carved before me and I am going to chase it with everything in my soul, no matter how it twists or turns. I will take whatever triumph or tragedy that accompanies it, and it will carve my life into something to unique for anyone to fully imagine. I don’t want a comfortable life, I want a meaningful one. 

   I fear that many of us won’t live that. I think a lot of people allow their fears, pasts, or sheer laziness dictate how they live. To them I say that a life lived under any of those is one lived under tyranny. Free yourself, free your mind, and go do something that people are going to think you are crazy for. 

   Pursue your path, don’t settle for average, get up, get out, and follow what you are here to do one step at a time. Happy trails. 

An update from the past week… May

An update from the past week… May

Well it is hard to let you know all that had been happening out on the trail in my absence.  However, I can tell you that it has been a great time for Ryan and the kids.  They are all doing amazing… And have pushed through so many new milestones.

May 10th – No more slack packing.  The crew headed out from Shook Branch Recreation Area.  

We got a call from Ms. Janet letting us know that someone had found our Gopro on the trail.  What??? No one even knew it was missing.  Ryan called the person who had found it.  They made a plan to meet at the shelter, but to our surprise he was at the Rec Area when we arrived.  So meet our Gopro Hero… Theory.

I have the kids and Ryan hugs and kisses and said farewell.  It wasn’t easy to do, but I am so proud of them!  They hiked 9.1 miles to Vandeventer Shelter.

May 11th – Ryan and the kids hiked from Vandeventer Shelter to Abingdon Shelter.  Get this, they hiked 22.7 miles with their packs!!! Pictures to come.

I spent the day shuttling hikers to various places to eat and to the store, as well as cleaning the trailer.  Rain came in so it was a full house!!!

After taking someone to breakfast, we were treated to an impromptu song by Dr Barret! It was really cool!

May 12th – I got up early, and started helping to clean up the trailer.  And prepare to leave Doe River Hiker Rest.  There are not enough words to say how thankful that I am to have been able to stay at Doe River.  David is an amazing man, who really cares about hikers and his guests!!! It was awesome to witness him in action.

He called his buddy at Boots Off Hostel to see if he was heading to Damascus, and to see if he could give me a ride.  Thankfully he was, so about noon we headed out.

While all of that was going on, Ryan and the kids were bidding Tennessee farewell.  Three states down!!! 

Then shortly afterwards, they made their way into Damascus, VA… “Trail Town USA”.

I had called ahead and tried to find a place for everyone to sleep, shower, and rest.  Chuck, owner and operator of Woodchuck Hostel, agreed to let us all occupy his living room.  It was forecasted to rain about 2 inches, so anything under a roof woukd be more than amazing!!!  While I was still making my way to Damascus, Ryan picked up the mail, got everyone through the showers, and did the laundry!  Thank you babe!  And thank you Chuck for making room for all of us!

Jim, from Boots Off, have me a ride to town just in time for dinner.  

Though we didn’t stay there, his hostel is really really cool.  Can’t even tell you how cool it would be to run a hostel like his one day!!!

We walked to Subway for dinner.  We got soaked, but it was nice to eat subs full of veggies!

Chuck came to pick us up. And when we went back, we settled into the living room for the night!

May 13th – We woke up at about 7.  Included in our nights stay was a deliciously filling breakfast.  Then we started the process of packing up again.  

We weighed our packs, and ourselves!  We are all doing great!  No one had lost too much weight, some are even gaining a little! Even Belle is doing awesome!

And check out this hair!!!

We had a few things to pick up so we headed to the Dollar General, and returned to the post office to mail some things out!  While we were downtown, we ran into our friend Pigpen again!

Ava got her birthday card from Grammie and Grandpa Owen.  Thank you!

It took us awhile to leave town, but we finally did!

I hadn’t had my pack on for a while, and wasnt sure how my leg was going to feel, so we decided to take the Virgina Creeper Trail of of Damascus. It used to be the AT, but when it was made into a bike path, the trail was rerouted to the mountain. 

It was really beautiful.  The rivers were all raging, because of all of the rain.

It was awesome to be back with the family, though it wouldn’t last long.  About 8 miles in, I had to leave the trail.  The kids hiked on with Ryan… Completing 13.2 miles for the day.

I just love this kid!!!! Just thought I’d throw that in there!

I got a ride to town with Lumpy from Mount Rogers Outfitters, and then stayed the night with Pigpen and a couple of gals she has been hiking with.

They had been staying with a gal named Patricia, who just loves the Hiker culture, and though she’s only temporarily living in Damascus, she opens her apartment up to hikers in need.  She embodies the definition of Trail Angel.  Thank you!!!

May 14th – Mothers Day… Check out my post about my perspective on the day.

I ended up going to church and meeting Susie & Gaines Montgomery.  They are a super sweet couple, and I was so blessed to be able to spend time with them.  They even treated me to breakfast at Cracker Barrell.  Yummy!

Ryan and the kids hiked 14.8 miles from Virginia Creeper Junction to Thomas Knob Shelter. They saw a bunch of wild horses.  Pictures to come soon. 😊

So that brings you up to date for the past week… Stay tuned for updates on May 15th to present.  It’s not awesome that I am not able to be with the kids hiking, but we are making the best of it… 

While I yellow blaze it, the crew is flowing the white blazes on the Appalachian Trail!!! 

The journey continues!

Happy Trails ~ The Thru Crew 



We had the most wonderful day on Sunday.  When we arrived atop Carvers Gap, we had entered a new world.  The moisture in the air had crystallized on the surfaces of every tree, and plant.  It was obvious that fierce winds had blown, as the crystals themselves protruded straight out from every plant, in the same direction.  The winds had to have been fierce, but the scene was so beautiful now.  The sun was glistening off the blanket of white that covered the earth. 

We hiked several miles through this strangely quiet place.  It took two hours to hike 3 miles, because every turn seemed to bring with it another scene to be studied, captured, and enjoyed. 

So far, this day, has been my favorite day.  But this day, also was my worst day.  As we were descending from the top of the mountain, back down into the gap, I placed my foot on an unsteady rock, and found myself writhing in pain.  A twisted ankle can be the end of the trail for some.  It was so painful that I cried my last couple of miles down the trail.  I knew that I really had no choice but to keep going, though all I wanted to do was to sit and cry.  So many thoughts ran through my head.  My tears were not only over the pain that I was experiencing, but also the fact that I knew I was not going to be able to continue on with Ryan and the kids for atleast a few days.  I was angry, frustrated, and in intense pain.  

Rest.  Breathe.  Let yourself slow down.  Trust.  Release.

Rest.  We’ve gotten plenty of sleep out here on the trail.  Without electricity, hikers tend to find themselves asleep the moment that the sun goes down.  Rest, however, is not the same as sleep.  Rest has not been a part of this trip thus far, atleast not for me.  I am constantly planning, constantly trying to communicate how we are doing with the outside world, constantly checking and rechecking to make certain that everyone has everything that they need, when is there time for rest?  

Breathe. The trail is a path cut through the woods.  It isn’t going anywhere, yet our plans to conquer it must remain fluid.  Plans and expectations must be adjusted to move forward successfully.  So take a deep breath, take it all in, and let go of the “ifs” and “whens”.  

Let yourself slow down.  In the attempt to move quickly, a sacrifice is made.  If our goal was to make it to Katahdin in a certain number of days, so much would be lost.  There is a saying out here in the trail, “The last one to the top wins.”  It means that the person who has taken their time has gained more, experienced more, and has enjoyed all that nature and the trail have to offer.  I am learning that it is indeed OK to have alone time in these woods.  And suffering the consequences of trying to move too fast… Now that I am away from the family.

Trust.  This is an adventure that will never be relived.  It is an opportunity that will never come back around.  There is so much happening in and around ourselves, and life transformation is happening in front of our very eyes.  I need to trust that we will accomplish all that we are to accomplish in whatever amount of time we are out here, as long as the journey is enjoyed, and the time is spent wisely.  

Release.  I love the verse in Proverbs that states how a man makes his plans, but it is God who orders his steps.  In His perfect wisdom and goodness, He is ordering our steps.  It is our responsibility to follow them, and trust when we really don’t want to… When it hurts, and when it is hard… It is our responsibility to surrender!  

“The fiery furnaces are there by God’s direct permission. It is misleading to imagine that we are developed in spite of our circumstances; we are developed because of them. It is mastery in circumstances that is needed, not mastery over them.” – Oswald Chambers. 

I am learning to see beyond the trial, and to the expectation of transformation.  The story is just beginning to unfold!

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