The sting of leaving the trail is as real today as it was six months ago. We were standing at a crossroad in Lyme, New Hampshire. We had tried to find our groove again after leaping ahead to Vermont, to no avail. The trail was so different. The white hash marks continued to lead the way, but the earth was soggy from the recent melting of snow. The weather violent. It seemed as though winter was refusing to let summer have its way. The untrodden trail was slick. The forest was coming to life. With ravenous hunger, the black flies were feeding. We were their food source.
Just the night before, we had made dinner at the bend in the river. It was peaceful. Beautiful. Surreal. Deep inside, I knew that this might be the last night on the trail. I drank deeply of the beauty. We made ourselves a little fire in the lush open field. The kids laughed full heartedly as the wrestled around in their tents. Taylor and Kole serenaded us with the guitar, ukulele, and their voices. I wanted to push the pause button. I wanted to stay right there.
How could so much change in only a few short hours? How had the trail, which we had fallen in love with, become such a trial? Spirits had fallen. Batons of joy and sadness were being passed from person to person. When one was up, another was down. The stride had been broken beyond repair. We returned home after waiting a few hours for Ryan’s parents to come pick us up in Lyme, NH.
I cried the whole way home. I cried hot tears, the kind that chap your cheeks. I had pinned so much on the end of the journey. I couldn’t help but look back at the day that we had arrived at Amicalola Falls. Our family huddled up, like a team readying themselves for a championship game. We huddled in close. Ryan pronounced the beginning of our journey. We had made it. We had arrived at our destination. The beginning of the trail was a mere few hundred feet away, the end 2,189 miles north. The spark in everyones eyes was bright. On this fateful day, that spark was gone. What had changed? Even more daunting, what was next?
We arrived at our little house late in the evening. Everyone dropped their smelly packs, showered, and fell fast to sleep. In the morning, we woke to the poignant reality that the journey had ended. We tried, each in our own ways, to process this fact. We even tried to plan a return to the trail, but we were continuously unable to fit all of the pieces back together.
Our time on the trail was not in vain though. We learned so much about ourselves. We gained invaluable insight into the hearts of each of our children. We may not have finished the Appalachian Trail, but we left with the tools that we need to effect change in the trajectory of our lives moving forward. After weeks of contemplation, we decided to sell our house and everything we owned, in order to move into our little camper, and begin a new journey. With far more questions than answers, we set off into our future.
I wish that I could tell you that it is ALL wonderful and amazing, but it’s not. I try to remind myself to stay positive, to find the good in each day, and to embrace this day knowing that I am not guaranteed tomorrow, but ignoring the difficult realities that exist in the beauty of the now is unhealthy and dishonest. The honest truth is that deep below the surface I long to be back in my home, surrounded by the familiar. The uncertainty of where we are headed is scary. I miss the simplicity of the trail! Follow the white hash marks and you will never be lost. Keep heading north and you will eventually reach your destination. I want something tangible to lean into and onto… but the compass of our lives spins, the wind blows, and plans change.
Facebook reminds me everyday of a life I thought would be mine forever. I smile at the thought of the memories, I rejoice in the friendships made and kept through the distance, but I find myself a bit bitter. “If Ryan had never had to go to war…” And there I stop myself. That is NOT a trail I need to devote time to. It is a slippery slope, with no end. I do, however, allow myself to say those words. I give myself the space to acknowledge the moment our family was changed; the time when hopes and dreams were replaced with words like duty and sacrifice. Acknowledging that we are changed, has opened the door for us to begin to dream again. We are restless, wandering vagabonds. Cue the music to a 90’s Michael W. Smith song… we are ‘looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find our place in this world…’
Since leaving New Hampshire three months ago, we have visited New York City, Washington DC, some dear friends in Virginia, and Disney World. Though we thought we would be living in our camper, we have been staying in a condo that is close to my dad. We visited my hometown of Palm Beach Gardens, reconnected with old friends, made new ones, and spent some amazing time at the beach. We have all experienced so many good moments; making memories that will last a life time. We are so thankful! But there is real life stuff that causes angst. Finding the balance between preparing our two oldest sons to launch off into college, discerning the needs of all of our kiddos, and trying to figure out what it is that we (Ryan and I) are meant to do, while fumbling through ups and downs of PTS, is a bit challenging.
Thank you so much for following our journey. We are headed west in a few short days, out into more of those green (or white) lumpy places we love so much. We have thoroughly enjoyed being near family, but we are excited about the adventure the next couple of months will bring. We plan to do a whole bunch of soul searching while we are out there.
NOTE: In order to share our story, we have to share with authenticity. How can we know true joy, if we don’t experience the sting of sorrow? (words from Riley, our youngest son). I love this insight. It perfectly captures my heart. I know that there are people in our world struggling with dark realities, darker than my mind could ever imagine. I would never want the struggles that we experience to ever be placed on a scale with theirs. However, I also don’t want to paint a picture that would give indication that we have somehow arrived and have it all together. We don’t. You don’t. None of us do. We all struggle. We all have ups and downs!!! Our family has been forever changed by war. Though my children and I have never experienced the war first hand, we have forever been changed by it. Striving to find healing in the aftermath was our reason for heading out onto the trail; it remains our purpose in all we do today.
Ever been on a road trip, and found yourself lost? You turn off the music, stop the conversation you are in, and concentrate on figuring out where you are, and how to get back to where you were heading. We need the time and space to sort somethings out. Broadcasting our intent has added an unexpected layer of complexity to this process.
We want to be transparent, but we have no desire to look like vascilating fools. We want to share, and will in time.
This messy, up and down, here then there, is an important part of this process, maybe the most important. It’s here, in this space, where we are becoming who we are really meant to be. For a family, that has only bean able to control how they would react and respond to commands and orders from the military with no regard to our needs or desires, we are learning how to identify and communicate those needs and desires. PTS and is secondary effects are very real. We have to be careful that no matter what we are doing, we examine the motives behind our decisions. Are we running from something? Are we making decisions out of fear? Are we trying to put a bandaid on a festering wound? Where are we emotionally, mentally, and most important, spiritually? As we explore all of this, we need space.
When it’s time, we will share… Until then, Happy Trails!
It has been a month since Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia. A month since we have been consistently on the trail. Our attempts to get going again have not gone as we had planned. So much has happened over the past week and a half. Little did we know that the momentary interruption that seemed like goals left unfinished and broken dreams, would actually provide us the space to really think, not just about the hard stuff we’ve been working through, or where we were going to set up camp at the end of the day, but about the bigger and grander picture. The journey is only really beginning! Though we have thoughts and ideas rattling around in our heads, what we are certain of is that no matter where we are it will be different than we expected or planned, but we will be together.
We are all learning to dream, set goals, and take the steps to accomplish them, holding them all very lightly! We are learning the art of contentment and of letting go. We are living the saying, “when one door closes, another one opens.” Our “thru hike” of the AT has not gone one bit how we planned it. We never knew that we would meet such amazing people and have moments that simply took our breath away because of their kindness and generosity. We also could never have forecasted snow storms, injuries, or meetings. These highs, these lows, the process… it is all about learning to be content, and taking full advantage of the moment before us.
As a military wife, it sure would have been better if I had learned some of these lessons before. Often, my mind and my heart were very rigid. Even if my physical body looked as though it was going with the flow, my thoughts and feelings were often in a state of disappointment and anger over the never ending changes of life. My life is in an even greater state of change than ever before, but my heart is grounded. It is grounded in the fact that I know that God has a plan for each of us. This plan is far grander than I can imagine, and it isn’t all about me. He is using these trials as a part of the refining process in each of our lives.
Even today, we had to make changes to our schedule… we thought we were going to leave on Wednesday, but we realized that there was simply too much to do here before we could head out. We have decided to put our house on the market to sell. This has not been an easy decision, but it is one that we are all excited about. So, we have a little bit of work to do before that can happen. We are going to work hard as a family this week to get all of the little projects done, and we hope to head out on Saturday and climb Katahdin on Sunday.
Here is to completing one journey, and starting another!
We slept so well in the little field in which we had set up camp. We woke up to an incredibly beautiful morning. The skies were clear. The sun is rising really early in the morning now.
By 9 am, we had hiked two miles. It is kind of hard to mentally accept the fact that there is no way to hike at the same speed we had been hiking in the south. The trail is extremely rocky. The fact that these trails have not yet seen the traffic that the tasks in the south have seen, the dust, rather the moss has yet to be knocked off the rocks. We have to be far more careful here. Ryan, Taylor, and Riley all fell at least once. I slipped several times but was able to catch myself.
We made our way up to Moose Mountain Shelter, by 10:30. We chose to stop and eat lunch there, since there was space to spread out there. The black flies are out in full force now. Mosquitos as well. Bug spray and bug nets are no longer an option, rather a necessity.
The views in our home state of New Hampshire are so beautiful. It is interesting how much the trail’s landscape changes from state to state.
Here, in New Hampshire, steep cliffs and wide views are not uncommon.
We continued to hike throughout the afternoon. Throughout the afternoon, attitudes began to change. We had conversations with each of our kids, and though they couldn’t really explain the complexities of their emotions, it seemed as though we were teetering on a breakdown. Ryan made the decision to declare the end of our hike. No one objected.
We made our way to a small parking area that intersected with the road that led to Lyme, NH. We started down the road, beginning our three mile walk away from the trail. It was a very quiet walk, as we were all contemplating the meaning of what was unfolding. We were extremely grateful when the local Chief of Police picked us up and drove is to the Country Store in Lyme. When we arrived there, we called Ryan’s parents and asked them to come to pick us up. It seemed like we were doing the right thing, but the mood remained quite somber.
We had spent nearly a year planning this journey, and here we were faced with the fact that the journey had come to a close.
The emotional swing from morning to afternoon was inexplicable. The only consolation that could be found is that it seemed like we were not writing in a bad day.
Jeff and Carol finally arrived around 9:30pm. We are tired and hungry. No one really talked all that much. The conversations would begin the next morning.
If in fact, this was to be our last day in the trail… It would have at least been a beautiful day.
Before we started this journey, we asked our friends what they thought they would have the hardest time with if they were heading out on the trail. Most of the responses were in relationship to hygiene. Many people asked about using the bathroom. I thought it was particularly interesting when I found a 140 page book on the topic of how to poop in the woods. I thought, really? It can’t be that incredibly difficult. Well, let me tell you, it isn’t that easy either.
Have you ever gone to the gym and worked out so hard that you had a hard time sitting down on the toilet? Ok, then. Now imagine that after hiking 14 miles up and down the mountain, the time arrives where your body is telling you it is time… to poop!
There are two main obstacles that I face when it comes to using the bathroom… in the woods.
Pain. Not only do I have to find a place at least 200 feet off of the trail, away from a water source, and from other campsites. Sometimes, this requires scaling down a hill, or climbing up another hill. If the urge comes while I am on the side of a mountain… finding that place can be even harder, requiring my tired legs to work more. Then I have to dig a hole, and squat! Ugh, pain in my knees, pain in my feet, pain in my quads… pain!
Privacy. At the beginning of our hike, the trees were leafless. Nature was not my friend in creating a curtain to hide my bare bum. Now that there are plenty of leaves, I have to be concerned with leaf identification… imagine getting poison ivy, oak or sumac because you squatted right over them! The days of lazily sitting on a toilet reading a magazine are just not a reality out here.
My solution has been to use the privy every time we are near one.
What is a privy you might ask? Well, simply put it is an outhouse like building usually near the shelters along the trail. Some of them are fully enclosed structures, some of them are three sided, with the fourth side (the opening) facing the woods. The best part of the privy is that you don’t have to squat all the way down, bury anything, or worry about being seen by any of your fellow hikers. That is unless you find yourself at Moose Mountain Shelter in NH… then well, maybe the birds above can’t see you below, but that is about the only privacy you will have.
One day, after we had been on the trail for several weeks, I told Ryan that I had to make a confession. Nervously, he asked what I had to confess. I told him that I hadn’t pooped in the woods yet. Not quite understanding what I was meaning, with great concern for my health, he let me know that this was not good for my health. He thought that I meant I hadn’t had a bowel movement for weeks. I let him know that I was scared that I would be seen squatting, so I had simply relied on using the privies.
SO, here’s the deal. One day, we decided to camp at a tent site that had no privy. When nature calls you answer, so I grabbed the little trowel and some toilet paper, and went on the hunt for a place to go. I walked down an old trail, then walked several yards into the woods. Dug a little hole in the ground called a “cat hole”, and I went to squatting. The sun had gone down, there was barely any light left. I had my headlamp, but had turned it off, as to not draw attention to myself (not sure who I thought would see me). Then out of no where, two people came down this trail… that went to NOWHERE… and as I am mid-business, had two peoples headlamps pointed straight at me! The exact fear that had kept me from pooping in the woods was now being fully realized!!! Nope, I didn’t get over it. I still rely on the privies. I just might not live through another experience like that one!