A Journey Update

A Journey Update

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.

 

A Full Heart

A Full Heart

Last week, after a good day of splitting firewood with my family, we gathered around our table to talk. We looked at each other and went to the task of digging into what really happened to all of us in the green and very saturated mountains of Vermont.

All through the process of recording the journey of hope and healing, my family and I have committed to one another that nothing less than total honesty with each other and ourselves is what will guide this journey to the place that we all seek…inner peace.

There were several moments of the typical surface conversation that breaks the ice… and then the real issue at hand jumped right into my face. The truth is that I was ready to quit the trail all together. I hated the mud, I hated the rain, and I hated the incessant black flies. But, much more than those physical difficulties was weighing me down as I traveled to a familiar dark place in my heart and mind.

I have given everything possible to my family for 18 plus years, and I have (at times, and varying degrees) grown tired in the sacrifice of it all (I mean, who likes paying bills???). However, there is immense personal satisfaction in my role as a husband and father, even in the rougher days…and I love my role as a provider, leader, and encouraging friend. I have never felt cheated in giving to any of them (It is who I am at the core level).

But currently, I am in uncharted waters, and I now have a front row seat watching my two older sons ready themselves to go into bright and challenging futures, without my wife and I…and selfishly, I feel profoundly cheated. I don’t feel that I have had proper time to be involved with how they have come to who they are today. My wife has stepped up to the plate in a way that only other single mothers might be able to understand.

These strong and powerful feelings are all new territory for me now that I am not surrounded and inundated with a ravenous and never satisfied military career and lifestyle. The consistent training and mission planning for the never ending pursuit of radical and evil groups in our world was my personal identity for most of the waking hours in my days…and I lost myself in all of it.

Now, the real me and how I actually feel about a myriad of issues are flooding my inner head space. Since my retirement in February the only interaction that I have with the threat of terrorism is how it will effect my mood and thoughts after I read an article or see a news piece that updates me on the latest happenings that an extremist group has acted upon.

It used to be so effortless and easy to push aside the sad realities that have always been right under my nose. Some days ago on the AT in middle Vermont there were a host of thoughts and ideas that started racing into my mind…and I was spiraling out of control mentally and emotionally. I was employing every tactic that I have learned over the last few years in how to ground myself and not loose control, but I failed to do so.

The majority of my personal years of youth and precious time with my own sons was voluntarily sacrificed for the causes and purposes of a nation that my family and I have served. The weight and full realization of this truth hurts (right now) beyond words as I see them get ready to go. When I concentrate on these thoughts and feelings I turn very dark and very selfish. I’m not the only one that has been through this roller coaster of feeling, being so proud, and yet hurting so badly all in the same moment.

As we sat around the table having the talk, one of my young men hit me with a healthy dose of reality about how I typically react when I start to be overwhelmed with this kind of pain and lack of control that is often so very close to me in my heart and soul these days. He looked me dead in the eyes and said “Dad you turn into a total asshole…you have dropped that ball big time, and you have for a very long time”

Those hot words went right to the core of my being…because I know that it’s true. I know that he is right, and his words take me back to many years ago, as I would think and wish about having all the time with my kids that “regular people” take for granted. This is where a part of my angry and bitter self started to develop…and my family are the ones feeling the effects.

Well, here I am in the new reality of finally having time with my family…real amounts of time. The AT is a once in a lifetime chance and experience that is pushing and challenging all of us in so many differing ways. For most of us, the physical nature of the trail isn’t high on the list of challenges. The challenges that we are facing are deeply rooted in our hearts and minds, and when the conditions are right, we display the reality of these challenges on our selves with intense emotions, tones, and body language. We have displayed these things for one another to see for some time…and this kind of thing has real consequences in a team, in a family.

At the end of our talk the other day, we all decided in unanimous fashion that we are committed to each other more deeply than ever before, and that the trail has been the fashioning tool and catalyst that has been used in the heating, cleansing, shaping, and forming of a people and family that we are needing to be…for other hurting families, for each other, and for a hurting world.

The experiences that the Appalachian Trail provided has proven to me that recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a life long choice. A choice to fight what many have looked at as an impossible task. I had once thought that my heart was empty and damaged for life…and that is simply not true.

I have a full heart, and have been shown that the rest of my days are not going to be defined by a time in my life that was marked with hardships and sorrows. I am going far not fast with the ones that matter…the ones I truly love more than ever before

Happy Trails

Pause… 

Pause… 

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!

Change:  A road to contentment

Change: A road to contentment

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!

 

June 8th 

June 8th 

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.

Let’s talk “poop”

Let’s talk “poop”

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.

moose mountain privy

Photo Credit: Section Hiker 

 

Confessions

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!

 

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Photo Credit: www.hiveminer.com

June 7th – A stroll through Hanover, a night in an open field 

June 7th – A stroll through Hanover, a night in an open field 

At about 8:30 am, Grammie Owen came to pick us up from our little house.  We loaded all of the gear into the back of her Odyssey van, and one by one loaded into her van and set off for Hanover, NH, the southern point of the trail in our home state of New Hampshire.  We made it to Hanover around 10:30, where we were met by Caitlin, a reported from the Concord Monitor newspaper.  

Caitlin interviewed each of us about the journey so far, about our goals moving forward, and why we are on the trail.  Then she took a few pictures of  our family getting back on the trail.  The funny thing about this part of the trail is that it doesn’t really look anything like the wooded footpath we have been traveling.  The state line is engraved on marble on the bridge that crosses the Connecticut River between Vermont and New Hampshire.


With cars buzzing past us, we made our way into the little town of Hanover.  We ran into a few hikers that had really been moving quickly along the trail.  Their journey will end in only a few short weeks.  They had heard about our family, asked a few questions, and let us know that there were a few places we needed to visit before leaving town.

Lous Restaurant & Bakery on Main Street offers a free donut to thru hikers.  They were absolutely awesome donuts!


After the sweet treat, we made our way over to Romundo’s Brick and Brew Pizza.  This place offers hikers a free slice of pizza, but only if you’ll sign their log book! 


The above picture of our packs lined up is a common sight in hiker towns.  

After we had consumed enough calories to count as lunch, we prepared to hike out of town.

The trail followed the main road through town until it turned, ran along the backside of Dartmouth College, and then became reunited with its wooden home.


This part of the trail requires its travelers to pay a little more attention to those little white blazes.  I needed to strip some layers, and told Ryan that he could just go on ahead, and I would meet up with everyone at the shelter ahead.  But once I was done packing everything into my pack and started hiking what I thought was the trail, I quickly found myself wandering through the forest.  Thankfully we had signal on our phones. I called Ryan and he came back for me.  I was quite a ways away from the trail.  We didn’t start hiking until about 2pm. 

About 6:30 we found a beautiful little spot along the river to collect water and make dinner.  Once we had finished cleaning or dishes, we set out to hike on.  As we were stepping out we ran into a hiker we had met a couple of months ago at Hog Pen Gap.  He was about to finish his winter south bound hike.  He was now hiking with a friend who is finishing their north bound hike!  He’s getting ready to head out on another adventure.

We thought we’d try to get to the next shelter, but when we stumbled upon this little gem, we couldn’t resist the urge to drop packs and set up camp!


It was the perfect place to end such a great day back on the trail!


We built a fire, hung the bear bags, and enjoyed the beauty that surrounded us!


A few more pictures from the day…


Happy Trails ~ The Thru Crew 

Up in Syracuse

Up in Syracuse

In the last post I said I was going to publish again in Damascus. Well, almost 2 weeks later I finally have enough time and connection to sit and write for awhile. Sorry for the delay. ; )

After leaving Damascus on May 13 we hiked on for quite awhile, covering many miles in a few days. Our goal was to reach Pearisburg before driving up to NY. Plans changed though, and the 7 of us loaded into a 5 person car and drove back to Damascus for Trail Days. While at Trail Days we had the opportunity to repair gear, recouperate physically, and pick up a few more sponsors. All in all, Trail Days was a bunch of fun and a great place to say “Hey” to some trail friends. Than we got a bigger rental and drove up to Syracuse and here we are.

So, now that you know where we are, I’d like to touch on how this trip is affecting me mentally. During my time at camps and shelters I’ve been able to talk to many adults about what they hiking for. The most common answer is, “I’m trying to find out what I want to do next.” The following conversations show that almost no one knows the answer to that question. It’s made me consider the same thing. What do I want to do? How do I want to live my life? These conversations also have taught me that there is no time like the present. I refuse to be in my mid thirties and still be wondering where my life is going to go. I promise myself to work and fight to follow my heart and do what I love to do. As my new friend Neil told me, “Be true to yourself and don’t waste time.” So, that’s what I aim to do and ask all of you, the readers to do the same. Procrastination is my biggest enemy and I ask you to join me in my fight against him.

That’s what I have for now. Thanks for reading and Happy Trails!

We quit… or did we?

We quit… or did we?

We haven’t posted anything about the past few days.  On Wednesday, we went back to the trail and had a perfect day!  I mean it was absolutely beautiful!  Thursday we continued to hike, with plans to meet Ryan’s parents on Sunday on the Lonesome Lake/Cascade Trail.  We have hiked this trail many times with them in the past.  It sounded like we had a great plan!  The morning was amazing.  We had hiked 2 miles before 9, another 2 before 10.  We were in stride.  We were dry.  The bugs were not horrible.  Everything was going really well… then it wasn’t.  Something happened and the morale fell.  Unlike the other day, there was no conflict, there were no external factors causing stress, the terrain wasn’t horrible, but morale was falling.  In effort to understand, we had conversations with each of our kids.  We can push ourselves to carry packs and hike further on, but we have a responsibility to listen to our kids.  We did.  Then, we made the decision to declare the hike complete.  At that very moment, it seemed that the decision was the right one.

After several days of conversations that included asking hard questions that required honest answers, taking time to search the depths of our hearts for those answers, and coming together once again to talk, everyone has decided that our time on the trail is not complete.

Our rhythm was interrupted when we had to go to New York.  We thought that coming back to New Hampshire would be good for all of us, giving us the opportunity to be supported by family and friends as we hiked through our ‘back yard’.  What we could not have known was how hard it would be to stay on the trail, when the comforts of home were so close.  On Thursday, when we left the trail, I struggled to find contentment in our decision.  We all struggled, every single one of us, with the ‘what if’s’ and ‘if only’s’.  All of us knew that there was no way to go back and reclaim the trial experience that we had before, so we sought to find contentment in the transition from one season to another.  All of this set the stage for where we are now.  We are going back out on the trail.  We had the opportunity to come home, be home, and move forward with our heads held high knowing that we had accomplished so much.  No problems!  Instead of settling for that though, this month of grand interruptions has only led us to have a stronger resolve to finish the journey that we started.  We all have our individual “why’s”.  For Zoey, 8, her “why” is to just be with the family that she has grown to love.  For Ryan and I, our “why” is so much more complex, difficult to express in words right now, but knowing deep down that this is something we are supposed to do.  There is much more work to be done, more memories to be made, more ground to cover both figuratively and linearly.

An article was released by the Concord Monitor this morning, it states,  “And it proved a little too much for the Owen family”.  This is a part of our imperfect attempt to thru-hike the trail.  We quit, we called it, decided we had had enough, then we didn’t.

We are not completely sure of the date, but we will begin a South Bound (SOBO) hike within the next several days.  We have sought advice from veterans of the trail, close friends, and even friends we have met along the trail… we have been assured that this plan makes so much sense.  With that, the journey continues, we believe the very best is yet to come.

June 4th & 5th: Reset

June 4th & 5th: Reset

When we left our home in March, there was an excitement that could just not be contained.  We couldn’t wait to experience all that the trail would offer.  When we arrived at Amicalola Falls on March 12th, tears welled in our eyes.  We had made it to the beginning of the journey.  We were hopeful, but unsure as to wether we would actually ever take our first steps on the trail.  When the weather turned dangerous at the top of Springer Mountain and we did not know if we were going to be able to find a reasonable ride down the mountain, we could not have imagined that we would find ourselves at Miss Jane’s home in Blairsville.  We were able to sleep in warm beds, take hot showers, buy new gloves to keep our hands warm, and more importantly we got our first taste of the new friendships that this experience would bring us.

Our first day on the trail, we were completely proud of the fact that we had simply made it to the trail!  We were as proud of our first 4.4 miles, as we have been over any 15+ mile day.  We set up our tents for the first time, and slid into our new sleeping bags.  We gathered sticks to make a fire and we sat around it with a couple of teachers.  I watched pridefully as Taylor discussed American and British literature with the two of them.  There could be no better reward to the end of a cold, hard days climb, than to enjoy the simplicity of a fire with all seven of us enjoying each others company.

When we returned to the trail at the end of the cold snap, we were so excited to make it to Hawk Mountain.  It is there that we met Antenna, ThunderBuns, and Papa G.  We would experience more memories with each of them.  Again, it was not the miles, but the memories that we were chasing.

It took us several days to hike the first 34 miles to Neel’s Gap.  We met the Warrior Expedition hikers there, and had a good laugh over the crazy of having seven boxes delivered to us there.  We met the Graham’s in town at the pizza parlor, and hiked out of Neel’s Gap with them the next day.  We all survived our first hail storm there, and we lived to laugh about it.

One memory after another, conversation after conversation… our first month on the trail was filled with trials, but more the mystery and misery mixed to make a whole heap of memories that propelled us forward each and every step of the way.  Of course the newness was bound to wear off.  There has to be a reason so many leave the trail.  If it were all good, all the time, this journey would really have no purpose except to provide a temporary escape from the inevitable reality that we will one day live again.  We trusted that the difficulties of the trail would provide opportunity to grow, to talk about the struggles that we have faced, and to be open about the hurts that we have experienced, to seek forgiveness from each other, and to find peace with each other and with God.

Somewhere, somehow, at sometime, things changed.  Not all things, but some things.  Even now, I struggle to articulate the changes, but over the past couple of days family conversations have confirmed that things had indeed changed, and moreover that there is so much more work to be done; not to go back to the place we were at the beginning of this journey, but to really come together as a family, and to let go of the anger that exists inside each of us.  The heat of the past week has revealed immense amounts of anger that dwells in the depths of each of our souls; a brokenness of spirit that has created chasms in our core.

We were told at the very beginning of our time in service that we need to just pull up our boot straps and keep marching on.  There is a sacrifice required from those who choose to serve… we had chosen to serve, therefore we would have to become intimately acquainted with the sacrifice.  Our children would have to know this sacrifice as well.  However, we cannot blame everything on this sacrifice; we have to own our contribution to the chaos.

As we sort through the heap of emotions, we are only now beginning to see the magnitude of the task.  Before now, everything has been somewhat stored in compartments created by expectation. As parents, we have told our kids how to store and deal with their emotions.  Regardless of the pain brought on by deployments, we have tucked emotions away in order to survive.  “There is nothing that our emotions will change.”  But after living through the consequences of thinking this way, nearly losing everything, we refuse to let our kids walk into adulthood without allowing them space to unpack all of that junk, and learn again how to let go of the negative and identify the positive.  It isn’t as simple as just throwing it all aside and moving on.

Lately, we have been to see the lack of milage as failure, rather than a part of this journey.  My ankle injury, as disappointing as it was, provided Ryan some time to be alone with the kids.  New York, a great interruption to the flow of this journey, was necessary.  Though I won’t go into all of the details, things are being made right, and the time Ryan spent there was a huge contribution to that.  The disruption turned up the heat, now real work can begin.  Only if we slow down!

There is simply not enough time to hike 18 miles, relax and enjoy the little creek we pass by, and sit around and just let the conversations take place for a long as they need.  With this in mind, we have decided that we are going to slow down, but we are going to keep going.  We have decided that we will stay out here as long as it takes.  There are many unknowns, and there will be many more obstacles to overcome, but we have gotten back to the heart of the journey.  We all are climbing into bed tonight with an immense amount of excitement; similar to the first day we began our journey on this trail.

 

 

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