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.



June 3rd: We are doing this thing… Our way

June 3rd: We are doing this thing… Our way

We woke up at 6:30 and we are ready to start hiking at 7:30.  It’s not asked record per se, but we aren’t usually ready to step off so early. By 8:30, we had hiked two miles to Bromley Shelter.  We took a little water break, and I realized that there was signal, so I wrote a quick update about the 2nd and then we were off again.  

Our kids are so strong and quick.  We let them loose sometimes to just do their thing.  It is during those times that Ryan and I are able to have our only one on one conversations.  We need them, and sometimes the kids need their space too.

A short while past Bromley Shelter we summited Bromley Mountain. The last bit of the climb was actually straight up a ski run.

I know it looks kind of flat, but I promise it wasn’t.  At the top of the mountain, we arrived at a ski patrol shack.  They leave it unlocked, and there is even a hikers log their.  It was pretty cool, and a nice place to get out of the cold for a minute.

In the above picture, Stratton Mountain Ski area can be seen in the distance.  The chair lift looks so oddly out of place and lonely, when there is no snow.  

It’s National Trail Day. So I quick snapped a picture of Ryan in front of this abandoned pylon, dining the AT emblem and pointing us in the right direction.  I’ve never relied on white blazes as much as I do here in Vermont.  The trail isn’t always as obvious as it was down south, maybe because there hasn’t been as much traffic yet this year.

We made our way back down the mountain, and into a gap where we say down to eat lunch.  We were so grateful to have our bug nets, as they were out in force.  They aren’t so bad when you are moving, but as soon as you stop… They begin to feast!

They are so pretty aren’t they?

The kids played some Frisbee for a few moments, then the Frisbee got caught on a branch.  They spent a good half hour throwing a hiking pole with a strong attached to it at the Frisbee in hopes of being able to bring it down… They were finally successful.

Before seeing back out, we decided to have a little chat to see how everyone is doing.  Honestly, a couple of the kids aren’t doing great.  Here’s the thing, the hiking isn’t the issue.  It is the space to be together as a family to regroup, to talk openly, to process things that are bigger.  We listened to one of our sons, who told us that he knew we were better than a couple of days ago, but he wished we could just spend sometime alone, all of us, to really work through some stuff.  I love that the most about my kids.  They want to talk!  It shows that bitterness hasn’t overtaken them, and they trust that they will be heard.  This is a huge gift.  Coming from the one who wants to finish every single mile, leaving no blaze unseen, his request to go home is not at all about quitting, but about finishing strong.  We contemplated this for a bit.  Even if we decided not to hike many miles and spend the majority of the day sitting around a fire talking (which had been awesome in the past) we are fighting these bugs and it is forecasted to rain non stop of the next several days.  Two tents and more rain does not allow for those long, open conversations.  So we decided to call home and have Grammie come pick us up.

We still had to walk almost 5 miles… One we are on the main road we put our thumbs up.  Look at these crazy kids!

A really nice lady, in a Prius, stopped to pick us up.  She fit all five kids, their poles and their packs into her car!  She dropped them off at the Bromley Market, and came back for me, Ryan, and Belle!  (If you are reading this, thank you again!)

Not too much later, Carol arrived.  We stuffed our packs in the trunk and headed for home.  

Though we are home, we are not spending time with anyone but eachother.  We are looking at it like a free hotel, with a common area.  The purpose of this journey is to grow, heal, purge, be heard, come back together, forgive, be forgiven, dream… Find purpose!  If the conditions on the trail hinder that, then we need to hop off.  The trail will always be there, but our kids’ willingness to talk might not.

After eating pizza, taking showers, and putting on clean clothes… We went to bed!  

In a little bit, I’ll make breakfast, we’ll gather around the table, and we’ll start to talk… 

June 2nd: A day to refocus and rest

June 2nd: A day to refocus and rest

We didnt put on any miles today, but we did find eachother again.  One of our readers made a comment on one fo the posts about June 1st.  He shared his thoughts about all of the changes that we had gone through in just the past few days.  The rythym was broken, and though it seemed good, and was good in many respects, it left us all a little jostled and out of tune.  

It was so nice to be able to take warm showers after having been so cold and wet for the past few days.  We all slept really really well, and woke up in peace. 

The breakfast that we were looking forward to was nothing but cereal, but it was good none the less.  We used every single bit of our time in the hotel room. And then we started to hike back toward town.  Ryan was expecting an important phone call at 2:30, so we figured we would stay put until that phone call came in, since signal is never guaranteed out here. 

We started to hitch hike, when Greg from Maple Valley Design and Build saw us and flagged us over to his office.  He was surprised to see us, since he had just been reading our blog the night before.  It is a crazy little world.  Well, he was awesome and let us store all of our packs at his office, so that we would not have to carry them with us all day.  

They were not too stinky, I dont think, but we have gone nose numb to most smells. 

Greg and one of the other members of his team, John, drove us to town.  Ryan found out that he had been a Blackhawk pilot in the Army.  They laughed a bit and we went on our way.  It was so nice to have met him. 

We stopped at EMS and bought some bug nets.  These will certainly help keep the bugs at bay.  We hopped on over to Price Chopper where we bought some stuff for lunch.  Now, my fingers were too greasy to snap a pictures, but imagine seven of us sitting in a little alcove of a shopping plaza devouring 2 rotisserie chickens, a dozen Hawaiian rolls, a bag of tortilla chips with a tub of guacamole, a bag of salt and vinegar chips, an entire package of Oreo cookies, and five bananas. Oh, lets not forget the 32 oz. Gatorades. Yes… hungry hikers can eat some food!

Well, after lunch, we stopped over at McDonalds, because Ryan wanted a coffee.  And we made it there just before the sky opened up and drenched the soggy earth again. 

We finished up some things like paying our bills, and finding a way to get Taylors iPod warranty enacted… all of the things that we take for granted when we are at home with cars, computers, and printers.  

After the rain stopped we went down town to the outfitter to get Belle another bowl.  I think that we have left behind atleast 3 or 4.  Hopefully, we will not lose this one.  And while we were there, I was wearing my worn out Darn Tough socks.  It was awesome to find out that the had a sock exchange program, so that I could just take off my semi-clean but definitively warn out socks, and leave the store with a bright turquoise brand new pair!  They were also helpful in directing us to where we could ship Taylors iPod from… so we headed to the iShip.  They very kindly let me print out the forms and the label and sent it all away for us. 

We redeemed the free ice cream cones that a kind woman had given us the day before.  Ben and Jerrys was amazing ice cream, and hit the spot!

We didn’t have so much luck hitching a ride back to our packs… I guess that the packs are the part that catches everyone’s eye, so we walked the 2 miles and then when we got there found a nice surprise left by Greg and his team!  Pizza!!!

And as soon as we started to eat the pizza it started raining buckets again!!!  It was so nice that we had made it to the building before it rained since most of us did not have our rain coats with us. 

Greg returned and offered to take us back to the trail head.  We all took a picture, but it is on Ryan’s phone, so Ill have to add it later.  Greg was awesome, and his kindness played a huge part in the “rest” part of our day. 

We got back to the trail head at about 5:30.  We had planned to hike just a couple of miles, but decided it was Ok to just set up right where we were and tack on those miles to another day.

We are going to find our rythym again.  We are all committed to this journey, and more importantly to eachother. 

Happy Trails, The Thru Crew

June 1st – Manchester Center, Vermont

June 1st – Manchester Center, Vermont

We woke up at the Stratton Pond Shelter.  We didn’t get very much sleep at all last night.  Ryan and I were sleeping on top bunk platform… I think I struggled to really sleep becasue I was scared that I was going to fall off of the bunk.  The kids were in the loft, and with each toss and turn, I feared that they would fall.  

We got out of bed at about 7:30.  Many of the hikers were already preparing to head out of the shelter.  Sometimes it is wisest to just wait for the masses to clear in order to avoid misplaced gear or unnecessary chaos.  So, that is exactly what we did.  

We didn’t clean the dinner dishes, so I set to doing that while Riley went to gather water.  Everyone else was diligently gathering up their gear.  We all ate bars for breakfast, and passed on the hot chocolate in order to get going. 

Riley was taking an abnoramally long time to get water, so Ryan went to find him.  For a period of about 10 minutes we feared that he was lost.  Thankfully, he came strolling up the path to the shelter, and everyone was able to breathe a little lighter.  Losing a child in the woods… now that is a nightmare I dont even want to imagine. 

Once we were all together, fed, and ready to head out… a fellow hiker offered to take a picture of all of us. 

We dont get many of those, so this was a nice treat. 

We set out to make it to Manchester Center today, though we were flexible in our plans.  We were OK.  We weren’t great, but we were ready to face the day.   We weren’t .2 miles down the trail, when Zoey came dangerously close to falling in the frigid waters of Stratton Pond.  Now, this is a situation we had addressed the other morning when she fell into the water, pack and all, and drenched her only warm coat.  Kids will be kids… yes.  But out here, that can lead to dangerous circumstances.  We stopped to explain this to her the best that we could.  Hopefully she now understands that it isn’t that we dont want her to have fun, but that we want her to be safe.  

A few hundred feet down the trail, we were forced to follow yellow blazes as the trail had to be rerouted due to flooding.  Go figure!  

Then, well then, momma had a cataclysmic breakdown.  If you ever thought the statement “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” was a weightless comment, I promise that it is. It might be completely unfair, but it is truth.  I guess that would be one of the greatest lessons I learned today as the tension escalated, and morale desintigrated.  I have the power to change the course of a day, simply by my attitude.  I have the choice to view this as unfair, or to see it as a mighty opportunity and blessing.  I really want to see it as the latter.  Each one of us has a personal responsibility for our attitudes, but my choice to let those attitudes further affect the whole is really up to me. 

Our conversation moved from getting through the day, to a heated discussion about leaving the trail.  We were all divided already, and this added to the discord.  

We had no choice but to walk down the road toward town.  If we were going to leave the trail, we had to get to a parking lot.  I am thankful for this dirt road, because we just chose to walk alone… each of us having the chance to think through what we wanted… by the end of the road, we decided to just walk the couple of miles to town.  We didn’t know even on that road what we were going to do but we knew that we were going to town.  

When we got to Manchester Center, we waited out a flash rain storm in the breezeway of the convenience store, while we all drank a nice cold soda.  By the time that the storm had passed, we decided no further than to get our laundry done.  While we were there, we decided that we would resupply and make it Rutland before going home.  Ryan and I left the kids at the laundry mat, and walked over the grocery store to get some more food.  While we were walking, we decided to talk to one another, and realized that we were more on the same page that we weren’t.  

We went to Subway for dinner, thanks to Aunt Paula and Uncle Rick, for the visa gift card that they sent.  Then we were able to hitch a ride to the hotel.  We’ve never hitch hiked before, and the young men that let us all pile into their truck had never driven hitch hikers anywhere… so it was a first time experience for all of us… and we were so thankful not to have to walk another 2 miles to the hotel. 

Tonight, we are at the Econolodge, letting our feet dry out and getting some much needed sleep. Thankfully, we had some points that allowed us to get one of the rooms for free, and a hefty discount on the second room thanks to Veterans Advantage.

The trail is hard.  There are lots of moving pieces both here and at home that have to be managed.  Sometimes the stress of tomorrow ruins our opportunity to enjoy today.  We know that we are doing something worth doing, but we are learning that we have to just savor the day that we are in, rather than trying to carry the weight of the next several months on our shoulders.  The weight in our packs is heavy enough!!!

We have survived our hardest day… and thankful that tomorrow is a new day, a clean slate, and an opportunity to laugh and make memories together!

Here is a picture from one of the view points today… Prospect Rock

Happy Trails… The Thru Crew

May 31st – We made it to Stratton Pond Shelter

May 31st – We made it to Stratton Pond Shelter

We woke up pretty early… but we sat in our sleeping bags, not wanting to brave the cold.  We were especially dreading putting on the wet clothes, socks and shoes.  We knew that we were not going to be able to sit there all day though, so we finally got up and going.  We packed everything up but our clothes bags, wanting to stay warm and dry as long as possible.  We made hot chocolate and ate some bars for breakfast.  The time came for us to change into our wet clothes.  It was wild to watch the moisture blow around.  We were in a cloud… if it had been clear, it would have been the most beautiful of views that we had woken to yet, but nope… we were in a ping-pong ball.  

We mustered the courage to dawn our wet apparel, and as we did… the sun rewarded our bravery by shining its warm rays on us. 

We were so glad to be warmed by the sun… and before we left the shelter entirely, we were able to see a bit of the view.

We had a destination in mind, but decided to take it checkpoint by checkpoint.  Our first stop was Kid Gore shelter, where we ate lunch while being eaten by black flies… a new challenge to our journey.  If you have never experienced black flies… think of a really large fruit fly that bites.  They draw blood… seriously!  And it seems as though they waited until May 31st to hatch.  

We talked at length about the horrible existence a black fly has.  They live for only 24 hours, and are hated for their entire existence.  Quite sad really. 

The view from Kid Gore shelter was beautiful, and because it was clear, we were able to actually enjoy it for a bit.

Anyway, after we ate, we decided that we would hike on to the next shelter, which would have put us at 8.9 miles of hiking.  Now the weather itself wasnt too bad throughout the day, but the trail is so wet.  There are vast stretches of nothing but deep black mud to trudge through.  With or without waterproof shoes… there is no escaping wet feet.  Our new shoes look more like shoes that have been on our feet for months.  

We made it to Story Spring Shelter.  Though we had more in our tanks, we thought about just settling in, but the black flies and lack of sufficient tent sites drove us onward.  Additionally, more rain was on its way.  Who wants to sit in a stuffy tent while it pours rain?  Not us, so we decided to hike on.  We did make the choice however to take the Blue Blaze trail up to the Stratton Pond Shelter, which is meant to be a bad weather alternate route.  We are glad we made that choice, because when we arrived at the shelter we learned that several of the hikers had been caught in a hail storm.  We’ve been there, done that, and really have no desire to revisit that one again.  

The Stratton Pond Shelter was nice, able to sleep about 18 people.  We ran into TurtleTracks, and Chinook again, as well as a couple of gals that we had been with at the shelter the first night back to the trail.  Not all of the hikers here are AT hikers.  The Long Trail in Vermont and the AT share some miles, before it splits north.  

We were able to make dinner and hang the bear bags before the sun set.  

Again, it was not a great day.  Morale was slowly but definitively on a downward slope.  There were things that were good about the day, but not one of us was prepared to just stomp through the mud for hours and hours on end.  

Here is to hoping that the entire Vermont trail doesnt look like what is above, but if it does… trekking on.

Happy Trails ~ The Thru Crew

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