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!
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!
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!
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.
What to say first? It’s been so long since my last blog post, I don’t know where to start. My last one was at Hot Springs, and many things have happened since then. We’ve stayed at Miss Janet’s house, white-water rafted, taken a few unexpected zeros, played music, sang songs, hiked, met David from Doe River Hiker Rest, finished North Carolina, reached 400 miles, and Ava had a birthday celebration.
But that doesn’t cover half of the crazy stuff that’s gone on during the past few weeks. There have been very in depth conversations about our goals on the trail and the different ways of completing it. These conversations have sparked thoughts of what I really want from this trip. Not the physical side of completing the trip, but the mental and emotional parts. When I’m at Katadin do I want to say, “Wow, I just hiked 2000 miles.” or do I want to say, “Wow, I’m so much closer to my family than I was and I’m mentally prepared for what’s next, whatever that is.”
So, what’s my most memorable experience? I’d have to say white water rafting with Mr. Jamie. I’ve rafted twice now, the first time when I was maybe 9. I hardly remember it but from what I do, the two experiences were very different. For some examples, this time I had a paddle and last time I didn’t go swimming. The paddling part was cool enough, but being tossed around in class four rapids and being spinned around 360 degrees under water (Quick side note: I nearly got the name “Maytag” from that. I thought that was funny.) is quite more exciting.
That’s about it for now. The real packs are back on from almost 2 weeks of slack packing and we’ll be in Damascus by Friday. I’m planning on putting out another post then. Happy trails!
It was early to rise for the Thru Crew. The objective of the day… Slack pack 20 miles!!! We rocked it, along with Shutterbug and Little Foot.
Miss Janet dropped the nine of us off at Iron Mountain Gap, and planned to pick us up when we returned to Erwin. We started hiking at 9:45.
Right away we are met with sunshine illuminating these beautiful people flowers. Nature is just so stunning, when you take the time to take it all in.
We stopped about three miles in to eat lunch, and refill our water bottles. Then we made our way to Unaka Mountain. Miss Janet have Zoey some bubbles to play with as she frolicked along the trail. The kids all enjoyed a little reprieve from hiking to play with them.
There was a chill in the air. Shutterbug and Little Foot were especially chilly, and covered up their faces as much as they could with their rain coats.
And thought it is rare, we were all able to get into one picture, courtesy of Shutterbug.
We continued to hike on through the forest, and we came upon this Christmas Tree decorated in memory of a young man who had passed away.
Riley really liked the pineapple ornament, and we found Woody and Buzz Lightyear as well.
There is so much brokenness in the beauty of the trail, and equally so much beauty in the brokenness.
Not long after we made our way through the forest, we came to Beauty Spot Gap, where we landed upon more trail magic. A fellow veteran and Thru hiker, Onesimus, was grilling chicken for hungry hikers.
Kole took over photography duties and captured some interesting shots… Look closely…
He can be crazy, but then he had an eye for some beautiful shots as well.
After we finished stuffing our faces, we kept on hiking down towards Erwin. Shutterbug, Little Foot and I finished making our way under headlamps.
Miss Janet picked us up from the trail, and took us back to her pad. Coy had created a massive pot of Gumbo and everyone filed their bellies until they were content!
We completed our first 20 mile day!!! It was absolutely amazing!!! I’m not sure how it will feel to make 20 miles with full packs, but it was awesome slack packing.