It is the last night in my apartment. I’ve been in a sleeping bag for two nights now, which I should get used to: I leave for the Appalachian Trail in 11 days. It’s always a bit odd for me to leave a place. I always have to say “goodbye” to the space I’ve called my own for months on end – right before the moving truck pulls out, or my parents’ car, or the boyfriend with the UHaul. I take a few moments just for me, thank the space for hosting me so well, and shut the door.

This time, I’m shutting the door on something much more major. My life is about to change in a very real way, and in ways I can’t even imagine yet. I’m going “off the grid” – or, as off the grid as one can be in our age of cell phones and iPads and data plans. According to my insurance, it would be easier for me to go abroad than to stay in the country while I hike. I can’t get any prescriptions in advance – no way no how – though I explained to them at least three times I would  be without access to a pharmacy for 6 months. Someone had even told me they could do 3 months, but never entered it into the system. I pleaded, the pharmacist pleaded: no exceptions. This makes things a bit more interesting.

Today was my last day in the office, too. I take a leave of absence for the next 7 months. It was very weird. I made my goodbye rounds after a lunch out. It reminded me a little bit of leaving camp: I know I’ll be back, but I work with some really great people, and I’ll miss them. There was not much left to say, really. It’s been said, variously, at different times and places.

“Good luck, have fun, be safe.”

“Yes, I will.”

On to my big adventure.

With that comes the leave of absence from this blog, too. I’m already trying to keep up with 2 other Appalachian Trail (AT)-related blogs. And besides, all of life’s tomatoes for the next several months will hit me while I’m on the Trail.

My main blog while I’m hiking is here.

I’m also contributing to Appalachian Trials.

Au revoir. I leave you with this quote:

It starts as an uneasy sleep, a deep restlessness. That’s how it began for me. Perhaps for you, too.

Underneath the slick, secure, same surfaces of daily life, “things” begin to stir. Soft whispers are heard, faintly, in the heart; a restlessness moves in the solar plexus. These stirrings, easy to ignore at first, remain as tenderly persistent as a plant pushing through asphalt. The restlessness seems like the enemy within, threatening to blow up the status quo.

And, of course, it will. That’s the news I want to convey.

But it is no enemy. It is, in fact, the very best friend you have.

– The Ordinary Adventurer, by Jan Leitschuh.

All kinds of things are coming together these days. I’m starting to feel more settled, somehow. Maybe from moving, maybe from other things.

The major coming together of the month was my brother’s wedding! I realized I never wrote about that. Everything about it was beautiful and perfect. I’ve never seen two people so much in love. Maybe I’ve just never been in a wedding, so didn’t get to see everything up front, but wow. These two. Add to that a beach in Hawaii, and you’re golden. It was stunning.

The first day became a beach day, which was lovely. Spread out, chill out, read, nap, check out the water and fish. And with nearly all my favorite people. My other brother and his family (super cool sister-in-law, two precious nieces), parents, boyfriend and his family, my new sister-in-law, aunt, cousin…

There were chill days, adventure days around the island, rehearsals and dinners, volcanoes, the wedding itself. Getting ready. I’m so excited to see pictures! There were some precious moments: getting “Bridesmaid” shirts from the bride, figuring out hair and makeup, my dad coming in and out – I think the photographer got one of both him and the bride fixing hair in the mirror -, the first look at her in her dress, helping her get her train into the pickup truck she drove to the wedding (oh man. Amazing). Watching her watch my brother, my brother sitting faced away from her at the front. Distracting her when she kept saying, “I look at [him] and I’m gonna start crying.” For goodness, sake, I almost started crying then! Walking in with my other brother, the ring they both bought me for my 18th on my hand. Listening to them say their vows, watching them just be so, so in love. The delicious food, the hilarity of the dancing.

Pololū Valley

lava

lava

So that trip was amazing. In every way. Took a day to run around practically the whole island, then slowed down to one of the most delicious meals out I’ve ever had, with this guy who continues to make me happy.

Things are coming together.

Today, for example. I was finally able to go to a yoga class this evening, for the first time since realizing there were classes my company would pay for through a gym membership. I’ve been wanting to go for a month or more. Tonight managed to open up enough that I went. I’m pretty intimidated by gyms, so it was nice to go in, be pointed in the right direction, and join others who were learning – getting direction for a workout. That’s the other thing about yoga. It’s hard, but it doesn’t quite feel like working out. And it’s a nice balance of workout and meditation for me, my own getaway from the madness. It was a pretty small class tonight, and for the most part I didn’t feel judged. Though there was that time I was stretching the opposite side as everyone else…

Then there is the continuous, seemingly-in-vain attempt at getting into a morning routine that I like. Ideally, it includes meditation, eating breakfast, writing my novel, showering, and making some try to look nice rather than running out the door. ONE of those things might start to happen, which might spur on the others. Baby steps. There is a local writing group, and some members also either write early or would like to. So it’s looking like some of us are going to create a kind of phone/e-mail tree to wake the others up when they want. If we all want to get up around 6am, then one has to and then calls the others. Maybe they call three times every five minutes and then stop. Or something. But that could be really awesome.

I also recently discovered and then tried out a super fast breakfast-making operation. You can bake eggs into hard-boiled-ness. Requires a muffin tin and eggs. Sunday night I bake-boiled a dozen eggs at once, leaving me an easy breakfast of 2 eggs each morning. If you keep the shells on, they’ll last about a week. Take them off, and it’s 2 days. Ready? Pre-heat oven to 325F (350 if your oven runs a touch cool), put one egg per muffin space (this prevents them from moving around too much), and then bake for 25-30 minutes. So far, I’ve found the yokes tend towards one side when you’re done, and there are some pinprick brown dots when you peel them. Neither is reason for concern. Between that and the occasional Instant Breakfast (provided I both have milk and it’s not gone bad), I might start eating breakfasts. The bagel place by work will still tempt me on occasion, I’m sure, but I’m trying to get away from the intake of carbs in the morning. The Internet* says it’s not good for your day energy. So there. So…there…toasted bagel with cream cheese. :-/

* Side note, my morning goals have been set for a long time before I saw an article like that. I already know TM, or transcendental meditation and love it. Etc. Carry on.

Writing, breakfast, meditation is sure to follow. As long as I don’t go back to sleep. I’ve gotta finish this novel before I leave for my hike, and time is decreasing rather more rapidly than I’d prefer!  That, and maybe weekly yoga, and then maybe weekly writing group (evening). Ohmygosh. Keep breathing. But that would be really great. This could be really great.

I got caught up tonight in reading some of my old creative writing pieces from high school and college. It’s interesting for me to see how I’ve improved, and a little bit of what I’ve forgotten, in my writing. So, enjoy this. College, Intro to Creative Writing.

Baby Squirrels

Don’t ask me why we called ourselves that. I don’t know if there was a reason. I do recall a baby squirrel Halloween costume, but that may have come after the game began. I was about 6 years old, which would have made Chris 11. Video games weren’t even an option in our house. Whenever we weren’t building forts in the living room, we were playing Baby Squirrels.

Gathering supplies was our number one priority. These consisted of an animated Etch-a-Sketch (apparently called The Animator), some string, Legos, and heaven knows what else. We made objects into whatever we wanted. Our objective: navigate the seas of our house. We set up on the landing of the stairs. We could see the front hall and the doorways to the living room and kitchen, and the dining room if the doors were ever open. On the landing was a small wooden bench, handy for keeping our toys on but not for sitting.

We used the Etch-a-Sketch to navigate. We’d decide where on our “map” we wanted to go, plan it out, and then, inevitably, something would go wrong:

“Oh no, oh no! We’re in the deep seas now! Quick, get the rope!” my brother would say. Once I started collecting Beanie Babies, they would come on our adventures with us: a black dog called “Scotty” and a squirrel called “Nuts.” Chris especially liked doing a Scottish accent (as far as we could tell) when he was voicing Scotty. I had Nuts and he had an Irish accent, though my accent was not nearly as good as my brother’s.

I’d grab the rope, if we had one, or grab one from thin air.

“Oh no! Cap’n! What do we do?”

“Turn, turn! Give me the rope! Scotty, don’t jump!”

“Get the scope! I’ll steer!” I grabbed the Etch-a-Sketch and, moving this way and that, made pictures of scribbles and animated them, and we found our way out. Phew. One catastrophe avoided.

There is one adventure I will never forget. Chris and I were crossing the great sea on our landing, as usual, when we realized there was a shark below. This was dangerous, but also half the fun. We weren’t fast enough to outrun it, and we couldn’t very well see it from the top of the ship. Someone would have to go down into the sea to take it on.

There was no drawing of straws. I bowed my head.

“I’ll go.” I said.

“Are you sure?” Chris asked. I nodded. He took up the rope (which I’m wondering now if we ever actually had) and wrapped it around my stomach, then knotted it so I would be safe. He pulled on it, tugging me toward him to make sure it would stay on me. He then presented me with a plastic screwdriver, our only weapon. We looked on our navigator to find out where the shark might be. I was ready.

“Remember, just tug on the rope when you need to come up. Do you have your mask on?” he asked. I stared at him.

“Can’t you see it?”

“Oh. Sorry,” he whispered. We weren’t always on the same imagination plane. “Okay, I’m going to lower you down slowly.”

It was that time of day when it’s just begun to get dark inside but no one’s ready to turn on the lights. There was a little sunlight streaming in through the window in the front door, but even that was covered with a tiny lace curtain. There was more sunlight from the living room on the right, but that wasn’t where the shark would be. I crept slowly down the stairs, careful to avoid any creaks. Once, I missed, and there was a mild “reee!” of the wood. I cringed, held my breath, and with my hands awkwardly raised in a zombie-like creeping motion and my mouth slightly open, I stood there, keeping entirely still. After a few moments, I deemed it safe again and relaxed, allowing myself to go deeper and keep a lookout for the shark. My brother watched me from the top of the stairs, his intense green eyes like seaweed in the ocean. He put his fingers to his lips to remind me (as if I needed it): be quiet.

I got to the bottom of the stairs and froze. My dad was sitting at the kitchen table, his back to me. The shark was one thing, but we had to avoid detection by parents at all costs. I’d have to be extra careful on this run. We didn’t want to get “caught.” It would have brought them into our world by the necessity to interact with them, and that would break our story. It was as if their voices were too loud and would have broken the game, and forced us into “reality.”

I looked around. I crept toward the front hallway. I had to be sure not to stray too far from the bottom of the stairs; the invisible rope didn’t stretch that far. Suddenly, movement to my left. The shark! It was huge! Much bigger than any we’d taken on before. I jabbed at it with my screwdriver, but before I could deliver the final blow, it turned and prepared for an attack. I looked back at Chris. Could he see me? I took a step back and tugged on the rope. I tugged harder. I couldn’t risk even a whisper; we had to avoid parent detection no matter what. But I was going to get eaten by a shark! I shook my fists in an effort to get his attention. The shark would attack any minute, and I was running out of air. Finally, at the last second, Chris saw me tugging for dear life and started pulling me up. I hopped onto the first step just in time, feeling the slimy skin of a fin against my leg. From there, I tiptoed up those stairs as fast as my little legs could carry me.

Once I got to the top, I took in a huge breath of air.

“It almost got me! What took you so long?” I demanded.

“Oh my goodness,” he said – this was to become his classic line. “I’m so sorry. We were getting deep again and Scotty couldn’t navigate. I guess we should leave that to us.”

“Well, I stabbed it, but I couldn’t hit it again before it noticed.”

“Rats. We’ll just have to wait.”

“It was huge!” I said.

“I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Phew!”

“Hey, what do you want for dinner?” our mom called from downstairs. I jumped. I didn’t even realize she was home; everything had been so quiet.

“Fishsticks!” I yelled (this was also my word for physicists until I learned to say it right). Chris and I looked at each other. We’d have to start cleaning up.

“Oh, well,” he said. We gathered our toys and went to our rooms, awaiting another adventure of Baby Squirrels.

“What exquisite beauty can possibly rival that of newly fallen snow? Each evergreen spruce and balsam frond holds a scintillating white pillow. Sunlight on the lake’s snowfield imparts a dazzling purity as though all the desecrations of man had suddenly vanished.”

– Paradise Below Zero by Calvin Rutstrum, 1968.

Wow. Just. Wow.

I took some time to start getting a handle on life on the trail. My primary reference is the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion for 2013, a publication by the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA). Even in that one, there is a warning about possible post office closures between publication and the hike. That’s another effect of the US Post Office’s previous issues as well as new ones with budget cuts – one I hadn’t thought of a lot until now. Many hikers rely on maildrops and send themselves food or other equipment a few towns up, and pick them up at the post office. As I’m reading, there are also many wonderful people and businesses who offer to do the same, but it is something to keep in mind as the date gets closer.

Getting a Handle on the Book

AT Thru-Hikers' CompanionSomehow, ALDHA has managed to condense a national trail that’s 2,184 miles long into less than 280 pages. It’s great in that they’ve done their best to get you what you need without adding unnecessary burden to your pack. That means a lot of abbreviations and quick descriptions. I finally folded down the corner of the page that defines these acronyms until I memorize them. Capitalization can change a meaning, too: m is miles and M is meals/restaurants. Some just throw me, still, for no good reason: R is road crossing. G is groceries. w is water; nw is no water. There were notations next to only the shelters that confused me for a good long while, too. Something about miles? But then there were N and S, neither of which were defined by my handy list (which I’ve now boxed up in pen). I went back over the notes, the write-ups of how the sections were designed. Ah ha! miles to the next shelter. Northbound or Southbound (commonly referred to as NOBO and SOBO). I’ve still got some work to do but I’m getting a handle on the book, finally.

Estimating What You Are and Will Be Capable Of

I dug into the specific Trail features of the states, figuring out how far certain things are from each other, what I could do this day, or that. If I do 8 miles that day, can I push 11 the next? Or should I give myself more time to get used to hiking? What about at day 7? Wait, have I stopped in a town yet to resupply? Do they have fuel, food, a campsite? Should I splurge on a lodge (hotel), or find a campsite? What are my options? I call this my planning-without-planning. I’m not trying to set anything in stone now. I would like to get through the Trail, in the book, like this, calling shots and figuring out how long my days will be. There is a lot to consider. From some of the books, journals, and blogs I’ve been reading, I know sometimes rides back to a trailhead from town can come later than you might want (10am instead of 7am). So that means I should have a plan for fewer miles the day after a town – maybe. At least a backup shelter or campsite if the sun’s setting already and I’d like to eat dinner and sleep. This is how it will be, all of it. I can set nothing in stone. There’s an appeal and a fear in that. I cannot give an end date, and possibly not an end month until I’m well into the trail, and then I may have a better idea of the month. I’m curious to see what my first estimation is – that’s part of why I’d like to run through the book, state by state, and estimate each day: 10m, 15m, 17m. But the tricky part is knowing that somewhere along the trail, I’ll get what I call my “hiking legs” and 20 miles won’t be an impossibility like it is for me today, like it will be for me on day one. I have no way of guessing this. I can have a better idea of what I’m capable of after this summer, which will hopefully involve lots of hiking and camping.

And last, a shout-out

First, to my family for being so awesomely supportive of me. One member in particular has been really great, sending lots of advice (even books!) and ideas, and always support. To my friends, some of whom took it nonchalantly (“Why is this even a question? You’re going.”), some of whom took it kind of stunned (“What? The whole thing? You’re just gonna…go?”), but all of whom have been great (at least, the ones who have replied!). And to my company for proving again to be a great employer. The days I get frustrated get overpowered by the days I feel glad to be there. Being allowed to do this with high likelihood of returning to work (income) when I’m done is rare, I think. That I don’t have to quit and then plead to come back. There’s part of me that knows I probably would have gone anyway, but part of me really wonders. I don’t have to wonder now, though. Everyone took it so well, and I am incredibly grateful.

Adventure awaits.

Something amazing has happened.

I have been contemplating a very big adventure: thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). The other day, I approached my boss about it – and he was supportive, and told me I could have my job back when I return. He reached out to HR to see what they could do about leave and (potentially) insurance, or if I need to buy my own temporarily, or get on my parent’s. I am not hiking the AT without health insurance!

For some people, the AT is totally foreign. So let me fill you in:

ATThe AT is a National Scenic Trail maintained by lots of volunteer organizations as well as the National Park Service. It is 2,184 miles long, spanning from Georgia to Maine. The end points are Springer Mountain (south) and Mount Katahdin (north). Most people do the hike northbound, but some people do southbound, or flip-flop halfway through. Typically, hikers plan on being on the Trail for 6 months. That would put you at about 12 miles per day, but many people get their “hiking legs” and start working past that in the first month of hiking.

Why are you doing this?

If you don’t enjoy hiking in general, there’s no way I could convey what this adventure means to me. There is something magical about being in nature, in the woods. With this big adventure happening next year, it’s beyond that. It’s taking a closer look at the things both inside and outside yourself. The way the trees sway, the way your thoughts melt, moving, swirling, taking things in. The beauty of a rock formation. The views. Seeing that shelter at the end of a long day.

For years – probably since I first saw a thru-hiker walking down the street my house was on – I have thought about what it would be like to hike the whole AT. In my senior year of college, I hiked the Maryland section with some friends. It wasn’t really a big dream, just something that would be neat to do. Now I’m truly considering it. With inspiration from friends of mine who hiked it, and recently completing “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail,”  it’s been digging into me more and more. There is a whole lot to consider – budget, job, planning, 5-6 months in the relative middle of nowhere, etc. – and I am considering it all. I must be nuts, right? I know – but so do you. But this is such a good time to do it – single, young, excited. I figured, once the idea really started bugging me, that I either needed to embrace it fully or let it go. But I also know me well enough that there is no way I’d let it go, now that it’s there. But it’s a huge change, a huge undertaking. It’s on my mind now, specifically, because it will likely be next year – most thru-hikers start sometime in early March or April.Sunrise on the AT

What now?

In what I like to think of as a fairly bold stroke, last week I spontaneously decided to talk to my boss about doing this crazy thing called thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. While I had to correct him on the time it takes (“Yeah, two weeks, right?”), by genius, pure luck, or persuasive powers I should use more often, he supported me and told me I could go back there when I finished. Whoa. Now, as time goes on, I’d like to get this in writing and signed, but his permission at all is pretty amazing. So, now I plan. I buy maps, I plan the miles for each day, plan on which towns I will stop at, where to mail food, and how much I’ll eat for several days. I will test out and buy a bunch of gear. Go on hikes, get used to my pack and boots, purifying water, making food and packing up quickly in the mornings to get going.