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.

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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 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.

Well, here it is. The end of one glorious year and the start of another. Since lists seem to be the “in” thing these days, I’ve compiled a fun list of events (focused on perks) of 2012 and what I’m planning resolutions-wise and event-wise in 2013.

2012

  • Steampunk-themed contra dance party with fantastic costumes, goggles c/o la boyfriend (now of nearly 2 years)
  • Vacation to Seattle to visit cousins and play tourist
  • Finding out Dad had prostate cancer, supporting him from far away, and then having an “Adios, Cancer!” party when we found out he was cancer-free (44 radiation treatments later)
  • Incredible women’s climbing weekend in West Virginia
  • Interesting, if amusing, debates followed by re-election of President Obama (phew!)
  • Friends-filled college “reunion” going-away party
  • Vacation and travel through Peru, catching 15K heights and Machu Picchu
  • Maryland Renaissance Festival and dress-up
  • Started second novel
  • Joined/helped form an independent author’s collective/publishing imprint
  • Sent over 30 letters to Sandy Hook Elementary School
  • Spent first holiday with boyfriend’s family

2013

Resolutions:

  • Eat breakfast every morning
  • Spend 1 hour before work writing and/or editing
  • Meditate twice a day
  • Still arrive at work at sane hour
  • Make more home-cooked meals (cheaper and healthier!)

Events to Look Forward To:

  • Time-travel-themed contra dance party with boyfriend (yay more dress-up)
  • Parents visiting DC
  • Seeing more old college friends
  • First time going to Las Vegas (conference)
  • Seattle visit with cousins
  • Saturday classes for project management
  • possible Hunger Games food/watching event
  • I turn 25 (woo rental cars!)
  • Attending brother’s wedding in Hawai’i as bridesmaid
  • <Possibilities!>

Well, I’m back from Peru and staring at my handy little chart from NaNoWriMo, rather annoyingly pointing out I won’t finish the 50k until December 28. You are wrong! I will do this! Somehow. I kept up my “vacation” for a few days after I got back, focusing on work, and seeing the boyfriend, and Lincoln (great, great movie, by the way), and chilling out. Today, I hosted another write-in, and managed to knock out 3,000 words – there is hope. If I can do that every day until

November 30, I may be able to do this. It took two hours of focus. And I’m well enough into my novel now that I need to actually move it along. I passed 16,000 tonight, and my characters need to have a little chat and get their confused and merry little butts to Nepal and Mount Everest. It’s time to get them on their way.

Today’s graph

So, we’ll see. I will be home for several days over Thanksgiving, and hope to curl up by the woodstove and do some serious catching up.

At some point during that time I’ll prep my photos and notes for you all, to get a peek at the utter beauty of Peru and the Andes, and, of course, Machu Picchu. In the meantime, happy turkey day. Live. Laugh. Love.

Well, today’s the day. Off on a big solo adventure to the Andes, hiking along the same route the Incas took so many many years ago, and seeing their fair city of Machu Picchu.

I have been wanting to see Machu Picchu for years. There is a big spread picture of it in my living room, and it’s been staring at me from the screen of my work laptop ever since I booked it (actually, this isn’t really fair, since Word and Outlook are the real things staring at me day in and day out). It is just a fantastically beautiful place, untouched for so long. They built it, by hand, every piece. Every time I see a glimpse of a photo of Machu Picchu, I long to go there myself and see it. To experience it, to just be, there.

I’d posted previously, trying to figure out if I wanted to bring my iPad or not. I decided not. I need a total vacation, no computers, barely any electronics (I figure maybe a phone is a good idea). Because then I will stress over my novel page count, and then I will be tempted to see where I can get WiFi – just to check, right? No. There is too much of that already. I am going hiking in a stunning mountain range, seeing beauties I’ve never truly dreamed of, making new friends from around the world.

My novel will just have to be on pause. And then I will get back, and spend the remaining days of November scrambling to catch up. That’s okay. And I may not make it to 50,000 on time, but that’s okay too. Who am I kidding? I will write nonsense until all hours of the night to catch up. I try not to be crazy competitive outside of the office, where I often need to be, but the person I am most competitive against is me, myself, and I. So, this will get done. I hope. I may be taking a random class, too. Since my November needs more things, obviously. But, I will try to keep this in mind: through the community that is Facebook, someone posted a note that came from her own region’s NaNoWriMo Facebook group/page/whatever they’re called. Thanks to Miranda for posting, and Rob for the thoughts:

NaNo isn’t about polish; it isn’t about plot, or dialogue, or description. It’s about writing. One word after another, one sentence at a time. It’s about getting from 0 to 50K in 30 days. That doesn’t leave time for research, grammar or structure. It’s a sprint, and it’s hard work. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.

NaNo is about freedom. It’s about turning your mind loose and letting it find its own path. Don’t hunt for ideas, let them come to you. Let them flow, then as they do, write what you learn. Don’t worry about sense, about realistic, about what other people write about. For that matter, don’t worry at all. Be who you are, dream what you dream, then write it all down. Save the worry for December.

This isn’t rocket science, or the hidden secret of the universe. But if this is your first time, and you’re bogged down in the mechanics of the craft, you’re discouraged in the quality of your prose, let it go. It doesn’t matter. NaNo is playtime, permission to throw all those rules we learn out the window and let it be what it is.

NaNo isn’t about what we write. It’s about why we write. It’s about remembering how much fun it is to tell stories.

So, I’m at 12,963 as of this post.

Last night, my boyfriend drove over and we went out for dinner and spent some time together before he went back to his place to get ready for work today. He is not exactly the emotional type, but he called me early yesterday morning and asked if I wanted to do dinner. Cute 🙂 It was nice to see him once more before I go. Hey, Peru, here I come!

Seneca Rocks, WV. The most incredible weekend I can even remember.

July 27

We got down with enough time to get the tent up before the light left us, though it was close. At 9 we went to the restaurant in town – Front Porch Restaurant. We grabbed pizza and brought wine to share. Delicious. There was a clear Bachelor Party behind us – pizza, beer, stories of the groom-to-be. We offered them the rest of our pizza and got to talking. They invited us out on a night hike with them.

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to ruin the Bachelor Party. I am decidedly female.”

We joked about us being the girls they’d hired for it in good fun and they were still open in their invite.

Mom and Faith wound up going back to the campsite and I went with the guys I’d met 20 minutes ago. Lucky for me I’d brought my headlamp to dinner. Steep hike! But fun. Good guys. We talked and discovered many os us actually live and work very close to each other – some even work across from my building!

We hiked up to the overlook summit. Pretty! We then went further – to the real summit. Careful footing, past the sign that said “STOP! It’s not worth the risk!”

We lived.

There wasn’t as much vertigo at the top as I thought there would be. It was dark – nothing to see down! We took some pictures and they will send me some. They asked me to be in one, and then I took one of the whole party.

Pretty steep climb, overall. Cool night. One of them dropped me off at the campsite when we got down.

July 28

The climbing! We got up and put our stuff together for the day. Lunch: pine nut hummus and brie cheese in a tortilla wrap, a boiled egg. They had a light breakfast at the Gendarme – bagel, yummy crumb cake. There were peaches and apples, too.

We split into groups based on interest for the day and skill level. I went with one of the Gendarme guides and three other women, and we hiked up the same trail I’d done the night before. Tough. But we made it, and then spent a lot of the morning going over top rope setups, setting up 2 top ropes and reviewing it all again. Quick lunch and we were finally up the wall.

We were at the North Summit, East side. First climb was a 5.4, Isadora’s Run. It was a good warmup – I had to get over my fear of falling and get used to being outside again. It’s funny, we spend all this time making sure the anchors are secure and redundant, and on the wall I spend so much energy just trying not to use it! Anyway I finally just let go and someone had me. I didn’t fall. When I finally got to the top, suddenly, I said, “I seem to be here,” which amused the crew some. So I got my climbing legs back, mostly, and we moved to the second climb.

A 5.9, Streptococcus. Hah! A 5.9. The highest I’ve climbed is a 5.8, once, years ago, in a gym. Totally different. Note: climbs are rated 5.1 – 5.15 or so throughout the Americas.

“You’re all nuts,” I thought.

But I tried it.

I was tempted to give in but the other women pushed me. Yes, you can do it! It was incredibly warm and supportive – something a bit new to me. I think I like this climbing with women thing.

Shaky legs. Exhausted arms. Pinched fingers (some serious crack climbing).

The hardest climb I’ve ever done.

TODAY! TODAY, at one of the rocks people say is always rated tougher: I did it! A 5.9! IT felt awesome. Really really great.

We packed up when everyone was through, trying or retrying. One woman scrambled up it not once, but twice. Pretty awesome. A slow walk back down, some water, hummus, cheese, wine. We drove back to the campsite and I made pasta with a cheese sauce mix I like to make, all on the camp stove, and the three of us ran to the shower.

We brought the pasta to a big, delicious potluck. So much yummy food after a great day of climbing. We wandered, chatted. I ran into some of the guys from the Bachelor Party checking out equipment for sale in the Gendarme.

But really, this climbing with just women today was awesome. The kind of support, the kick-butt attitude, something about it. Really cool.

Okay. Great day. One more!

Tent time. 🙂

July 29

Went up with Mom, M, and Y (two girls I climbed with yesterday) and learned more top rope. It was a bit of an adventure – tie in, anchor, go around. Even the approach to the slabs had some missed turns – oops.

Getting to the anchor location had a narrow ledge I was NOT happy with. I got over it, and we began the setup. Geez. We tried over and over. To no avail.

Then we had to come to someone’s rescue. Another woman called out for us to throw her a rope. She was leading and didn’t trust her next move or her equipment to keep her from a 10-15 foot fall. We ran over and hurriedly flaked out my rope, anchored it, set up a belay, anchored my mom, and then me as an assist belay. My mom belayed her down. Whew. All good. Some excitement.

We finally gave up on the top rope setup but learned a lot. We broke for lunch. I freaked again at the ledge but did not fall.

We then split – Y and Mom learned/taught gear placement, respectively (though originally we were going to do another mini top rope). The other group of women up there wonderfully let us have their rope to use while they set up another, so I belayed M up Scuttle (5.7, apparently), which she rocked, and then they traded out their gear for ours as the anchor but left us their rope to climb on. M then belayed me – a tough 5.7 but I did it! More serious crack climbing, with a tree growing right in the middle of it.

Mom and I headed back to break down camp, and M and Y continued, then brought our remaining gear back the the Gendarme.

What a weekend!!!