Wild Potato Chip Bags….

“Don’t be afraid to walk alone.  Don’t be afraid to like it.”
~John Mayer

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading out for my annual trek on the Appalachian Trail.

If you’ve been following the news of late, you might have heard a lot about the trail recently.  Sadly, two hikers were attacked on a section in Virginia this past Saturday.  One of the victims, a 43-year-old military veteran named Robert S. Sanchez, was killed.

Deaths along the trail are rare, and killings even rarer; two to three million people from all over the world, hike all or part of the trail annually, yet Saturday’s murder was only the 10th in the last 45 years.

And yes, I understand that’s of small comfort to those who know and love the victims.

My heart breaks for them and their family and friends.  And it breaks for the trail too.  I know that probably sounds strange, but there is just something about taking a long walk on a dirt path that’s so very good for the soul.

John-Muir-Quotes-And-Sayings-2.jpg

I’ve been section hiking the trail for the last 5 years.  Not continuously, of course, but in sections.

There are a few ways one can endeavor to hike the trail.  You can thru-hike….which means you start at either the northern or southern end and go all the way….2,190 miles through 14 states, stopping at intervals to resupply, shower, wash clothes, etc.

You could slack pack….which is a thru-hike with a twist.  Slack packers carry a small backpack with a day’s worth of supplies.  They hike (some run) a bunch of miles from a designated starting point to a designated stop on the trail, where a car is waiting to transport the hiker to a meal and a bed….and then back to the trail to pick up where she left off, and repeat….day after day….until completed.

Or, you can section-hike the trail….like me, completing chunks of the trail over a series of backpacking trips until you’ve pieced all the sections together and completed the whole thing….it can take years.

No matter how you experience it though, it’s an experience worth having.  I love the trail.

IMG_6677
Sunset, Mt. Killington Summit, Vermont

I love the people you meet on the trail….fellow hikers and wanderers from all walks of life; the ridge runners, caretakers and the people who live along the trail and are often eager to provide a little trail magic to those who amble past.

Like, the cookie lady who leaves out plates of fresh baked cookies for passing hikers.

And Jim Tabor, a trail maintainer in Pennsylvania who leaves hand-carved, wooden spoons along the trail.

And the caretakers at Upper Goose Pond cabin in Massachusetts who make pancakes every morning for hikers who stay the night.

IMG_8899
Upper Goose Pond Cabin, Massachusetts

I love that you can feel totally comfortable taking food from a stranger you meet on the trail….or bunking down next to one in a tent or a shelter.

I love snuggling up in my sleeping bag at night….cozy in the confines of my tent….reading by the light of my headlamp….or simply lying there and listening to the varied sounds of the woods at night.

I love how people are happy to connect and share a bit about themselves and their own journey’s around pots of trail food and campfires.

I love how, inevitably, the conversation almost always turns to gear and pack weight and how I learn something new from a fellow hiker every time I venture out.

I love the huge sense of accomplishment I feel after conquering a particularly difficult section of trail….and how grounded and centered and confident I feel from having lived for days in the wilderness carrying everything I needed to survive on my back.

I love that I miss it when I leave it.

I love the natural beauty of the trail, its history and the stories of the many unique individuals who have hiked it.

People like Earl Shaffer, a World War II veteran, who, in 1948, told friends he was going to “walk off the war” and became the first known person to thru-hike the trail from end to end.  His journey has inspired dozens of other military veterans struggling with PTSD.

Emma “Grandma” Gatewood was the first woman to thru-hike the trail solo in 1955….at the age of 67 and wearing a pair of Keds sneakers.

At the time of her journey, Emma was divorced, having survived a 33 year marriage, during which she was often savagely beaten.  She later said that when her husband became violent, she would run from the house into the woods, where she found peace and solitude.

One day, she told her grown children she was going for a walk….and then she completed the AT.

She hiked the trail again five years later at the age of 72….and again at the age of 75.  She was the first to hike the trail three times.

f40a163410da0689851d7e8b6f05776d
Emma “Grandma” Gatewood

In 1990, Bill Irwin was the first blind person to hike the trail.  He relied solely on his guide dog, Orient, as he ascended mountains and forded rivers.  A recovering alcoholic who turned to religion in his sobriety, Mr. Irwin once said the first bible verse he learned was from Corinthians: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”   Not long after, he decided that an AT hike would serve as a powerful example of living his faith.

In 2016, a group of 40 thru-hikers carried a pair of size 13 boots known simply as “Paul’s Boots,” the entire length of the trail.  Each hiker carried the boots for hundreds of miles before passing them off to the next hiker waiting to take Paul along on the walk.

Paul was an Australian who had dreamed of hiking the trail, but never got the chance.  He died of a heart-attack in July, 2015 at the age of 53; leaving behind a packed backpack and three pairs of polished hiking boots.

His wife wrote a letter to Paul’s favorite podcast, “Dirtbag Diaries” hoping that perhaps someone might be able to take a pair of Paul’s boots out onto the trail, just for a picture, but the trail community did far more than that.

Katahdin-4-1
Paul’s Boots on the top of Mt. Katahdin, Maine. End of the trail.

I don’t know that I will ever attempt a thru-hike.  I’m not sure it’s my style. I earned my trail name, Mosey (yes, we take on trail names which are typically bestowed upon us by another hiker), because that’s the way I hike the trail.  I mosey.

It’s not unusual for me to plan my hikes based on a campsite I want stay at, or a particularly beautiful overlook where I might like to hang-out for an afternoon and read a book, bird-watch, or just simply sit awhile.

One afternoon, I was sitting on a large rock in a small river, soaking my feet, reading a book and having some lunch, when a thru-hiker I had been crossing paths with off and on for days stopped and said, “You really do just mosey along, don’t ya?  That’s your trail name, kiddo, Mosey.”    

I’m not concerned with crushing the big miles.  I’m not racing the change in seasons.  I have the luxury of time on my hikes and so I try and absorb every step of it.

But don’t get me wrong.  Thru-hikers are beasts!  It takes a significant amount of grit and fortitude to tough it out and that, in and of itself, is it’s own special journey.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to complete a section with my dad.  He filled a chunk of my childhood with memories of long hikes in state parks, canoe trips down winding rivers, bike rides along abandoned railroad beds, fishing from small, tucked away ponds only my dad seemed to know about, long drives on rural, country roads, camping and boating.

It was from my dad that I developed a deep love, appreciation and respect for the outdoors.

“Never do this.”  My dad would often to say to my brother and I as he stooped to pick up a discarded wrapper, bottle, or can tossed along a trail.  “Never litter.”

“Why?” My brother and I would ask when we were young.

“Because….it turns wild.”  My dad would say.  “Haven’t you ever come across a wild potato chip bag?”

“No!”  My brother and I would exclaim, wide-eyed.  “What do they do?”  

“Ooh, they are vicious!”  My dad would say.

Thanks to my dad, over the years, the outdoors became a peaceful sanctuary and a trusted friend, where I love to disappear as often as possible with a book in hand….or my husband and our little one in tow….to spend hours happily embraced by the woods or a mountain….exploring a new trail, rock-hopping across a stream, or just quietly sitting and watching as my son explores the abundance of rocks and trees and sticks and flowers.

IMG_6770.jpg

Since the terrible tragedy that occurred this past Saturday, I have been getting dozens of texts and social media tags from concerned family and friends with links to the articles.

“Are you still going this year?”  They ask.  “Aren’t you afraid?”

And the answer is, “Yes, I’m still going and no, I’m not afraid.”

It has saddened and frustrated me to hear and read the commentary from people who are shouting things like, “Well, of course this happened!  They were out in the WOODS, with STRANGERS!”  

When, in reality, it was among the safest places they could be.

Safer than getting into an Uber.

Safer than walking through a major city.

Safer than attending any large scale public event (concerts, movies, marathons, etc.)

Safer than going for a jog through most neighborhoods….

What happened is not a reflection of the trail or the hiking community, and it would be a shame if it scared people away from the experience, but I don’t think it will.

I think now, more than ever, those of us who love the trail and are drawn to the adventure, will hike on.

What a waste it would be if we didn’t.

IMG_9018.JPG

Calm TF Down Keira….

“Its all about perfection, isn’t it?” ~Keira Knightley

Earlier this week, while perusing the internet in search of news that didn’t suck, I came across an article about a series of essays written for a book called, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies).

The book is a compilation of pieces written by a variety of women, from teenage activists to actresses; among them, Keira Knightley….I assume best known for her role in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

The essay written by Keira is called “The Weaker Sex.”  In it, Keira writes about her own experience with childbirth and then goes on to crap all over Kate Middleton.

In a book about feminism….

motivation.gif

When describing her own experiences with child birth, Keira writes about her vagina splitting open and her daughter being handed to her covered in blood and vernix and all the screaming, followed by the all the feeding and the shit and the vomit, etc., etc.

Now, I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 22 weeks pregnant.  My water broke at home six weeks before my due date and I arrived at the hospital wearing a Spiderman night time diaper that belonged to my step-daughter (she didn’t do princesses).

Because I was on a blood thinner as a result of clotting in my subclavian vein that had been caused by the ginormous mass that had taken up residence in my chest, I wasn’t able to get an epidural until the medication was no longer in my system; unless I wanted a spinal hematoma and I don’t know, that didn’t sound fun.  Not that my doctors were willing to take the risk anyway.

“No problem!”  Everyone told me.  “This is your first, it always takes awhile with your first.  You’ll have plenty of time for the feel good stuff before you have to start to push.”

Except, my son had other ideas.  He was ready and I had no choice but to push him out au natural.  At one point, I heard a loud popping sound and I asked, “What was that?”  

It was my tailbone….cracking.

So yeah, I get it, having a baby isn’t easy and I thought, Right on, sister.  I hear ya. 

But then, Keira started writing about Kate.  Now, let me first say this.  This isn’t a love letter to the monarchy.  I don’t get the whole British Monarchy thing.  What’s the point of being the Queen of England, if Queen Elizabeth can’t demand, “Off with her head!”  when it comes to Meghan Markle’s half-sister who won’t shut up.

Still, for whatever reason….I’m sure there is one….the monarchy is still a thing and the entire planet is apparently fascinated by the British Royal family.

These people can’t even fart without someone being around to exploit audio of it.  Their facial expressions, clothing choices, romantic relationships, family squabbles, funerals, weddings, child births, manicures, pedicures (or lack there of), are dissected and reported on daily.

So it seemed an odd sort comparison for Keira to make when, after describing her own childbirth, she segued (I had no idea that was how that word is actually spelled) to Kates.

Sure, they are both famous.

But, c’mon.

There is famous and then there is, if you so much as sneeze and a booger flies out, the entire world is going to see it….in high definition and with incredible detail….famous.

About Kate, Keira writes, “We stand and watch the TV screen. She [Kate] was out of hospital seven hours later with her face made up and high heels on. The face the world wants to see.”

Ok, yes, this happened.  Kate gave birth and then she exited the hospital, seven hours later, and she looked great.  But it’s not as though the birth didn’t happen, or that the experience of Kates labor and delivery was not every bit as emotional and raw as it is for any other woman.

And quite frankly, I think Kate got the shit end of the stick in a lot of ways.

Maybe she would have liked to have remained in the hospital for a few days post birth to rest and bond with her newborn.  But for every day she remained, I guarantee the throngs of reporters and “fans” waiting to catch a glimpse of her and the baby, would not have lessened.

Maybe she chose to leave when she did, because in doing so, it would eliminate the crowds gathered around the hospital as quickly as possible; allowing other mothers to  make their way to the hospital, settle in and have their loved ones come to visit without the crowds and the noise and the chaos encircling it.

And if she hadn’t, she would have been ripped to shreds for being selfish and self-centered.  Damned if you do, damned it you don’t.

Keira goes on to write, “Hide. Hide our pain, our bodies splitting, our breasts leaking, our hormones raging. Look beautiful. Look stylish, don’t show your battleground, Kate. Seven hours after your fight with life and death, seven hours after your body breaks open, and bloody, screaming life comes out. Don’t show. Don’t tell. Stand there with your girl and be shot by a pack of male photographers.”

Um, how should she have exited the hospital?   In a pair of sweat pants, or hospital scrubs with her breasts leaking milk?

Why should she be called upon, postpartum, to expose that part of herself, so intimately private, as a fuck you to the patriarchy?  I’m sorry, but that’s bull shit.

So, Kate put on a nice dress and she looked beautiful and she stood on the steps of that hospital for a moment, approximately one minute and thirty-seconds (I looked it up) and she gave what the world was going to take from her regardless.  But she chose to control the ONE thing she could in that moment; her appearance.  Christ, give the woman a break.

And yes, it’s not a realistic portrayal of what its like for the everywoman, but HELLO! Nothing about her life is what its like for the everywoman.

She is referred to as “Her Royal Highness” without a trace of snark.  She has castles….plural.  She wears tiaras, and not the kind you buy at Party City for a Bachelorette Party.  One day, she’ll be the Queen of England.

The average woman, relates to none of that.  In fact, the average woman doesn’t exactly relate to Keira Knightley either.

Want to know how many times I’ve been airbrushed on the cover of a magazine, in a leather blazer and underwear, three months after giving birth?  Zero.  Zero times.  I’ve never even been asked, if you can believe it.

gallery-1438815813-elle-september-keira-knightley-cover
Cover of Elle Magazine….the Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Sorry, sweetie, but you can’t call out one woman for acting out the same play you are, only on a bigger stage, and call it feminism.