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The Golden Hour

The sun set an hour ago and the air has gotten cool – a wonderful change from the heat and humidity of the mid-Atlantic day. It’s no longer 90+ degrees in the air, though it still has the clinging heaviness that comes with being near the water. But the bricks of the old buildings around you still hold the heat from the day – radiating out as you pass your hand near them.

 

Your own personal sunset as you walk down the street

 

I’ve been exploring at sunset more and more, walking past buildings that have been home to generations of families, a church that sheltered soldiers during war, graves spanning centuries. Turning down streets with more modern building, condos and townhomes costing more than I’ll ever make a block away from low income housing, children in playground from both sides of the tracks screaming in the summer delight that they don’t have to go to school tomorrow.

 

So much history here, so many people. I sat and listened to an opera singer as she hit the highs and lows of a great Italian master. What is she singing about? What is the story being told? You can hear happy and sad all in the same song – longing and regret alongside joyous reunion. People pass her by, a few stop to listen – she becomes just another sound in the backdrop; along with buses and cars, music from shops and blasted from speakers, overheard conversations from tourists. She finishes, red faced and sweating in the dying heat. Walks a small circle around her tips bucket and then takes a deep breath to start anew a fresh song.

 

Across the street are three crusty young punks – they haven’t showered in weeks it smells like – tourists avoid them  and they smell like hikers do after a long stint out. I know the smell, and their needs. I give them some cigs that I was carrying, a pack I never smoke but have for when I go to bars. One offers to swap shirts with me “You’ll get more of a story with this one my friend!” I decline the offer but borrow his guitar for a song, singing about people left behind and the places we wish to go to.

 

On the walk home the lightning bugs lazily drone over the large field in the park – a city block in size. The twinkle and shine, pinpoints of light in a sea of darkness, alone from the streetlights and windows. The bridge across the river shines into the water, as headlights reflect out into the night. Airplanes come in on approach to land every 3 minutes – the last few of the night. A fat third of a moon shines down, reminding me that somewhere, someone else is looking up and wishing to be somewhere other than where they are.

 

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But even when you’ve known it forever, somewhere you know isn’t that bad at times.

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Present Thoughts, Future Tense.

Currently, in a little town in the south-west part of Virginia named Damascus, there is an amazing event going on. A party for hikers, by hikers, about hikers.

 

I am not there.

 

It’s a hard thing – not being somewhere you want to be. It’s even harder knowing you could have made something happen that you wanted to, but didn’t. But part of growing up is realizing that just because you want something doesn’t mean it’s good for you to do.

So I’m not at Trail Days, with a bunch of other 2013 AT Hikers that I know. I was not there when they showed Seven’s documentary and my short on Thursday night.

Nor does it look like I’ll be getting on the PCT in 2015.

 

 

I don’t think that reality fully sank in until I wrote it down there.

 

Why not? Maybe I’m growing up a little bit. I’ve got a new job that has me tied to a contract for a year, pays well and has good benefits. It lets me meet new people, be flexible and travel some, all while letting me pay off the bills and debts. Maybe if I play things right, I can knock my debt off a lot faster than I thought I was going to. It also is a job that might let me come back and work somewhere else in the nation after my next adventure in a few years. Just not next year.

I mentioned something Chevy, a 2011 AT Thru-Hiker had said to months ago – “Some people never leave the trail.”  They are walking to find something, or walking away from other things. Sometimes it’s because they don’t know anything different, they understand hiking and the people and culture. It’s the only place they feel right about. I can understand that entirely. When I sit in the cubeland during my current gig I find it hard to relate to my coworkers, I just want to stand up and scream – punch a window out to feel real air, not the same recycled air-conditioning. But I can’t – it wouldn’t get my anywhere. I know I don’t belong here, and as much as I miss the hiking and the people, I don’t belong back there yet either.

There are people I know on the PCT right now and there are people I know at Trail Days right now who I’m jealous of, whom I’d trade places with in a heartbeat. But I also know that I’m not ready to go back to that life yet – physically definetly, and probably mentally too. I learned many things about myself last year, and about those I love. But I have to work at making that person who hiked the person I am back here at home.

That is my greatest challenge. Not money, not love, not injury. But my own self.

So instead I’ll follow their adventures. Just like others followed mine. I’ll support them, just like others have supported me.

http://live-4today.com/blog/

http://ketchuponthepct.wordpress.com/

 

Because even though I’m not with them, my brothers and sisters, My Family, are still out there.

And you do everything you can for the family you choose.

Aim High

 

Don’t let anyone hold you back.

Breathing in Spring. Breathing Out Doubt.

We had 5 inches of rain here in VA over the last two days. The walk home from the train station has necessitated the need for my rain jacket – I’m not a big fan of umbrellas – and despite the washing it has received (does that make any sense? To wash a rain jacket?) it still smells terrible.

It smells like the trail.

Rain jackets develop a pungent odor of their own – stale sweat and body odor that is at odds with the crisp smell of rain.

It is spring now here. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom two weeks ago. Now they are on their way out – taken from the trees by the winds and the rain. But the smell of spring persists in every breath you take.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I stopped to take a deep breath on my way home. In that moment I stood and just listened. I could feel everything around me. This is what I was in those moments.

Breathe in.

I could feel the drops of water on my skin. It had stopped raining and was just misting. I had taken off my jacket. I had taken off my shirt and tie. I was standing in short sleeves, and could feel the wind tugging the shirt, washing the drops of water over my skin.

“We are clean and fresh, unspoiled by the world yet. Can you say the same about yourself right now?”

Breathe out.

I could smell the new life that the rain had brought. Everything was growing. The crisp smell of water, of fresh earth, of life. Flowers and trees. Grass and leaves. All happy to be breathing with me, contributing their own scent to the world in that moment.
“I’m happy to be here right now. I’m happy to be alive. Are you as happy as we are?”

Breathe in.

The bugs are singing their symphony. It’s the noise of dusk – crickets calling to one and other. Katydids reassuring themselves they aren’t lost. Anglewings saying hello. All rolled together, playing on endless loop. Drowning out the sounds of the distant city.
“We’re in our rightful place. Are you?”

The water is rushing, trickling. Carrying away all the cares and worries. Everything is moving. Aimlessly but with purpose. There is power in it and you can hear it.
“We are going to the ocean” the water says. “Won’t you come and follow us?”

Breathe out.

The fox that lives around here runs across the path. She’s done this every day for the last 3 days for me when I’m coming home. Where is she going?

“Come follow me. Back into the woods – into the mystery that is my den here. I am not the trickster that Coyote is in the West – but I will play with your mind here instead.

Breathe in

6 second was all it took.

Breathe out

I question everything I’m doing again.

Three Years From Now

Alternatively – Trilogy Time

For those of you who watch How I Met Your Mother (Alternatively – the LONGEST, most drawn out story you should never tell your kids) there is a running gag regarding the gang watching the Star Wars Trilogy every three years and making predictions about the future in the process.

Douchey Trucker Hat Not Included

As a dedicated Star Wars fan, geek, nerd etc this idea holds appeal to me. Because lets face it – who doesn’t dream about what their life would look like in a perfect world three years from now. Not that I need an excuse to watch the Trilogy – as Damselfly once found out, I can recite Star Wars by heart… God I’m kind of a nerd aren’t I! Hooray for nerdiness!

Really though this train of thought – the “what will my life look like in three years” started over the weekend I shared with some old friends. I had gone to a friends house for a night of partying and was with people I’ve known for forever, and some I hadn’t seen in quite awhile.

Once we were all young and stupid

 

 

 

 

Among old friends, new friends and forgotten memories, I ran into an ex-girlfriend of mine.

 

 

 

I hadn’t talked to her since we broke up in 2011. Rather – since I broke up with her, shattered her heart and then moved on to other things.

Ok I promise this won’t be a mope-fest of introspection this evening. Morning I guess rather.

But seeing her made me start thinking. Where do I want my future to be in three years? This was a woman who I was in a relationship with for almost three years, lived with for more than a year and she at least, saw me as someone whom she could settle down with.

Fast forward three years from my breakup with her and I’m ready to consider settling down, thought I had found someone I was in love with and even considered marrying. Whuf. There’s a scary thing to say aloud. I was ready to marry someone 6 months ago. What’s different now compared to then? Where do I see myself in three more years, watching the Star Wars Trilogy?

I’m not sure. That’s an even scarier answer.

We all have moments, crises of faith. We wonder where our direction will take us. For me, three years ago I really started to realize my dream of a long-distance hike. I gave up a lot of things to follow that dream – I left a lot of people I love and care about behind to wander for more than a year. I’ve come home from all of that and now I wonder what I’ll be doing next.

One of the biggest deciding factors to everything is money. The high holy dollar bill. I need a job that not only pays the bills, but puts away a little more. Those jobs are hard to come by these days it seems – As of Wednesday I have sent out 172 cover letters in the year of 2014. I shaved my beard off so I’d look like a better candidiate.

Seriously. I shaved my beard. But still no job.

The job market sucks. There are plenty of cookie cutter college grads just like me out there all waiting for a chance to prove themselves. Nothing is owed to me – but I’d like a chance to prove that I’m worth something. Because I know I am – I hiked quite a ways to prove it to myself.

But what are my bigger ambitions? What goes beyond money? I want something that makes sense to me – maybe a career is part of that. Maybe a family is part of that. Just being a part of something again is important I think. Maybe that’s another long-distance hike. Maybe it’s falling in love again. I talked to an Army recruiter a few days ago – maybe joining the Army is the answer. Maybe I should take the plunge and vagabond my way through Europe.

Things don’t magically get better overnight – they take work and time and energy. I’m willing to do that – spend the effort, but I have to know what direction I’m aiming at.

 

 

So I’m going to sleep now thinking of a direction. Maybe not planning it out, but at least setting a compass point to follow. Waving my hands and saying “that-a-way” to the distance.

I’ll be charting my new directions while smelling the pine tree forests of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine in my dreams.

 

We were all young once. Sometimes I wish I could go back and do it all again

 

Endless Rain and The Breaking Point

When I read of new hikers who are coming to grips of the realities of the trail for the first time I think about how we have a tendency to build things up. Put things on a pedestal.

I once heard a story from Baltimore Jack. Of rain that lasted for forever. Grown men would wake up hearing the same sounds that had put them to sleep. The constant drumming of rain on the tin roof. It brought them to tears when they looked outside and saw the grey clouds and constant water cascading from the skies. He said it was one of the wettest springs on the AT – and he saw more people break from the rain than he’d ever seen before. People just gave up and went home.

I can understand that. I sympathize – there are few things worse then getting up for the fourth or fifth day in a row, putting on wet and cold socks with the utmost trepidation. “If I pull them on slowly, they’ll warm up a little more than if I pull them on quick and shock my feet.” Hearing the squelch of water as you shove your feet into your shoes. Packing your things up haphazardly – it doesn’t really matter anymore, everything is at least damp already. The rain jacket has as much moisture in it on the inside as it does the outside, why bother putting it on. You’ve stopped trying to avoid the puddles and small lakes that form on the AT because the whole trail has turned into a river.

You think you’ll never be dry again. I know how it feels. I’ve been there.

It’s odd because looking back now I recognize the same feelings of despair in that scenario of rain that I had with depression. Trapped. Drowning. Overwhelmed. Too tired to care anymore. How do you keep going when it’s like that.

I think some people are just built a little differently. No matter how depressed they get, how awful the situation gets they keep going. I’ve heard some call it “dogged determination.” People have called me stubborn. It’s been described as a coping mechanism, or protective trait. Some call it strength or mettle. But whatever you want to call it – these people just keep going.
They don’t lie down and die, and they don’t seem to ever quit. And when they do quit it’s because they are literally so run down, so ragged that they just don’t have the energy anymore.

I once read a psychology theory that postulated we can all endure only so much. Our capacity for suffering, for the negatives in our life are like a glass for water. It’s only so large. The more things we have going against us, the more water fills that glass. We can only handle so much before it all spills over. You can make your glass bigger by doing positive things, having good friends to share the load or have coping strategies. But there is always a finite amount you can take. Eventually you reach that.
The people who broke down and cried on the 5th day of rain had just reached their limit. Their glass was full. That was all.

What’s the take away from all of this? I’m not really sure honestly- lord knows I rambled on in this post, but I wonder if there really is an answer. On one hand, we’ve gout our dreams, and we want to pursue and accomplish them. But we should always be realistic of the moment, of the adversity facing us. So what should we do? I don’t know. It’s something you’ll have to make up your mind about yourself. I follow this simple advice.

Don’t ever quit until you’ve been completely and fully miserable for 48 hours. Then give it another 24 hours of staying someplace with a TV and Ac/Heat. If you’re still miserable – then you can quit. Because it’s not something you can fix with pizza, Chinese food and beer. And if you can’t fix it with those things, you may be well and truly screwed.

The air was so thick with water you weren't breathing it - but drinking it.

The air was so thick with water you weren’t breathing it – but drinking it.

Pains That Never Leave

It’s been 5 months since I’ve come back, 6 months since I first had the serious knees pains in the Whites. 4 1/2 since I was told I had a stress fracture in my knee and that I’d walked 450 miles on it.

It hasn’t really gone away. The pain. It still aches – maybe it’s been the cold weather, or the rehab or any number of things. But it doesn’t feel healed.

I did 2.4 miles today – half walking and half jogging. It was supposed to be all jogging but I just couldn’t do it. It was really too painful at times – especially going downhills or inclines.

So now out comes the ice

There were no frozen peas in the freezer... damn

There were no frozen peas in the freezer… damn

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever truly heal. Physically, mentally and emotionally.

Better question – do I want to heal from all of this?

I’m not talking about the physical bits – I very much want them to heal up completely. But do I want to go back to the way I was before? Do I want to go back to offices, schools and a world of concrete? Do I want to return to the trail? I know I’m not the only one with these issues – Lots of other hikers I know are having the same issues with transition and their futures.

Spring Fever has officially hit and a lot of people are talking about new hikes. Hell Acorn has gone from the AT, to the Florida Trail and is now heading to the PCT. Some are talking of CDT, JMT or even the AT again.

But I’m struck by something my friend Chevy, a 2011 thru hiker had said about his girlfriend at the time.

“We got off the trail together, but she never left the Trail. She couldn’t leave it. I understood that, but you have to come back to society at some point. You can’t keep walking away from yourself and your problems forever. So we ended. And she kept walking.”

I feel that pull everyday, to go back out there and be free. It changed me, hiking for that long. But I also was on the trail running away from things, trying to figure myself out and to achieve something. I did those things. Now I’m back in society figuring out my next move.

Maybe it is hiking about long distance trail. Maybe it’s getting a good job that pays well and paying off my student debt. Maybe it’s going back to school for something I want to do. Maybe it’s meeting someone I can spend the rest of my life with.

Maybe it’s all of those things. But for the moment, I think I’ve got to Leave the Trail for a little bit. Concentrate on something that isn’t 20 miles a day.

Because we all have to change, and leave our trails at some point. They all end – there is a finite amount. I’d rather leave more adventures for tomorrow then put off everything for today.

I just think about what Chevy said sometimes and wonder – what happens to those people who never leave The Trail?

Regret Away!

Personally I think the line “live with no regrets” is a bit silly. You’re going to have regrets no matter what you do, because you’re never going to get it completely right – even when you do.

So really, shouldn’t we phrase it “Don’t let your regrets rule your decisions?”

I bring this up after talking with a friend of mine. She’s a bit paralyzed by decisions she’s trying to make because she wants it to come out “perfect.” Personally, I gave up on “perfect” awhile ago and have been striving for “not having things on fire.”

I think it’s more realistic isn’t it? Things are usually fixable, or at least manageable if they go terribly wrong. Spending time and worry and anguish over trying to get something “perfect” when instead you could spend that time actually Doing.

No one is dead, pregnant or in jail. Pretty much everything else we can fix.

I heard this one growing up a few times and took it to heart more in the last few years. I’ve changed – gone from a meticulous planner to letting more things just “happen”. It hasn’t always been easy, and I still revery easily to a worrying, planning control freak, but I’ve been much happier accepting that things just happen.

You’re better off doing something than worrying over the results unduly. Putting something in motion always is better than standing still – soldiers learn that from day 1. Applies to you’re daily life as well.

Sometimes things are beyond your control though. That was a big discovery that I had to live to learn. I’ve always been a fixer – how can I make you feel better, what can we do to make things work out. I went into social work because of this, and I found that in the end, the only thing I can TRULY do is myself.

The line “I’ll take care of you if you take care of me” has about 8.47 million results on google. That’s a lot of people who think that’s the right way to go about things. Personally I’m more in line with the following.

I’ll take care of me and you take care of you

4.2 million results for this one – about half. You can only really make yourself happy. You do the best you can too – because you’re not perfect and the situations aren’t perfect. But you’ll act the best you can, and you’ll have regrets and wonder “what if.” That’s fine. Just don’t let them rule you.

PS – I’m not advocating not helping others when they ask for it, nor am I saying turn into a selfish, narcissistic prick. I’m saying don’t neglect your happiness.
Unless you’ve got kids. Because once you have kids, you give up your rights to go have fun – you have responsibilities to someone else who is entirely dependent on you. The end.

31 Days: #2 – Tom Waits: Closing Time

In honor of March’s “Music in the School’s” month, I plan on listening to a new album every day and then writing about it. You can find more information here and even suggest an album to listen to. Thanks for reading!

Tom Waits: Closing Time

The first seconds of a song are crucial. They can pull you in and hook you,or push you away and make you never want to come back. Tom Wait’s voice pulled me in from the first words he slid to me.

It doesn’t really sound like he’s even singing. Not in the traditional manner – he just sort of breathes out his thoughts, slides them to you like a bartender slides a shot of whiskey to you from the other end of the bar.

Martha. Oh Martha. What did you mean to a 21 year old Tom? From what he sings about you – everything.

I’ve wondered at times if I’m the only one who does this. Thinks of the future conversations, of that moment where someone who meant a lot to you at an earlier point in your life intersects back in. Because that’s what this song is to me – that conversation he’s thinking about when he and Martha ended. They both got married, moved on but he never forgot about her. He never forgot about those moments he had with this girl who changed his life.

It of course is followed by Rosie. Could this be the one he ended up with? Maybe. He tries to convince her of so many things, all the while playing to the moon and his solo audience of the cat. It’s another moment of longing – but a different one. Why can’t things be better, be the way they used to be. “How can I persuade you?” he asks – I wish i knew Tom, because then I could persuade myself.

Lost chances, paths not taken. There is a lot of longing and regret in these lines and songs. Things everyone feels, and the doubts we all have. The eternal question of “what if” and “maybe” resound in this album. Falling into and out of love, the bad timing that things have and the ways in which we all founder and then pick ourselves back up. Narrated by the smoky room that I see Tom Waits inhabiting.

I had just moved 2000 miles to Mississippi from NH. I met a boy at a bookstore. He was the first person to try to be my friend and I’ve never made friends easy. It was a balmy hot southern night and we were getting high and watching lightning bugs. Something about tom waits, the rough voice expressing the most beautiful things, the beats, the piano, he opened up a whole new world in me. It was like I suddenly understood myself and my life better.
Coming of age album for me. He sings about drinking, trains and traveling, loss. And the imagery he uses is haunting.
I had “ribbon in the willow” engraved on a ring I still keep today

I can see these moments in my mind. I feel the heat dissipating after a long hot day, feel the air heavy with the humidity. The record slowly spinning and the special rasp that comes with vinyl. It’s moments like these that are etched into a mind for all time. Forever is a long time but that time forever glows.

31 Days: #1 – Massive Attack: Protection

In honor of March’s “Music in the School’s” month, I plan on listening to a new album every day and then writing about it. You can find more information here and even suggest an album to listen to. Thank’s for reading!

I think it’s fitting that we start this off with an album that I’ve known about for several years now and never listened to. Massive Attack’s 1994 album “Protection”.

Massive Attack: Protection

Massive Attack: Protection


It took me a little bit to make a decision about this, I got so many different responses from so many people (thank you all by the way, keep them coming) that I had a hard time choosing. But this one stood out to me not only because of who recommended it, but because I have heard of it referenced but never listened to it. Amusingly, I’ve heard a remix of the first track at a party once or twice and every time I heard I went “Yeah. That’s good.”

So here we are. 49:57 of jazzy trip-hop chill-out music.

The lead off just cinched me in. The singers voice (Tracy Thorn) and the cold night air mixed so well. She’s warm, inviting and full of longing. Pulls you into her world of love and friendship, of wanting someone badly to be happy with them, or anyone. Wishing for them to be better, to shield them while they try. It’s beautiful. Haunting.

Now I can’t change the way you feel
But I can put my arms around you

I’m not sure though. Listening to her sing, if she’s trying to protect this boy from someone else, wishing the boy was in love with her, or that they were together at some point and now she’s trying to be the best friend she can while he’s with someone else. I feel the love in this song, but is it the deep romantic love or the love from years and years of friendship. It’s hard to define. I think on some level it doesn’t matter – if you love someone long enough as a friend they are your lover. You have shared so many things with them that they know you so completely, they become your rock that they love you fully.

“Weather Storm” hits me as I laid down in my bed with the lights off. I closed my eyes and was transported to a moment of looking at the sky. The piano played over me like the wind on a hilltop. Playful and dancing, while the bass reminded me that there was power out there in the wind. Throbbing. Subtle. I could see the clouds slowly racing across the sky and colliding into each other to form new shapes of their own, each special and independent.

“Spying Glass” was a bit of an abrupt change. I went from looking at clouds in the sky to the steady walking beat I have in the city. “Mind your own business! Keep your head down! No eye contact!” my brain instantly reverted to these things because that’s what you do in a busy city. Worry about yourself. Don’t get involved.

“Better Things” hit me right in the gut. Here are excuses you’ll hear when the relationship goes south, when they don’t know how to end it or you’re just don’t feel it anymore. He’s tired of her, she still loves him and all the excuses he gives can’t stop the pain she’s feeling. Because she knows he’s down with her, and he won’t give her the real reason.

And save your line about needing to be free
All that’s bullshit babe
You just want rid of me

I heard this before, once. “I need to be free”. You know it’s not that at all, but they’ll never tell you their real reason. Hell maybe there isn’t even a real reason. But you know it’s over when you hear something like this. They’ll say “it isn’t you, it’s me” too – but it all means the same things. I see this exchange in my mind – they went to a coffee shop, she knew something was wrong but didn’t know what. He dropped this on her without a lot of warning and there were some tears in that moment. Sad tears, then angry tears and that final moment of goodbye, where he walked away without looking back and her eyes followed him out the door. At least he left the tip on the table.

“Sly” could have come straight out of an acid trip. A steady stream of consciousness, train of thought straight from the speakers to my brain.

I try to believe what I feel these days
It makes life much easier for me

Preach it sister. I fell like we’re out of touch with what is around us a lot of times. We always try and dig deeper, discover a hidden meaning that sometimes just isn’t there. Sometimes a pizza is just a pizza – there is nothing more to it than that. We don’t accept that things just Are and it seems to bother us unduly. Reach out and touch the tree – that’s all it is. A tree. Part of something bigger yes, but still just a tree.

The album finishes off with a remix version of “The Door’s” song “Baby light my fire”. Which was unexpected but did a good job of closing out the vibe and feel.

“I used to listen to this song coming home from work. We’d close up the restaurant and this would be my ‘chill’ music. I could have spent a whole day of wanting to kill customers, but this would always make it easier to go to sleep. It soothed me for 6 months at that job.” – P

It does. It really does soothe me. The voices, the beats and the flow just pulled me in, made me comfortable and welcome. I thought of summer nights laying on a hillside talking to old friends while you watched the fireflies danced, the day finally cooling off. Blades of grass tickling the back of your neck when you laid down underneath a blanket of stars. Things may not have been perfect – you had a fight with your girlfriend, out of money and broke or just a bad day at work – but those things didn’t mean anything right then.

You were safe and content in those moments. It was all going to be all right.