My 2017 summary, the AT and the new meaning of gratitude

 

“Kindness Rocks” found along some trails in Concord, NH

 

I came downstairs in my comfortable fleece pajamas, opened windows to the cool, damp air outside, picked up my laptop and thought:                                                                                                                        “I hope the prompt is good today, I feel like writing”.                                                             It couldn’t have been better.

It’s almost November and my whole year has been memorable. In my past life, I usually pass from one day into the next and by the year’s end it’s all a blur. This year started with me working the night shift at a job I hated while planning my resignation date to backpack the AT. Once I finally quit, I commenced my AT journey. That lasted until early June, which then began a period of abject disappointment and recovery and that diverted me into exploring new socialization areas, new friends and some self-discovery. When I began, albeit listlessly, looking for new employment in September, my plans were derailed with my daughter’s atypical pregnancy which felt like another bitter disappointment and simultaneously an opportunity. Now I am full-time guardian or care-taker of my grandson while my daughter is in hospital and my son-in-law works full-time; this situation will last through the end of the year.

Each obstacle, every less-than-ideal situation, once I readjusted my perspective, became a stepping-stone to another opportunity, which then became another failure, which then required me to reframe it into another crossroad. I’m not sure what this means for me, what I am supposed to learn.

A dissection of obstacles turned opportunities – lessons learned:

  • I had a job I hated but depended upon for almost twenty years. The last four years I endured harassment, mobbing, and ultimately quit just before a large layoff in which I was told I would have been included had I not left.
  • I found another job which was a lateral move: not a better situation, not a worse situation, just a different situation. I decided to make the best of it while simultaneously planning my exit. I utilized every waking (and sometimes dreaming) hour to plan my next but first “selfish” endeavor.
  • I started my Appalachian trail journey in the middle of April. I was excited and I anticipated a difficult but rewarding, successful experience of a lifetime. I knew I was going to be away from the life that I no longer wanted and I was hoping to discover a new me and a new life…somehow.
  • The whole enterprise was difficult and fraught with hurdles but I was savoring the unique adventure and expecting the hurdles to pass with time. I was making friends – my “tramly” = trail-family – and focusing on all the reasons I was out there.
  • By June, my knees and my resolve were crumbling into grinding pain. Without going into detail, the time had come to go home and admit to myself that I was not going to be completing the AT. I had failed at the one thing I had done just for me, the one thing that I thought would be my life’s turning point from the stagnant, dysthymic existence to rising above and finding my life’s passion and purpose.
  • I spent over a month healing physically, wondering if I’d done permanent damage to my knees and feet. I also re-examined my trail experiences and over-layed them on my “normal” life to compare; to see what I’d gained – or lost – with my decision. The uniqueness of trail life crystalized what’s really important, my brain focused on what’s close to my heart: my family and my friends. It also made me re-think what constitutes “priority” in my life.
  • I decided to take the time that I would have been on the trail and use it to rest, replenish and refocus. I tried some new things, went to some new places, met new people, made new friends. I worked around my house, renewed my joy in my hobbies that I’d given up years ago and just enjoyed each day of freedom. I gave a lot, A LOT, of thought to my AT interlude – I missed it, I missed my tramily, I missed the adventure but I also gave much weight to what I’d learned from that brief time.
  • With all the local adventures I was having and all the socializing I was doing, I began to know that I am more of a solitary creature; prior, I had been feeling like I was ‘missing out’ on what “life has to offer” because I perceived that others were doing and having what I was not. The glossy veneer on images of people ‘enjoying the good life’ is a glaring indictment of a life not well-lived when in truth, the reflective glare should turn us away from the deception. Life is unique and individual and I have learned that mine is doing the simple things I enjoy, spending some time with a few friends and ‘being there’ for my family.
  • I turned down a job that I had really, really wanted so I could take care of my grandson. I felt like I missed an opportunity – again – to change the direction of my life because it was a position that was completely new and different from my previous occupation. I had an emotional melt-down and instinctively resorted to an action that appealed to my soul: I packed my backpack and headed into the woods – impulsively and without reason. I tented, slept poorly and woke to a beautiful sunny morning. I thought. I brooded. I decided to do what I felt is best for my family and leave the rest to the universe – I can’t use energy worrying about what I can’t control and I can’t, in good consciousness, not be there for my grandson while his mom is away for months.

This is where I am:

  • I am unemployed but I am enjoying spending quality time with my grandson everyday, strengthening our relationship while my daughter is confined to her hospital room but without the additional worry of her son’s welfare.
  • I have a small cluster of new, good, supportive friends who are always checking up on me.
  • I have the freedom, with undertermined outcome, to play with my grandson, walk my dogs, exercise my creativity with my hobbies, and socialize – a little – with my friends and family.
  • I have this opportunity to reinforce my hope that this will all work out for the best…as long as I prioritize what’s best and healthy for my family and myself while seeking what can be learned from each experience, each step in my life’s journey and be grateful for what I have and the possibilities that each day brings.

Taking a risk leaving my job to backpack the AT, although the physical journey was short-lived, has had ripple effects on my life – in particular, my perspective. Getting back into “real life”, as it’s ironically refered to, means being more vigilant so that the toxicity of the civilized environment slowly seeping into my subconsciousness doesn’t take root and become entrenched leading me back into the suffocating despair that I’d once endured but escaped. I now have my trail experience as a resource; a tool to utilize against complacency, as a reminder to what’s really important and the affirmation that opportunities appear in all forms – sometimes even as obstacles. The best lesson that I learned is striving – because it sometimes takes effort – to seek joy in each day and being resourceful in the ability to overcome, what appears to be, challenges but what in reality may be just another chance at grace.

Daily Prompt: gratitude

gratitude/AT/lessons learned

This, this is for who I am grateful.

I got up this morning and silently prayed for a ‘good prompt’ today… then I wrote my lengthy response. Because I was/am a blogger for the online newsletter “The Trek” and because my post today, in a stream of consciousness, had much to do with my backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, I submitted my WP ‘gratitude’ post to The Trek. One of the stipulations of blogging for the newsletter, if you have another blog and want to use the same post content, is that you post on The Trek 24 hours before posting on your personal blog site. For anyone who wants to read my gratitude post now, it’s here. Otherwise, it is ‘scheduled’ to appear tomorrow on the Daily Prompt page.

Daily Prompt: gratitude

What trekking the AT and the South Pole have in common:

Perseverance is directly related to the

intensity with which we seek the (particular) reward.

I’ve been reading the blog of a fellow AT hiker: I stopped and she kept going. I read her entries with the same attention that I’d give to trying a new food: minding the details of the food and the reaction of my senses. I try to determine what she is really feeling between the relaying of other sensory information; her persistent but not heavily dosed complaints of foot or leg pain aren’t enough for me. I’m seeking a comparison, one in which I can feel completely in one emotion or the other: envious or relieved (yeah, sometimes it’s all about me).

Of course that is not even logical but we all do it. My experiences are as unique to me as yours are to you. Period. The comparison comes because we all have the bad (perhaps, human) habit of justifying our feelings or actions in comparison to another’s – as if we are the same: one falls short of reaching the goal due to, say, pain while someone else continues despite the pain. But here we can’t compare pain as if how and what one person feels is the same as the other. And if we feel better believing that we are tougher, better or in any other way ‘supieror’ to someone else, well – that is simply because we need to feel that way; that need is a flaw in our character; feelings of inadequacy and fear.  If we are stable and emotionally healthy, it is irrelevant what another person does or doesn’t do.

I am both happy for her in her journey and I feel her pain. I am both satisfied that I stopped and I feel some regret…but mostly I am content. My journey – as I’ve written about almost exhaustively but I will continue to do so as long as I am deriving some growth and lessons from it – was unique to me based on my uniqueness as a human being with all my history and my hopes for the future. I do, however, miss – and very intensely – the experience of the trail and the tramily that I became a part of and, because I know it’s true, the tramily that I contributed to as an individual. So when I read my friend’s blog, I have the intense feeling that I am missing out on something that only being there will give me.

My perseverence held fast until I knew – in my heart – that the reward was not ‘completing the trail’ but what I needed to learn about myself: my perceptions, my misunderstandings, my priorities, etc. Once the intensity to ‘finish’ the trail, the alledged ‘goal’, faded and was no longer in my long-range vision, my perseverance in tolerating the adversities (I’m just going to call it that, without being too specific about ‘et al’) caved.   If the goal is no longer the get to Maine, then flip-flop to Georgia, then why continue? Just to be able to say; “Yeah, I thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail”? Who gives a fuck? If I don’t, then neither should anyone.

I suppose one could argue with mild success that my lingering thoughts of the AT, my attention and emotional attachment to the stories of those still marching along that eastern coast-line path through the woods is indicative of some regret. Well, yeah, I loved the simplicity of hiking/backpacking, the woods, the tenting, the people, the solitude & seclusion, and being a part of a unique and small sub-community of people. I mean, who wouldn’t? Okay, many wouldn’t but if you love THAT then you’ll miss it. Eventually, all who successfully finish, goal completed, feel the same thing (except they finished) – they miss it, they want to get back ‘out there’. So, my feelings are not altogether unique or different than those of a ‘successful’ thru-hiker in that regard.

Succintly put: I miss the experience. I don’t miss the idea/goal of completing the trail. I don’t have the drive to do it – at least not now – and that’s what’s needed to persevere, to continue, to push through all the challenges of backpacking the Appalachian Trail –

the GOAL has to be the completion of the entire trail.

Period. That was never my goal, whether I realized it or not in the beginning. And if it wasn’t my ‘goal’ then I didn’t ‘quit’. As much as that sounds like ‘justification’ for my actions/inactions, it is what it is: my goal was to get away and DO something I enjoyed for an undertermined length of time and hopefully find something I knew I needed. I did that and I am so glad and proud that I did and I learned and grew and suffered and persevered until I didn’t have to, until I needed to move on and, simultaneously continued, to grow and learn.

Here is a partial quote from a TED talk by a man who trekked 1,800 mile round trip to the south pole, successfully. He learned what I learned, the italics are mine, but I didn’t need to go to the extreme to do so.

“…I still stand by all the things I’ve been saying for years about the importance of goals and determination and self-belief, but I’ll also admit that I hadn’t given much thought to what happens when you reach the all-consuming goal that you’ve dedicated most of your adult life to, and the reality is that I’m still figuring that bit out.

   …that cliche about the journey being more important than the destination? There’s something in that. The closer I got to my finish line, that rubbly, rocky coast of Ross Island, the more I started to realize that the biggest lesson that this very long, very hard walk might be teaching me is that happiness is not a finish line, that for us humans, the perfection that so many of us seem to dream of might not ever be truly attainable, and that if we can’t feel content here, today, now, on our journeys amidst the mess and the striving that we all inhabit, the open loops, the half-finished to-do lists, the could-do-better-next-times, then we might never feel it.” 

~Ben Saunders; To the South Pole and Back, March 2014 TEDtalk

“…that bit…” I got that figured out and it allowed me to move on in my own personal journey, albeit off-trail. The trail will be there and there are other trails. I’m glad I have had the oportunity to experience a portion of the AT and I’m glad I learned the lessons that I needed.

Be the judge of your own journey; let not others determine your self-worth and successes.  ~BuzzCut

Three more posts – in one.

I’m posting my posts from The Trek online magazine/website to my personal domain…one step at a time.

This is my second post: The Reason I’m Thru-Hiking the AT

My third post is about Raising the Bar while on the trail; i.e. keep the stress from which we seek refuge at ‘home’.

And this is my fourth post, which was FEATURED !! on the front page (usually there are 4-6 posts pulled from all the contributing bloggers and highlighted on the front ‘page’ of The Trek). In Zach Davis’ book, Appalachian Trials, he poses three questions that each thru-hiker should answer prior to attempting their hike:

  1. I am thru-hiking the AT because…
  2. When I successfully thru-hike the AT I will…
  3. If I give up on the AT, I will…

My fourth post answers the second question..sort of, as you’ll see when/if you read it.

So…this is my second post on my personal “KARYN’S DOMAIN, My Realm of Personal Perspectives” – that’s right here where you are now – in my domain. It’s short ‘cuz there’s all that reading for ya when ya click on those links. Those links are where my mind is at right now. I write my blog posts for Zach’s The Trek, which are published on his site as is. Once there are out there I don’t (think) I have any control over them…no editing or removing. It’s like, I can’t suck those words back in. Here…well, here I can write, post, re-edit or removed/delete if I want to. I can do whatever I want in my ‘domain’.

~K