Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Going The Distance

Since my August 1st departure from home, I've logged 5,784 car. In comparison, the foot mileage doesn't sound so impressive, but a conservative estimate puts it at 345 miles. That's official trail miles, not counting the various running around a person does in the course of a day. That averages out to just under 9 miles per hike, after accounting for the many days that were spent behind the wheel when no hiking took place.

I'd hoped to do better. I'd hoped to do much more than that, and not just in mileage. Originally, as I imagined a glistening necklace of days stretching forward into the fall, I anticipated time to indulge myself with visits to museums, sidetrips to quaint villages, perhaps sketching pets or passersby in a park. As I gathered the links of that necklace, however, it was all I could do to find trailheads, navigate the terrain, set up my tent, feed myself and the dog, and perhaps jot a few notes on the laptop (if I'd had opportunity to charge it) before crawling into (or onto, depending on the temperatures) the sleeping bag to recharge the biological batteries.

Each change of venue, each footstep along the trail, at first required Herculean effort to accomplish. Not because I was out of shape like Ella (poor girl, she had her struggles, too); I came to the trip well-prepared physically. My biggest hurdles were internal.

Leaving home almost didn't happen. The pear trees were laden and nearly ripe. The apples were blushing with promise. The garden literally bursting beyond its boundaries with produce. Katydid and cicada choruses announced the height of summer, the glorious pinnacle of the year. Why leave now, of all times? For practical reasons...caretakers for the animals aren't easy to come by, and their schedule dictated my own. So, it was now or never, and as the sun bronzed my skin on that last afternoon while pondering my options on my porch steps, I was ready to opt for never. I was too old. It was too self-indulgent. I was asking too much of my son (the primary critter caretaker). I'd miss out on favorite seasonal rites, the fairs and festivals of August.

But I'd done all that. What I hadn't done, needed to do, was find a way forward. Whether that path would lead back to NEPA (NorthEast PA) or to parts unknown, didn't matter...I couldn't predict, I had to discover. So, with sorrow and considerable trepidation, we hit the trail, Ella and I. Initially I didn't know where each next step would land until I felt it hit the earth.

The first necessity for planning my future, I soon learned, was to let go of any delusion of knowing what each next moment held for me. To be balanced in the Now, one can't be constantly pushing forward into Then. As each footfall in the Now became a link along that necklace of possibility, the succession of footfalls did indeed approach the goals I'd labeled Clarity, Closure and Compassion. Not immediately. Not even quickly. And not yet completely.

Still, I find that each Now is more readily appreciable, more available for the effort of growth and change, than it had been before logging those 435 miles. It wasn't the mileage that was exhausting, it was the struggle to overcome my clinging to the past, the invisible effort of waking up and of maintaining that awareness of and vulnerability to the pain and beauty of being Alive. Dazed, clueless, single, and often lost, but alive to the experience and possibility of each new moment.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Like any worthwhile experience, this sabbatical has already wrought changes that will take time to fully realize. The purpose in undertaking the trip was multi-focal, which made it both easier to claim success and harder to attain fulfillment. Clarity, closure, and compassion were the original Three C's guiding the overall format, to which I added confidence, capability and innumerable other vague descriptors that I thought sounded worthy.

And just in case I hadn't set my sites broadly enough, I wanted to investigate places with an eye towards relocating, which meant checking into realty prices and opportunities for employment. I wanted to challenge myself physically and end up in the best shape of my life (with an eye towards making it from the wait list to the participate in the Steamtown marathon). I wanted to challenge my character and grit so as to come home ready to face and grapple with choices and realities that have been overwhelming me. And I thought I really wouldn't mind if somewhere, somehow, someone swept me off my feet. I hoped the experiences along the way would coalesce into a great book idea. And I wanted to accomplish all this without any firm direction or commitment of where to be or when to be there. I had no absolute requirements but that it had to involve as much time as possible in the wilderness.

And so it has, punctuated by pit-stops with family and friends both old and new-found. Spontaneity has never been my strong suite, but by not having firm travel plans, I've had ample opportunity to "go with the flow." Since rigidity and control are issues of mine, I wrangled with myself every time an unanticipated opportunity presented itself. Thus I discovered that I can couch-surf with the best of them, and in so doing learned that coming out of the wilderness and into the glow of artificial lighting can delight the soul with gratitude for the pleasure of a bath, clean skin, a warm meal. The generosity of strangers has blown me away. Forest rangers engaged in work projects took time to describe fabulous trails and detailed descriptions of routes. A woman with her Malamute and Husky, after sharing a couple of hours with me on a trail in the Tetons, invited me to help myself to her home even though she wouldn't be there. Then after learning a bit about my personal situation, went further to invite other friends to join us, providing me with an evening of camaraderie and commiseration.

And what of Miss Ella, the Chosen One from among the Hollow Hills gang? Little Ella was not in the best of shape starting out, as outlined in the previous blog. But she has by necessity become more fit and now finds herself with enough extra energy to give chase to the myriad chipmunks and red squirrels that tease and torment her. Previously she just dogged-it at my heels or made half-hearted lunges at the more audacious creatures that leaped belatedly to safety. Her endurance has grown, but it's her attitude that has commanded my notice. That will require a separate entry, and may end up being the focal point for my book...since my own journey is about acceptance of loss, acceptance of life, who better than a dog to guide me on how to just Be?