Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Beetle" and N.P.

Once two dearest friends decided to climb a mountain together. One of them had brawn and the other had bravery. Between the two of them, they could do anything.

They met up on a rainy Sunday. A sign at the base of the mountain said it was 2.9 miles to the top. In 2.9 miles they would be 4000 feet up in the clouds. These two friends knew they could do anything, but they also knew this mountain would be an enormous challenge.

They set off. They clambered over rocks and roots. They heaved their packs over boulders and weaved between the trees. They pushed their bodies up and up and up. And all the while, rain drizzled down. The rain slickened the rocks and softened the moss, like a sugar glaze. The gray light intensified the green life around them and heightened the sense of awe inside them. Clouds were level with their heads and came speeding towards, through, and past their bodies. They understood they were very little and the world is very big.

After a mile or so, they reached a clearing. The wind ripped across the clearing, knocking over anything that dared to traverse the exposed ridgeline. They struggled to stay upright, but several times they sunk down to the ground to clutch the earth. The wind's force frightened them. All the trees looked like they were driving in a convertible with their hair blowing behind them. The northern wind forces the tree trunks to tilt south and the tree branches to grow only on the southern side. The friends became tired, then mopey and depressed, then hysterical. Then they became feirce and determined. And then, on their very last legs, they reached the hut.

Inside the hut (a solar and wind powered cabin), they met "Bisquits" and "Gravy". "Bisquits" was a compassionate activist, and "Gravy" was a straight-faced comedian. Combined, they made delicious company. So the four hikers talked and laughed loudly that night, and they were sad to separate in the morning. But such is the traveling life. It's all only a sample, and a traveler must be satisfied with that much.

So the two friends, the two heroines by this point, packed up and saddled their packs (their packs saddled them), and they set off back down the mountain. Hiking down a mountain is as intense as hiking up, it's just different. They needed many rest breaks and many dark chocolate m&ms. When they rested, they would keep their packs on, because it took too much energy to muster them off and on again. So they'd just roll backwards onto them and lean on them like a reclining back rest. Towards the end of the journey down, the brave friend got stuck belly up, held down by the pack. A large group of children and parents walked past while the brave one was fighting with her pack. Someone said she looked like a beetle. And there it was, Becca's trail name, "Beetle".

"Beetle" and I made it back to town. We found a coffee shop with a couch, and we moved in. The rest of the day we spent reading, writing, and eating pastries on the couch. We camped out another night at a local campground, and early the next morning set off on a bus to "Beetle"'s house in Boston.

We compiled a "To Do List" for the rest of the week:
Do yoga
Bake cookies
Go to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
See "Eat. Pray. Love."
Take naps

We accomplished everything.

I had a wonderful stay with "Beetle"'s family, and I particularly enjoyed their kitchen. I can earnestly say of all the things I miss, most of all, I miss kitchens. I miss the warm spaces revolving around sharing food and conversation. If I get my way, my future house will be mostly a kitchen.

Then on Friday, I called home and was shocked to hear my cousin Lydia was in labor. Her delivery was sooner than had been expected. I impulsively booked a ticket for that day (luckily they were on sale), and flew into the Milwaukee airport that night. I visited Lydia, her home companion Matt, and their new baby, John Lambert Doyle in the hospital yesterday and at their condo today. I head back to the trail the day after tomorrow, hesitant to leave my cozy, happy home (and its great kitchen), but also looking forward to this coming month.

With Joy,

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mail Drops

Lincoln, NH 03251 August 20
Andover, ME 04216 September 5

(Let me know if you have mailed anything to Rangley, I will forward it to Stratton)

Julia Tyler
General Delivery
Stratton, Me 04982
Please hold for AT hiker ETA 9/19/10

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Rutland, Vermont. Calvin "Big Bunny" and I find each other in the one room airport. We make a scene laughing and hugging. We regress back to our teenage selves. He starts making fun of me. I pretend to beat him up. People start staring at us. We leave.

First night out: Young math teacher at shelter wonders at our loud happiness as we make dinner. He asks if we are dehydrated. We ask if he ever gets crazy. He fumbles with words for awhile, then says, yes, absolutely.
That night, "Big Bunny" and I stealth camp in a very unstealthy location, right next to the trail.

Second evening out: We get ice cream at Gifford Woods State Park. A ranger teases us that we are crazy, and asks if we are dehydrated. We rebuttle, and yes, she also gets crazy sometimes. Then, we stealth camp again, in an equally unstealthy site a few miles from the campground.

Third day out: "Big Bunny" and I reach top of mountain, as the sky opens up and lightning shoots down. I flop onto the ground, as if to avoid the bolt. "Big Bunny" laughs at me, drops pack, rips off sweaty shirt, beats chest, and hollers out to the sky. We are literally on top of the world. We can see miles in all directions, and we can see the hefty, grey clouds racing towards us. My lips are tingly. Lightning strikes closer, I scream and break into a run down the other side of the mountain. My brother laughs more. I ask him, I beg him, to please come down this 4@*j!z mountain right now, because we're going to die. Resistantly, he follows me down into the pine forests.

Rain, like you can't imagine, starts pouring down. It's not individual droplets of rain. It's like a lake is emptying onto our heads. I start laughing hysterically. The weather is comically bad. "Big Bunny" gets sullen. He reminds himself he'll be on the beaches of Southern France in three days. I apologize on behalf of the rain. Many miles later, we drag ourselves into the next shelter. We have to cram seven of us into the six person shelter.

"Big Bunny" sleeps next to "Croft" (Lara). "Croft" snores raucously and sleep talks when she isn't snoring. We listen to many sensible conversations that night, ranging from cell phone reception and bills to logistical planning and issues that are "not [her] responsibility". "Big Bunny" eventually hunts around in the dark for Benedryl to knock himself out.

The next morning is understandably difficult, but as the day warms up and dries out, our spirits brighten. We walk through foggy woods, mist rising from the night's rain. We see thousands of spider webs glistening from the moisture in the air. We see bright red lizards, and big fat toads, and an unbelievable variety of mushrooms. "Big Bunny" says this forest is magical. He takes off his shoes and hikes the last six miles barefoot.

We cross the river into Hanover. I cheer, waving my trekking poles like a lunatic, thrilled to be in New Hampshire. The big, bad White Mountains are on my horizon, and Maine waits just beyond.

I am ending in Maine this year for several reasons. Primarily, I am tired. This is hard. I have exhausted all my reserves, physically and emotionally. I still have 441.8 miles left to Mt. Katahdin. That is a lot. I have mixed feelings about it all, but I do intend to complete, to feel, and to be further transformed by these next 441.8 miles.

I wanted to do something difficult for the sake of difficulty (thank you, Rilke), and I am doing it. Life willing, I will be walking, with a 30 lbs. pack up and down mountains nearly 1200 miles. And some day, I may hike the other 1000 miles. But no promises.

My well wishes to all of you, and to the challenges and paths you all are walking.