Saturday, June 7, 2014

Maybe It's Not About Oatmeal

It's so strange. I come to my hometown and it's always the same: "I'm so jealous of your life. Your pictures are so beautiful. What's it like?" And I'm not going to sugar coat it, that stuff can really fuel an ego. Like, yeah, I'm totally living this wild life of adventure.


But I have to be real. It's not like these people are thinking about how I drive  an hour to the grocery store (let alone the frustration when I get home and realize I forgot something). Or that I actually work in an office and go to meetings and have to make deadlines and answer the phone and pay bills. Or the times I'm sitting in my apartment thinking it would be nice to just GO somewhere and see people.

Because sure, it's totally amazing to watch the sunrise over the mountains each morning and be dazzled by the stars each night.

But what I'm learning is... that's not where it's at.

Because people forget that I also see photos of friends at the beach or hanging out at some of my favorite places or going to events that I have to miss and it's matter where you go there you are.

It used to totally freak me out - I'd come home and have nothing to talk about with people past "how's the job/wife/kids?" They'd start talking about so and so and I'd have no idea...and I'd slowly start to notice that I just didn't care either, but I don't like feeling judgmental or superior because I've always felt that is just as bad as anything and it's rooted in insecurity anyways, and most of all I'd hate feeling like an outsider (no pun intended) and judgment and superiority cause separate-ness and that's the opposite of what I'm going for here. And I'd start to tell people about something from my "new life" and sure it might be a great story, but there's nowhere to go with that conversation. There's no common ground... (you can see that this is a stream of conscious nobody -including myself- should really follow)

I'm home (meaning in my hometown where I grew up) this weekend, and this morning my mom seemed so concerned she didn't have anything for me to eat. "All I have is packaged oatmeal - it's not organic or anything."


For some reason that shook me a little bit. I can still eat packaged oatmeal. Because like I said...that's not where it's at.

Where it's at is Saturday morning in the kitchen with my mom preparing me a warm meal as we catch up on....whatever... I don't even know. And maybe she's recommending me a doctor and I'm saying I'm considering acupuncture instead...but I mean, I can still eat packaged oatmeal.

No matter what, we all worry about the same stuff. We're all looking for the exact same thing, just using different means to get there. I come home and worry that all my girlfriends have false eyelashes on and I don't but I go back to the mountains and worry that I'm the only one wearing mascara. And I buy a bag of snap pea chips and realize it's made with canola oil but they're so good and I want to keep eating them but then I come back to New Jersey and my mom is worried about oatmeal.

If I go down the wrong thinking pattern, I'll come to the conclusion that I'm not outdoorsy enough for the mountains and I'm not city enough for my hometown. But really, I like my mascara and I like sleeping in the woods and I can still eat packaged oatmeal. I mean, it's not like I have some kind of oat farm in my backyard.

Because in the end... the scenery inside doesn't change.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 Taught me 12 Important Lessons

For many years now, I've been openly against New Year's Resolutions. I've always said that if you want to change something, it shouldn't matter what the calendar says - just go ahead and change it then and there. And that's how I've lived my life for the most part.

This philosophy has served me extremely well.

But this year, it just so happens that the end of the calendar year lines up precisely with my stark and frightening realization that I need to make some changes. Not willing to contradict myself - we're not calling these "resolutions." These are lessons that would be of great benefit if I could just fully digest and firmly believe them, and of course put them into action.

12 Lessons I learned in 2013:

1. Opportunities present themselves all the time. Do not pass things up because you perceive them as imperfect, too difficult, out of reach, or scary. In fact, all of those are reasons TO take an opportunity. 2013 was definitely my "Year of Opportunity."

2. If someone doesn't want to hear what you have to say - screw them. I don't usually use that kind of language (okay just not in this blog), but this is something I seriously need to get right in 2014. It's okay for people to disagree with you. Actually, people disagreeing with your viewpoint can either sway you in a more informed direction or strengthen your own beliefs. However, no one can silence you or make you feel like what you have to say is invalid, unimportant, irrelevant, or unnecessary. I said no one "can" - meaning quite literally no one has that ability. Only you can make yourself feel less than, and when someone tries to shut you up, you can either give them that right by validating their desire to turn off your voice or you can give them half the peace sign and take your pure genius elsewhere. 

I didn't get where I am by having bad ideas. In fact, one of my main selling points is that I'm creative and articulate, and that's exactly why I had such a successful year. So if someone doesn't want to hear my thoughts (even the crappy ones), then they're not worth my time.

3. However, timing is everything. Maybe you don't need to share your thoughts the moment they pop into your head. Let your thoughts brew a little bit. Ask people what they think first - then when they're done and it's quiet, share your opinion. Not every opinion needs to be shared either. Sometimes it's best to wait until someone asks, "What do you think?" Do not interrupt people. It invalidates what you have to say and it's rude. You're a lady.

4. You no longer associate with people who (consistently) make you feel yucky inside. This is important. I am not going to let people into my life that I have to jump through hoops to gain their approval (and even then I usually don't get it anyway). This happened with a few people this year and it left me feeling absolutely spent and also kind of dumb.

See what had happened was... I did all kinds of things - circus acts practically - to get a certain few people to like me (okay, in some instances - practically worship me) and then when I zoomed out from that goal and looked at the big picture I realized something pretty nuts (and this is why I felt kind of dumb), I didn't even like those people. I need to accept the simple fact that:

(or somebody who loves peaches but just sucks at being nice to them)

5. You do enough. You are enough. This is a tricky one because I'm ambitious and I like that about me. In fact, I've achieved a lot of success because I'm my biggest critic. I don't want that to change. But I need to keep in mind that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be, who I'm supposed to be, how I'm supposed to be. So, go ahead and continue to strive to be better, because you can never be too smart, successful, pretty, healthy, funny, friendly, loving, whatever... but understand that you're already doing a great job, and mistakes are opportunities - usually the best kind.

6. If somebody wants you - you'll know. Anything else is an augmentable detail of how convenient you are to them. I read that somewhere on the internet this past year, wrote it down, and forgot where it came from, but it's deeply resonated with me. This basically goes back to #4 so I won't spend much time on it, but essentially we all need to stop wasting our time with people who don't want to bask in our light. Stop being the one waiting in the wings.

7. Listen to people more. Be observant of their needs. You'll be surprised what people will let on about themselves even in passing conversation. Take note. People teach you how to treat them. Some people need a lot of support, a lot of positive feedback, affection, attention, and reassuring. Why not just give people what they need? Most of the time it's free.

8. Say "yes" more. The media is constantly telling us, women especially, that we need to learn to say "no." Like we're taking on too much. We need more time for ourselves. EFF THAT NOISE. Stop thinking about yourself so much. No one is thinking about you as much as you're thinking about you, so it would do you some good to get out of that dangerous neighborhood between your ears and do some things for other people. Say "yes" to the people you love and the things you're passionate about. No one ever won a Noble Prize or became a millionaire because of all the "me time" they took.

9. Your income does not know about all the things you think you need. Somewhere along the line I got it in my head that how much money I have in the bank and how much I need (or more accurately think I need) are related. I make enough to pay for the true necessities and a few luxuries, but I have this mindset sometimes where I see something - like a book - and I justify purchasing it because it's some kind of good cause or good for me or this book will have all the answers I'm searching for. Finish reading the books you have first, maybe?

10. No more selfies. Cultivate photo worthy moments with the people you love. I don't really take a lot of selfies (a few, yes), so the first part is easy. Stuff's happening. Frame it. Be grateful for all those "opportunities."

There are hundreds of other lessons I've learned this year, but unfortunately a lot of them I probably need to learn a few more times. I chose to narrow it down to the priorities, and even some of these will probably take some re-learning...

What did you learn this year?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Here I am. I did it.

Well it's almost a year since I last updated the old dusty blog. Almost an entire year without internet at home, cell service, or nearby... anything. And as I sit in my very own (okay, rented) mountain cabin in the woods, I think it's safe to say: Here I am. I did it.

I read over my last three posts and it's incredible what that one mantra has done for me in a less than a year.

"If we do not believe wholeheartedly in the attainability of our dreams, 
we are destined to live an unfulfilled life." 

And boy am I living a fulfilled life. Even after this past week of everyday disasters (car breaking down twice, Realtor cashing a post-dated check, oh and that nasty traffic ticket), I am more contented, fulfilled, empowered than I think I've ever been.

I still have a longing for the AT thru-hike. Now isn't the time. I just had an adventure of a different kind. I spent an incredible 10 months as a program instructor. I took inner-city kids on hikes. I held owls. I ziplined and then sent others down the zipline. I climbed (most of) Mount Washington--a near-death story you absolutely must hear verbally. I made a host of lifelong, creative, genuine friends. Here I am. I did it.

Recently promoted to a marketing position, where I get to write everyday, I had to come up with my own housing. I decided that if I'm going to live in the middle of nowhere, I'm going to really go for it. I suppose I could have saved some money on an apartment in a complex, but as you've probably learned by now, that's just not my gig. So here I am, covered in soil from my garden, relaxing in an armchair next to a fireplace in a quiet, little cottage beneath a covering of pine trees. I've decided to call it "Shady Grove." 

Sometimes I'll be driving along a winding mountain road and find myself smiling at something funny one of my new friends said or did. Sometimes I find myself smiling at the memory of hiking with kids and the curiosity and wonderment they have brought to my life. Sometimes it's the scenery by which I'm constantly surrounded. Sometimes I'm not even sure why. This new trajectory simply gives me reason to smile (not that I lacked that before either).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Doing What I've Always Done

"It's all happening.  I'm on the precipice of a life beginning to take a meaningful shape.  A life I created from the very thread of my lofty and lionhearted dreams."

I wrote that in my last post, and as I begin to embark on this journey, as the dream begins to really materialize while I sit amid boxes and a menagerie of things acquired over years of living unconsciously, it strikes me as strange that I feel no different.  Friends have shed tears as they talk about my "leaving" and I try to feel the weight of this decision, but it never sets in.

On the one hand, my lack of emotional response could be that I'm too overwhelmed with taking multiple trips to Goodwill, finding yet more boxes, and generally getting things in order.  Or it could be that nothing about all this is strange at all.  This is the direction in which I truly was always headed all along; I simply hadn't realized it.

My happiest memories from childhood are my summers spent at sleep-away camp.  Four years ago I went to the Bahamas for a week by myself.  A couple years ago I took on hiking and backpacking.  A year ago I took a trip across the Western US with a bunch of people I'd never met.  However, it never occurred to me, until this summer, to take my passion for the outdoors and adventure and make them my living.

So of course, even as I begin to embark on what could potentially be a monumental turning point in my life, I feel completely unchanged.  My outside world is changing, but I'm not.

No matter what. I know I will grow.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Answering the Call

Since my last post, I haven't done very much hiking.  I did spend another 9 miles on the AT a few weeks ago, but work and job applications and an unbearable heatwave have taken the place of my wanderlust.  However, I mentioned in my last post that the call of the wild had been reignited.  I want my readers (both of you) to know that the call is as fervently aflame as ever.

I was offered a seasonal instructor position in the appropriately named "forever wild" Catskill mountains of New York.  The job involves me taking groups of all ages out on adventures each day.  Outside.  Rain or shine.  In the mountains.  This autumn.

I have not yet told the organization that I'm going to take the offer, but I am.  And they will know first thing Monday morning.  There really wasn't much to think about, even as I said the words "can I take a few days to think about it," I knew the answer I'd give.  I just had to shake off the shock that I was not offered the hoped-for 10-month position, but rather a 4-month position.  The money I'll make is cause for drawing up an extensive spreadsheet and for the first time in my life creating a "tight budget" and determining which things that were once thought of as essential can now be termed unessential.  Nutritious groceries are not necessarily exempt from that list.  

But that's how badly I want this.  I'm willing to throw to the wind all sense of security and stability.  Never mind that I'll have to work--correction: LIVE--with people whom I've never met.  Never mind that there is no cell phone service for a good 20-mile radius or that the nearest town is the same distance away (and it's a far cry from what I'd normally consider a "town").  Never mind that all things and people familiar and safe will be a four-hour drive away.  Never mind that there is a very real chance that come November I will be homeless and jobless.  (However...There is also a small chance that a long-term position might possibly maybe hopefully open up).

I've accepted that I simply have no choice.  If I don't take the position, I'll be doomed to question for the rest of my life "what if..." and I'm not willing to allow another dream go the route of so many other dreams I've had...

Me (2002)
This cannot be the same.  I wrote something down many months ago, a line that has become somewhat of a life-sustaining mantra:

If we do not believe whole-heartedly in the attainability of our dreams,
we are destined to an unfulfilled life.

Two years ago I spent 11 days in the Adirondacks and the Catskills with my then boyfriend.  I owe him an impossible debt for introducing me to the outdoors.  One of our first dates was a day hike in Pennsylvania and I had fallen in love then and there, in more ways than one. I digress. Fortunately, the love for the outdoors remains a healthy, happy, satisfying, stimulating relationship.  Lifelong for certain.  During that 11-day trip I wrote in a journal that I would someday return to the mountains to stay.  

This job offer is undoubtedly connected to that promise I made myself two years ago.  I don't know anything about fate or destiny, but I know a thing or two about the scientific laws of inertia.  The pull to return to the mountains is strong, and to fight against it would certainly defy the laws of science.  I am a woman in motion.

It's all happening.  I'm on the precipice of a life beginning to take a meaningful shape.  A life I created from the very thread of my lofty and lionhearted dreams.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Backpacking at Fingerboard Shelter in Harriman State Park

This weekend I was fortunate to join my outdoors club, Adventures for Women, for a two-day, one-night backpacking trip.  This time last year, I went with this band of like-minded women for my very first backpacking adventure, and the trip opened something within me that I suspect had been brewing for quite some time--the call of the wild.  And this past weekend's trip only re-ignited the fire, and surprisingly this time it has set in motion some decisions that may just be life altering.

More on that later.

I set out from home around 6:30am to take the long drive up to Sloatsburg, NY.  After stopping to grab a bite and some supplies at WaWa and fill my gas tank, the drive was about 2 hours and 15 minutes, but the trip there is always part of the excitement for me.  I've loved long drives since I was a kid, and it's probably why I enjoy hiking--which can often be exciting and challenging but is usually just as monotonous as driving on the NJ turnpike (okay, the scenery is much better on a hike).

Once we arrived we set out from the Lake Tiorati parking lot at Harriman State Park and took the trail about a mile and a half to the Fingerboard Shelter.  It was clear very early on that the past 9 months of working out 6 days a week have had a huge impact on my hike.  My heart rate still rises, which is good, but I don't feel like I need to stop every time I get a little winded.  I feel stronger carrying my pack, which used to feel like I was going uphill while giving a six year-old a piggy back ride.  This made the whole weekend a much more pleasant experience.

Once at the shelter we set up our tents, hung our bear bags and enjoyed lunch.  I had two sandwiches on whole wheat flat bread: one peanut butter and jelly and one tuna fish.  Breakfast at 6:30am seemed like a long time ago at that point, so I was very hungry despite my periodic dips into my homemade trail mix.  Then we split up into two groups--one group went on an easy hike and the other (the group I chose) went on a more challenging hike.  As I've mentioned before, one of the major differences (at least for me) when hiking with a group as opposed to hiking alone is that I don't really pay much attention to the route and mileage.  I know that we took the red dot trail, Appalachian Trail, and the Long Path at various times but I don't quite recall the order or mileage.

At one point on the Appalachian Trail we did go through a section called "The Lemon Squeezer," which gives a hiker the true feeling of being between a rock and hard place.  You hike through two very close boulders that I'd estimate to be over 7 feet high, and once you've been squeezed out you can opt to scramble over more boulders or take "the easy way" (quoted because that is actually written on the trail).  I chose to scramble.  I'm not sure how I would have managed if I hadn't watched another hiker do it first, as the scramble is at an odd angle, but a more experienced hiker showed me an effective way to approach it, first by throwing our packs and poles over the top (an easy tip I learned a while ago, but always seem to forget), and then I was able to manage it pretty well.  Being 5'9" has a lot of advantages when it comes to scrambling.

We came to a spring and filled up on water.  It has officially become clear that I need to invest in a new filtration system.  The one I have isn't very practical, a Katadyn MyBottle Purifier.  I bought for convenience, but didn't consider that it is somewhat impractical.  It's nice that you can just drink it right out of the bottle and don't have to wait for drops to kick in or worry about bags to hang or batteries to run out, but once you put the filter in the bottle it takes up a lot of the volume and the water is only filtered if you drink it straight from the bottle, so it makes it somewhat impossible to cook with.  This time I took the chances with boiling my water to purify it, although it's a risky strategy considering I use a Sterno stove that doesn't really get the water truly boiling (at least not for someone who is as impatient as I am).  For my next trip, I will either invest in some drops or a SteriPen or both.  I suppose if I had giardia, it would have kicked in by now, but I'd prefer to live out my life as a hiker never having to undergo the task of brown blazing...

Once back at camp we all made dinner; for me it was instant mashed potato black bean burritos that I must say were pretty good.  I use for my backpacking recipes and I haven't been disappointed yet.  One of our fearless leaders brought an apple pie concoction and all the makings for s'mores, but we couldn't get a very good fire going since all the wood was wet from recent rainfall.  I love eating around the campfire, and for one-night and even two-night trips, I find it worth it to forego canned beans or ramen noodles and try to enjoy some actual food.  Due to the lack of fire, however, we didn't use the s'mores ingredients, so we decided to head up to the shelter to see if anyone wanted to lighten our load for us (well, our leader's load).  The first two young men we asked weren't interested, but the third, who was getting ready to sleep in the shelter, immediately agreed to taking the treats off our hands.  He was with another two men and we soon learned they were AT thru-hikers.  We genuinely tried to compose ourselves and hide our excitement--at least that's what I was doing.  I've met several thru-hikers during my hikes along the AT in NJ and NY, and each time I get a longing, almost jealous, feeling.  "Drop," "Tetris," and "Grey Goose" were very friendly and didn't mind all of our questions...I'm sure the s'mores helped.

Their tales of the trail re-ignited a dream I've had since I very first heard of the AT.  However, having recently graduated college and finding myself very untethered to commitments like school and obligations like boyfriends, the dream has taken a more significant form in these last few days.  Since I met those three thru-hikers, I have had a night of solitude in my tent, a day hike on the AT the following morning, and a long drive home from New York--my gears have been turning ever since.  It occurred to me that perhaps there is a reason I didn't get the so-called "dream job" that I truly swore I would get; after all, the principal's final words to me were, "We want you on board."  Yet somehow, two other applicants have now filled the open positions, albeit two applicants who are more qualified and experienced than I.

Once home I started thinking about the logistics of the AT and the primary, and possibly only, roadblock I haven't been able to solve is the issue of time and money.  If I were to actually land a job as an elementary school teacher, I'd be working until June, too late to set out from Georgia, especially if I need to make it back by September, but money would not be as much of an issue.  Substituting for another year, of course, is a possibility.  I could save enough money and not be obligated by time; however, it would be a disappointment to my pride.  I didn't spend 9 years--yes, 9 years--in college so I could spend a year doing something anyone with 60 credits can do.  I started thinking about my writing degree and wondering if I should use that for the next year and apply for freelance writing jobs, especially if I could find something that would pay for me to document my time on the AT.  Now I was onto something.  I began Googling "get paid to hike the AT."  Of course, nothing came up, but I somehow wound up on a site that listed "environmental educator" job postings--now I was cooking.  Through my online searches, I have now accumulated over 6 openings for seasonal stints as an environmental educator in various wilderness locations in the northeast, many of which are right on the AT!  Most of them take place from late August to early November and provide room and board.  The logistics of a thru-hike come spring would still be mountainous and probably not even feasible for as early as Spring 2013 (although I like to think that within the next 3-5 years, it's possible to make it happen), but there is a magnetic pull drawing me down this new path of an "environmental educator."

I know it sounds like a pipe dream.  I know my mom will be a wreck.  I know the odds are against me, as something like only 1 in 4 people who set out actually make it to Katahdin, but this isn't just something I've wanted to do for over two years; it's something I feel compelled to do.  Something I have to do.  And it's selfish.  I've always said that hiking the AT for 4-6 months is a selfish act, and I still feel that way.  My only justification is that the people I love and who love me will support my abandonment of them if they understand how desperately I must do this.  After watching my dad lose his "retirement years" as a result of early-onset dementia and spend his days in assisted living at age 64, I've learned a valuable lesson at an early age: don't wait for tomorrow because tomorrow may never come.  I know that if I don't do this within the next few years, and let's say something terrible happens that prevents me from ever doing it or even if I just get a job that prevents me from doing it, I will always regret it.  I've hiked a lot of trails all over the country, but when I'm on the AT I feel this cosmic attachment to it and the attachment is very real.  It's not just something "in my head;" it's a calling.

I know it won't always be fun or easy.  But I also know that it will make me the woman I'm destined to become.  I hear that after a thru-hike, people live a more minimalistic lifestyle.  I hear they are more tolerant of common annoyances like inclement weather and long walks to the car or waiting on lines or dealing with bothersome people.  I hear they are more appreciative of warm, dry beds; hot showers; and comfortable footwear.  Right now, I'm satisfied with who I am, but I long for more freedom upstairs--less noise between my ears.  I've learned that nothing worth anything comes easily.  If I have to walk over 2,000 miles, take over 5 million steps, suffer through countless blisters, I'll do it if it will result in my becoming the absolute best version of myself.  I'm not too naive to understand that there is a good chance I'll get through the first hundred miles and change my mind just like the majority of people who set out on the same journey for the same reason--but at least I'll know I tried.

And so, for my mother's peace of mind, what other fool-hearted pilgrim is willing to join me for a long walk in the woods one spring?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Day 19: Bodie Ghost Town, Mono Lake, and Devil's Postpile at Mammoth Lakes

Our first stop today was at the ghost town of Bodie, definitely the best ghost town we've seen (and said to be the best in the country). This old gold mining town has been left nearly completely untouched since it's people abandoned Bodie--glass bottles still on the table, furniture still in place, and even old cars and signs still left outside. An eerie chill still still raises goose bumps when I look at some of these pictures.

We left the dirt road at Bodie and soon arrived at Mono Lake, a stunning blue landscape amid a seemingly barren desert. We are lucky to have this pristine basin of blue today, as it was almost completely gone until the government put a stop to using the water for nearby Los Angeles. This lake acts as an important buffer to keep the area cooler in the summer and warmer in the harsh winters.

After lunch, we arrive at Mammoth Lakes to check out Devils Postpile National Monument. We were given time to go on a mini hike, which left me refreshed after several days spending long--very, very long--hours in the van. The forest is absolutely beautiful here and the brief hike to the impressive 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 sided columns at Devils Post Pile was just what my travel weary bones needed. We took a shuttle down from a busy ski area (no one is skiing now of course, but there is a lot of mountain biking here) to the trail to see where volcanic basalt rocks crystallized in stunning shapes and pattern. These rocks formed below the surface but were revealed when glaciers eroded the layers above them.

On our way to our hotel, we practiced being real geologists (okay, real amateur geologists) and "read the landscape" to see if we could identify all the geological features in the diverse landscape through which we passed on our way to Bishop, CA. It was thrilling to see how much we could identify. What used to look like mysterious scenery to me, now tells a story about the sculpting of Earth as we know it today. I've always treasured the outdoors, and now I'm really beginning to understand them and their appeal. This knowledge doesn't take away any of the mystery; rather, my deeper understanding of the ground I hike on and the mountains I climb only fills me with more awe, wonder, and gratitude than ever before.

Anticlines above a fault scarp indicate high prevalence of tectonic activity in this region.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, after day 19 I lost internet access and I also lost steam in terms of updating the blog.  To sum up the last day: Yosemite was crowded, but lovely.  Sequoia had a lot of really big trees.

I wrote a 42-page paper about the geology of the national parks, took a test, 
and got an A in the course. 
I also I have a long list of places to re-visit some day.