The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Category: Backpacking

BEWARE! Steep Roller Coaster Ahead…

Are you a roller coaster lover? Or are you like me—terrified of those torture devices? It doesn’t matter which kind of roller coaster it is, from kiddie ride to mega-coaster, I hate them all the same!

Along the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia, there is a 13.5 mile section called the Roller Coaster. This series of a dozen short steep hills comes with a “warning” sign at each end. We reached this area a few weeks into our first backpacking trip on the AT. It was intimidating, but we survived.

In the past few weeks, I have been on a different type of Roller Coaster. There has been an unending path of steep emotional ups and downs: bittersweet memories while sorting family photos, my parents first anniversary after my dad died last year, approaching the 10th anniversary of our son’s death (how in the world has it been that long?!), the upcoming first anniversary of my dad’s death, my dad’s birthday, my birthday that I share with my son…plus family gatherings, a daughter graduating from Pharmacy school, a son graduating with a bachelor’s degree, both kids and their spouses moving to new locations, a cross-country road trip and more. So many mixed up emotions hitting me all at once!

I know I’m not the only one walking a challenging path right now. Daughter and I conquered the AT Roller Coaster. Here are some lessons we learned that can help me (and you?!) more easily navigate other times of turmoil in our lives…

RECOGNIZE WHAT IS HAPPENING: It is much easier to handle difficult times when we anticipate the struggles. We can give ourselves grace, not expecting too much of ourselves in the midst of steep ups and downs. At the same time, we can make preparations to (somewhat) ease the challenges of grief and stress. The warning signs in the guidebooks and on the AT itself were daunting. But these warnings helped set our expectations. In reality, it wasn’t as bad as we feared.

LIGHTEN the LOAD: When chaos hits, it’s time to take a look at what we are carrying and lighten the load wherever possible. Eliminating unnecessary things allows us to have more energy to deal with the burden(s) we can’t avoid carrying. Which things can be rearranged in our schedules? Which chores and responsibilities can be left for later or delegated to others? This is a never-ending quest in backpacking—determining actual *NEEDS* versus heavy *shoulds* or little luxuries that quickly add up to draining burdens.

SET YOUR OWN PACE: Don’t compare yourself to others walking a similar path. Don’t let others dictate what (they think) you should do. Some folks best deal with challenges by keeping busy, not wallowing in messy emotions. Others need to step back and plan for times to rest, allowing themselves space to ponder what is happening. In the case of the AT Roller Coaster, we chose to stop in the middle at a pretty campsite and get good rest to finish the ups and downs the next day.

LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE: In the middle of the Roller Coaster it sometimes feels like things are out of our control and the upheaval will never end. It helps to step back and realize this turbulence is temporary…it will not last forever. And even in the chaos, we can find moments of beauty and rest. It was helpful when we were weary of endless ups and downs to stop at an overlook for a few minutes. Rest, a beautiful view, and some nutritious snacks gave us energy to continue down the trail.

LET OTHERS HELP: When we feel overwhelmed, there are often people around us who want to encourage us. We have to be willing to talk with them and accept their offers of assistance. Stubborn independence makes our own burdens heavier and prevents others from experiencing the joy of helping someone else. Often little things become huge encouragements! A simple granola bar offered by one day hiker, a brief conversation with some young kids walking with their dad, and the juicy sweetness of fresh fruit handed to us  gave us energy to keep going until we finished the Roller Coaster. (Thanks, Trail Angels!)

I still hate roller coasters, but looking back at our successful hike through the Roller Coaster on the Appalachian Trail reminds me that I can also successfully navigate the turbulent ups and downs  of grief and stress I’m experiencing right now. I’m off to listen to some soothing music while re-reading a favorite book. I can face these challenges again tomorrow…

(You can read more about my “adventures” with grief HERE and HERE.)

Nature Snob

Hi, my name is Jill, and I discriminate against boring views. I’m addicted to changing scenery and epic locations. Do you also belong to this group for recovering Nature-snobs?

I long for the beauty of walking in the mountains. I’m homesick for the brilliant blue skies and the mysterious fog-bound trees found along the Appalachian Trail. At least give me a beach with crashing waves! I hate the flat farm fields and always overcast skies that have surrounded me in Central Ohio. Such a Nature-snob!

It helps that we recently moved to a small town in a hilly county northeast of Columbus. As I explore local parks and wander trails in nearby forests, I am challenged to change my snooty attitude. There truly IS beauty all around me when I look for it! 

“Finding beauty here or there; Finding beauty anywhere!”

The beginning of a new year means it is time to organize the thousands of photos on my computer. This year I found interesting similarities in the views I have captured as I explore Nature-places both “here” in Ohio and “there” on the AT. Take a look… (In the following sets of photographs, the first one is along the AT; the second photo is close to our new home.)

Enjoying early morning light streaming thru the trees:

Noticing farmland shrouded in fog; waiting for the rising sun to bring crisp, clear views of the hills:

Walking along a stream, listening to it burbling and gurgling along its merry way:

Stopping to wonder at the roar of rushing, cascading water falling over boulders:

Looking for small pleasures and tiny bits of beauty:

Reflecting on the beauty of seasonal changes:

Taking time to notice the colors of sunset over nightly shelter:

I’m working hard to stop being a Nature-Snob by “finding beauty anywhere.” What have YOU discovered near you? I would love to see your favorite nature places. Please leave a photo in the comments!

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