The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: People (page 1 of 2)

Childhood Fun!

Recently I saw a fascinating video on Facebook. In this ad for Nature Valley, 3 generations in families were asked what they did for Childhood Fun. Consistent with current research, the grandparents talked about unstructured outdoor play, the parents enjoyed playing outdoors with neighborhood friends, and current kids apparently spend most of their time indoors on electronics. The ad finishes by challenging us to provide opportunities and nurture our children’s connections with Nature.

VIDEO: When you were a kid, what did you do for fun? 3 Generations answer. (Nature Valley Ad) 

I have read many articles and books which bemoan this progression. (See list of some of my favorite resources about the importance of Nature Connection HERE.) I know my friends and I often talk about how to get our kids (and ourselves) outside more often. I was curious to try my own (very informal) survey. I asked friends to share lists of childhood fun from their own families. I received 23 responses out of 31 people I asked about. Here is a summary of the results:

Active Play (mostly outside):

54% of all responses, #1 category for all adults

Active outside play used to be a fun part of childhood

It was interesting to notice that the mentioned activities were not organized or run by adults: swimming, playground, playing in barn, making scarecrows with family, wrestling with siblings, riding bike/scooter (often all over town), roller skating, ice skating, informal backyard sports with neighbor kids, sledding, hiking, tag and team games with friends. I also included active indoor hobbies/classes in this category: gymnastics, dance, ballet, Tae-Kwon-do, and rock climbing.

Imagination Play (mostly inside):

25% of all responses, #1 category for children & teens

Playing with little toys and collectibles hones the imagination

This category includes both solo and group activities: dress-ups, Legos, small toys (hot wheels, figurines, Littlest Pet-Shop animals), collections of objects, puzzles, board games, and raising butterflies. A number of respondents wondered what happened to these objects after they grew up. (I have written before about our youngest daughter’s love of imagination play and costumes. You can read about it HERE.)

Other Childhood Fun Activities:

  • Reading: 8%, not mentioned by children or teens
  • Arts & Crafts: 7%, scattered across all ages
  • Screen Time: 6%, up through young 30s

Reading and relaxing used to be significant parts of childhood play

For decades, Childhood fun has included Crayola!

Childhood Fun today raises fears of too many video games, movies and electronics

Obviously this was a very informal survey of a handful of family members and friends. It was interesting to me to notice that the results do NOT match experts’ concerns about rampant growth of uncontrolled screen time as the primary form of Childhood Fun in the past 20 years. (Read a typical article HERE.) This discrepancy could be explained by a number of variables: My personal friends and family tend to be biased toward outdoor, active pursuits. Participants may have self-censored, not reporting screen-time which is considered “bad” today. Wording of the survey question was too broad to elicit accurate responses regarding entertainment. For example, I did not ask how much time was spent on various activities but merely asked what the participants remembered as fun when they were young. In addition, by asking for a list of what the participants did for “fun,” the question filtered for activities that were perceived as enjoyable or special, not just routine everyday activities.

“When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?”

I’m very curious how YOU would respond to this question…and what your own friends and family members would list. Many of us had an enjoyable time sharing stories as we reminisced about childhood days. Join us in discussing this question with others and let me know YOUR answers—either in the comments on this blog or on facebook.

Ending…and New Beginnings

Are graduations epic adventures? No…probably not. They are simply the transition point marking the ending of one adventure and the uncertainty of what comes next. Is the time spent as a student an adventure? That’s harder. If those years are merely a slog of fulfilling responsibilities, taking required courses, and surviving in a fog until “real life” begins after graduation, then, NO, student days are nothing epic. On the other hand, if the student makes new friends, explores new interests (via classes or clubs), and gains new skills, it is possible that university days could be called an adventure…

I went back to university a few years ago and finally finished a Bachelor’s degree in 2015. That was certainly a season of new things! Finishing that loose end with a graduation but finding myself still “stuck” in life just made my mid-life crisis stronger. The uncertainty of that transition time was a big reason why I headed to the Appalachian Trail (with youngest daughter in tow). (Read about the start of this ongoing adventure HERE. Read about WHY we started backpacking HERE. )

Why am I writing about graduations today? Because as a proud mom I wanna brag. (Humor me, okay?!) Because that has been the focus of the past few weeks. Because one graduation became the excuse for an epic road trip adventure. And because all of us teeter on the brink of endings and new beginnings at least a few times in our lives.

Sometimes, even as one stage is ending, we already know what comes next. My daughter Nettie just graduated with a Doctorate in Pharmacy a few weeks ago. She is headed to a 1 year residency in another city where she and her husband have already found an apartment. (He is still job-hunting—wish him well!) All the hard work required to earn this degree is certainly something to be celebrated. In addition, there is some level of comfort in having navigated similar transitions many times in the past. Now it is off to the next adventure in life…

For most of us, uncertainty is draining. Facing the ending of familiar roles and expectations is hard, especially when the “what’s-next” is not yet visible. Youngest son, Jakob, is in this situation. He is happy to have finished his Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry. He and his wife know they are moving back to Ohio to job hunt and set up their next home. Right now, life feels less like an adventure and more like an ordeal. Hopefully, both of them can remember the perseverance and the life-skills they have gained from past adventures to give them confidence as they move forward toward this current unknown.

Like I said above, I’m a proud mama to these hard-working kids we have raised. I can’t wait to see where life takes them. And I will be cheering them on all the way…

Is YOUR life an adventure right now? Or are you in the transition time between endings and new beginnings? Do you have any words of wisdom from your experiences in these in-between-places of life? I’d love to read your stories in the comments below…

New You, New Name…What’s in a Name? (Part 2)

It’s a new year. Sometimes that brings a longing to become a new-you. It can be a long process to radically change who you are. But if you head to the woods, you could quickly gain a radically different name! Perhaps this post will give you some ideas…

In a previous post (which you can read HERE), I explained the significance of “Trail Names.” I told the story of how we got our names as “Story Seeker” and “Andowen.” Now I want to share some of the names we remember from other hikers we met on the Appalachian Trail.

Trail names often have entertaining history behind them. Usually, they give insight into a hiker’s personal journey. Tales are often told when sitting around a campfire in the woods or at a table in town. “How did you get your name?” is a good way to get the stories flowing…

Campfires…heart of conversations and gatherings

Trail names are given (or chosen) for many reasons. Perhaps the hiker is similar to a character from movies: Elle (from Legally Blonde), Long John Silver (complete with swirling cape and sword!), Gandalf or Frodo (from Lord of the Rings). Sometimes the trail name is a related to the hiker’s real name: Comet (Hailey) and Sunrise (Dawn). Physical characteristics are often commemorated: Big Foot, Long Legs, Tiny, Bean Pole. Trail clothing can also affect names: Blue Bandana, Green Knight. Favorite foods might also become a trail name: Honey Sticks and Java. Most common is probably hiking style or mishaps which occur in the early days of the hiker’s adventure: Jack Rabbit, Strider, Stumbles, Wrong Way, Muddy.

Here are a few of our favorite Trail Names and the stories behind them:

BEETLE started hiking with her daughter who was named Spider for how quickly she climbed steep sections of trail. Mom struggled in those same sections, legs and arms and hiking poles flying every which way. Daughter said she looked like a beetle…and the name stuck!

(from iNaturalist.com)

BLAZE headed to the trail without map or guidebooks. He found his way by following the white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail. In addition, he carried no stove and made fires each evening and morning to heat water and cook his food.

IRON HEART has a striking story of transformation. His life was in chaos and he was in terrible shape when he had a massive heart attack. He died and was revived multiple times on the way to the hospital and in the operating room. As he recovered, he made radical changes in his lifestyle. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to take on an epic adventure, and he headed to the Appalachian Trail. He didn’t finish the first year, but went back again this year and hopes to finish the entire trail by next season. He has an Iron Heart—in the physical implants that saved his life and in the determination that has changed his life.

OLD SCHOOL is a dentist who headed to the trail during a time of transition. He hadn’t hiked for years but still had his old gear. It worked fine decades before and he saw no reason to waste money upgrading everything. Younger hikers were bemused at the metal frame visible around his pack and at his old-school stove. Thus a name was given…

(photo from an ebay listing)

PROMETHEUS… We thought this might have been because he liked to light a campfire most evenings. Wrong! Early in his thru-hike the alcohol stove he was using blew up and lit the picnic table at the shelter on fire. He was the hiker who brought fire to the people… HA!

So, if you are longing for a change this year, what “trail name” would fit you on your journey? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Blessed to be a Blessing

Like everyone, we have had many challenges in life. Through counseling, comfort from God, and encouragement from others, we have learned how to walk through difficult things. It is always inspiring when we can pass these blessings on to others we meet who are struggling.

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others who are also suffering.  — 2 Corinthians 1:4

As I’ve mentioned previously, our most recent AT adventure was very hard emotionally. Both daughter and I wanted to quit multiple times. Looking back, I realize we would have missed opportunities to bless others and to receive blessings if we had given in to those negative emotions and left the trail early. Here are stories of blessings which occurred after our breakdown moments:

Daughter Andowen has worked with a therapist for many years to gain coping skills to deal with severe anxiety and suicidal ideation. A key technique is “reframing” negative thoughts. One afternoon at a shelter, Elizabeth* shared her struggles with debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. Before I could say anything, Andowen jumped in and talked about how significant reframing has been for her. She explained the process step by step. It was exciting for me to see my teen daughter teach her hard-earned coping skills to an older adult.

Another day, some first time backpackers showed up at a shelter we were at for a night. They were tired and discouraged. They were baffled as they tried to set up their new tent and use their fancy stove—things they had neglected to practice before leaving for the trail. Andowen went over to introduce herself, and then proceeded to calmly teach them how to use their gear. When I wandered over a little later, they raved about how helpful Andowen was, how wonderful it was that she was so skilled in the woods, and how grateful they were. Because of her encouragement, they said they plan to return to the trail for more adventures in the future. Way to go, Andowen!

One night another hiker and I stayed up late, talking about some of the profound challenges our kids face. David* shared his heartbreak that his young adult son was often in self-inflicted crisis. As is often the case, the anonymity of sitting with a stranger around a campfire allowed deep sharing. I mostly listened, occasionally encouraging David with stories from our family’s life. The next morning, I grabbed a private moment to explain what I’ve learned about grief. We can’t help others or dream of new things until we recognize and acknowledge challenges, and then grieve losses and disappointments. This process allows us to truly accept present realities even as we hope for change. Sharing these things with David reminded me of the progress we have made in our family…and sent him on his way, pondering how these ideas could begin to heal his own broken heart.

Twice on this trip, we were able to attend local church services. Both times, we were accepted, prayed for, and encouraged. Both times, it felt like some of the teachings were exactly the words we needed to hear. God used the people in those little churches to bless us as we headed further down the trail. At the same time, in both settings, the congregations were facing challenges that we have had experience with. I was able to privately encourage leaders by telling stories about what God has done in our own lives in similar situations. Warren Wiersbe, a noted theologian says, “True worship should lead to…the kind of spiritual strength that helps the believer carry the burdens and fight the battles of life.” In these little small town churches, we experienced the mutual blessing of true worship!

Sometimes being blessed and blessing others takes far less effort. Small words can echo for days: “I love spending time with your daughter.” “You have the most beautiful eyes, so full of life.” “You are doing a good job, mama. Keep it up!” Simple actions can encourage: “I picked up two wild apples, would you like one?” “I’ve got some extra water, do you need it?” “This is a tough spot. I waited to give you a hand, if you want…” When we stopped for rest-breaks, I often found myself remembering these little kindnesses.

Occasionally I am reminded of the importance of bravely sharing the lessons we learn as we walk through dark places. We never know where those bits of light might shine. After writing a blog post about “Hard Days” (you can read it HERE), a friend across the country told me the following story: Stephanie* volunteers monthly at an outreach for homeless people in her town. She found herself listening as one man poured out his desperation, telling her of his plans to kill himself after he left the park, too discouraged to reach out again for help that never changed anything. Stephanie grew more and more upset as she struggled to find any words to respond. Suddenly she remembered the closing words from my blog post that morning. When she told the man “Never quit on a bad day,” he burst into tears, and then allowed her to get him to a psychiatric emergency room where he checked himself in for treatment. Wow!

As we in American have just finished Thanksgiving Day, it is a good time for all of us to ponder:  How have I been helped in my own life, especially as I have walked through hard things? But let’s not just stop with gratitude for ways we have been blessed. Let’s start a chain of encouragement as we pass those blessings on to others!

*These stories really happened, but names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Hiking with Friends

“But doesn’t she miss her friends?” This is one of the first questions asked when I tell folks that I take my teen daughter with me on extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. The short answer is “yes!” But it’s not a complete answer. I think most of us out there miss friends and family back home. That doesn’t stop us from hiking. In addition, as we meet others on the trail who share our passion, we often discover new friends.

“You’ve got a friend in me, When the road looks rough ahead, And you’re miles and miles, From your nice warm bed, You’ve got a friend in me” – Randy Newman

It is common to spend most of our days hiking alone in the woods. Because Andowen and I  choose to stay in shelters whenever possible, we find social time in the evenings. (Click HERE to read a recent post I wrote about this.) It is surprising how often deep conversations happen around a supper table or a campfire. Part of the reason is likely the natural intimacy that occurs because of shared trials and triumphs. We understand each other in ways our friends back home do not. In addition, there is a sense of confidentiality. After all, we may never meet these hikers again. Even if we do run into each other further down the trail, everyone introduces themselves with “trail names” which allows us to keep our personal identity private. (I will write more in a future post about these names we use while hiking…promise!)

One of the delights of backpacking the AT is that we meet people from every walk of life. Beyond the shared passion for being in the woods, there is great diversity of age, experience, values, and beliefs. At home they are CEOs or custodians who would never talk to each other but in the woods it is refreshing to discover that there is rarely a “hierarchy.” There may be different levels of experience, but everyone out there faces similar challenges and carries comparable gear. This equality contributes to feeling both free and empowered.

It is not uncommon to run into certain hikers again and again as we leap-frog each other down the trail. Sometimes this just adds friendly faces to our trip. Other times, we choose to exchange “real-life” information so we can connect off-trail. On our first trip in Fall 2015, we evacuated to my sister’s house to avoid a hurricane. (Read about it HERE.) We brought two hiking friends with us. We are still in regular contact with both Blaze and Beetle. One of these years, we hope to visit and/or hike together again!

Sometimes we meet a hiker just briefly but still choose to exchange information to keep in touch. Diva is someone we met on our first trip and kept in contact with via facebook. We have tried a number of times to meet each other on the AT, but busy lives are hard to coordinate. Finally, Diva helped us take my mom on a birthday adventure this summer. And we spent a week with Diva and her friend at the end of our trip this fall. We have a few other hiking friends we hope to someday join for backpacking fun.

We like to talk about our AT adventures. (What a surprise, right?!) Occasionally, a friend wonders about joining us. Usually, they don’t have time or don’t have gear or don’t have support from their families. Sometimes we just smile and nod…knowing we have a good friendship off-trail but that it probably wouldn’t work well to be in the woods together. Other times, a friend or family member does indeed join us for a week of adventure. We loved having my middle daughter with us in Virginia in Spring 2016. We enjoyed the companionship of a new friend for a week this fall. And we are trying to coordinate schedules to introduce another friend to backpacking on a possible trip to Maine next summer. Wanna join us? Let’s talk!

Back to the opening question in this post…”don’t we miss our friends back home?” Yes, we miss them terribly sometimes. But we know our family and close friends are strong supporters of our wandering. They patiently listen to us blather about the trail when we are home. They follow our adventures as we post photos and stories online (and call when we have cell coverage). And they sometimes visit or send packages to encourage us along the way. We couldn’t do any of this without the emotional and financial support of hubby/daddy. (Read a post about wonderful support HERE.) We can’t wait to get to the woods for a new adventure…and we can’t wait to get back home to our friends and family. 

When I Grow Old

When I grow old…I wanna be like my mama. She turned 79 years old yesterday, and she is still adventuring. She is, obviously, slowing down. But she won’t let that stop her from still living fully, stretching herself occasionally to the limits of her physical abilities, whatever those may be at a given time.

For many years, my mom has looked for an epic adventure to celebrate another year of living. For her 70th birthday, she and I went downhill skiing in Portillo, Chile. Another year, my middle sister took Mom for a hot air balloon ride. Two years ago, Mom learned how to use the old wind-surf board as a stand-up-paddle board. (Don’t ask how many times I fell in the river trying that, okay?!) paddleboard grannyMany years, Mom celebrated her birthday by taking a long canoe ride on the river she lives beside—sometimes solo, sometimes with a friend. She spent a few hours to paddle upriver to a park, had a snack, then paddled home, approximately 14 miles round trip.

Years ago, Mom enjoyed backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. Our first time hiking together, we were joined by her sister-in-law and a friend. Later, she took a number of trips to introduce grandkids to backpacking. mom and I, first AT tripAs her strength has declined, Mom has been able to carry less and less gear. For the past few years, my youngest sister and Mom have day-hiked together, meeting at Shenandoah National Park. By staying in a lodge or at a campground and driving to different sections of the park, they have gradually completed most of the 104 miles of the Appalachian Trail located in the park. One more trip should finish their self-imposed challenge.

(photo taken by Joanna Fischer)

(photo taken by Joanna Fischer)

This year, Mom and my middle daughter met my youngest daughter and I near the end of our 5 week section-hike on the Appalachian Trail. Mom joined us for the steep climb beside Crabtree Falls in Virginia. At the top of the falls, she walked back down by herself as daughters and I headed back to the AT for another 5 days of backpacking. crabtree falls VA, hiking grannyThe story of Mom’s continued adventures was told around campfires and passed on from hiker to hiker along the Trail. Everyone applauded her spunk. One southern backpacker said, “I wanna be like Granny when I grow up!” So do I, so do I…

The Pursuit of Happiness

“Happiness is the settling of the soul into its most appropriate spot.” – Aristotle

According to the founding documents of the United States, along with Life and Liberty, the “Pursuit of Happiness” is an inalienable right. Common wisdom says each of us needs to find our happy place: the place where we feel at peace, where we relax and let the worries of the day slip out of our mind. For some this renewal is found at the beach, for others it is felt in the mountains or the woods or the barn. Sometimes we need to retreat to our happy place alone. But other times, we want to share that joy with our loved ones. But what happens when my favorite pursuits are “meh” to my partner…and vice-versa?

By now you know that I love to be in the woods. I am invigorated by a day hike. I find peace by backpacking for weeks at a time. I am fortunate that my youngest daughter finds restoration in nature. (I’ve blogged about that HERE and HERE.) We are a good hiking team together. happiness_hiking partners_zaleski state forest

For me, there is something hopeful about seeing a path leading to unknown destinations, heading further and further into the woods and mountains. I enjoy the anticipation of what lovely things I will see around the next corner or over the next hill. I love to feel the ground under my feet and see the details of trees and rocks as I slowly hike on by. happiness_hiking trail_zaleski state forest

For my husband, walking in the woods is a means to an end, a way to get to the destination. His mind tends to focus on the goal. Even though it brings him no great pleasure, he occasionally joins me on a day hike, knowing this is my happy place. He supports me in my pursuit of happiness defined by weeks in the woods, driving daughter and I to our starting point, taking care of things while we are gone, and picking us up when we are ready to return home. happiness_hiking together_my passion

On the other hand, my hubby loves to explore the world by flying his small plane. Many times he takes to the air for only an hour or two. Occasionally he takes an epic adventure, flying across the country to see new places from above. happiness_flying_cessna 172

When hubby is flying, he finds freedom in knowing that he is not accessible. When the night is clear, he loves the feeling of flying among the stars and watching the lights twinkling across the horizon. When the winds are calm, he finds peace as farmland or mountains or canyons slowly unroll under his wings. happiness_flying_farmland

Unlike some wives, who are afraid of going up with their pilot husbands, I don’t mind climbing in the cockpit with my husband. I know this is his happy place and he wants to share his joy with me. From the air, I notice the signs of humans, a very different feeling than being comforted and awed by nature itself. I don’t often choose to fly with him, but I support his pursuit of happiness defined by flying above the world. It may not be an inexpensive hobby, but it is worth the cost for him to find peace and happiness in a stressful, busy life. (And I love that our youngest daughter is discovering the joy of flying with him. She is gaining the best of both of our worlds!) happiness_flying together_his passion

It seems to me that this mutual respect is part of the inalienable rights described in the Declaration of Independence. I can’t define his happiness and he doesn’t define mine. We each have the individual right to our own pursuit of happiness. And we gain joy as we support and encourage each other along the way.

Wandering Women

I am a wanderer—sometimes physically, sometimes in imagination. Somedays I wonder where this nomadic, gypsy gene came from. And then I realize my mom has always enjoyed travel—with her family, with her husband, or alone. I guess it is no surprise that the wandering hasn’t stopped with me. My daughters have been well trained and continue the tradition: exploring the world near and far, physically and in imagination.

My oldest daughter recently sent me this poem. It describes our family well…

Among Women By Marie Ponsot

What women wander? Not many. All. A few. Most would, now & then, & no wonder. Some, and I’m one, Wander sitting still.

My small grandmother Bought from every peddler Less for the ribbons and lace Than for their scent Of sleep where you will, Walk out when you want, choose Your bread and your company.

She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”

She looked fragile but had High blood, runner’s ankles, Could endure, endure. She loved her rooted garden, her Grand children, her once Wild once young man. Women wander…As best they can.

(source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/245898)

Here are some photos of the wandering women in my family:

My mom backpacking with her grandson, Summer 2000

My mom backpacking with her grandson, Summer 2000

My mom backpacking with me, a decade ago

My mom backpacking with me, a decade ago

My mom continues to dayhike on the Appalachian Trail with my sister (photo by Jo Fischer)

My mom (in her 70s now) continues to dayhike on the Appalachian Trail with my sister (photo by Jo Fischer)

I've been in Europe with each of my daughters.

I’ve been in Europe with each of my daughters.

My oldest daughter has lived and worked in Central Asia and has wandered in Europe.

My oldest daughter has lived and worked in Central Asia and has wandered in Europe.

My middle daughter has wandered Europe and parts of Asia.

My middle daughter has wandered Europe and parts of Asia.

And as you know, my youngest daughter and I have been adventuring on the Appalachian Trail!

And as you know, my youngest daughter and I have been adventuring on the Appalachian Trail!

Walking the Trail…of Grief?

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. ~John Burroughs

I expected physical challenges when my daughter and I set out on our Big Epic to hike the Appalachian Trail for 6 weeks. I understood we would, at times, be stretched to our limits, and that this would require mental stamina to overcome physical obstacles. I knew there were things I was hoping to sort out for daily life back home: how my primary role might change, how to best help daughter overcome disabilities, where to focus my time and attention, and more. It seemed to me that this “discovery process” was the healing and order I was going to find while my body was busy with hiking and my mind was free to wander. A rough hiking trailOh, I knew there were many who headed to the trail to find deep healing from trauma or overwhelming grief. That is a common reason to leave civilization behind, at least for a while. I even met some of those folks: a fellow who left everything behind when his mom died, a pair of older women reeling from difficult divorces, a young man who was basically homeless. But, obviously, this was not MY reason for going to the trail. Me? I was seeking adventure!

And then…I found myself sobbing when I saw a walking bridge over I-70 in Maryland. So many times, I had driven under this bridge, wishing that I could be hiking the AT, not really believing it would ever happen. Now we walked across this bridge. As drivers below honked and waved, I smiled through the tears, happy that “my turn” had finally come. It freaked my daughter out to see me cry, but it was easy to write it off as a funny sort of joy. AT Bridge over I-70The more tired I became physically, the more often I found myself with tears running down my cheeks while I hiked. I cried after chatting with a red-headed thru-hiker…who could have been my red-headed son who died almost eight years ago and who never had the chance for this sort of adventure. I cried when my hips ached…because that son could never have managed the stresses of backpacking after injuring his hips with competitive figure-skating. I cried to see how stable my daughter was while in the woods, unlike the debilitating anxiety she faces in town. After all, how can she live forever as an elf in the woods?

What was WRONG with me? I was a hot-mess, riding a roller-coaster of unexpected emotions. Typical of my usual way to attack life, I hesitantly started talking to other hikers we met along the way. (Okay, so the hesitation wasn’t usual for me!!) I asked why they were on the trail. As mentioned above, a few were running away from trauma or seeking healing from grief. Most were simply taking a break, were fulfilling a dream, or were looking for the “what’s next” in life. On the surface, THEY didn’t seem to be dealing with a wild ride of emotions… AT roller coasterBut as I confessed my struggle with unexpected emotions, these hikers slowly shared a similar story. Almost every person I talked with had been surprised by tears. This strong man sobbed at the beginning of his thru-hike because his mother was no longer alive to follow his adventures. That young man had cried in his tent on many lonely nights, after the break-up of a long-term relationship. There was a woman who was sad at the distance between herself and her grown children; another one with tears over dreams she had put aside to raise her family.

Since returning from the trail, I’ve searched other blogs. I’ve read more trail journals and autobiographies. I don’t see this effect of the trail mentioned anywhere. I’ve tried to stuff it down, burying these memories under all memories of celebration and achievement. After all, we had an Epic Adventure! But…this story keeps coming back, over and over. Apparently, it needs to be told. Sometimes, when we go to nature for other reasons, we discover grief we weren’t looking for. I’ve spent months processing on this…and I realize this isn’t a “beast” to be feared. It isn’t an indication of something “wrong” with me that must be fixed.  With a change of perspective, these wild emotions morph into something positive. Although it certainly doesn’t feel soothing in the moments that tears run down my face…this experience is gradually bringing more order to my emotional world.

Beauty? Beast?

Beauty? Beast?

I’m finally ready to share this story…and, as I start to plan our return to the Appalachian Trail in the late spring, I recognize I will most likely find more tears along the way. And…that’s okay.

“Oh, the People You Meet…” — Helper Version

Many folks assume that spending weeks backpacking the Appalachian Trail will be a solitary experience. That might be true on the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail. However, during our six weeks on the AT, we were passed by multiple hikers every day. In addition, the only way to experience a solitary night is to camp away from shelters. There was only one night that daughter and I had a shelter completely to ourselves.

As extroverts, we delighted in this level of social interaction. Time alone while hiking balanced nicely with social time. I introduced you to some of our favorite hikers HERE. In today’s post, I want to introduce you to some of the non-hikers we met along the way.

Some folks who help hikers have been thru-hikers themselves. After completing his epic hike (along with his college age son) a few years ago, Scott began searching for a property that he and his wife could turn into a hostel for hikers. They bought a historic home with outbuildings near Front Royal, Virginia. The property had been abandoned for more than a decade. Many would have ignored it as a ruin. Scott and his wife saw the possibilities and are pouring energy and money into restoring the home to its former glory. The hostel is already up and running—a cozy brick cottage which sleeps up to 8 hikers. The big house will eventually hold living quarters for Scott and his wife plus 3 fancy bed & breakfast rooms. Scott is passionate about history and has uncovered many fascinating stories about the lives of those who lived here over the years. (If you are a hiker, definitely stay at the hostel. If you are looking for a B&B, keep an eye for when those rooms open sometime next year! Facebook link HERE ) Mountain Home "Cabbin"

Mountain Home B&B

Storyteller Scott

Some folks have little or no hiking experience but enjoy meeting and helping AT hikers. In two different towns, we paid for someone to shuttle us to another part of the trail. (Phone numbers for these folks are found in trail guides or on lists at visitor centers in towns along the trail.) Debbie saved our trip by letting me avoid a very steep 6 miles of hiking with a broken toe. Sharon drove us to a Walmart on the far side of town to resupply fuel and buy some warm gloves. On a gray rainy day, Shellie took us to a parking area that was a hop, skip, and jump away from a shelter for the night. This also meant we could carry a fellow hiker’s gear so she could “slackpack” a long day of hiking. And then Shellie rescued us the next day and came back to evacuate us to town to more easily meet my sister for a few days off trail during bad storms. (See post HERE)

Other folks are “Trail Angels.” (I explained about “Trail Magic” HERE) In the Shenandoah National Park, we discovered that the campground where we were hoping to spend a zero day was full for the second night. We decided to try to catch a ride and get there a day earlier. Lori talked with us at a picnic area and agreed to give us a lift to the campgrounds. She is from Victoria Island, British Columbia and is traveling with her little trailer for 4 months of exploring the US. She asked a zillion questions which we happily answered. She took our photo to add to her memories of interesting people she meets along the way. We took her photo to remember some of the Trail Angels who helped our trip be easier. helper Lori

Many folks are easily forgotten—the ones who move to the other side of the street when we are walking in town, the ones who ignore us in park campgrounds, the ones who are unfriendly or unhelpful. The folks who are Hiker Helpers will be remembered for a very long time!

(Note: We finished our hiking for this year on Oct. 21. We continue to share photos and posts from our adventure for the next few weeks.)

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