Life Is A Through Hike

A through hike, usually talked about in reference to the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail, is when you hike a long trail end to end.  I’ve always dreamed of hiking the Apalacian trail.  I’ve revised that dream.  I don’t see my being able to take several months off any time soon to go for a really long walk.  Lately I found trails that are walkable in a few weeks.  I can probably justify that.

I’ve been reading and listening to books on hiking…. Experiential books.  Some I like.  Some are less well written and full of self-aggrandizement.  The one I’m listening to now makes me roll my eyes at the personality of the writer.  Ah to be the voice of a tramp.

I’ve started really thinking, though, how life is really like a through hike.

You start at one end not necessarily knowing much and not being really good at what you’re doing.  You don’t know much about the trail.  You don’t know what to expect.  (Today I’m thinking about the shorter trail of RA as I sit in the infusion center with the woman across from me getting her first Remicade infusion).  You learn as you do.  You stumble and fall.  You meet people on the trail.  Some become friends.  Some not so much. You plod on.  You learn how to take time to see the world as you pass by.  You learn.  You grow.

I read an article about expert tips for the first time through hiker. It struck me that many of them apply.

“Study Up – Do Your Research”… Google is not always your friend, but… it can be if you’re careful.  You need to research your way through life (talking to people… reading books… reading blogs… learning).  You need to research your way through RA.  You need to be able to wing it, but you have to have some idea of what might be coming down the pike.

“Know The Pitfalls – Then Avoid Them”… You can never know them all.  You can’t even always miss the ones you actually do know the ones that might be coming.  All you can do is try to make the best of your path and try to prepare for it.  Find out what the side effects are for your meds.  Find out what the costs are for the town you are thinking about moving to.  Figure out what would make you give up on your dreams, on your quests, on your path and try to avoid those things.

“Define Success – then go get it”… be specific about your goals.  Time bound is great but not always realistic.  Specific is often more important… more practical… Sometimes you can do both (I will walk the Santa Hustle Cedar Point Half Marathon in December), but sometimes you can only plod on and make the best time you can while you keep on keeping on.  Be specific about what your success looks like to you.  I’ve come to the conclusion that RA success for me isn’t likely to ever include the word remission.  So… my RA success, right now, has to include “being there” for people who are on similar paths and to be as healthy as I possibly can be.

“Get Your Gear Weight Down – Way Down”…Literally, keeping “stuff” to a minimum is amazing if you can accomplish it.  I’ve never figured out how to do that.  Stuff holds entirely too much connection for me.  I need to be able to keep my WORK gear down.  I walk 3/4 of a mile from my parking lot to work.  I walk 3/4 of a mile from work to the parking lot. Every pound I put into my backpack I carry every step of the way.  There are days when I carry a little more than is prudent and I regret it later.  Euphemistically, I work at even more diligently.  I keep my mind as positive as I possibly can.  I remember the lessons of the trips… the fact that it isn’t good and it isn’t bad it’s just different… the fact that there are dozens and dozens and dozens or realities that are all as real as mine… the fact that every mother is a mother and every daughter is a daughter no matter where they are or who they are.

“Prioritize Your Thru-Hike”… This one, for me, is often the hardest thing to do.  I learned young that prioritizing my own hike is less important than subjugating my hike, my path, my whatever in the interest of anyone/everyone else.  I gagged down pancakes three meals a day for several months because other people wanted pancakes.  I learned that I’m not smart enough to be able to tell when I actually needed to see a doctor.  I learned what was supposed to matter.  It took many years for me to learn that I really can prioritize myself and my own hike.  It took me even longer for me to accept the fact that I deserve to take care of myself.  Committing to taking care of myself means that I can be ready to take care of everyone else.

“Arrange Social Support”… I think this is one of the most important things to do in your through hike of your life.  It is even more important if your through hike has rock slides and floods in it.  When you find out that you have cancer or emphysema or RA or epilepsy, having social support (people you can turn to when you need to ask questions… when you need to rail at injustice… when you need to cry or laugh or just talk to someone who totally knows what you are talking about.  Even if you can’t count everyone you interact with as what people typically think of as friends, you can glean useful information from what people say, what they tell you, what you see in them that you want to emulate in yourself.

“Hike Your Own Hike”… Focus on what is right for you.  You can glean those gems from others on similar trails (where is the best ice cream store, what doctor really listens, what socks REALLY keep your feet warm when you are really feeling the raynauds), but in the end, the hike… the life… the adventure is yours and yours alone.  You share your life with the ones you love, the important people in your life, you find companions for a season or a reason, you find those that you share a story or two with, but in the end, the adventure really is your own and you have to make it the best you can for you.

“Stretch often – and then stretch more”… this one made me smile because I do this literally as much as I can.  When I’m walking I use a camera strap to help me stretch my back and my shoulders.  When I’m sitting, I stretch my neck and back and my hands.  But more to the point… stretch your mind.  No matter where you are in your life, you can always stretch your mind.  Talk to people who are a lot like you, but talk to people who aren’t al lot like you.  Talk to people who are very different from you.  Read.  Listen to different styles of music.Watch different kinds of TV shows.  Even if you aren’t in a place in your hike where you can even really get out and walk around your neighborhood, your mind can get out and walk around the world  Don’t be afraid of people who don’t look/sound/act like you.  There is an amazingly beautiful world out there to experience in any way you can.  And the internet is the great leveler.  I know I have to be careful how much information I share with people I am not comfortable with or that I don’t know, but it’s amazing what you can learn about people… REAL people… just by taking the time to talk to them and read what they have to say.  Stretch your mind and you will be surprised at how much broader and wider your horizons are.

“Listen to your body, it’s smart”… I think this is very much another hard one for me.  I tend to not listen to it and live with the regret of not listening later. Your body knows when it is running out of steam.  It doesn’t matter if it is 9:14 in the morning and breakfast was at 7 and lunch is still two hours away, if you’re hungry you’re hungry.  If you’re tired, find a way to take a short nap.  20 minutes for me in that one bathroom where I know I can hide in the corner and sit is an amazing respite some days.  I can’t always take the time away from meetings I get drug into, but often I can and I know that the side room that has no light in it but does have a chair and a sofa also has a corner than I can sit back on the floor in and lean against the wall.  I have a ‘nap alarm’ on my phone that I can set for 20 minutes and it will wake me.  Sometimes I have a hell of a time getting up off of the floor, but when I’m running thin on spoons, it helps immensely.

“It’s not a race, last place wins”… through hikes aren’t a race.  Life isn’t a race.  You don’t get extra points for trying to set land speed records.  Dead fucking last beats did not finish (I guess that isn’t a good example for life because no matter how long that hike is, you made the whole hike) and did not finish beats did not try.  A day is 24 hours no matter whether you pack it so full of stuff that you are exhausted or you pack it full of porch sitting and knitting.  A day is a day, a mile is a mile.  Be gentle with yourself and remember to enjoy the view.

“Keep A Flexible Schedule – Within Reason”… We all have crap we have to do WHEN we HAVE to do it.  Doctor’s appointments, meetings, soccer games… but you can keep some flexibility in your days too.  Take your phone with you to the park for just half an hour.  Read three pages in that book you have been meaning to read.  Take time to feed the ducks.  Walk more slowly through the grocery store than you might like or than you might have intended.  Chances are slowing down or taking a detour is only going to make your day better in the end.

“Learn To Love Hiking – Even The Uphill Part”… it’s really REALLY hard to enjoy the hike when you are in the middle of going through shit.  It is.  When you have a flair and you can’t bear weight on that knee or you can’t stand the feeling of even a feather on your skin, it’s hard to enjoy the shit.  But you don’t always have to look on it as if it actually is shit.  When you have to sit on that bench under the tree by the side of the road (or you have to sit in the bus shelter on your way down the block) try not to dwell on the shit.  Notice the dandelion sticking its head up through the cracks in the cement.  Step in the puddles and feel how the water (cool or warm) eases some of the aches in your feet. Your shoes will dry later.  When you get through the shit, look back at the view from the other side.  Enjoy the peace of the rest at the top.  Look back at how far you have come and realize that the next little ways is probably going to be a lot easier to trek.

“Prepare For Mental Fatigue”… I know when I have been pushing myself too hard for too long.  I find myself just not caring any more.  I find myself getting short-tempered with everyone and fighting back tears more often than not.  I take what people say in the worst possible way and I snap at them because of my interpretation.  I spend FOREVER looking at a problem that should have been easy and I still can’t cope with it.  For my daughter, fighting mental fatigue is when she gets lost in taking pictures.   I can tell when she needs it desperately and we make an adventure of that.  For me it is sometimes pictures, sometimes reading, sometimes writing, sometimes just a walk around the block.  Find what enlivens your mind and pursue it when you find the fog creeping in around the edges.

“Positive Mental Attitude – The Key To Success”… I’ve been doing my absolute best to live this one every single solitary day.  I’ve been impressing on my kids to do this.  I try to get everyone I can to do this.
Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right ~Henry Ford
I hurt.  I hurt more days than I don’t hurt.  I am tired.  Some days I’m exhausted.  I can wake up and bemoan everything or I can wake up and greet the day with the most positive outlook that I humanly can.  It takes about as much effort to do either of those things and I’ve found that, if I try to be Mary Sunshine, I can smile my way through almost anything until mid afternoon at the very least.  Then, sometimes I need chai, sometimes I need coffee or pepsi or a good long stretch to shake the dust off and get my head back on straight.  I know I’m the running joke for a lot of people but I listen to a lot of Disney music.  No, I don’t live in a fairy land but honestly have you ever LISTENED (read) the lyrics to some of the Disney songs?  “I may come last but I did my best”… “put one foot in front of the other”… “let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height”…  I don’t have to live in a fairy tale world to enjoy being reminded that I can do whatever it is that I have to do… whatever is currently in front of me.  My boss asks me how I am… I’m wonderful, fabulous, marvelous.  Doesn’t do me a whole lot of good to kvetch about how I really feel when I ache and hurt and have to take two whole minutes to stand up from my chair, and he really doesn’t care if I do hurt.  It’s not his job to worry or care about it  So… I tell myself and anyone who asks that I’m wonderful.  It’s amazing the reaction you sometimes get!

“You Can Do It – Even When You Think You Can’t”… No, sometimes you really really actually can’t, but often as not you can.  You might have to do it slower (whatever the “it” is) or in a different way, but you can do it.  Sometimes the sheer act of willing yourself TO do it is all that it takes to get going.  Don’t beat yourself up if you physically can’t, but don’t write yourself off, either.

There were other bullet points.  There are other articles and lists.  But this one kind of stuck with me.  And I’m still thinking a lot about how life is a through hike and you really should take the time while you are plodding your way through to enjoy the vistas.  Pee behind a tree on occasion because you are so engrossed in what you are doing to take the time to wait till you find a bathroom that meets with your ever so delicate senses and sensibilities. Throw caution to the wind and splash in a few mud puddles, pick a hand full of queen anne’s lace and plunge it into a jelly jar of water to which you have added some blue food coloring (or red or red and blue or red and yellow) and watch the world change just a little. Wake up and listen to the peaceful sound of the world coming to life around you.  It’s your hike.  You need to find the places in every day, every mile, every moment to make it the best through hike you possibly can.

Yeah… I’m running on about half a pot of coffee this morning and I know that this will strike people badly at best, but… whether you think you can or you think you can’t you are usually right.  Today, I’m feeling the effects of my orencia infusion and the sky looks just a little bit bluer.  Washing out my buff (the water will help keep me cool on this unbelievably humid day) and heading off to conquer me some windmills.


Love and light





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