When I lived in Knoxville, we would head up to the Smoky Mountains for hiking. We did it all the time. It was such a gift to live that close to one of the most beautiful spots in the country. We avoided the summer months because of the traffic and congestion although, in a pinch, we could go to the Townsend side of the Smokies that was lesser known. On one weekend we drove through one of the campgrounds to meet a friend in the summer on a Sunday morning. I remember the RVs packed up and headed out. I mostly remember the faces of the inhabitants. I would have thought they would be relaxed, smiling and rejuvenated … and maybe they were. But their faces were scowling. After a couple passed by, I remarked,”Here we go… back to our miserable lives … leaving all of this fun and beauty behind.” We all laughed. We lived there. We didn’t have to leave it behind. We could go there any weekend.
Today, I remember those faces. I have one. I’ve decided to cut my time in the mountains short due to crowds arriving for 4th of July and the fact that I’m physically tired. It’d be nice to lay around the campground for a day, but I have to go to work on Monday which means I have stuff to do. My car is filthy from living in it for a week. My dog is exhausted. My budget is spent. My house is a mess, and I need to get groceries. I want to have a day to do it all and a day to relax. I am, quite frankly, sad. But, to delay the homecoming doesn’t change it. I still have to do it.
I spent 5 days in the Mountain Wilderness doing the things I love to do with my dog. I’m sure I’ll write more about what I did, but since I’m dreading arriving in Baton Rouge and getting back to the grind, I thought I’d reflect on what things I can take back with me that I learned on the trip.
I learned that I LOVE kayaking rivers. I knew that, I guess, but it was definitely what I loved the most. I kayaked the West Fork of the Chatooga River, and I loved every minute. I even loved it when I capsized my boat and had to chase it down the river. Ashok wasn’t so happy about that part, but I felt like a freaking rock star that I was in good enough shape to run through rocks and a stream to catch my kayak. I also learned from that event that putting my car keys in my swimsuit bottoms was a great idea. They would have been lost otherwise. I need them on my body … period. I love the journey of floating a river. In a sense, it’s a meditation that focues me on the moment and what needs to be dealt with right now. At times it was challenging, but it was almost always easier and more fun than I anticipated it would be. And … the true gift … I could walk my boat through when I thought it was too treacherous. I didn’t need to prove anything to anybody. I took care of myself. I learned a lot from that trip… lessons I’ll take home with me.
I actually don’t have to eat that much. Most days I ate some combination of almond butter and plum jelly sandwiches, greek yogurt, fresh fruit and trail mix and cereal and milk. I did just fine. In fact, when I was having fun, food became an inconvenience. A Georgia peach milkshake hit the spot when my sweet tooth called which wasn’t very often. Food, it seems, when used for fuel is pretty efficient. And, I found out that for 53, I am a freaking animal. I am in shape. I pulled a kayak over a log from waist deep water, loaded it onto my car over my head several times and I played hard 12 hours a day for several days in a row. Other than an ankle that’s twinging a little, I feel pretty darn good. The workout stays.
I learned that loneliness is a feeling that ebbs and flows – whether I’m home or not … whether I’m surrounded by people or not. One night in my tent under a beautiful starry night with the sound of a roaring stream nearby, loneliness crept in and tried to strangle me. I let myself cry, and I let myself feel it. No matter how beautiful it was outside … how much I wanted to be there … how much I loved it … I was lonely to my bones. I prayed to God to help me stand it and realize that loneliness is a feeling that is staggering but it is not reality. I am not alone. He is always with me. I have friends that are there for me. I have a program that provides a safe haven with no price of admission. I have no idea what my path will be, but for right now, I am okay. Last night, I enjoyed the stars, the stream, the deep bellow of a bear in the distance and my choice to take this trip alone. The loneliness had dissipated, and I could feel how lucky and supported I am. It always passes.
I have an amazing dog. One day I joked with a friend that I was like Ashok’s Higher Power. She depends on me to take care of her and make plans for her. She has her own free will, but I know that she trusts me and knows that I am the source of her life as she knows it. It probably helps that I am also the source of her food. She did everything with me. She kayaked for 4 hours, got turned over in a boat, and got pinned against a tree that laid across the river while I pulled the boat over it in waist deep water. I am so glad that I have a life jacket for her. She was scared, but she never once went under the water, and I just picked her up and put her back in the boat. And, she got right back in. I have a lot to learn from that dog. I have no qualms that I will ever find another dog like her. She is a gift crafted just for me.
When people I know really enjoy something, and they lament that they can’t do it all the time, I always ask them what piece of it they could bring into their daily lives. Given what I’ve learned, I’m going to:
- Go kayaking down rivers more frequently …. not lakes … rivers. It does IT for me.
- Float through loneliness like the river knowing that there will be times that will be tough, but there will be times when I pass through with ease and joy.
- Keep my “life jackets” in place. I know what they are. I know who they are. Use them and don’t leave home without them.
- Focus on the moment. I used to do this meditation where I canoed down a peaceful river in my mind. It had the same effect as canoeing on my soul. I’m going to do that more.
- Oh, yeah.. keep my keys on my body … not in a purse … ON my body. My friends know my keys are a big struggle for me. Not sure what that means, but I need to keep them near. I even brought both sets of keys with me on this trip knowing how elusive they are for me. On more than one occasion, it saved me.
- Stay cool. I felt much better being cool. It’ll be difficult in Southern Louisiana, but I’m going to give it a try.
- Eat only enough to feel satisfied and then throw the rest away. Eat lots of fresh fruit, especially seasonal and high protein dairy and nuts, and I should be fine.
I feel better already. I’m stopped at a Starbucks having a Chai Latte – no coffee – and I decided to take time to write. I was feeling down about going home. I didn’t miss writing on the trip. I was able to enjoy myself without the narrator cataloging content for writing. But, I knew I was ready to write last night when I was gazing at the stars from the window of my tent. There’s a whole world out there that never lays eyes on a starry night that bold and beautiful. I myself had never heard a bear bellow in the middle of the night from a nearby mountainside. I think you all should have the opportunity to be lulled to sleep in the mountain air with a roaring stream gurgling nearby and your dog nestled next to your head. But, if you don’t have the opportunity, you can read about it. I’m happy to provide the material. It makes me feel less alone.