I was out in the woods on New Year’s Eve. It was the only night that I didn’t have cell phone coverage. I always love to write at the end or beginning of a New Year, but, this year I was busy living life. There would be time later for reflection. One of the lessons I’ve learned this year is to let nothing come before enjoying my life. This was the year that began last January 1 with my commitment to enjoy what was put in front of me.
I began 2015 in a dark, hopeless place but with the realization that in order for me to move forward, I needed to accept where I was. I had to quit fighting the reality before me. I was expending a lot of energy trying to escape what “was” and not spending enough energy on making my world a more hospitable place to be. I had crashed and burned on the altar of the “next thing” that would make me happy. In my blog above from December 31, 2014, I vowed to focus on what was in front of me and trust that God would bring whatever I needed. I let go of the controls and let God drive the train.
In July, I escaped the heat here in Louisiana in what would be the hottest week of the year for a trip to North Carolina to camp along the Blue Ridge Parkway with Ashok. Looking back, it was a game-changer for me. I had not planned the trip. An uneventful week at work literally fell in my lap, and I took off on two days’ notice. To say it was a perfect trip is an understatement. One of my close friends said that he could tell my outlook totally changed once I got up there. I hiked for seven days straight, made friends with everyone I saw and slept under the stars. It was magical and a spiritual experience for me. I read the book Wild in my tent at night and hiked during the day. While Cheryl Strayed transformed with her adventure, I changed with her.
When I came back, I vowed that I would bring a bit of that experience into my life on a weekly basis. I couldn’t bring the mountains home with me, but I could hike with my dog. I began hiking almost every weekend at least for a little. I looked up the Louisiana Hiking Club to meet like-minded people and to learn more about hiking in Louisiana. The first meeting I attended I learned about the backpacking class, and I signed up a few weeks later. I waited patiently for October to arrive and continued my hiking as much as I could. In the past six months, I have become a backpacker, something I had not even considered in January of last year. I didn’t go looking for it. It was quite literally put in front of me.
It is appropriate that I spent New Years’ Eve of 2015 on a hillside in Kisatchie National Forest with my dog and new friends breathing close by. I wish that it hadn’t been so cloudy as I know the stars were aligning for my life in 2016. I can’t see the future just like I couldn’t see the stars that night, but I know it is there. God and the Universe have something beautiful in store for me. I don’t always appreciate my life in the moment because sometimes it’s scary and painful, but in hindsight it makes so much sense. It is the hard times that challenge me to change directions or learn something new. As much as I like change, I’d never really make wholesale changes without a painful catalyst to pry my eyes away from my own narrow vision of the future.
I love hiking because of its rhythm of forward motion. When I’m on a trail, I don’t know what’s around the next corner. Blazes and mile markers lead the way and inform me of my progress. But there is no signage that tells me whether the next bend brings danger or impeccable beauty. I have to keep moving forward to discover it myself. I wanted to try backpacking because I wanted to continue that forward motion even when darkness fell. I didn’t want to run back to safety as the light faded into the darkness. I wanted to challenge my status quo and follow the trail into the dawning of another day. I wanted to to carry my load alone and see what I could do.
We drove two cars to the trail, and, after we were done with our journey, I had to drive by myself to shuttle the car somewhere else. I was reflecting on what we’d just done, and I was overcome with emotion. With tears streaming down my face, I thought about how my hips and legs hurt straining under the weight of my pack. But forward motion was the only acceptable option. I thought about the fear we had when we thought our food was gone and how we laughed about it afterwards. I thought about sitting around the campfire freezing, filtering water so we could safely drink it and breaking camp when it was time to move on. I thought about trail magic and the feeling of not being in control of what happened next. It was a powerful, challenging and draining experience that I am still processing.
We called ourselves Badass Backpacker Babes, and we were astounded that we did it. At 55, 54 and 50, we are not young whippersnappers. We knew we could complete it, but it was hard – harder than I imagined it would be. We pressed through our repulsion about camping in a stinky muddy spot that had millions of spider eyes staring at us. I stopped to lean on a tree at one point, missed the tree with my backpack and fell right on the ground, not having any strength in my legs to fight the fall. We all laughed and wished that we had a video of it, and I really couldn’t stand up because my muscles were so tired.
We laughed through all of it. I even cried at one point when Ashok ate some kind of rotten thing on the side of the trail and I was afraid that she’d get sick. I was angry at her until I realized that I was just scared that someday she’d eat something that would kill her, and I had no way to stop it. By the last day of the trip we were cursing like sailors and smelt like them too.
The women that sashayed into Valentine Lake Park on New Year’s Day 2016 were not the same women that started the Wild Azalea Trail four days before. I feel more confident than ever. It reminds me of running my first marathon. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I kept moving forward in the only acceptable motion. With each mile, I peeled back layers and pushed through my comfort zone. We traveled 28 miles by foot but I feel like I traveled light years inside. Moving forward is the only acceptable option…. as I continue enjoying what is put in front of me. Bring it on, 2016. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got.