Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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Friday, September 14, 2012

things i love ...

My friend, RoiAnn, and I met when I was twelve years old when we were in a production of Tom Sawyer at the Santa Clara Junior Theatre. We did several shows together during our youth, but we both grew up, move along our lives, and grew apart.

Through the wonder that is Facebook, she and I reconnected. Since then, I learned that she has come out of the closet, lives in Chicago with her partner, her stepdaughter, and her adopted daughter. She writes a blog called “Are You the Babysitter”. In her words, she is a “queer mama co-parenting by love, step, adoption and the skin of my teeth.”

She asked a few other bloggers to post “Things I Love” and link to her blog and vice-versa. This request has had me thinking about the word love. Those who know me well know that thinking about things gets me in trouble. I over-think things, deconstruct and dissect them, analyze them, and then re-build them into something that doesn’t even resemble what I started thinking about. And then, I get flustered and start thinking some more.

So … before I get to my list of “Things I Love,” here are some things that crossed my mind when thinking about the words “things” and “love.”

I believe that “words mean things” and they are powerful, whether used correctly or incorrectly. What one says or writes is powerful and the correct words can change perceptions, thoughts, and points of view. They can incite positive thought and action or destructive fanaticism and behavior. words have the power to lift one up or take one down. Words mean things.
Things:  Should I focus my list of topics on inanimate objects, items you can touch or hold, or should I also include people, places, thoughts, and concept?

Love: Should I focus on the deep meaning of this word or the over-used, conditioned response as in, “I love cherry pie?”

*     *     *     *     *
Waitaminit. Here I go again. I am over thinking it. So, really, who the hell cares? I’ll just get to it … here’s my list:

  • I love cherry pie and I love everything cherry flavored
  • Pumpkin pie … oh yeah! Pumpkin pie!
  • My dog, Victor; he is my little angel and is the best dog in the world
  • The ocean and the beach
  • Cereal, any kind of cereal -- it’s my favorite food group
  • Sleeping with the windows open on cool summer nights
  • My bookshelves, except for when they need to be dusted
  • The smell of Pledge and the smell of Pine-Sol
  • The change of each season, especially when summer turns to autumn
  • The hush that comes over New York City during the first big snow storm
  • My own chicken stir-fry because I like the way I cook it
  • Noticing architectural details of buildings like the cornices and the inlaid detailing many stories high
  • The sound of rain on roofs or windows and thunder stores
  • Sitting in Riverside Park and watching the Hudson River run by
  • The varying colors of sunsets
  • The smell of campfires, bonfires, fireplace fires
  • Watching the fog roll in over Twin Peaks in San Francisco
  • Having a sense of humor and finding the funny in everything
  • Laughing so hard that I cry
  • Figs picked from the tree
  • Beefsteak tomatoes sliced and sprinkled with sugar
  • Gummy Bears eaten in this color order: yellow, white, green, orange, red
  • Lemonade, lemon drops, lemon pound cake, lemon candies, lemon slices, lemon, lemon, lemon
  • Cooking for friends or for just one special someone
  • The smell of gardenias
  • Pomegranates … the actual fruit, not the juice (although the juice is good, too)
  • Mexican Food … anytime … anyplace (except London – yuck!)
  • Watching TV ... but not reality shows, unless they are talent- / contest-based programs
  • Being sober and learning to live life on life’s terms
  • My family and friends, who have supported me unconditionally and with love and laughter
  • Marzipan and Baklava and lots of almond extract in raw cookie dough
  • The musty smell of old books and the way the pages feel in your hand
  • Telling stories and spinning yarns
  • Facebook for bringing me back into contact with old friends and for bringing new friends into my life
And … while you are at it, take a look at RoiAnn’s list and read and sign up for her blog.

*Click the grey text links to get to other posts of mine and to access RoiAnn's Are You the Babysitter blog.
** Feel free to include your "loves" in comments below ...
*     *     *     *     *

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

columns of light ...

In 2003, on 9/11, my friend Eric and I went to see an outdoor dance troupe in Battery Park. It was a nice little picnic; people were extra congenial. Afterward, we walked to the World Trade Center site, compelled by the light columns..

The closer we got, the more clearly we could see that they were shimmering. They looked like sequined gowns glistening and shining in the light. We walked closer and closer trying to figure out how the city pulled off making the huge and bright columns of light refract the light and display movement in that way.

We continued walking, trying to guess what it was that made it look that way. Was it some kind of confetti blown into the air? Was there some kind of hovercraft way up high that was dropping shreds of silver paper? Is it moving both up and down at the same time? Was it smoke blown into the shafts of light by huge fans and then stirred by the slight early autumn breeze?

Then, almost simultaneously, as we were about half a block away, we gasped. It wasn’t confetti or smoke. It was moths of all shapes and sizes. And bats. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands. They were all drifting and floating around in the light. It was as if they were blissed out, getting their luminescence fix.

It was one hundred percent mesmerizing. And one thousand percent beautiful.

i remember ...

... sitting in disbelief watching it on TV, my sister and me in silence on the phone together  

... finally connecting with my friend, Christopher, on his mobile; he lived on West St and his terrace looked directly at the towers about 5 blocks north; while he was walking uptown through the fray, he told me about the ash, the chaos, the fear, the smell, the panic 

... that Diana would have been on the 83rd floor at the time, but wasn't, thankfully; she had moved to the UK  

... hearing stories from Dion about the Brooks Brothers WTC store that was taken over by the FDNY and turned into a morgue, mainly for found remains; they spray painted "arms," "hands," "legs," etc. on the walls 

...  that my mom came up to San Francisco to spend time with me; it was a moment of childlike need for his mommy, to feel safe and protected, and a moment of reciprocal adult support to help each other through what just a day before was inconceivable

... the silence and solidarity of the candlelight vigil in Dolores Park with Tara, Scott and Bobby, and hundreds of other San Franciscans

... the quiet and empty skies for three days, no planes, no ‘copters … just air and clouds and quiet

... the sheer inundation of American flags everywhere, on everything; no window, building, jacket, backpack, bumper, telephone pole, wall, bus, store front, front lawn, or restaurant without an American Flag

... the sadness, the shock, the sense of not understanding how it could happen, the amazement over the careful and insidious planning that it took to pull of such a horrible event, the hatred that welled up and became cause for personal concern, and the realization that our lives as Americans would never, ever be the same

I remember …

Sunday, September 2, 2012

and i thought getting sober was hard ...

We were on our way to our third night’s sleeping location, a shelter called Derrick Knob. We left at 11:00AM and headed East on the Appalachian Trail. We would hike up to Rocky Top, gaining about 500 feet and climbing to an elevation of 5,441 feet. From there, we would hike to Mineral Gap, descending almost 1,000 feet to 4,527 feet, and then hike up another 500 feet and end our day at a little over 5,000 feet. We’d cover 6.5 miles.

The map seemed to agree with what we were told by our shelter mates and the Ridge Runner before they all headed off: today’s hike would be easy. They told us that the trail would be more level and simple. It would have fewer elevation changes, but would have rocky areas, especially as we got closer to Rocky Top.

Rocky Top was one of the “landmarks” we would walk through on this trek. There’s a song about it. I have heard it a few times, but could not pick out the tune or recall any lyrics if my calves depended on it. I always assumed Rocky Top was a town in the South, but it is not. It is a peak in the Smoky Mountains accessible only by hiking up and on the Appalachian Trail.

So … while we were both sore and tired, we continued walking; our legs, knees, hips, and shoulders still sore from the day before. So far, what we were told was right: the trail was level and consistent. We were excited to be finally on the Appalachian Trail. The trails we hiked on our first two days led us up to this moment. We were now on the AT! We achieved that milestone and we were proud of that accomplishment.

It was clear that we were in a different area of the mountains than we had experienced our first two days. We were on the ridge of the Smokies and the trail cut through the middle of what appeared to be a glen. The trees were spaced further apart, tall and blowing in the warm breeze. The ground was covered with field grasses and wild flowers. The bushes were in bloom with gorgeous blossoms. Many parts of the trail were lined with blackberry bushes.

“I wish these were bearing fruit,” I said a few times.
“I bet they are delicious,” Kirk said.
“It’s a good thing, I guess, because the bears would be here eating them all,” I realized.

 We talked a lot this morning. We enjoyed the scenery, the ease of the hike, and that we were able to take it slow since our bodies wouldn’t let us do anything else. Of course, the trail didn’t stay as considerate as it started out. The rocks in the trail were getting larger, the dirt was drier and dustier, and the incline became more severe. We were climbing up to Rocky Top. And it was hot. The sun was out, no clouds in sight. Kirk took off his shirt to benefit from the sunshine.

Once again, I found myself counting steps and resting often. Inclines were hard for me. We stopped to take breaks and drink water and then we would stand up, adjust our packs, and start walking again. Then, we’d hit a decline. Kirk had trouble with the declines. He was walking sideways, something we laughed at and called the “walking mummy.” We would sit, drink water or have a snack, and then start over again.

At one point, some hikers came West on the trail. These were the first people we had seen on any trail other than at the shelters. It was almost unsettling to see other people on the trail, almost as if they were interrupting our personal hike. But, they were pleasant enough. We exchanged friendly hellos and the obligatory where we were coming from, where we were headed, and what our final destination would be.

“How far is it to Rocky Top?” Kirk asked.
“It’s not that far … you’re almost there … about half an hour away,” we were told.
“What is the trail like to get there? Is it hard?” I asked.
“It’s pretty flat … some rocky areas … but really not hard,” we were told.

They moved on and we moved on. They were liars. The trail did get hard. There were significant inclines and rough areas, and not just because we were in pain and tired. They were liars. It was not a half an hour away, it was further. Much further. They were liars.

*     *     *     *     *

We hiked up and up and up. About an hour after seeing those hikers, roughly two hours into this day’s hike, we came across a clearing at what seemed like the summit. We reached a grassy knoll that overlooked the Smoky Mountains. It was stunning. We knew were close to Rocky Top, but we weren’t sure if this was the Rocky Top.

“This seems more like Grassy Top than anything else,” I said.
“You want to eat lunch?” Kirk asked.

Not being one to pass up a chance to rest or to take off this damned heavy backpack, I immediately nodded my head. We walked into the knoll, took off our backpacks, and sat down. We sat and rested. We sat and enjoyed the sunshine. We sat and looked at the view. We sat and swatted the biting flies that were everywhere.



We looked out over the mountains towards the west. We were on top of the AT looking out over waves upon waves of green hills. All of a sudden, Kirk gasped.

“Scott, look over there,” he said as he pointed into the hills below us, “see that water?”
“Yes,” I said, not yet grasping what he had just comprehended.
“That is the lake,” he said, meaning Fontana Lake, the one that we hiked alongside on our first day.

It hit me. Holy crap! Way down there!?

“We were down there?!” I said. “Oh my God.”
“And is that … ?” Kirk asked, his voice trailing off as we both realized what we were now looking at.

A very small and thin white line was cutting across the water. The dam – Fontana Dam – our starting point ... it was out there … way out there. It was a tiny line and barely noticeable through the mist that was lifting and dissipating in the lower hills of the Smoky Mountains. That was where we started our hike two days before.

We traced a virtual path of how we hiked to this grassy knoll. We walked against the lake and into the hills. We hiked up a large mountain – just yesterday – and then, today, we hiked across the ridge and up and over the two hills that brought us to where we now stood. It was an incredibly powerful and striking feeling.
I started to cry. It was so overwhelming to see what l had accomplished in two days. And more than what I had accomplished – what we accomplished together. I could literally see the progress. I could see my progress. I took on this challenge and it was hard, rough and painful, but I had made progress. I could not deny that. The start was out there, the end was not in sight, but there I was looking at where I came from.

While we rested, we talked about our last two days. We talked about how we missed our grandparents and what they meant to us. We talked about our families and their impact and influence on us. We talked about our past – where we came from into our adulthood – while we were looking at our past – where we came from in our last two days. It was surreal, it was poignant, and it was heartfelt.

*     *      *     *     *

We rested a little bit longer and then decided that we had better get moving. As far as we knew, we still had not reached the exact point of Rocky Top. We gathered our things, put on our backpacks and mentally prepared to start walking again. We heard voices coming towards us over the large bushes that bordered the grassy knoll. Soon a man and his children walked by. They looked hot and tired.

We asked him how far to Rocky Top. According to him, it was just around the bend. That put a little pep in my step. We came to a very steep climb. The trail turned into steps of stone and dirt lined with bushed filled with Azalea and Rhododendron blooms. There is was … Rocky Top.

And, yes, it was rocky.


We climbed on the highest rock to look at the view. Kirk looked towards to the south.

“See that little hill over there? It looks like we could just hop over there.”

I laughed hysterically. A little hill? Hop over there? Ridiculous! That “hill” was a mountain top about five miles away and would take us about ten hours to get there. But we had met one of major milestones, getting to Rocky Top and reaching an elevation of 4,950 feet. Now we needed to continue hiking the remaining 4.5 miles to our shelter.

Off we went, heading east on the AT. We started our decent from Rocky Top. The weather remained persistently warm and the flies remained persistently hungry for our flesh. We were descending 1,500 feet from Rocky Top, but it was not a consistent or easy decline. We’d hike down for a bit, following rocky paths through the flowering bushes, then climb up steep rocky steps and up and over roots and felled trees.

The path was filled with large rocks and the dirt was loose and slippery. It wasn’t just the top that was rocky; this side of the mountain seemed to be completely made of rocks. We knew we were going to have to hike down, but anticipated that it would be a steady and low-grade decline. Instead, we were now facing a path of declines and inclines and declines and inclines. A day filled with ups and with downs. We were sore from the day before and we were feeling exactly what Princess told us we would:

“The third day is the worst,” she explained. “That’s the day your body realizes exactly what you have done to it and it starts to rebel. The third day is the hardest.”

*     *     *     *     *

Since the inclines were my nemesis and declines were Kirk’s, we were progressing slowly, but he continued to push ahead and provided encouragement when I needed it. And I needed it a lot. I was very needy. I needed moments to stop and adjust my backpack or to rest my hip. I needed moments to let my leg rest. I needed to walk fifteen to twenty steps and then pause for a moment. I needed to go slow. One step at a time. One moment at a time.

The grandfather of the family we met on Rocky Top passed us. He asked if we saw his group and mentioned that they do this hike every year. What a nice way to spend quality family time, up in the mountains enjoying nature. Kirk and I continued walking. Soon a very fast hiking couple passed us. It seemed that everyone was on the fast track today except us. We were in the slow lane.

At what felt like our halfway point, but was a little over two hours into our hike, we took a break. We hit a high and complex incline and my right leg gave out. I couldn’t go any further without a good long rest. We took off our backpacks, drank water, and talked. I apologized, again, for my inability to keep going. Kirk told me it was fine and not to worry about it. He mentioned how he was still surprised that I said yes when he asked me to do this hike.

“Had I known it was going to be this hard, I would have said no,” I joked.
“And you thought getting sober was hard,” Kirk laughed.

I laughed, too. At first, it seemed true. This was harder. Then I started to think … and thinking either gets me in trouble or gets my tear ducts running.

It was slightly over nine months since I began the most important personal challenge of my life. I had hit rock bottom and started to dig my way back into my life, a life that once felt lonely, small, and filled with lies, unhappiness, and hopelessness. I was unhappy in my job, I was unhappy with myself, and I was unhappy with my life. I felt completely alone, even though I never was. I had great friends, a supportive family, and a good life. I just could not see it. I was living a double life, one that was normal on the outside – a great job, a great apartment, a confident approach – and another that was known only to me – including not facing my grief and loss, not being able to look myself in the mirror, drinking and drugging to excess, and running my health into the ground.

I chose to go on this hike because I never before had the confidence to do something like this. I never would have put my perfectionist approach to this kind test, one that pushed my fear of failure. I decided to do this hike because I needed to do the opposite of what I normally do. Instead of running from life and from my fears, I needed to face them head on. Again, the intent was to push myself physically, mentally, and spiritually.

These thoughts swam through my head as I sat on a rock on the Appalachian Trail and listened to the breeze in the trees. It was three days since we started this hike. I was tired, I was physically drained, I was mentally overwhelmed, but I was grateful for what I was experiencing.

Kirk could see on my face that I was falling into deep thought and that my eyes had welled up and tears were pouring out of them uncontrollably. I have no poker face when it comes to being emotional. Everything going on in my head is broadcast through my eyes and my facial expressions.

“It was a joke,” he said. “A bad joke. I am sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, no, no,” I sobbed, “It is OK. I am glad you said it.” I wiped the tears, but they kept falling.

My head was ready to explode. So much was running through it. I was seeing clearly how parallel the first three months of my sobriety were when compared to the first three days of this hike.

The first day of the hike, I was scared shitless. I was unsure I could do this, but I was ready to take on the challenge to prove to myself that I could. My backpack was heavier than I had anticipated. I had a slight idea of where I was going, but I really had no idea about what to expect or how hard it would be to get through the first day. I was doing this for myself and no one else. I could do this on my own, if necessary. I was excited. I was energized. I was learning how to hike. I was remembering what it meant to camp. I was enjoying the sights, sounds and smell of the mountains. I wasn’t sure I could make it to the end of the day but I was focused on that goal.

The first month of my sobriety, I was scared shitless. I was unsure I could do this, but I was ready to take on the challenge to prove to myself that I could. I became aware of the emotional weight I had been carrying. I had no idea where I was going, what to expect, or how hard it would be. I was doing this for myself and no one else. I could do this on my own, if necessary. I was excited. I was energized. I was learning how to cope, how to feel my feelings, how to communicate my needs, look people in the eye, and to not despise my reflection in the mirror. I was remembering what it meant to live. I was enjoying having a clear head, being honest with myself and others, and reconnecting with my emotional self. I wasn’t sure I could make it to the end of the month, but I was focused on that goal.  

The second day of the hike was such a hard day. It seemed at every turn there were obstacles in the path telling me to stop and turn around. My footing was challenged with every river crossing. I lost my boot, but it was found again. The hike up the mountain was a steep climb and the terrain was rough. The trail’s grade felt insurmountable. It seemed as if we took the wrong path. It was all wrong and we should turn around. There were many times that I wanted to stop, I couldn’t go on. It felt almost impossible to go on and that I couldn’t do this thing called “hiking.” I had to take the trail a few steps at a time. I saw Kirk progressing and tackling the trail and I felt like I wasn’t able to or up to the task. I was exhausted and I felt like crap by the end of the day.

The second month of my sobriety was the hardest month. It seemed that every day there were obstacles in my path. I was an emotional wreck and each day new emotions were surfacing. I was having to confront day-to-day situations like how to go out to dinner without drinking. I was going to meetings, was in an intense out-patient group, and in weekly therapy sessions. I lost control of my emotions often. Becoming sober seemed impossible and not worth the pressure, it was rough. Not being able to “self-medicate” felt insurmountable. It seemed like I was heading down the wrong path. Sobriety was all wrong and it just seemed easier to turn around and go back to what I was doing before. I wanted to stop, I couldn’t go on. It felt almost impossible to go on and that I couldn’t do this thing called “sobriety.” I had to approach my life one day at a time. I saw others progressing and tackling their issues and I felt like I wasn’t able to or up to the task. I was exhausted and I felt like crap by the end of the month.

The third day of the hike, I knew I just had to keep going on. I had to get up, put on that pack, and keep walking. I also realized that I could not do this alone. Kirk was here with me every step of the way. He was encouraging me, keeping me motivated, and praising my progress. He reached out his hand and helped me up inclines that were challenging, he let me rest when needed. I was actually listening to my body and recognizing when I needed to rest, drink water, take in the sights, or be kind to myself. The day before was hard and felt impossible, but this day didn’t feel impossible. Yes, it was hard, yes I was sore. Yes, my leg just gave out. But … I felt better able to handle it and that I would be able to move on. I just needed to take it slow and not push myself too hard. I was becoming comfortable with not being perfect and with Kirk seeing me as an imperfect person. I was comfortable doing something that made me uncomfortable.

The third month of my sobriety, I knew I just had to keep going on. I had to get up, shower and get dressed, and keep working on myself. I also realized that I could not stay sober alone. I started to make friends in meetings, started to talk with other sober people, and share my challenges and successes along the way. They supported me when I reached out and they reached out when I didn’t even realize I needed support. I was actually listening to my body and recognizing when I needed rest, to drink water, eat, and be kind to myself. The second month was hard … I wanted to give up … but I now felt that being sober wasn’t impossible. Yes, it was hard, yes I was angry and emotionally broken. Yes, it felt like I was surrendering to my powerlessness. But … I felt better able to handle my life and that I would be able to move on. I just needed to take it slow and not push myself too hard. I was becoming comfortable with not being perfect and with others seeing me as an imperfect person. I was becoming more comfortable doing things that made me uncomfortable. I was becoming a fully-realized man.

I wept. I blew my nose. We sat in silence after I told this to Kirk. He listened and was as supportive as he had been the entire hike. I couldn’t do this hike without him. And I sensed that he couldn’t do it without me either.

*     *      *     *      *

We sat there a little while longer. Soon three guys came up the trail heading West. They were walking fast and slowed down near us. They were coming from Derrick Knob and heading up and over Rocky Top. They asked about the trail up ahead and we told them it was rocky and rough. We asked how it was heading towards Derrick Knob. They said it wasn’t bad from here. There were a few more inclines and declines, but pretty level for the most part.

“Are there any switchbacks?” I asked, knowing that Kirk and I would be destroyed by switchbacks.
“Switchbacks?” the dark haired, sweaty guy laughed. “There aren’t switchbacks on the AT.”

They moved on and Kirk and I just sat there. We knew we had to get moving. They made it seem like the trail would be easier from this point on. We really needed that. They also made it seem like we weren’t too far from Derrick Knob, about two hours away.

We put on our backpacks and started walking again. We headed down a rocky decline and then up another rocky incline. Again, we were on this seesaw path, Kirk doing his rocking mummy on the declines and me hiking inclines in fifteen to twenty steps and several rests. This wasn’t the easy trail that those guys had led us to believe. Actually, nothing on this day so far was what we were led to believe.

The only truth was that we were still doing this hike. We still had these heavy backpacks. We were still in the wilderness. We were still walking. And we still had no better idea of how long it would take us to get to the next shelter. We just had to keep walking.

And so we did. We kept walking. Kirk did his walking mummy and I did my twenty steps to rest. Just like the birdsong sounded earlier in the morning, we just kept walking.

Keep walking Scott.
Keep walking Kirk.
Keep walking. Keep walking.

*      *      *      *      *

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

oops , i did it again ...

Sunshine beamed onto the tent and warmed it up, so much so, that I woke up a little sweaty. I lay there for a little while, my sleeping bag unzipped and open, thinking about our hike the day before. The number of river crossings we had to do, losing my boot, that horrible creek bed hike, the torturous incline, seeing a bear, the pain in my hip, Kirk’s knees hurting him, fearing that we would never find the shelter or would have to sleep on the side of the creek, falling asleep to the wind — all of it swam through my head.

What an insane day! And now we have to do it again. I just want to go back to sleep. I am so tired. I want to stay here. Yesterday was too hard. I wonder if Kirk would want to stay here one more day?

I could hear voices outside coming from the shelter, a soft murmur with indecipherable words that every once in awhile punctuated the still morning with a laugh. The Others were up early and preparing to leave, off on his or her way to another day of happy hiking. Kirk and I remained in our tent, content to sleep a little longer. I closed my eyes hoping to fall back into a deep sleep. I settled for the “half asleep / half awake” drowsiness that came over me.
Kirk stirred and stretched. I opened my eyes.
“Good morning,” he mumbled as he unzipped his sleeping bag.
“Oh my gosh,” I said trying to sit up for the first time, “I am so sore.”
“Yup. Me too. My shoulders and back and my knees are killing me,” he said, as he slowly got dressed, put on his boots, unzipped his side of the tent and stepped out. A cool, light breeze came into the tent. The air was fresh with the scent of dirt, bark, and morning dew. He zipped up the tent again and I lay back down.

I listened to his footsteps crunch away and then heard the bear hang rattle and squeak. I listened to his crunching steps come closer and then the heavy thud of a backpack next to the tent. Then, again, he crunched to the bear hang to rattle and squeak and retrieve the second backpack and then drop it next to the tent.
Dammit. He’s taking down the packs.

That meant I would have to get up. We had to make breakfast, clean ourselves up, pack up the sleeping bags and tent, and then … start walking. That dreaded physicality walking. I lay there a moment longer staring at the tent ceiling. The air inside was warm and musty. The air felt clean and fresh when he opened the tent. With it closed up again, there was a definite odd odor present.
What is that smell? Am I totally pitting out? It reeks in here.

Kirk was outside, unzipping and unbuckling the backpacks. The clatter of the cook stove meant he was taking care of breakfast. I would then take care of the tent, the stuffy and musty tent. I sat up and unzipped my side of the tent to let in fresh air. I reached for my pants at the foot of the tent floor. When I picked them up I and noticed that they were damp, wet in spots.
“Fuck. Did the tent leak last night?” I asked myself out-loud.
I got on all fours to do an inspection. I knew it didn’t rain, but there was water on the floor of the tent. The foot of my sleeping bag was wet, my pants were wet, Kirk’s sleeping bag foot was wet, and there was water on the floor and items placed there overnight. The closer I got and the more I looked, the more acrid the scent became.
What on earth happened? What is that smell?

Then, as if waking up for the first time that morning, as if a light bulb lit above my head, it hit me.
Holy shit! The pee baggie!
The baggie that I peed in during the middle of the night had failed to remain sealed. The water, the wetness, my pants, our sleeping bags, the smell … all of it urine. My urine. All over the foot of the tent. I had inadvertently “peed the tent.”

I bolted up and out Kirk’s side of the tent to the backpacks. I was in my underwear and hoping that no one from the shelter could see me. I grabbed one of our chamois towels and soaked it in water from my water bladder. I put the baggie, with its now minor volume of pee, in the Pack It Out Poo Concealor, wiped off the outside, and set it outside. I wiped off the items that had been at the foot of the tent and set them outside, rinsed the chamois, and set out to clean the rest of the tent. I mopped up the tent floor and rinsed out the chamois.

I tossed my pants outside and I wiped down the outside of the sleeping bags a few times, rinsing the chamois, and soaking the feet of our sleeping bags. They were wet. I grabbed the BFI powder. Since it was designed to dry out moisture, I sprinkled it on the feet of our sleeping bags and rubbed it in. I was hoping this would clear up any telltale sign of this horrible incident. Maybe I could keep it a secret and no one would ever know.

*     *    *     *     *
“What are you doing?” Kirk asked when he came back to tell me that breakfast was almost ready.
“Ummm … well … I don’t know how to say this, but …” I started.
“Why are your pants out here?”
“They have pee on them. Everything has pee on it. I peed in a baggie last night and it must have broken in the middle of the night. It’s on my pants; it’s on our sleeping bags. It’s everywhere. Fuck! I am so sorry.”

We stared at each other. I smiled and feigned a little laugh, as if to say, “oops.” Both of us were thinking that this was just one more item for the ‘no one is going to believe this’ list. This hike was just getting more ridiculous every day.

I was sitting inside the tent in my underwear cleaning, laughing, swearing, apologizing, and feeling like an idiot. Kirk dug into his backpack, pulled out a pair of shorts and tossed them to me. He smiled and shook his head, as if to say, “oops is right,” and then walked back to the shelter to eat. I put on the shorts and my boots and pulled the feet of the sleeping bags out into the daylight to dry off. They were white and dusty from the BFI powder.

*     *     *      *      *
I walked to the shelter to eat breakfast and watch the others packing up their backpacks and preparing to leave. We all participated in idle chitchat about who was heading which way, on what trail, and where we were to end up that night.

Walking Man was up and about. He was tall, thin, craggy, and weathered. He told everyone to fill up with water from the big water jug. He seemed pleasant and calm. We talked with him for a few minutes about our hike in and our final destination. He was a “through hiker,” which meant that he was hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.

Another man walked up the trail and into the shelter. He was dressed in an official-looking brown uniform with patches and badges. He had a small backpack with a sleeping bag, walking sticks, and a walkie-talkie. He was a ridge-runner. An older man with a larger backpack who was, obviously, a hiker followed him.
Ridge Runners manage sections of the Appalachian Trail. They work on the trail for five days a week and hike from shelter to shelter in their section. They check on hikers, ensure that rules are followed, verify that shelters are being maintained, answer questions, and report any maintenance issues they find on the trails.

The Ridge Runner asked if any of us were through hikers. Walking Man and Beatle Juice raised their hands. He asked who pitched tents. Kirk and I raised our hands along with the older man. He asked who had reservations for the shelter. Everyone said they did.
“Let me explain something,” he said commanding everyone’s attention, “If you have a reservation in a shelter, you must sleep in the shelter. Shelters accommodate up to twelve people. You are not allowed to pitch tents on the AT. The only hikers allowed to pitch tents on the AT are through hikers; however, if there is room in the shelter, you must sleep in the shelter. If you arrive at a shelter and there are more than twelve people, those with reservations have priority for sleeping in the shelter, and they must sleep in the shelter. Through hikers have to either move on to the next shelter or pitch a tent.”

There were many rules, but he answered questions and was pleasant to talk with. He explained that there used to be over one-hundred Ridge Runners at one point, but when budgets were cut, the position was eliminated. This lasted roughly twenty years, but recently, a budget was reinstated to support a new staff of Ridge Runners to assist Rangers with trail maintenance and rules enforcement.
“We can’t write citations, only Rangers can do that,” he explained. “Make sure you have your permits. If a Ranger asks for it and you can’t produce it, you will be fined. Also, if a Ranger catches you pitching a tent when you are supposed to be in a shelter, they will fine you seventy-five dollars per person per night you are planned to be in the park.”

We told him where we started our hike and where we were heading. We told him about hiking the Eagle Creek Trail and how it affected Kirk’s knees and my hips. He was kind and told us to take it easy. He explained that the trail we were taking today would be challenging leading up to Rocky Top, but beyond that, it would be relatively level to the Derrick Knob Shelter.

When he left, he reminded us all to pick up our trash and to leave all shelters in better condition than we found them. He headed East on the AT towards the Siler’s Bald Shelter, one shelter further than where we were headed. He was going to sleep there overnight, head to Clingmans Dome the following day, and then reverse his route. He covered Clingmans Dome to Molly’s Ridge, roughly twenty-six miles.

*     *     *     *     *

Beatle Juice was packing up her backpack and brushing her long blond hair. She had mentioned earlier that she ran out of food and cooking fuel and was now expressing worry about how she was going to eat for the rest of her hike. Someone gave her some food packs. Kirk and I had packed too much fuel and decided to give her a can of ours to pay forward the kindness that Princess showed us with the lighter. Besides, it would lessen some of the weight from our packs.
She appeared grateful. The dad and the son, who were not very talkative, put on their backpacks, said goodbye, and headed West down the AT.
“Do you have nowhere to go after this?” Beatle Juice asked Walking Man.

He looked confused and muttered something.
“Are you homeless, too?” she asked, emphasizing the ‘too’ so that we all understood she was homeless.
“Uh. No. I have somewhere to go. I am not homeless.” He replied, clearly annoyed that she assumed he was homeless. Granted, he looked like he could be, but he had been on the trail for five weeks.

*      *      *     *     *

I finished my breakfast and went back to the tent. Kirk cleaned up the breakfast and boiled extra water for me. I washed my pants and laid them on the tent top to dry out. The sleeping bags were still resting in the sun. The faint smell of wee-wee was noticeable.
“Homeless my ass,” Kirk said. “Did you see her outfit? New boots, great hiking pants and shirt. And her backpack is top notch. She is not homeless.”
“I didn’t really notice,” I was too consumed with guilt from accidentally pissing on everything and was thinking about how long it may take everything to dry out.
“And, she was talking about going to a wedding when she got to Gatlinburg, where her car is. She is a con artist. I wish I didn’t give her that fuel.” Kirk said.

He was annoyed with her, with the hike, with his knees, and with the situation. I was moving very slow and stalling. I did not want to walk, but I did not want to say that I wanted to stay another day. Besides, all the wet things needed to dry out and I assumed we would wait until then.
Kirk had dismantled the tent, unpacked our backpacks, and started the process of repacking. We had learned that each day they needed to be repacked and re-organized. I rolled up the sleeping bags and our sleeping mats and then went to brush my teeth and wash my face.

I sat in the shelter and reviewed the map and where we were heading. Today, we would cover a little over six miles. We would climb up to Rocky Top at 5,441 feet and then descend to Mineral Gap at 4,527. From there the trail would be pretty much level until we arrived at the Derrick Knob Shelter.
One by one, the others left. Walking Man was the last of the others to leave. He was heading to the same shelter we were and we would see him that night. It was nice to know that there would be a familiar face there, even if that face looked like it could belong to a serial killer.
“Ok, let’s get going,” Kirk said as he brought our backpacks in and set them on the platform.

The sun was getting warmer and there were no clouds in the sky. Now that everyone was gone, the shelter was quiet and peaceful. The occasional fly buzzing around broke the silence. It was going to be a hot and clear day. There were a few flies buzzing around my backpack.
“Where is the permit?” I asked.

We looked through the outer pockets of our backpacks looking for the permit. Not there. I checked my shorts pockets. Not there.
“I thought you had it,” he said.
“Nope. It was in the ceiling loft of the tent,” I said, which is where I placed it every night following my personal organizational set up of the tent.

He sighed, unpacked the tent, unrolled it, and found the zip-lock baggie with the permit inside. I took the permit and put it in an easy-to-access pocket in the front compartment of my backpack.
“The permit will stay in this pouch,” I directed, “That way we will know where to get it when we need it.” For some reason, I felt like I needed to make a statement. Yes, I fucked up this morning with the pee, but I know what I am doing with the permit. It will stay with me and will be safe.

Kirk repacked the tent and sat down to sign the shelter book. This was another custom of the Trail. Everyone that stays in the shelters writes a blurb in a spiral-bound notebook that stays in a larger zip lock baggie.
I read entries from the wintertime. People mentioned how muddy and cold they were; or that the rain was so hard they were soaked through and there was not enough dry wood to start a fire. I was thankful that it was sunny and warm and that we were dry. I was thankful that we did not have major weather to deal with.

I wondered how Victor was doing at home. Was he being a good boy? Did he miss me? I was starting to miss him. I pulled out my iPhone to look at pictures. I was astonished to see that I had a connection. I went to send a text to my mom, my sisters, and few others. People had expressed worry about us taking this hike before we left. It was as if they thought we were going to die or something.

Yes, it was hard, but we weren’t dying. Even though we were sore and stupid stuff seemed to happen to us each day, we were learning along the way. We were not fighting, we had not caught dysentery, and bears did not eat us (yet). We were experiencing nature and loving what we were seeing, hearing and smelling – except for the faint smell of pee that every once in awhile would lilt into my nostrils.

Day three has begun. Not sure you’ll get this. We head to Rocky Top and then come other mountain. We’ve worked really hard. Yesterday we climbed 2700 feet yest on a steep grade. No need to reply. Just letting you know [we’re] alive and it’s awesome!!!! Clingmans [Dome] on Saturday. Bye all!!

Kirk took a few pictures and then we talked about the day’s trail. We talked about our soreness and the need to take it slow today. Having only 6 miles to go, we felt we could take our time. We stretched and we put Bio-Freeze on our legs. We laced up our boots and put on our backpacks. Kirk wanted to get a little sun and decided to hike without his shirt. We said good bye to our first shelter.
scott texting

the interior of the shelter
the shelter's exterior

We headed back into the woods on a level path that would eventually take us to Rocky Top.
“Remember when I said we were going to the Big Rock Candy Mountain?” Kirk asked as the clearing disappeared behind us and we entered once again into the trees.
“Yes,” I said, smiling.
“And you said, ‘Are we really going there?’ thinking it was a real place?” he laughed.
“Yes,” I giggled. How ludicrous it must have seemed that I thought it might be a real place.

In the distance a bird sang its’ morning song. Good morning Scott. Good Morning Kirk. Good morning Scott. Good Morning Kirk. The air was breezy and the day was bright. The sun was warm and the heat of the day was coming on strong. The morning that had started off franticly and stressful was becoming lighter and blissful. The level path was easier to hike and the pain in my hip was not excessive.

Good morning Scott. Good Morning Kirk. Good morning Scott. Good Morning Kirk.

Keep walking Scott. Keep walking Kirk.
Keep walking Scott. Keep walking Kirk.

*      *      *      *      *

Monday, August 13, 2012

just a little further ... i think ...

At the fork in the trail, we decided to take the narrow path to the left adjacent to a creek, most likely a creek that fed overflow and runoff into Eagle Creek. We were now hiking at roughly an 85° incline. The path quickly disappeared and we were forced to hike in the creek bed. It was a narrow, no more than four feet wide. The banks were steep on either side and densely lined with thick brush and large trees. It was as if we were hiking in the letter “V”. In this case, “V” did not stand for Victory … it stood for Vicious. This trail was vicious.

We clambered over tree roots and large rocks. We sloshed through muddy and slippery rocks. We scooted under fallen trees, whose large trunks were covered with moss and vines. We pulled ourselves up steep grades with the thick braches of bushes and trees that seemed to close in on us.

We pushed on in pain. Nothing had prepared us for this. This was intense. This was hard. It was hard on our feet, calves, knees, thighs, butts, and hips. Our arms were working just as hard as our legs from pushing with our walking sticks, pull onto branches, or grabbing onto rocks. Our backpacks dug into our shoulders and hips and made balancing a new challenge with their constant jostling.

I thought back to the earlier part of today’s hike. It was hard, but this part was insane. This could not be a real trail. This could not be the right trail. We went the wrong way.

“I think we should have taken that trail to the right,” I said as sweat dripped down my face, gnats and flies buzzing about.
“This is crazy. This shouldn’t be a real trail,” Kirk said.

We stopped to rest and drink water. We stopped to absorb what was going on. The sun was sinking behind the mountain and the trail was getting dusky. There were no bird songs. There were no wild flowers. There was brush, trees, steep hills, rocks, water, and this creek bed. This was not serene.

“My shoulders and my knees are killing me,” Kirk said.
“I think we should turn back. I don’t think we are going to get there before dark and I don’t want to be here in the dark,” I said. “And,” I added again, “I think we are on the wrong trail."
“We’re heading up. This has to be right. Let’s just try to keep going. We’ll get there.”

Once again, Kirk was reassuring, but I noticed that he was fatigued and weary. This was taking a toll on both of us, but he was right. We were heading up and we just needed to keep going. He started up the creek bed again.

“Fuck you trail! Fuck you!” Kirk yelled into the woods.

We both laughed. It felt good to laugh. I waited a few minutes to and watched him climb up the slippery creek bed.

“God,” I asked, “please let us get to the shelter. I have no idea where we are and I think we took the wrong trail. Please give me the strength to keep up and keep going.”

Kirk continued up the trail and, as I watched him, tears filled my eyes. I was watching this amazing man walk ahead, in pain, probably unsure if we were on the right path, but pressing on and determined. I started up the hill and I started talking to myself.

“You can do this. Just keep walking. One step at a time ... that is all you need to do. I know you think you can’t do this, but you can.”

At one point, I sounded like Dory from Finding Nemo.

“Just keep walking. Just keep walking. Just keep walking. Just keep walking. Just keep walking.”

Eventually I started to sing to myself.

“Put one foot in front of the other … and soon you’ll be at the fucking she-el-ter. Put one foot in front of the other … this hike sucks and I’m in pa-aa-ain.” Rhyming did not matter.
“Fuck you trail! I fucking hate you!” Kirk yelled again.
“Fuck you Mid City Gym! I am working out hard here! Fuck you and your pre-core!” I yelled into the sky.

We both laughed. Laughing felt good. Laughing felt right. Laughing felt insane. I wondered if we were going crazy. Then I thought about what we would do after sunset and if we would have to camp here. Where would we pitch our tent? We did not have enough matches to start a fire and light our little cook stove. I could see no flat surfaces. The banks of this creek went directly up into the grade of the mountain. There was nowhere to make a comfortable camp.

“Oh God … please don’t make us have to camp on the side of this creek. Please.”

I envisioned us huddled together in our sleeping bags. Spiders and critters and bears and thunderstorms all around us. It was not a pretty vision. I started to think that we should turn around and head back to Campsite #97 where we replenished our water. I watched Kirk continue to climb steadily up the mountain. He was my motivation to keep moving. I needed to keep him in sight, not stop or rest too long. I needed to continue so that we could do this hike together.

*     *     *     *     *
“It’s not that much further. I think we have about thirty minutes to go,” he said at one point.
“Where did he come from?” I said aloud to myself. “Out of the blue this guy comes into my life and asks me if I want to go on a hike and I fucking say yes. What was I thinking? He is so positive and so OK with this. Why am I so freaked out? Why isn’t he? What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I talking to myself?”
“Please … let there be only thirty minutes to go.”

I had never prayed so much in one day. I had never prayed as much as I had in these two days of our hike. There were three challenges I wanted from this hike: to push myself physically, mentally and spiritually. I could check off the physical challenge -- that was a no-brainer. I was being mentally challenged by trying to convince myself that I could do this, to feel comfortable not knowing what to do or how to do it and to be OK with being imperfect. The splendor and viciousness of the mountains were making me both elated and reverent, and considering that I was praying, I guessed that I was acquiring spiritual growth.

We lifted ourselves out of the creek bed and onto a dirt trail. The incline was now less steep and the trail began to level off. The bushes thinned and the tree canopy opened to shed more light. This was a sign of hope that maybe we were not that far away after all. Maybe this was the home stretch. The path was only wide enough for our feet and lined with grass and wild flowers. It was a picturesque and bright moment in this day of stress and pain. It was like a reward for the hell we just went through.

*     *     *     *     *
On this straight away, Kirk and I were able to speed up our walking pace and increase our stride. We focused on getting to our destination and hiked closer together. Suddenly, Kirk stopped in his tracks and put out his arm like a driver would do when stopping short and protecting a passenger. I stopped and followed his gaze to our left.

There it was … my greatest fear-- not fifteen yards from us. A bear! A huge and hairy dark boulder of fir with eyes fixed on us. This beast was massive, at least five feet from shoulder blade to shoulder blade. It stood there, as frozen as we were, staring.

“Holy shit,” I sucked in my breath.

Then, as quickly as it appeared, it turned and galloped up the hill and deep into the forest. The sound of its weight as it crunched leaves, twigs, and brush was the only sound we heard. His gallop was so forceful and heavy we could feel the earth tremor with every thud. He was as scared of us as we were of him and he disappeared in a flash. Kirk and I stood there in awe.

“That was amazing! That thing was huge! I have seen black bears before, but that thing was enormous. That was the size of a grizzly.” Kirk said.
“Oh my God. I can’t believe it.” I whispered.

We both started barking. The tension in my throat made my bark sound less like a bear-crazed hunting dog and more like an Upper Eastside purse poodle. We continued to hike the incline and talked about what just happened.

We actually saw a bear! It was huge! That was incredible! Did you feel his gallop?! My leg is killing me. Grizzly-sized! Oh my God! At least I didn’t shit my pants. My knees are really starting to hurt. That was insane! A huge bear! How much longer? Where are we? That was awesome! Look at these wild flowers. Where is the shelter? Where is the damned shelter?
Would this day never end? I slowed down to put distance between us. I was exhausted. I started to cry. I cried and walked. It was too much to take. I wanted to stop, but knew I could not. I wanted this to be over. I wanted to give up.

*     *     *     *     *

The straightaway ended abruptly and we were on a steep switchback flanked by a cluster of large boulders. Kirk disappeared to the left around one boulder and I heard him speaking, but could not make out what he said. I turned around the boulder and climbed the four or five steep steps to the top of the trail. There, squatting at the top of the trail was a man. He was filling up a water jug.

“I’ve never ever seen anyone come up that way before,” he said as he stared blankly at us.
“Is the shelter close by?” Kirk asked.
“Well I certainly hope so,” the man responded a little too snarky. “It’s one-tenth of a mile ahead.”

We turned the corner and made one last little climb to a trail that led to the Spence Field Shelter. Never ever was there a more remarkable sight to behold. I felt like we were Laura and Mary finding home after being lost in the woods, seeing their little house and hearing Pa’s fiddle. Spence Field Shelter. It was home. We were home.

The shelter, a little lean-to set in a clearing, had three solid log walls and one open side. The open side had a built in table with benches that ran the width of the shelter. One wall had a stone fireplace and the rear wall had two long and deep sleeping platforms, like a top and bottom bunk. Each platform could hold up to six hikers.

We took off our backpacks and set them against the bench. We sat to catch our breath while we surveyed the scene we were now part of. There were seven other hikers there. We said hello and they responded. It was clear that they had been there awhile and were comfortable with each other. We were late to the party, intruders almost. They were chatty amongst themselves, which suited me fine. I could barely formulate a sentence. We wiped sweat from our brows and drank some water and then the small talk began.

Kirk sat motionless and speechless while questions were asked. Where had we come from? What was our starting point? How long were we hiking? Where were we going? Where were they from? Where were they going? Simple, congenial, and not very involved.

“My name is Scott. What is yours?” I asked while the group sat around the fireplace.
“My trail name is Beatle Juice,” this thin, blond, twenty-something said from her perch on the top platform.

Trail Names! I had forgotten about those. We read about these and heard references to them in a documentary on the Appalachian Trail. Apparently, trail names were important to the hiking community. Trail names are names that people give themselves, almost like a ‘spirit name’ that captures the essence of their journey in their name. Honestly, it’s a bunch of ridiculous crunchy bullshit.

“I’m Princess,” said a woman with short blond hair, a kind face, and welcoming smile. She was from Perth Australia and was very pleasant.
“Walking Man is around her somewhere,” she continued, “and there’s another guy down the hill in a tent, named Grandpa.”

The man who was filling the water jug introduced himself and his son. They were both preparing to go to bed. They were laying out their mats and sleeping bags on the platform.

I wanted to say that my trail name was “Runs Like A Girl,” but I decided against it. I knew I couldn’t mask my sarcasm and they would most likely think I was making fun of them. Who knew what these people were all about? They could be crazies and have knives. They could be cannibals just waiting for someone to say the wrong thing so they could attack and have a feast.

*     *     *     *     *

It was 8:40 PM and the sun was setting. There were a few more moments of daylight in which to get ourselves situated. The thought of sleeping next to these strangers was a little much. Kirk went to pitch our tent next to the shelter and to hang our backpacks on the bear hangs. I made idle chitchat until I found myself with nothing to say. I went to Kirk and told him that I would finish the tent set up if he would cook dinner. He took down our backpacks, removed the cook stove and our dinner pouch, and went to the shelter to cook.

I was blowing up our sleeping pads and unrolling our sleeping bags when Kirk came over with a great surprise – a lighter! He had told Princess about how we used most of our matches the night before and that we didn’t have any more. She kindly gave him one of hers.

Because we had stopped moving so intensely, and because late dusk was upon on, the air was gaining a chill and we were getting cold. We remembered what Greg from Paragon told us about regulating our body temperature with the down sweaters we bought. We were to put them on immediately after we stopped hiking at night because our body temperature would quickly drop. He was right. The chill was coming. Kirk went to the bear hang, retrieved our sweaters, and pulled our backpacks back up the bear hang.

We ate our undercooked spaghetti and meat sauce in the shelter. I thought it was gross but Kirk seemed to like it. At that point, it really did not matter what we ate and I had no appetite anyway. I was too tired to eat and now I was too tired to chat. We needed to wash our dishes, wash our faces, brush our teeth, and get to bed.

During our dinner, the others either prepared or roasted marshmallows in the fireplace. I excused myself from the roasting saying that I had to lay down. Really, I just needed to get away from this group. I mentioned how tired I was and how hard the hike was today.

“I heard you lost your boot, too.” Princess said and laughed.
“Oh yeah … it was a rough day today. And this is only our second day.” I responded. What I really wanted to say was, ‘What a dick! He told that story?’, but I kept that to myself.
“The third day is the worse,” she explained. “That’s the day your body realizes exactly what you have done to it and it starts to rebel. The third day is the hardest.”

Oh great. That’s reassuring. Considering how challenging this day was, I was in no mood to hear that tomorrow was going to be harder. I asked about the trail from this point and most of the group agreed that it was easy. We would find it mostly level with some inclines and declines, but it sounded like it was nothing like what we experienced today.

*     *     *     *     *

Once again, Kirk lowered our backpacks from the bear hang and dug through them to find our hygiene stuff sack and the cookware stuff sack. He did the dishes and I boiled extra water to make our powered and non-alcoholic mulled wine. I took the mulled wine to our tent. Kirk finished cleaning up and re-hung our backpacks one last time. Then, he sat with the group and ate roasted marshmallows.

He came to the tent and we prepared for bed. By now, it was dark, the sky was clear and the stars were out in full force. So many stars! We were too tired to gaze and enjoy them. We nestled into the tent while the group’s chatter petered out into silence. The need for sleep was heavy on our eyelids. We took off our boots and socks – finally. The air on my feet was a gift. I rubbed BFI powder on them to cool them down, dry them off, and ward off the start of blisters.

It was warm in the tent. We took off our shirts and pants. I tossed mine to the foot of the tent. We put Bio-Freeze on each other’s legs and backs. We checked for ticks. We talked about the day and how insane it was while we drank the tepid and bitter mulled wine. I wrote notes about our day in my iPhone.

We crawled into our sleeping bag knowing sleep would come quickly. The wind had started to blow high in the tops of the trees. We kissed goodnight and closed our eyes. Sleep … that which we lacked the night before and that which we needed from this strenuous and stressful day … came fast.

In the middle of the night, I woke up needing to pee. I did not want to wake Kirk this time, so I put on my headlamp and peed in a baggie on my own. I sealed the baggie, put it at the foot of the tent near the Pack it Out Poo Concealer, and settled back into my sleeping bag.

Laying there in the tent, in the dark, I listened to the wind gusts push through the treetops. They were strong and forceful and would blow hard for a few minutes and then die down. Great rushes of wind. No other sound. No exploring or sniffing critters, no rain on the tent top, just wind blowing and rushing through the trees. It sounded very much like evening traffic on West End Avenue.

I thought of the day we had. I thought of how Kirk was so determined and focused. I thought of how hard we worked to get to this shelter. I thought of how much I prayed during the day and of my tears of exhaustion. I thought of how grateful I was for Kirk and his putting up with my complaints. I thought of how grateful I was for this hike, but mostly for my sleeping bag at this moment. I thought about how grateful I was that we were not huddled on the side of that insane creek bed.

I thought about the clear night sky, the stars, and the wind. The wind. The wind that lulled me back into sleep.
*     *     *     *     *