Tuesday, August 24, 1999

Our new friends dropped us off at the trail with large hugs and full hearts. They didn’t want to send us off any more than we wanted to leave them. It felt like when you couldn’t hang up the phone on your girlfriend in high school until they hung up first. And they wouldn’t hang up until you did. It was a moment that was wonderfully awkwardly sweet. We began at North Adams fresh from rest and strong morning coffee helping us reach our 12thstate by lunch, Vermont.

We discovered that we had left a few things behind at David and Cindy’s. Llama left her toothbrush and a few other small things while I left my rain jacket. I tried to get Llama to just use sticks and twigs for a toothbrush but she wouldn’t have anything to do with that. I told her, “it comes passed down from a long line of historic tradition, ‘chew sticks’ have even been found in the tombs in Egypt dating back 3,000 years. This is just how most people in the world clean their teeth.”

She gave me a blank face just staring at me.

“The oldest recorded bristle brush dates back 500 years to China, the bristles were made from the neck and back hairs of hogs from cold climates, places like northern China and Siberia. In Europe badger hair was used and even horse hair. It’s not until around the 1950’s that soft nylon brushes were invented so they didn’t rip your gums apart. Less than 100 years ago over a million pounds of hog’s hair was imported to our country just to make toothbrushes. I could totally figure out how to make you one if you let me.”

Llama just turned and walked away, and I could feel her eyes rolling in her head as she tromped off. I just grinned and followed after her.

The landscape is changing, we have crossed several bogs lately at high altitudes. They are unique because they create their own wintry climate by being fed by a refrigerated underground spring. A moss called sphagnum grows on the water surface starts at the edge and works its way to the middle to insulate it.  It forms a dense carpet over the water, which holds in the chill of the water. In Scandinavia peat moss cutters have found deer, ax handles, full wood wagons, and even human corpses over 2,000 years old preserved by the high acidic content of the moisture of the bogs. Sphagnum grows on top of dead layers of its own species producing new growth on top of the old, forming a mat of growing thickness. When you walk on it, it trembles and shakes beneath your feet. It’s pretty cool. 

Bogs used to be convenient places to “lose”people you needed to disappear. In some places when someone was found guilty of a crime they might be hung and then buried. But if you did a really bad crime, you would be taken to a local bog to be disposed of so you would be forever forgotten and lost. This is the ancient version of, “cement boots and going to swim with the fishes.”

So far I have found that the one food I never seem to get tired of eating is Mac & Cheese, I never get tired of the creamy deliciousness. Its taken on a saying on the trail, in referring to a person of quality and dependability, someone you really enjoy, “they are totally Mac & Cheese.”

Wednesday, August 25, 1999

In 1609, explorer Samuel de Champlain claimed the Vermont region for France. Vermont is an English form of the name that the Frenchman Samuel gave to Vermont’s lush Green Mountains on his 1647 map. He called them “Verd Mont” meaning “green mountain.” A day hiker that I came across and spent some time talking to told me that if all the mountains of Vermont could be ironed out this state would be as big as Texas. Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup, the home of Ben and Jerry’s, it has the least amount of violence of all 50 states, its full of covered bridges, leads the country in marble production, and has the best church potlucks known to man. The green mountains of Vermont are the oldest mountains in New England, though that doesn’t seem to make them any easier to climb, and they are about seven times as old as the Rocky Mountains. I think I really like this state despite their steep ascents and lack of switchbacks. It is lush and beautiful here with crisp clean air.

Thursday, August 26, 1999

The battle with the mieces has a new chapter. A weapon of cunning and with disastrous impact has been recruited. They have won the porcupines to fight for their cause. They come to the shelters in the mornings after the hikers have departed and gnaw on the wood of the shelters and tables, they are slowly eroding our night fortresses, eliminating our ability to find safety. One hiker said two of them blocked him on the trail from the restroom and he had to get a stick to fend them off. He thought they were being aggressive and trying to pin him down. Another hiker found a porcupine digging into his back in the middle of the night trying to locate any food that had been left behind. He scared it off but found that in the morning all his shoelaces had been shredded. Do not discount them, they are cunning and patient rodents. The mieces continue to scurry all over the shelters at night to distract us and threaten to eat our food no matter how we try to protect it. It’s a long tiring battle we are having and it often times feels like we are losing. We need help, we need a cat.

Friday, August 27, 1999

Last night we were able to spend the night in the ski patrol hut on top of the Stratton Mountain Ski Resort. It was heated, had tables and couches, a stove, and a phone that gave free long distance phone calls. There were 10 others staying there filling up the spaces but we were great going out in the cold mountain air as the wind was picking up and looking at the fantastic views over the beautiful mountains. And then the rain began to drop and through the night it fell harder and harder. By morning a storm was in full motion.

Today reminded me of my childhood roots, being raised in the fresh Oregon mountains and rain. Because I didn’t have my waterproof coat or pants I was able to embrace the rain without any hindrances or deterrents. My skin quickly soaked it up and I became a prune boy as I swam down the trail. The rain was coming down so hard that the trail became a streambed, the trail turned into a creek. Llama and I had to slosh through with heavy wet shoes and socks. There was no way to avoid the puddles, it was beyond that stage. My feet gained five pounds in waterlog weight, each making me feel thunderous stomping down the mountain. It added to the challenge of walking because the water also hid all the deep mud holes and obstacles strewn across the trail. I think I would have been very demoralized if I was not already planning on going to Manchester to do laundry and drink an enormous amount of warming coffee.

As I think about my future, about what I want to do next in life, about what I want to be when I grow up, I really struggle. Do others struggle to make decisions? I have a job offer and I’m going to take it when I get home and it will move me out to the state of Washington. It’s a short-term job but it is something. My struggle is, I don’t know what will hold my interest. I understand that I need to make money and I will need to have a career if I want to get married and have children. How do I find what I will enjoy? Does it matter if I enjoy it? Do most people enjoy their vocation? Are most people able to not care if they enjoy their job? Why has nobody ever had this conversation with me to help guide me? I feel like I have slipped through the cracks of society and have fallen behind my peers. My friends know what they are doing and how to get there, I’m embarrassed that I feel lost and just want to hide. My family tells me to just “grow up.”That has no help for me, I don’t know what that step is supposed to look like. Someone please just sit down with me, talk with me, and let me know what that means and how I can do it.

Saturday, August 28, 1999

The town of Manchester is wonderful. Everyone we talked to was warm and embracing, the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Store gave us ice cream bars because we were thru-hikers, and numerous people pulled up to us on the street offering rides to wherever we might want to go. The town is filled with antique stores, cozy country inns, art galleries, and wonderful restaurants with warm fireplaces in them. And most people seemed at ease as they walked around and wore kind smiles. I like this place.

As we hiked out of town this morning we climbed Bromley Mountain only to find tons of people milling around at the top having reached the summit by a ski lift. I felt a little cheated at first but got over my attitude after a few breaths of perspective. Whatever it takes to get people to see the beauty of God is a good thing. We admired the beauty and then moved on. 

Then just as I was about to summit of Styles Peak, a massive animal lurched through the trees next to me. I froze in panic as my brain tried to process what danger was coming at me to know how to react. Weaving through the forest, coming right at me was a bull moose. I took in a deep breath and that’s what grabbed his attention, he looked up, looked me in the eye and did a quick back step startled to find me staring right back at him. I didn’t know what to do, I just looked at his enormous palm-like antlers that were still covered in their felt and wondered how easily they could take me out. He was a little goofy looking with his oversized nose and elongated legs, but he was majestic and had a look of power and strength to him regardless. This giant beautiful, animal just got spooked by me and before he could react any further and maybe get mad at me, I took off down the trail as fast as I could talking loudly and letting off some whooping sounds to try and keep it from wanting to give me chase and trample me. I just didn’t know what else to do but I thought standing there would be a bad idea. 

After I had successfully escaped from the clutches of the might moose and after my adrenaline dissipated, I started to think through what had just happened. I was more impressed and awed by him than any other animal on the trail yet. The moose is the largest member of the deer family and can weigh over 1,300 pounds and the male’s antlers can grow to be six feet across and 90 pounds. Their antlers grow up to an inch a day of bone formation, the fastest rate known. They shed their antlers before winter to grow them back in the spring, each year larger than the year before. This was much more exciting than my bear experience. They can run 35 miles per hour and can swim about the rate most people can paddle a canoe. This might become one of my favorite animals, I couldn’t stop thinking about my new friend all day. 

Sunday, August 29, 1999

This morning as I was loading my pack, slipping my straps over my shoulder and cinching up, I took time to just pause and look around. I watched a brightly colored leaf fall to the ground in the silence of the crisp morning air.  The world was still and calm. The forest was silent, no sounds of animals or insects, no wind blowing the trees or bushes. Just silence. The colors of the leaf were a vibrant. I just stood there and witnessed it in awe. It was such a wonderful beginning to a day listening to God talk to me. I felt a weight in my heart and it’s not a weight or feeling of sadness or fear. It’s a feeling that happens when I know that God is moving and doing something and I don’t know what is going on. Something deep is shifting and I feel it inside my chest. When this happens I usually just start saying to God, “What are you saying God? What do I need to know or hear? Help me to listen to you.” Then I stop talking and just listen. I used to think I was supposed to talk to God to have a relationship with Him, now I try to talk less and listen more. It’s not easy, but everything gets easier over time and I have a lot of that right now. “What are you saying God? What do I need to know or hear? Help me to listen to you.”

Monday, August 30, 1999

My morning prayer was from Thomas Merton’s (from Thoughts in Solitude). I like to read the prayers of others and let their words be mine (especially when I feel like I don’t have any words).

 “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself, and in fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I do believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from your desire and I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

I heard news that Sam-I-Am and Sidewinder are off the trail. They made it to Manchester and jumped on a bus to Atlanta. Apparently, Sidewinder had been walking on a stress fracture for some time in deep pain to keep up with Sam-I-Am, but it just got too bad to continue on. To be honest I won’t miss him. I didn’t enjoy how much he disliked me and spoke down to me. And I also admired him for his love and devotion to his wife. I admired his desire to enter into the things that his wife loved with complete abandon and dedication. He was an interesting man that I wish had ended differently for him and for us.

Vermont is the #1 producer of maple syrup in the U.S. with sugar maple being the state tree. In the U.S. there are at least 13 species of maple trees known, the sugar maple being the most important economically. Before a tree can be tapped for the first time to draw out the sugar water from the tree, the tree needs to mature growing to about 40-50 years of age. And when they are tapped it takes between 40-50 gallons of sugar water gathered from the maple trees to produce one gallon of maple syrup. And trees that have been tapped are forced to fight harder to grow and survive so they do grow, and they do survive. Sugar groves that have been tapped for 50-100 years contain trees with larger girths than trees of the same age which have not been tapped and didn’t have to work as hard. Trees that have been tapped work harder to make up for their loss, which produces larger quantities of sugar water with more potency than untapped trees. And because a grove isn’t tapped for 40-50 years after being planted, groves being planted today are for future generations to benefit from. That’s a crazy way to think, not many people think to invest in their family’s future like that. People who want quick results and profit do not invest in this business

I was talking with Llama the last two miles of our hike about what the trail has done for us, how our time and effort has affected our character and our minds.  I commented on how it seems she has had a change in her character in the last month. “No that’s not it… its not a change of character. I think there is a core forming in me where there was none before. God has been using the pain and the beauty of this trip to force me to realize that I’m not in control of my life and to stop fighting God over it. It’s like every day there is something, the rain falls, the cold settles down on the mountains, bruises form on my body, toes get sprained, blisters form, they break and then reform…there is no way to hide from the pain of the trail so I just learn to give up trying to avoid them and just learn to accept it. I think the only thing I can control is what I do, I can control how I respond, I can control my attitude. Usually I run to fear but I’m trying to notice that and cry out to God instead and take a more positive direction in my mind and heart. I’m trying to not be scared of what I can’t control and trust God with that.” 

She is not wrestling through small moral and value changes but huge issues. She woke up the other morning and said, “I think I’m pro-life and not pro-choice anymore.”

That came out of left field, we had never talked about that and I had no idea she had been thinking about it. Llama is so interesting to me.

She continued, “God is showing me to value of all life, to see things through his eyes and his perspective and is inviting me to join with him in how he sees things.” It is exciting to learn through her and to see God in action actively connecting and moving and growing her life. It’s like I have a front row seat to the best show in town and I can’t stop standing and clapping at the show.