Wednesday, September 15, 1999

We’ve had several tough days of hiking through some of the most amazing and rugged mountains and I am tired. My body is a big noodle, I just collapse at night without energy to want to talk with others or even read. I find myself just sitting and watching others, time passing at times without me having any memory of it passing. If I ever plan to make this trip over again I will budget more rest time near the end of the journey, I now know how necessary it is. I thought I would be in perfect shape, toned and tight, lean and mean, ready for any and all challenges. Its true that I am in the best shape of my life but I exhaust myself every day to stay conditioned and looking this good.

Six more hikers are calling it quits. Wild Turkey, Giggler, Whack-a-pack, K-Man, James and Good Air. James and Good Air ran out of money and had desire to solve the situation by calling in help from family or friends. Others said they just had no desire to beat themselves against these dangerously slippery rocks in this wet and cold weather biting weather. They are not exaggerating about the rocks, I’ve been falling several times a day with only bruises and scratches to show for it.

One of the most important natural resources in New Hampshire is the thick forest cover that spreads over 80% of the land. Maple trees in silver and red sprinkled through the hills. The mountain maple blanketing the state along with birch, beech, oak, hickory and butternut all sharing their colors, showing off how beautiful they can be. They are amazing now, in the next month this state must be the most glorious of all the states.

New Hampshire’s most marketable tree is the white pine, which is but one tree that is harvested for lumber and many wood products. The trees grow at a 5% speed rate faster than they are being harvested, Maine is at 8%.  Balsam fir is the best for paper pulp and crowds together in nearly pure stands of thousands of acres bolting for the sky.

Friday, September 17, 1999

We have 250 miles to go but a new challenge has arisen. Hurricane Floyd grew off the coast of Africa before charging northwest and striking the Bahamas ten days ago with power and force. It then worked its way up the east coast of the United States and is now spitting the last of its temper and venom upon the state of Maine, the last state on my exhausting treck. 2.6 million people in 5 states were ordered from their homes as it approached. It was a very strong Category 4 hurricane, just 2 mph short of the highest possible rating. Wind and rain pelted Llama and I with a stinging hit and forced us off the trail. The wind was knocking us around the trail and the rain flooded the streams and rivers we have to cross, swelling them to dangerous crossing conditions. When I fell into the muddy frothy current and my pack started to be carried downstream, my swimming after it, that’s when I knew I needed to get out of the storm.

So we pulled off the trail, found a hostel and watched as the cold rain run down the windows. We watched patiently. I can’t remember a time when I have felt calm enough inside to be able to sit and be still. I’m very good at always finding distractions. I’m good at never being bored. I’m good at never creating space in my life where I might have to deal with things I don’t want to deal with or look at. But here I am drinking peppermint tea, watching the rain, being quiet while Llama is off taking care of chores, and I’m OK. Is this how others live? Do others feel this way all the time? I love this feeling of calm inside my heart, I don’t know what it fully means but tonight I’m soaking it in. 

As I entered Maine a sign read “The way life should be.”  but the state nickname is “the pine tree state”after the white pine trees that fill the forests. I love the idea that a state can feel so confident to say that this is the way life should be. Forest land covers 87% of the state and is one of the largest producers of paper products. Its gotten cold, fall has hit and the sun sets earlier and earlier every day. The trees are more dense and fuller, stronger and taller. I love the feel of being up here, every state has been my favorite and this one is no exception.

In as early as 1605 the coast of Maine was explored by Captain George Weymouth, of the English Royal Navy.  As he charted and investigated the “new”land he found a great treasure, the tall, straight, and strong trees that the royal navy desperately needed. The wood in Europe was heavier, shorter and weaker than this amazing find. Quickly England built “mast ships,”special ships built with long stern ports for holding the 100 feet + long timbers.  Soon the white pine became New England’s greatest export alongside furs and fish also growing in popularity.

The residents of Maine believed that their forests were an inexhaustible resource and became reckless. By the early 20thcentury the majestic and monumental stands of white pines were only a memory. It has taken time and intention to bring them back. Lumber is still the backbone of the economy, a billion-dollar industry that produces two-thirds of America’s pulpwood.

The early planners of the Appalachian trail wanted the trail to end on Mount Washington as the final summit and celebration. And that would have been fine with me. They thought that the woods of Maine were so thick with trees, so damp and rugged, that it might not be possible for a trail to be carved through the state. But they pressed through the idea that a few more miles were good for us and that if we’ve endured this much suffering a few hundred miles of wilderness and soggy weather would not stop us from completing our goal.

Today I wish the trail was done, my body is so tired. Every morning it is stiff and sore and crying out for me to just stop this hike. My body feels like it has undergone trauma and just needs to sit in bed for a month to let the bruised bones strengthen and heal. And while my body feels tenderized, so does my heart. But while my body is crying in pain, my heart is feeling more and more free. I feel like enormous shells of weight have been removed from my body, armor that I’ve used for years to protect myself and hide behind. I feel exposed and vulnerable and that’s a kind of pain. But it also feels like a strength. I feel like I don’t need to hide. I feel like I can look people in the eye. I feel like I can see a mountain and walk up it. I still my feel like its too difficult and too daunting but I move forward and take the mountain one step at a time. I feel a sense of confidence and pride growing in me over the last few months. I’m looking forward to the last few weeks and my body is very ready to be done with this whole thing.

Saturday, September 18, 1999

Several hikers were getting cabin fever and thought that a little wind and rain wouldn’t be a problem for the unstoppable A.T. hikers that they were. They packed up their equipment, put on all their rain gear and headed out into the pouring grey rain day. I felt a sense of guilt that I was not going out with them. “Am I not good enough or strong enough? Am I lazy? Am I scared?”

They had not been but a few hours when they came to a river crossing that caused them a small amount of panic. They were attempting to cross a chest high river when the fast-moving current kept trying to sweep their legs and carry them off through the rapids. They hadn’t made it half way when they realized how dangerous this was. They had unstrapped their packs so should they fall so they wouldn’t get trapped under them, but they could see that there was no way around the inevitable fall that was going to happen. And they either they would be in risk of harm or their equipment would be swept off. Some days the river will always win and that’s the day you turn around and wait for the water to subside.

I am glad we made it through the toughest part of the A.T. before this storm. Llama and I climbed through Mahoosuc Notch, a deep ravine that has attracted every boulder to gather together, the size of a van up to a house. And the trail runs right through this boulder family field. It took us two hours to scramble under, over, around, and through the boulders. I absolutely loved it. This is what I had hoped the entire trail would feel like, to have the joy in exploring, feeling clean air deep in my body, a connection to God in the every moments of the day, physically fit and able to move about like a mountain goat. I enjoyed the challenge through the dangerously mossy covered obstacle course, and wished I could do it again. The rest of the hike was walking taken up by walking log walkways across fragile bogs on high summits in the alpine zone. Amazing and beautiful as the mist would swirl around in the high mountain currents whisking my cheeks with dew. It was an overcast, beautiful, magical day where everything lined up just right.

This area is known for its strong fighting wilderness. Benedict Arnold led 700 men through this area, carving a trail that cut across the one I’m hiking on,to  try and capture Quebec. He thought it would be a short, well planned and organized invasion but it turned out going sideways. The equipment they carried fell apart, their clothing was soaked by storms and then froze, a flood hit their team, the terrain grew thicker and denser than anticipated, their moral dwindled quickly as men began to die and the trail seemed to stretch on and grow longer every day that they marched north. I feel like I completely understand. They arrived in Quebec frozen, battered, bruised, starved, and completely outnumbered by the British so they just gave themselves up rather than walk back through the harsh forests. Nature defeated them not the British.

256 miles to go. 

Sunday, September 19, 1999

When I reached the peak of Moody Mountain I threw my pack to the rocks and crashed down to rest and regain my breath. I opened up my hiking pad and just laid there in the quiet staring up into the sky. Two crows were playing in the air currents above me. They would close their wings and drop from the sky about 20 feet before opening their wings with a snap and then snatch the air to carry them back up. Both would do this over and over before soaring to another ridge. That are they doing? Are they just having fun? Are they mating? Whats going on her guys?

Before I left, when I was living in Kentucky, I was in stagnation in life. I didn’t feel any direction, my relationship with God felt nonexistent, it was dry and dark. God may have been talking to me but I didn’t know how to hear or how to respond. And the worst part was that I thought I knew all the answers, at least all the ones I needed. I had my master’s degree, I had skills and abilities and charisma. I was arrogant.

There was once a king named Canute the Great, who’s castle was set on the seashore, waves lapping round his feet. Canute heard over and over from those in the court that he was “So great, he could command the tides of the sea to go back”. One day he had his throne carried to the seashore and sat on it as the tide came in, commanding the waves to advance no further. The waves continued to move closer and closer until they began to crash upon him. He was just man who had no more power over nature than anyone else and nothing in the face of God.

These mountains are just dirt and stone pounding my blood and bones but they have somehow pounded into me some wisdom, that I am not the center, that my glorious story is not more or less than others. And I feel like God has poured out love on me as I opened my eyes to this. And instead of finding God in nature I’ve just yielded myself to God and that is how I’ve discovered God and am discovering where God wants to take me. And that has been bringing me healing, renewal, transformation, and wholeness in my life.

Monday, September 20, 1999

I left my tent last night in the dark, just before I was going to go to sleep, to do my last-minute business. It was dark and quiet until I heard a loud splashing and chewing noises in a swollen river nearby.  “Moose,”I thought. So I ran back to my pack to get my camera hoping to capture this amazing animal on film. I got Llama and Professor B out of their tents to join me and see the moose. We silently picked out path towards the river trying to be as quiet and stealth as we could. When we neared the shore we all slowed and stopped, looking around and trying to blend in. Our eyes were adjusting to the dark and as we all listened for the 7’ moose with a 4’ rack of antlers. I lifted my camera up and blindly took a picture in the dark, aimed in the direction of the noise. All that ended up doing was blinding us all, luckily our moose never ran. Professor B pulled out his headlight when we thought we knew where the moose was but to my anguish there was a swimming beaver. Ugh, I was ridiculed and poked at. “if there is a noise in the woods, could it be anything but a moose? Not for Wadi.”

I would just reply, “There was a moose, we just got there after the beaver scared it away.”

Beavers are found at just about every pond we pass. Evidenc is everywhere of them gnawing on trees and damming up the lake outlets. Their teeth grow continually so they must use them and work them down or the chisel like teeth will grow up through the roof of the mouth and into the brain cavity, not good. Chew or die. They will take down between 250-300 trees a year.

Apparently managing their teeth growth doesn’t take too much time for the because a lot of their time is used to grooming themselves to look good for other beavers. They will roll around on ant beds so they will crawl all over their fur ferreting out and eating all the nasty parasites. Then they will comb their own hair with their two inner toes to rake out any other parasites and annoying ants that might be lingering too long. Next time you have a hot date I recommend this ant method, it could work.

In the days of pioneers, many hunters loved to eat the beaver tail. It was a greasy flap of gristle and fat that they would gnaw on for days. If I hadn’t grown up watching my own dad gnaw on chicken gristle, fat, and bones for hours I might not have believed this. I’m fairly certain beaver-tail-soup would be a hit at my family reunions. 

Much of my life I have felt like a fraud, I felt like I was not what I was pretending to be and exactly what I pretended not to be. I’ve done this for a long time, I have lived with masks since I was a teenager. I found ways to grow masks, adopting strategies to avoid feeling vulnerable. Sometimes I wonder if inside of me there is a true authentic self. Is there a more unique true self that I can like? When I was 11 my family moved from Oregon to California and I started 6thgrade. From the first day I was picked on and bullied. A kid in a wheelchair didn’t like how I looked and started to cuss me out and tell me he was going to have me beat up but his 4 henchmen. I panicked, I didn’t know how to deal with threats of physical harm, that had never happened to me before. I was in crisis mode and I cried out to my parents to help, I had no idea how to solve this. My parents pulled me out of public school and enrolled me into a very small Christian school. I felt like I’d been sent to live on the island of misfits. I understood that this was a temporary solution, I knew I needed to find a way to hide and fit in because these bullies would be waiting for me one day. I needed to blend in and stay under the radar. I needed to build masks and strategies that would help me survive. And I don’t know that I’ve ever taken the time to hold these masks and strategies out in front of myself to examine and determine if I need them or not anymore. There is a price to pay to wear them. I wonder who I am underneath.