A Mountain Personified

A Mountain Personified

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“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey

The mountains are my mentors, and my most trusted advisers. They constantly challenge me, forcing me to think, to learn, to explore, and to grow in unanticipated ways. When I take a wrong turn, or stumble and fall, they patiently wait for me to regain my footing and continue my journey. They demand respect, and through their silence, force me to gain confidence in myself and in my own voice. When I get to the peak, they proudly share their beauty and understanding, all the while reminding me of the vastness of the world, and the infinite possibilities awaiting me as my journeys continue.

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Of mountains and marathons

Similarities between thru-hikes and marathons:

* strangers offer you food, water, and candy, which you gratefully accept and nothing about the exchange seems weird.

* it is common to see men facing the trees/bushes and peeing unabashedly.

* your feet ache at the end of the day.

* training in advance makes it hurt less.

* If you are crazy and walk into it with no training it will hurt more and take you longer to finish.

* your friends think that what you are doing is awesome and hope that they could do it someday, but chances are that even if you paid them they probably wouldn’t join you if you were to do it again.

* blisters and chaffing are common side effects.

* you bring your own toilet paper with you because even though you desperately hope that you won’t have to poop until you reach the end of the day, you’ll settle for a stinky, toilet paperless hole.

* you find yourself dreaming about water/Gatorade and wondering why there isn’t any available right here and right now.

* people quickly decide that they don’t want/need all the gear they started with and just toss it aside as they go.

* you can instantly identify the hikers/marathoners the morning after a long, hard day because they are walking like they’ve aged 50+ yrs overnight.

* at the end, even though you are tired and hurting, you find yourself starting to plan the next one.

Things that are different about marathons:

* everyone cheers you on and assures you that you can make it no matter how slow or far behind you are.

* for a marathon you do all that work just to end up right back where you started.

* they give you a metal.

* at the end of the day you get a hot meal, a shower, and a soft bed.

Dog Days (Days 52-54)

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These days I’m not much of an animal lover, at least not up close and personal. This is partly because all things fuzzy and furry strongly contribute to my asthma and allergies. I still think your cats and dogs are wonderful and lovely creatures, but I’d rather not touch them or have them share my local breathing space.

There are lots of dogs hiking the trail with their owners, and like their owners, most are quiet, respectful, and move off of the trail to let other hikers pass. Some try to get my attention, but when I don’t touch them they quickly move on to someone that is more willing to scratch them behind their ears or play with them.

The other day I used a zip line (see picture) to cross a creek so that I could sleep on the Captain’s (the Captain is a trail angel that opens his porch and property to weary hikers) porch after hiking 20 miles in the pouring rain. I was thankful for having a dry place to stay (and a refrigerator full of soda to drink), but I didn’t love his five wet, muddy dogs that were aggressively trying to get me to play with them. I used the furniture on the porch and erected an anti-dog barricade to aid me in fighting off their exuberant affection as I curled up to sleep in my sleeping bag. By the time I left the Captain’s porch the next morning I was convinced that I definitely was not a dog person!

A couple days later I came across a woman sitting beside the trail with a puppy dog that was panting heavily. As I got closer, I realized that the dog was wheezing and constantly gasping/gulping for air. It reminded me of how I feel when my asthma is really bad… Extremely short of breath, and gulping air like water in the hopes of somehow sating my need for oxygen, but finding that the glass I’m trying to gulp from is always empty… It’s a horrible feeling and I found myself commiserating with that poor puppy.

I was worried about the puppy, so I stopped and chatted it’s owner. She said that the dog had been getting worse and worse for the last couple of hours, but that she didn’t have the strength to carry her (the puppy) off of the mountain. It was really hot out (the dog days of summer are here), so when a couple of day hikers came by with water to spare, we doused the dog with it, hoping that she was just overheated and that if we got her cooled down it would help. It didn’t seem to.

Every now and then the dog would try to get up and move, but her hind legs weren’t working correctly. She got up, moved a little bit, and collapsed beside my hiking pole, still gasping. Her big brown bulging eyes looked up at me, and it seemed as if she was silently asking me for help.

I looked down at her. She did need help. She probably needed to go to the hospital. She wasn’t getting better and she definitely needed to get off of that mountain. Suddenly it occurred to me… I’m a thru-hiker, I’ve gotten pretty strong, I could carry the dog off of the mountain! I could help!

I threw my pack and hiking poles into the bushes and offered to carry the puppy down the hill (~ a mile) and to woman’s car in the parking lot. She nodded her ok, so I bent down and scooped the now muddy puppy up into my arms and started down the hill.

She weighed about 35 lbs and I had no trouble retracing my steps and carrying her down to the car. Her breathing never improved, though she did manage to slobber all over me on the hike down. Once I got her safely to the car, her owner whisked her away to the nearest animal hospital.

Trail angels are constantly doing things that make my life better. In that same parking lot earlier in the day, some day hikers had left fresh fruit, cold water, and sodas in a cooler for me. I was glad to get the chance to do something nice for one of the day hikers, and I hope that that poor puppy ended up being ok.