Anxiety vs. Excitement

Several years ago, I was not at a good place in my life. I’ll spare you the details, but trust me — it was NOT good. I happened to be making solo international travel plans at that time, too, and I was filled with dread. Every little thing that didn’t go exactly as planned would send me into a tailspin, both during preparation for the trip and while flying. There was a compressed mass of anxiety (the negative cousin of excitement), seething just below the surface.

Today, I still feel that same amount of energy, but its texture is so different. I mean, I still know I will miss people, will feel loneliness, will screw some stuff up, will be uncomfortable (umm… see my last post if you don’t believe me!). And I did feel some anxiety this past week when trying to hassle instructors about sending in their materials for this course, wrap up a job for which my temporary replacement has yet to be determined, pack up and move my belongings from my apartment, and do the bazillion other things necessary to put life on hold in that location for a bit. You should see the daily and overall to-do lists I generated! Impressive, really (or maybe only impressive if you’re OCD. hmmmm…).

Those to-do lists allowed me to be organized and relaxed enough (peppered with my fair share of just wandering around my apartment trying to assess what the hell I should do with all these things) to have a bit of free time before I left town to say farewell to some of the things I love the most about that town: The View, The Trail, and The Lake.

And I have been and am filled with immense gratitude these last few weeks for the people in my life who made the anxiety as minimal as possible. I have friends and family who listened to me complain about everything I had to do. I have friends and a boss at work who helped me wrap things up as smoothly as possible. Family who came to visit (my brother showed up multiple times!) to say goodbye and offer help. A friend who let me forward mail to his house. A friend who let me park my car at her house. A friend who let me store the entire contents of my apartment in her basement. Friends who helped me schlep said contents from said apartment to said basement (even supplying tools to take the feet off the couch when we thought we may have to just leave it on the sidewalk, driving the U-Haul when I got all wussy-pants about driving the truck over that damn giant bridge, and providing post-moving beer from the trunk of a car). And the list goes on. This transition has been filled with Charmed Life Examples #647 to at least #763, I swear.

And right now, with all the tedium of preparation behind me, I feel like there is excitement fizzing below the surface, and I am as delighted by it as a friend’s two-year-old once was when she took a sip of soda for the very first time and, wide-eyed and full of joy, exclaimed at the top of her lungs, “BUBBLES!”

Cheers to the bubbles of excitement, my friends!

Leaving

1742127-Meister-Eckhart-Quote-And-suddenly-you-know-It-s-time-to-start.jpgSometimes you see quotes like this and want to throw the goddamn Facebook across the room. Because you DO know it’s time to start something new. And you DO want to trust the magic. But right now it hurts. It’s like a cord is being slowly pulled out of your soul, and with each fiber being removed, the left-behind fibers from which it disconnects scream with irritation, with pain. With loss. This process, you know, will go on for the next week as you conquer tangible and intangible disentanglings in preparation to temporarily move to Cambodia. You’ve lived it before during other moves.

You know and you know and you know.

You know that people will tell you that this is exactly what you wanted, that you asked for this type of thing to be in your life. But you know that that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.

You know that people will remind you about the wonderful work you’ll be doing, about the amazing experiences you’ll have. But you know that you’ll miss the comfort of the mundane, the expected.

You know that people will tell you that you’re coming back, that things will be here for you. But you know that you can never really come home again, that you will have changed and so will everything to which (and everyone to whom) you return.

You know that people will say that they will keep in touch with you while you’re over there, that they’ll be with you in spirit. But you know from experience that the timeframe for keeping in touch doesn’t always last the entire duration of your absence, even when you’ve sworn that won’t happen.

You know that people will tell you that everything will be okay, that you will meet great people over there. But you also know that you will undoubtedly have intense moments of loneliness for which there will be no soothing balm.

You know that people will tell you to be present, to lean into these feelings and get to know them intimately. And you know that you will do your best to do this, and that at times it will hurt like hell.

And so you really feel that removal of the part of you that just can’t come with you on this trip. That part of you that consists of the places you have come to adore and call home, the friends that have brought you such solace and joy, the family that you know loves you so much you feel it in the fabric of your being.

But those left-behind fibers inside of you? While they’re raw as hell right now, they know what it feels like to be touched by these wonders that they need to leave behind for now. They know that they will heal into altered fibers that are willing and able to accept connections to new wonders. They know that they will likely be stronger both for having been connected and for the process of healing from being disconnected.

And so you know that you will try to be all 38 Special and hold on loosely.

And you know that you will eventually look back on this time with a smile on your face and a wistful feeling in your soul.

And you know that you will lean kindly into this rawness, because you know acts like this are the only way to assuage the wanderlust that fills the space between each of the fibers of your being.

And you know that you will try your damndest to trust the magic of beginnings.

 

Or maybe that’s just me.

Jaunty Jingles

The initial reason I traveled to the UK was to hike Hadrian’s Wall, an 84-mile national trail across the width of Northern England, following the course of a ruined wall from the Roman Empire. My friend Sue had suggested the hike, and in true style, another friend Terry and I signed on without question (charmed life example #462). While we were hiking Hadrian’s wall, I found that my mind would run and run and run while I walked and walked and walked. I’ve learned enough in my life so far that, if I don’t give my mind something productive to do, it will come up with plenty of destructive things to while away the hours. Now, granted, I use the term “productive” pretty loosely here, so don’t get your hopes up.

I enlisted Terry to teach me songs from her Girl Scout days. Now, I was never in the Girl Scouts. No cutie little outfits or badges, no week-long camps, and no sweet, sweet boxes of deeeeelicious cookies. I did have Lutheran Girl Pioneers, the Wisconsin Synod equivalent of the Girl Scouts, but all of our songs had a whole lotta the Jesus in them, and I just wasn’t in the mood for him on this hike at this point in my life (although “Father Abraham” did make his way briefly onto the set list at one point). But it seems like these Girl Scouts know what they’re doing, because Terry taught me a great hiking song that ends with a very rousing chant of, “Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty miles a day – HEY!”
(Note: I will never pass up an opportunity to throw some jazz hands in the air and punctuate a marching song with “HEY!”)
(Another, less-related note: As I cleaned out my mementos this past year, I came across a pin from my Lutheran Girl Pioneer days: the LGP Perfect Attendance pin. Such were the accomplishments of my youth.)

Another song Terry taught me, reminiscent of the “Tikki Tikki Tembo” story of my youth, was “Eddie Coochie Katcha Kami.” (Yeah, it may be the coochie bit that that kept it out of the LGP world.) Now, both the Tikki Tikki and the Eddie stories are about a young man with a very long name who falls into a well then drowns when no one can say his name fast enough to get help to him in time. So uplifting, eh? But fun as hell to sing! So, I learned what I now affectionately was referring to as “The Eddie Coochie Song” by repeating it over and over and over and over and … yeah, and over. But I finally learned it to the point where, several days into hiking, I could sing it nearly as quickly as it ought be sung.

With that accomplished, I needed another challenge to keep my brain a bit busy during the full days of hiking. So, in keeping with the natural progression of all things musical, I came up with a dance that goes along with the chorus (Eddie’s full name). I secretly choreographed it in my mind, practicing it during little side trips I took off of the trail while my hiking partners trudged on (with Sue, telling me it was “good for me” to burn off energy on my little side treks – ha!). Once I had the dance down, I told Terry I had come up with a game. I was going to do a dance and see if she could see what song I was silently dancing to. I know that you are all wishing you had video of this dance I did (beg hard enough and it may come), but here’s how it goes:

Hands with open fingers circle two counts to the right (“Eddie Coochie”)
Hands with open fingers circle two counts to the left (“Catcha Cammi”)
Straight arms alternating forward and back, four counts (“Tosanery Tosanosa”)
Hands with open fingers, palms out, right clockwise, left counterclockwise, two counts (“Samma Camma”)
Arms up with jazz hands, just as in ‘HEY’ noted above, two counts (“Wacky”)
Hands down, out from sides, continue jazz hands, as long as you choose to hold out the final word (“Brown”)

(And, yes, I can see you out there trying to recreate this dance. Post a link to your video in the comments below and you shall be rewarded. Not kidding.)

So, I tell Terry to guess what song I’m dancing to as I show her my amazing dance creation. She guesses “You Are My Sunshine.” I show her the dance again. She guesses the Beatles. I dance again. She guesses goddamn Pink Floyd.

“Terry. Seriously? Come on. You must not even be watching me.” And I kept repeating my dance. Over and over and over and over and… yeah, and over. Eventually, I sadly had to give up and tell her which song I had so brilliantly choreographed. But neither of us peed ourselves while laughing so damn hard, so really we both won.

Now, I’ll admit it’s the worst game in the world, but a couple of local pints and a couple more shots of Famous Grouse later in a pub at the end of our hike, I regaled my newest friends in the world about this horrible idea of an intentionally impossible game that was actually a blast. Not only did they laugh hysterically at my story, but they STARTED PLAYING MY GAME. Now, mind you, they turned it more into a bit of charades, only with dancing instead of acting out specific words, and with one of the men consistently shouting encouragement like, “You’re doing really well! You’re doing a great job of it!” (About a game that can’t be done well.) But if you’ve never bonded with a bunch of bicycling British men and a hiking Australian woman you’ve just met over a game you made up while hiking Hadrian’s Wall, I hope that you are working to create equally as memorable stories.

While the whole trip was a series of amazing, gratitude-inducing events (touring London and seeing the Royal family! punting and walking the streets in Cambridge! hiking England coast to coast after dipping my feet in the North Sea, staying in amazing B&Bs along the way! buying a delightful dress in Edinburgh! traveling to the Highlands of Scotland including Loch Ness! spending hours in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland under the midnight sun!), I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

Life, for me, is about creating stories. And the story of creating a game on an international thru-hike that then gets played by newfound friends in a pub in Bowness on Solway is one I will undoubtedly continue to tell for years.

Complete with re-enactment of my now infamous dance.

Expectations Reduce Joy

See, the problem is, when I don’t really hear what someone said, I don’t just ask the person what they said. Instead, I go ahead and say what I thought I heard. While this usually just makes me sound like a crazy person with a hearing impairment, it sometimes also leads to sayings that persist for years.

The most-used saying that was derived this way came from a (misunderstood) conversation. I had in Kenya. I was on safari in Amboseli with a group of VSO volunteers I had just met. These were some of the best people I had met in ages, and I was having the time of my life, even though this was a time when I was severely struggling with my day-to-day life back home. I was laughing incredibly heartily on a regular basis, developing inside jokes, and just feeling incredibly connected with these people who were, literally a day ago, strangers. As we were climbing some stairs to a lookout area where we would eat our lunch while watching hippos wallow in a waterhole, I was behind a gal who was talking about a meditation retreat she had attended. She said a phrase she heard at the retreat that had really stuck with her, but I was sure I wasn’t hearing correctly. I should have just asked what she was saying. Instead, I said, questioningly, “Did you say, ‘Expect tasty juice joy’?” This lovely human turned to me and said through laughter, with highly exaggerated diction, “Expectations. Reduce. Joy!” 

Amboseli, above the hippos, 2011

Expectations reduce joy.

I now, instead of saying the exact phrase that was intended, still find myself saying, “Expect tasty juice joy,” to indicate that the very expectation (and then presumed lack of “delivery” on the universe’s part) can make what is still a very joyous occasion seem like a disappointment.

There is nowhere in my life than in travel where I see this more obviously. I’m currently in England, about halfway through a hike across the country, following the length of Hadrian’s Wall. When you read guidebooks (as is the case with just any guidebook, I suppose), the pictures are magnificent. They depict people walking jauntily along fully exposed sections of a wall that is nearly two thousand years old. TWO THOUSAND. In the pictures, vistas abound, with breathtaking scenery and amazing historical remnants. 

Weeellllllllll, the first two days were a bit …disappointing. My expectations? Walk at my usual pace, be in scenic places, surrounded by nature and interesting historical ruins/sites, maybe get rained on, but finish the day in a tired stupor of nature-induced bliss. Or something equally as magical. Well, not so much. None of those things. So I found myself feeling disappointed at points. Frustrated. And only because my expectations weren’t being met. We were already well into an amazing trip, creating stories, including our own misunderstandings based on mishearing people (“Why did she just say poop cup?” “Ummm… I don’t think she would have said poop cup.”). The first day of walking, we were surrounded by interesting urban landscape, but I was disappointed because I wasn’t getting what I’d expected. Now, with even a couple of days’ perspective on the experience, I can find immense gratitude for the things that I did get to experience. Not the least of those things is simply a reiteration of the lesson that expectations reduce joy. 

Newcastle, along the Tyne River

 I would, however, consider revising that to say that high (positive) expectations reduce joy. When you’re expecting nothing but a pile of shit (which, we did see a whole lot of poop along the way), you may just get a beautiful vista. But when I have absolutely no expectations and take things as they come, without plans, without expectations, that is where the joy comes flowing through every situation. Sound like a goal for the rest of the trip!

Couldn’t help but end this post with some sheep poop. We’ve seen a lot now. But seriously, those patterns are beautiful! Okay, that’s enough poop for a while. You’ll be safe reading my next post.

Halfway There

I have often lived in places surrounded by people who are doing much more interesting and, quite frankly, more badass things than I am doing. My current home is no exception. If I run a marathon, someone is running an ultra. If I do 20-mile day hikes, someone is doing a thru hike logging 40 miles a day for weeks on end. If I make it back from Bike to Beers without wiping out, someone I’m chatting with is headed off to ride the Tour Divide. Seriously. But I love being surrounded by people who challenge the limits of what I see as impossible or, alternately, as achievable.

Years ago, I was brought along on my first backpacking trip. I was nervous as hell. It was a relatively short hike mileage-wise, not too far from where I lived in Anchorage. Since I hadn’t backpacked before, I was a bit nervous, but my hiking partner/fiance was encouraging. And kind enough to carry a much larger portion of the gear so it wouldn’t be so hard for me, which is honestly probably why I agreed to go in the first place. Still, the hike in was tough. I had never carried a pack before, and I’m certain my (whole other kind of ) pack-a-day habit sure wasn’t helping anything. But after getting about ten miles in with some significant climbs and descents, we set up camp in a valley about as picturesque as you can imagine in Alaska. I took off my boots, put sandals on my weary feet, and ate the first meal I felt like I’d really earned in a long time. I was content.

About that time, the wind picked up. And the rain started. Overnight, it consistently blasted against the tent in what we’d later learn were 60+mph winds. When we woke in the morning, we didn’t bother to try to cook a warm breakfast and instead started packing up our waterlogged gear. I’m not proud of the things I mumbled under my breath, but I was not a happy camper. And now we couldn’t go out the (much shorter) way we’d intended as it was now snowed in. We’d have to go out the same route we’d come in. At the peak (valley?) of this experience, with my foot stuck solidly between two rocks, my boots filled with water to overflowing, and cold rain slashing at my face, I screeched at my at-the-time-fiance-now-ex-husband (shocked?), at the top of my lungs, “YOU NEED TO MARRY SOMEONE WHO LIKES TO DO THIS STUPID SHIT!” I’m pretty sure he has looked back on that day more than once and thought he should have listened more closely to me in that moment.

All that to say, I’ve not always really been the outdoorsy type. I have always loved and appreciated nature even while being a city gal at heart, but sometimes photos of nature were juuuuust fine by me. Gradually, though, I’ve been getting out into it more and more. I’m lucky enough to live in a town that is known for its access to trails, and when I got divorced and only got to see my dog when on walks, I started hitting the trails. Hard. I’d log hours at a time every day after work to be able to spend time with my Maggie Mutt. And I set a goal with her to cover every inch of the Superior Hiking Trail. She didn’t make it (she died this past fall), but I still intend to make good on that.

TrailMaggie
My Maggie Mutt on The Trail
People close to me have heard me say that The Trail healed my heart over the past year. While this is true, it’s also a place where I felt safe enough to let my heart completely shatter. There are places on the trail where I’ve sobbed uncontrollably, tears freezing on my cheeks in -20 degree weather, my cries luckily being heard only by the woodland creatures. But logging the miles helped me put it all back together. And the endorphin bath for my brain surely didn’t hurt, either.

TrailMushrooms

I’m minutes away from getting on a plane for a several-week trip to England, Scotland and Iceland. I’ll then return for three weeks before going to Cambodia and other random places for nearly six months. This made me realize that there’s no way I’m going to be able to cover all the rest of The Trail this summer as I initially thought I could, but I wanted to see how much I’d already done. Using some rudimentary math, my well-worn Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail, and trail maps with completed portions highlighted, I calculated that I have traveled almost exactly half of The Trail.

Book and Map
Horrible picture (you’ll hear me blame my $20 camera plenty in posts to come), but you get the idea…
While initially disappointed at how little I’d covered so far, I realized that (1) the miles I counted are only a portion of the trail miles I’ve logged since this fall when I started this project, (2) I’ve gone out-and-back on all of these miles so I’ve really done twice that number, and (3) this means I’ve still hiked OVER 300 NOVEL MILES on this particular trail in less than a year. Now, I know many people can say that they’ve done so much more than that. So much more. I mean, now that I’ve calculated that, I’m sure I’ll meet some joker who’s done twice that in a weekend. But for a gal who used to have a pack-a-day habit and scream angry words about never hiking again, I’d say it’s not been a bad year on the trail.

trailmuddyfoot.jpg
When my feet look like this, it’s usually been a darn good day.
TrailSmile
I call this feeling “trail content.” It’s a whole ‘nother kind of content. Not a bad year on the trail at all.
I’m already excited for the next 300 miles or so that will be here waiting for me when I get back. Maybe I’m becoming “SOMEONE WHO LIKES TO DO THIS STUPID SHIT!” Whaddya know…

“You Should Blog About It!”

…says every human being when you tell them about an upcoming trip.

People have always told me to blog when I’m embarking on travels, especially extended ones. They are clearly unaware that I’m not used to or comfortable with writing for an audience. Interestingly enough, though, the two times I have blogged regularly are (1) when I moved to a place where I felt like there was nothing interesting going on in my life, and (2) when I felt like there was nothing interesting going on in my life so I forced myself to do one new thing each week. I’ve never written publicly when doing things that would traditionally be considered “interesting.”

Globe
This outdated globe sits in my living room, a reminder of what else is out there (and, charmed life example #793, someone anonymously paid for it for me!).

When I do get out and travel, I like to take it all in and process it for myself, but I often don’t get around to processing it for anyone else. When people ask me how travels were, I sometimes show pictures (they’re worth thousands of words, right???) or give somewhat generic answers (‘it was great,’ or ‘the food was amazing,’ or something equally as noncommittal), but it’s difficult for me to go into detail about the things I experienced. Part of this comes from feeling a little strange pointing out differences when traveling within cultures that are significantly different than ours. I mean, of COURSE this is what people want you to talk about. They want to hear about squatting over a pit to shit. They want to hear about the untreated medical conditions you see in the educational centers. About the chickens between your feet and the goats in the back of the matatu. And I get it. I totally get it. I am a lover of stories. But sometimes it feels like these stories contribute to the perception of “them” and “there.” Almost like I am lengthening the distance. Building the wall.

As I start this blog, I plan to write about things I do close to home as well as across the globe (and YES, I realize what an insanely charmed life I lead to be able to even write that sentence, much less live it!). I can’t possibly predict whether this will create more distance between you and the people, places, or events I discuss or will create a greater understanding of the wide range of experiences both near and far. Or maybe neither of those. All I know is that people have said, “You should blog about it!” So here goes…