Expunging Flaws

There are many words and phrases I would like expunged from the English/American language, such as “veggies” (I don’t see what’s wrong with “vegetables”), intestinal fortitude (a meaningless phrase since all that is necessary is “fortitude”), executive decision (a phrase that is often misused in place “decision” when someone is talking about a simple personal decision rather than a decision made for a group or a decision with executive power).

My latest problem word is “flaws.” To be honest, there is nothing wrong with the word, just with the concept, especially when it comes to people. This is a word loved by writers who insist it’s necessary to write “flawed” characters for them to be believable, but I have always and will always disagree with this premise.

Tell me honestly, except for a few physical attributes that you might not like about yourself, do you think you have flaws? No, of course you don’t. You think you have problems. You laugh about your quirks. You are beset with internal conflicts. You might even have a list of traits that you try to work on, such as trying to be kinder or more disciplined, but you don’t have flaws. You are who you are. All the parts, good and bad (and who is to say which are which) make up your character.

And if you do think you have flaws, why do you think so? Aren’t you perfect in what you are — you? Who else can be you? Who else can you be?

To have flaws means to have imperfections that mars a person or thing. Why would any part of you be an imperfection? Why would you allow anyone, even yourself to think you are intrinsically imperfect?

You might have things you dislike about yourself. Other people might see things they dislike about you. But why are these flaws? These traits are the very fabric of your being.

Who gets to define perfect? Imperfection? Flaw? And why would we give anyone the power to define such terms?

We are who we are.

Often, we try to “improve” ourselves with diet, exercise, different thoughts, different activities, but these are all just gild on our already perfect selves.

I might not have paid attention to the latest batch of “flaw” words, might have continued to keep my irk to myself, but I recently read an article that attempted to list all the flaws in a certain person in the public eye, and oddly, the article had a completely different impact on me than it should have. All those “flaws” combined to make an incredibly unique human, someone perfect in and of themselves. Hated, of course. Loved, to be sure. Scorned. Admired. Vastly rich according to some people. Bankrupt according to others.

But, oh such a perfect individual.

As are we all.

When we look at a scene, at a flower, a field, we don’t see “flaws,” we don’t even notice imperfections because any supposed imperfection is lost in the whole. And, as with humans, who is to say what those imperfections might be? A flower is perfect in its perfection. A bucolic scene is perfect in and of itself.

Are we less than the fields? The flowers?

Nope.

To think of ourselves as flawed seems to put us above whoever or whatever happened to create us. It’s as phony an idea as the Persian rug makers who purposely put a flaw into each of their rugs supposedly because of their belief that only God can make something perfect. That speaks to me of arrogance, to believe you are so absolutely perfect you have to create a flaw to make yourself less than perfect.

Billions of years ago, the universe was born. Through untold eons it learned how to fashion various life forms, and finally, it formed a semblance of a human being. A million years later, our present species came into being, and many thousands of years after that, I was born. You were born. Each of us is the culmination of an untold number of twists and turns in creation. How can the end result not be perfect?

So, change the thing you don’t like about yourself, but don’t believe that thing is a flaw. It is not.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

House Proud

People keep asking me when I’m going to write another book, and I finally have an answer for them: when I stop being so house proud.

I recently read an article telling authors not to get distracted by housework, which never used to be a problem for me. I didn’t mind clutter. mostly because I was too involved in other things to pay attention to it. I didn’t mind a little dust or even a lot of dust — I figured it was better sitting on the top of tables and such rather than floating in the air.

But now, I like seeing my place clean. I like the clutter-free rooms and the dustless furniture and floors. It tickles me to get up in the morning and see my charming living room.

It even pleases me to mop the floors and dust the furniture. I especially like being able to dust the ceiling fans. (The last place I lived the ceiling fans were so caked with greasy dust that I was never able to get them clean.)

Surprisingly (surprisingly to me, that is), all this housework doesn’t feel like work. It feels like playing house.

Maybe if I’d owned a house when I was younger it wouldn’t be such a joy taking care of this place. I certainly wouldn’t have had the same feeling of connection, and I know I would have worried all the time about things falling apart. (Entropy seems to loom large in my life.) For now, though, it’s been fun doing small repairs around the house, most recently rescreening the windows. (I have vinyl windows, and it’s easy, though time consuming, to replace the old screen fabric with new.)

It’s not just physical time I spent on the house but mental time, time I would normally have used for writing (or more probably, thinking about writing). I think about where I want the fence to go, where to plant the multitude of bulbs I ordered, when to order the small trees I want and where to put them. I think about a container garden I would like to put in a small triangular space between the house and the back-door railing.

Ah, so many things to think about!

Someday, perhaps, I won’t be so enamored of all this house care, and will free up my mind for writing.

Meantime, I’m proud to be house proud.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Recognizing Ourselves

I just finished reading a book where a woman woke up with total amnesia. When she looked in the mirror, she freaked out because the face peering back at her wasn’t hers. The face had chubby cheeks, extra chins, and an unfamiliar nose rather than the gaunt, model thin face she was used to.

The woman unknowingly had been a twin, and she and her twin had been in the vicinity of a car bombing. The model-thin twin died. The one who weighed a bit more (just a few pounds — she was far from obese) survived but with total amnesia. (Though she did remember how to talk, and apparently, she remembered how she thought she looked.)

Supposedly, the two women had somehow become mingled in the same body, the reason for the unfamiliar face in the mirror, but to me, that was a cop out. The real story would have been how we see ourselves deep down, beneath thought and memory.

My sister once told me that when she was thirty-five, our mom mentioned that she felt she was thirty-five, thought of herself as thirty-five. My sister thought that was cool, that she and Mother were basically the same age.

In my case, I don’t see myself as young as my mother and sister, though I do tend to think of myself as younger, thinner, more agile than I really am. I certainly don’t see myself as truly young. In fact, I no longer remember who that little girl was, perhaps because I never really did see myself as a child. I always felt old when I was young.

So, if I ended up with no memory of myself, would I freak out when I saw the truth of myself in the mirror? Would I freak out when I felt the truth? (The aches and pains in the morning would certainly discomfit someone who thought they were much younger.)

Once, in my early middle years, I was walking past a store window and caught a glimpse of my mother. I looked around, confused. What was Mother doing in that town so far from where she lived? Not seeing my mother, I looked once more at the reflection in the window, and realized I was seeing myself.

Now that freaked me out! I had no idea I looked so much like my mother at that time. I no longer look like her. In fact, I look more like her mother. Or rather, the photo on my driver’s license looks like a photo I once saw of my grandmother — a faded but staunch and stoic country woman from the old country.

So, if I were to lose all memory of myself, who would I see when I looked in the mirror? Would I see “me”? (Whoever that might be.) Would I look too old? Too heavy? Too sad or morose? Or would I see a pleasant woman with bright eyes and a nice smile? (Assuming, of course, I would be able to smile under such circumstances.) Would I care?

We tend to grow into our bodies, to identify with our bodies, but we are not our bodies. Perhaps, without memory, we wouldn’t even remember ourselves as having a body, so any reflection of ourselves would seem unfitting.

What about you? If you didn’t know who you were, would you recognize yourself in the mirror?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

One Month Anniversary!

This is the one month anniversary of my new love — my house! This love comes as a surprise to me because I’ve never been particularly interested in things, and a house is definitely a thing. A big thing!

At a time (and age) when people are downsizing, here I am — upsizing. Not only have I accumulated a house, I’ve accumulated furniture, stocks of cleaning supplies, extra dishes. And flowers!

This daffodil isn’t mine exactly. Although it’s on my property, I didn’t plant it or do anything to help it grow, so it belongs to the sun and the earth and to itself more than to me. But still, it’s mine to enjoy.

Work on the porch has come to a standstill. The gas pipe going into the house needs to be moved otherwise it will become embedded in concrete. Meantime, the contractor will be here sometime this afternoon to see if they can straighten the garage. One corner lists to the right, so the door doesn’t work, and there is a huge crack in the floor they will try to repair. All that damage was done because of overwatering the flowers that are planted along the edge of the garage, so I’ll have to eventually relocate the flowers if I want to water them. Poor daffodil. I hope it survives the move; who knows, maybe it will thrive as much as I am with my own move!

I went to a dinner play last night put on by the youth group of a nearby church, and it was very good, both the actors and the food. A new friend invited me, and I saw a couple of people I’d already met, so that was nice.

I moved here for the house — it was by far the best house I saw in my extremely low price range, and it seemed to call to me — but the town is turning out to be a great place for me, too. People are friendly and welcoming, the streets uncrowded, and everything I need (especially the library!) is within walking distance. I still go to a bigger town once a week to shop — it’s an excuse to drive more than anything else because otherwise my poor car would sit there unused.

It’s amazing to think I’ve been here a month already. It’s even more amazing to think of all I’ve done in that month.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Unsettled

I’ve been feeling a bit down the past couple of days. My nest building has come to a standstill because I can’t do any more unpacking until the foundation of the enclosed back porch (soon-to-be exercise and storage room) is fixed, and the guy who promised to fix it has so far been too busy to do the work. It’s always “next week” and apparently, next week never comes.

That’s not really a major issue, though, just a bit of frustration that adds to my overall feeling of being unsettled.

My meeting people has also come to a standstill. Although people I encounter have been nice to me, I spend most of my time alone, which isn’t a new development, of course, but that aloneness, too, adds to my feeling of being unsettled.

What isn’t coming to a standstill are all the small things that demand attention, such as a breaker box that was stuck (it took a guy from the electric company two hours to dismantle it and put it back together), smoke alarms that need to be replaced, scammers sorted out from the official folks I need to deal with. All these things make me wonder if I’m in over my head, which contribute to my feeling unsettled.

Mostly, though, it’s the date. I’d forgotten tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of Jeff’s death, but a tightness in my chest and stinging eyes have reminded me of why I am here in this place, this house.

Because he is gone.

My sadness this anniversary is more nostalgic than painful. My missing him doesn’t feel as personal as it used to. For most of my years of grief I lamented that I never felt any different. Lamented that I hadn’t changed. But being here in this house, trying to create a new life for myself, tells me the truth. I am not at all the same person who struggled to live while her soul mate struggled to die. Not at all the same person who witnessed the death of the one person who anchored her to life. Not at all the same person who screamed her angst to the uncaring desert skies. That woman, I am sure, is still feeling the agony of his absence, but she is not me. She could never do the things I am doing.

Despite all the changes, I still worry about stagnating — becoming the crazy cat lady sans cats — and so far, there is nothing in my new life that precludes this from happening.

I tell myself to be patient, that my new life will be revealed (will unfold?) in the years ahead, but for now, I’m feeling . . . unsettled.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

My New House!

People worried about my buying a house I’d only seen in photos, but I knew immediately it was my house, and so it is.

Some things need to be fixed such as the enclosed porch foundation (which I knew about) and the crumbling crypt that passes for a basement, but I have been assured by two different inspectors that the house is solid. Other than that, the house is perfect for me.

I am especially enjoying the antique touches from the 1920s when the house was built — original hardwood floors, glass doorknobs, and the pull down seat in the now-modern bathroom.

Even more, I love the new kitchen And the walk-in shower. And … well, all of it!

I haven’t done much exploring yet, except for the house itself, but I did go and get a library card. The library is only about four blocks away, so it reminds me of when I was a kid and walked to the library every day in the summer.

The weather has been great, and I have a hunch it will continue being great because I need a storm. The contractor who is going to fix my porch and basement is so backed up with outside work, that he can only make time to do this inside work when the weather is too harsh for his other jobs.

But it will all work out. Meantime, I will enjoy the rest of my house.

My home!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Going Home

It wasn’t until after my Jeff, life mate/soul mate, died that I understood what home meant to me. It turns out, he had been my home. Wherever we were, as long as I was with him, I was home.

And then Jeff died, and suddenly, just like that, I lost my “home.”

For me, home was definitely not a case of “home is where, when you go there, they have to let you in.” I left the house and state where Jeff and I had lived and moved 1000 miles to go look after my aged father. I’d visited my parents several times while my mother was dying, but I had never lived in that house, so it was not in any way a homecoming. And although I was there for four years with my father, it never felt like home. I was awash in too much grief, missing Jeff, feeling bereft and lost and adrift.

When my father died, the house had to be sold, so I lost that place of residence, too. And oh, I wanted desperately to go home. But my home was gone from this earth. Because he was gone, and because I felt lost and rootless wherever I was, there didn’t seem to be any reason to be one place rather than another, so I drifted.

I tried to find home within myself, and to a certain extent, I succeeded because wherever I am, there I am. I have lived on the road, babysat houses and a bed and breakfast, stayed with friends, rented rooms, camped out, spent more nights than I can count in motels. It worked because one place felt no different from any other. I was always myself, always doing my best to celebrate life despite missing my dead.

Recently, my homeless brother died, and I started thinking of a different kind of home — a house of my own I can turn into a home. A place where I can set down roots. A place where I can grow old in peace, maybe.

Such a strange feeling! I’ve never wanted to own a house. Never wanted the problems, the aggravation, the expense, the very fact of owning something so . . . big. Jeff and I were minimalists before minimalism became a fad — we didn’t even own much furniture — and yet, here I am, all these years later, suddenly wanting, needing, a house to turn into a home.

I daydreamed a house into existence — a very small, very old house in a very small, very old town. A house just big enough for one person, a house with a walk-in shower and a modern galley kitchen.

I’m now in the process of buying the house (closing is almost upon me — in thirteen days to be exact), and I am starting to feel as if I am going home despite never actually having seen the house, only pictures of it. And oh, yeah — I don’t know anyone in the area, either. I am going back to Colorado, but to a corner of the state where I’ve never lived.

I’m taking a leap into the unknown, into my future. An epic adventure!

It’s actually not as much of a risk as it sounds. An inspector and a contractor both assured me it was a cute little house, and solid. More than that, what do I need to know? I will have a refrigerator to myself!! A kitchen of my own. A yard.

If anything comes up, I will deal with it. If I don’t like something, I’ll change it. If it doesn’t feel like home, I’ll create a home within its walls. If neighbors are noisy, I’ve learned to live with earplugs.

But none of that is important. I’m going home, not to settle down (which still scares me because I am afraid of stagnating) but to settle in (which sounds comforting).

I truly have no qualms about any of this. I don’t understand it, but Jeff’s death shattered my life and my world, and now it feels as if my brother’s death is gluing my life back together. I feel as if this house is meant to be.

It’s hard leaving my dance teacher, who has become like a sister to me. It’s hard leaving dance class and my dance friends.

But . . . a house!

A home.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

An Element of Futility

In ballet class today, we spent almost half an hour on a step that I have never been able to do and will never be able to do, no matter how much I try. As I stood there, feeling utterly frustrated and foolish beyond belief, it occurred to me there is a strong element of futility in my life. I spend too much time trying to do things that are truly impossible for me, such as some parts of dance class, the whole hiking the Pacific Crest Trail thing, or trying to get my poor deformed arm to perform tasks it simply cannot do any more.

I once knew a woman who got upset with anyone who used the word “can’t.” “I can take you to the store and show you a lot of cans,” she would say, “but I won’t be able to show you even one can’t.” (She never appreciated my pointing out that if she can’t show me can’ts, then there was something she can’t do.) Still, there does come a time when we really can’t do things, and refraining from using the word doesn’t make those can’ts any more possible than if we told the unpalatable truth.

It’s important to try new things, but once you reach the point where you know for sure you can’t do that thing, is the frustration of continuing to try to do the impossible worth it? I don’t know. I used to like (or at least not mind) the struggle to do what I can’t do, but now . . . not so much.

Stagnation is not something I appreciate either. Nor is giving up.

Someone pointed out the other day that a common thread with my blog posts is that I have no idea what is around the corner, and this is certainly true with this post today, because I sure as heck have no answer to this conundrum.

Maybe I’ll go take a nap. That, at least, is something that comes without the added element of futility that seems to be haunting me lately because I sure could use the rest!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Stardust of Reality

I’ve been going through an upsurge of unbelonging lately. I first experienced this unbelonging after Jeff died, when I lost the feeling of belonging to someone, to a place, to life itself. This needing to feel as if I belong somewhere is one of the main reasons I’ve focused for so many years on the dream of an epic walk/hike — I hoped such a trek would help me feel connected to the earth in a more fundamental way. And I needed something bigger than me in my life.

Couplehood is bigger than either of the partners, and when we lose that connection, not only are we set adrift in an alien world, we are set adrift in a life that suddenly seems so much smaller than it was. Grief’s immensity gives an illusion of connection to our deceased life partner, but as grief wanes, the unbelonging becomes even more apparent.

Hence, my need for the dream of an epic walk. Now that I have whittled that dream into something I can handle — just a few miles — it is no longer bigger than my life. (Going from “impossible” to a couple of days on the trail was an incredible step, but it is still 2,645 miles short of the dream of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.)

I didn’t mind when I just had the dream of thru-hiking the PCTrather than the reality, because that way, I never had to think about what came next. But now I know — life as usual. That’s what comes when the dream ends.

And so here I am. Once again, feeling unbelonged.

Someday I hope to get strong enough do a longer backpacking trip, but for now, I have other things I need to concentrate on, such as my new book about grief.

I’m still at the preliminary stage, which means I’m thinking about the book and trying to arrange it in my head. I’ve also been going through blogs and emails, looking for topics to include in the book. As I was going through emails from a woman who encouraged me in my grief journey, who kept me focused on the need to grieve rather than to hide from the pain (and made me see that my grief posts were neither whiny nor self-indulgent but necessary for me and for my readers), I came across the following comment:

“You belong, my friend, simply because you are part of the stardust of reality!”

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I love that — “stardust of reality.” It’s something to keep in mind as I navigate this post-dream stage of my life.

And who knows, maybe I’m setting myself up for a new dream, a new reality.

Last night I got a text from my sister that included a screenshot of comments on my blog where people mentioned how adventurous I was. She said, “Apparently, I’m not the only one who sees you as an adventurist.”

I responded, “Apparently, I am the only one who thinks I am a bit of a fraud. But I tell a good story.”

She texted back, “We—all of us—think on some level we are frauds. No joke.”

Later, much later, I realized that when it comes to writing, I don’t feel like a fraud.

That should tell me something about where to look for belonging.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

No Resfeber for the Weary

I must admit, I am completely bewildered by my backpacking trip, a bewilderment that began the night before I left. For one thing, I didn’t feel any resfeber. (Resfeber is a fabulous Swedish word meaning the mingled excitement and dread a traveler feels just before the journey begins.) I just felt . . . ho hum. As if it were the night before an ordinary day. At least it felt that way until I finished packing my backpack. When I added food and water for four days (there are many places on the Pacific Crest Trail a person can hike and not need to carry more than a liter of water because water sources are ubiquitous, but not around here), what had been a moderately light pack turned into a monstrous load. Water is heavy. Sixteen ounces of water weighs a pound. The proverbial eight glasses of water a day weighs four pounds. Four pounds times four days. Eek.

I sat on the bed to put the pack on because it was too heavy to sling onto my shoulders any other way, and walked around the room for a bit. I moved okay, and it didn’t seem that much heavier than my backpack practicing weight, though I’m sure it was about ten pounds more than I’d ever tried carrying. (Did I mention that water is heavy?)

I worried about the long, steep climb up the Acorn trail to the Pacific Crest Trail, but decided I’d take things as they came. If it took me all day to climb those three miles, well, then, it would take all day. It’s a good thing I didn’t spend much time worrying about that climb because I ended up experiencing some trail magic. The fellow who let me park in his driveway drove me to a different trail head right off the road, where two easy steps took me onto the trail.

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As I started walking, I could feel a big smile on my face. The day was lovely, the pack seemed doable, the trail (and a sense of freedom) stretched ahead of me.

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After a less than a mile, I paused to get a silk scarf from my belly pack to put around my ears to protect them from the wind. A young fellow stopped just in front of me to remove something from his pack, and we talked a bit. He was thru hiking the PCT, had spent the night in town to do some work on the computer, and was now hurrying to catch up to his hiking buddies.

He apologized for speeding ahead, and then he sped ahead. Within a few seconds he had disappeared around a bend. Watching him practically run with his pack, I thought how nice it must be to be a young male, so strong and full of vigor and testosterone. And then I looked around and thought it wasn’t so bad being an old (well, older) woman, either.

I didn’t see another person on the trail, so I got my solo wilderness experience, except it didn’t feel any different from any other hike I took alone. Just a hike.

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But it wasn’t just another hike. I’d never before carried much more than a bottle of water, even on the long hikes I took a couple of years ago in the redwood forests and on the beaches in northern California.

At one point, I had to stop to retie my shoe laces to keep my feet from sliding forward on the downhill slopes. Since I couldn’t bend over, I perched on a low tree stump, tied the shoes, drank some water, and then tried to get up. Absolutely could not. I ended up having to take off the pack, stand up, drag the pack to a higher stump, heft it onto the hump, and reposition it on my back. Not elegant, but it worked.

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I hiked most of the day — one slow step after another, picking my way up (and down) a narrow, dusty, and sometimes gravelly trail. Then I hit a section of steep down slope, and after about a half mile, my legs stopped working. I simply could not take another step. Luckily, I’d arrived at about the only flat place I’d seen all day. I collapsed, rested, then hauled myself to my feet and set up camp. I went inside the tent and lay there. It was only about five o’clock, way too early to go to sleep, but I had no energy to do anything else. I just lay there listening to the wind howling through the trees above me. I was totally alone, the closest road a thousand feet beneath me, and it felt like . . . nothing out of the ordinary.

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The ordinariness, actually, was not bewildering. I’d experienced that sort of thing before, where I thought something would be life changing, but when it came time to do the thing, it turned out that the change had happened before the actual event. (Or maybe living in the moment makes every moment feel ordinary because it is the only moment that exists.)

What did bewilder me was that I didn’t feel any soreness after carrying the pack all that time. I just got exceedingly wobbly, then I hit a wall. What bewildered me even more is that the trail seemed to consist of steep ups and downs, but on an elevation map, it looked fairly straight. What bewildered me most of all is that it took me five hours to hike a mere four miles. Four miles??? That’s nothing. It’s what I normally walk, though admittedly, the desert paths I frequent are wide and packed solidly enough that even with a pack, I can stride along without having to carefully settle one foot before lifting the other. And I have never carried such a heavy pack. But still, five hours to walk four miles? Apparently, I am not as strong as I think I am.

The next day, I broke camp early and was back on the downward trail with steep switchbacks.

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By the time I got to the end of that section, I was almost done for. Couldn’t go up the next steep slope, couldn’t go back up the steep slope I’d just descended to return the way I had come. So I headed up the highway. After a couple of miles, a fellow stopped to offer me a ride. He moved his pack off the seat to make way for me. I tossed my pack in the back of the truck (well, pushed it up as far as I could and then tipped it over into the truck bed) and we took off. Turned out he’d been going in the opposite direction, on his way for a day of hiking when he saw me and took pity on me. (He said he turned around because he could tell I was at the end of my strength, but I think he was magicked into it.) He asked where I was going, and when I told him, he went silent as if he didn’t really want to drive that far, but the silence only lasted a second as he made the mental readjustment. It’s no wonder he didn’t want to drive me all the way back to my car. Not only would it give him a late start for his hike, but he’d end up where he started. Turned out my car was parked a block from his house.

Very nice fellow. He understood about the heavy pack. Apparently, he and the friends he goes on backpacking trips with are all about my age, and even though they are all lifelong hikers, they don’t do dry sections anymore because they can’t handle carrying all that water. (That made me feel not quite so weak and inept.)

Today, I am sore, but bewilderingly, I ache in places I’ve never even felt before. My knees didn’t hurt at all on the hike, but the muscles behind the knees are now sore. And my upper midriff is so stiff I had a hard time lifting myself out of a reclining position this morning.

So what does all this tell me? Not much. As I said, the whole experience bewildered me.

But it was an experience, which is what I wanted. And, although I wasn’t out there for as long as I’d planned, I did it! I spent a night on the Pacific Crest Trail.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.