How Could I Have Forgotten?

I see so many things in a day on this journey, that it’s hard to remember everything. Before a sight can sink into long-term memory storage, another notable sight comes into view displacing the memory-in-making. But how could I possibly have forgotten to mention that I saw dolphins off the shore of Ocracoke Island? They weren’t real close so I saw little more than black shapes arcing out of the water and an occasional fin all but hidden in the waves. But nevertheless, I did see wild dolphins.

I also belatedly remembered that on the ferry ride from Hatteras to Ocracoke, I saw crabs swimming before us and gulls flying overhead, as if in a concerted effort to lead us safely through the proper channel.

And since I am rehashing my visit to the Outer Banks, I should tell you about the result of a conversation with a woman I met. When I mentioned that I hoped to hike a bit of the Appalachian Trail before I headed west again, she said she lived just five miles from the trail, and invited me to visit her at her mountaintop home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I, of course, accepted. How could I not?

She said there was no cell service up there, at least not for my phone, so I will be out of touch for a few days. Don’t worry if I can’t post for a few days — I will be having an adventure of the offline kind.

See you on the other side of the mountain.

***

(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.”)

***

A Time of Preparation

The lazy days are flowing one into the other, and it seems as if my life has come to a standstill, as if the stagnation I fear has already set in, but however I feel, the truth is, this has been a year of unprecedented adventure, change, and awe.

I started out the year in my father’s house, dealing with grief for all my dead while I cleaned out his “effects” and readied the house for sale. I gathered all my friends together for a Pre-Probate Party to celebrate the last days before his will went into probate, the last days I knew for sure I would have a place to live. Since then, I have never been without a place to live, though I stayed on couches, lived in a camper, house-sat a few times, and even rented a room for a couple of months. (Oddly, I am ending the year in this same precarious position as I started because my current room is in a house that’s for sale, and soon I will again be Stepping From The Known Into The Unknown.)

Sometime during those last days at my father’s house where I tried to imagine Unimagined Possibilities, I found myself with a new philosophy: Either Things Will Work Out Or They Won’t, which allowed me to stop worrying so much and instead let me enjoy the uncertainties of my new life. If things work out, obviously, I don’t have to worry, and if they don’t work out, there’s nothing I can do about it now because I have no idea in what way they won’t work out. Or things might work out in a way I couldn’t even fathom, which is what usually happens.

yahabibi

And so I drifted through my days. I continued to take the dance classes, which I love, but I dreamed of . . . more. Something epic. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or the as yet unfinished California Coastal Trail. Perhaps stepping foot on the Appalachian Trail (which a friend recently told me is pronounced Apple-atchian. Okay. Got it. Now I know the most important thing about the trail if ever I decided to hike a bit of it.) I also considered a more realistic venture since I do not think I have the ability to carry a heavy backpack for many miles — visiting national parks and day hiking to sample a variety of trails and terrains.

WANDERLUST

A friend, who knew my dreams of adventure, invited me to stay with her and volunteered to drop me off at trail heads and pick me up when I was finished with my hike so that I could experience adventure in a relatively safe manner. And so began two magical months of hiking along the ocean, losing myself in the forest (not getting lost geographically, more like letting the forest take me over), becoming one with . . . myself, perhaps. I am usually of two minds about everything, so I am often beset with doubts, worry, and internal discussions. But not up in the redwoods. Not by the ocean. There, I was simply me. Simply happy.

One of the things I had been of two minds about centered around my ancient VW bug, A Forty-Three-Year-Old Lemon. I considered replacing the iconic car with some sort of van I could turn into a mini-home, considered getting an automobile big enough to sleep in, considered, oh, so many possibilities, but in the end decided to keep the poor old thing a little longer. After all, how many people can say they have only owned one car in their whole life, a vehicle they bought new and kept going through the decades? And the way I figured, if I bought a new car now, in five years, it would be old. If I bought a new car five years from now, five years from now it would be new.

quotescover-JPG-10 copy

Still, if I were going on a long trip to visit parks and meet online friends, I would prefer to look like a near-classic lady in a near-classic car rather than a homeless woman in a rattletrap, so I found someone who would do the body work. All I wanted was a couple of holes patched and enough rust gone so it could be painted, and six months later, six months of learning to do without a vehicle, what I found at The Great Reveal!! was a full body restoration. And because the outside looked so beautiful, I had to have the inside reupholstered because it truly looked pathetic in relation to the lovely body. And then, when I took it to my mechanic for a tune-up before my cross-country trip and he expressed concerns about the engine lasting for all those miles, well, now I have a new engine, transmission, and a lot of other new parts, and Oh, My, My Erstwhile Lemon Is a Beauty!

20151003 135209 resized 1

Despite the awesomeness of this year, it seems to me as if it is . . . was . . . a time of preparation, not just for the coming year, but for a new way of living and thinking. I can’t go on a cross-country trip until I have put 500 miles on the new engine and have all the kinks worked out, but I am ready to meet the changes and challenges of both the trip and the coming year.

At least, I hope I am.

 

***

(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.”)

Keep On Trekking On

I’ve been following a few women’s hiking groups on Facebook, one each for the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the John Muir Trail. I joined these groups when I thought there was a chance I would be thru-hiking one of the trails, but I really don’t think I have the strength, stamina, or will to attempt such a massive project. (The food planning alone is staggering, considering that you have to plan for six months, and in some cases, have to send the food on ahead and hope you get to it before desperation sets in.)

WANDERLUSTThough I’ve set my sights on a smorgasbord of shorter trails, working up to multi-day backpacking trips, I’ve kept up with the groups, because you never know where life might take you. (At least I don’t where life is taking me. You might have a better concept of your path than I do of mine.)

I’ve paid particular attention to discussions about gear. The trouble is, the advice is so conflicting, it’s almost impossible to sort out what would be best for me as opposed to what is suitable for younger, fitter, thinner women. Most of the gear I have purchased I found on my own, though I still don’t know if it will work for me. The tent I got is a backpacker’s dream, lightweight and easy to set up, but a bit claustrophobic for general use, so now I’m looking for something a bit larger for car camping, where perhaps I would have room for some sort of folding lounge chair. Conversely, since the sleeping pad I got is a bit heavy for backpacking, (though that’s what it was intended for), I’m looking for a lighter pad. And a warmer sleep system.

Recently I’ve been researching trekking poles since I need new ones. (I only have one that’s about worn out, and my hikes in the Redwood Forest proved the necessity for two). I’d just about decided to get a couple of the one I am now using when I noticed a brief mention of Pacerpoles in one of the groups. I immediately went to the Pacerpole site, watched the videos, read the theory, and was sold. Oh, my. These poles are completely different from regular hiking poles — they work to keep you upright, better balanced, and better posture, as well as allowing for a normal arm swing. Although the poles are not ultralight, apparently, the way they work, they don’t demand extra strength or energy. But they are only available from Britain.

No problem. They ship anywhere, and shipping costs are included in the price. And PayPal so kindly sent the euros to the Pacerpole folk so I didn’t have to worry about currency exchange. A few minutes ago, the Pacerpole folk emailed me. The poles are coming via Royal Mail. How cool! My first international mail! Well, my first overseas mail — I have had Christmas cards from a friend in Canada.

What cracked me up is the Pacerpole people sent me homework to do while I’m waiting. Videos to watch, information to read, proper body form to practice. Now I just have to wait a couple of weeks until they get here.

Meantime, I’m preparing for my road trip across the southernmost part of the country. I’d hoped to be more spontaneous, just stopping upon whim, but I know me — if I didn’t make plans to stop, I’d get into the car and drive until the car needed to be filled with fuel and my bladder needed to be unfilled. And then I’d just keep driving to the next pitstop. Since that is not what I want on this trip, I am researching various National Parks and Monuments with campgrounds and hiking trails along the way. I might not visit any of those places, but at least I’d have shorter driving goals, with a hike to look forward to if whim doesn’t stop me anywhere else along the way. (For those of you who like to plan, you’d be so proud of me — I have a notebook with maps, camping information, hiking trails, and any other information that would be helpful, such as food storage tips to keep from attracting mountain lions. Eek.)

I’m hoping by the end of the trip, I’ll be a seasoned camper, maybe even backpacker, and then . . . who knows. Probably back to dance class for a while to unkink and restore myself, while I replenish my supplies and get my car tuned up for whatever comes next.

***

(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.”)

Dreaming of Life in the Slow Lane

It seems strange to be alone. Strange to be blogging. Strangest of all to feel as if I belong —- not belonging to anyone or anywhere just . . . belonging. Maybe I’m beginning to feel a connection to the world again. Or it could be my inner sense of irony coming into play since I am at my storage unit sitting among my belongings.

I’ve been staying with friends ever since my father’s house was sold. (I’d been looking after him these past few years, and now he’s gone, as are my mother and life mate/soul mate.) I’m without a car —- the restoration that was supposed to be done in three weeks has now dragged on into two months — but it hasn’t been too much of an inconvenience. At least not to me. My friends might have a different opinion! Besides, I’ve needed to hang around town a bit longer anyway. I’d committed to doing a dance performance at the end of this month, and there have been practices and rehearsals to attend. And dance classes, of course.

I have been researching ultralight camping gear, researching the various trails, following the comments and updates of women hikers in preparation for . . . something. Adventure. Experience. Life in the slow lane.

I still have no idea what I am capable of, what I am willing to risk, what form my adventure will take. All of know is I want that intangible . . . something.

My original idea was to be spontaneous, just follow where the trail of life might lead, and perhaps I will still be able to spontaneous once all the research and preparation has been done. And yet . . . there have been people who set off on foot with no preparation or baggage whatsoever, just a head packed with determination and a heart full of trust. Such a life might come for me eventually, but for now I’m still dreaming. And researching.

I do believe, though, that whatever journey I make, whether strolls around the neighborhood, day hikes, backpacking, or cross-country road trips, I will be starting out alone. A friend had invited me to do the Appalachian Trail with her, but the more we talk, the less it seems to be to my advantage. But who knows what will happen in the next couple of years. I can’t even predict the next couple of weeks!

It’s been nice “talking” to you again. Wishing you fabulous adventures and dreams enough to last a lifetime.

***

(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.”)

***

Pain is No Gain

I’ve joined some women’s hiking groups on Facebook, following their hikes, and gleaning what information I can from their experiences. I have to say that as much as the various trails beckon me, I have no interest in the pain and hardship of a thru-hike. So much of what they talk about is how to deal with leg cramps, shin splints, blisters, tears (the weeping kind), emotional and physical traumas, and an overwhelming desire to quit. In such a situation, I would have no problem just calling an end to that hike. (I don’t particularly like hiking anyway — I much prefer walking.)

For me, life is trial and error. Actually, that’s not true. I believe in trying new things, extending myself, seeing how various aspects of line work out for me, but when things don’t work out the way I envisioned, I don’t consider it an error, just a different kind of learning experience.

I do push myself, or rather nudge myself (pushing sounds like too much effort), so I am always going just a bit beyond what is comfortable. Pain is no gain, as far as I am concerned, and yet I do accomplish much. Dancing. Walking. Embracing uncertainty. But pushing myself beyond my strength seems a blueprint for disaster.

Still, I am planning on walking the Appalachian Trail in a couple of years, but all that means is I will gradually build up my strength and trailability, learning what I need to know, and trying to figure out if it’s possible to do a fairly pain-free hike. (If being pain-free means hiking just a few miles a day, that’s fine with me!) And if what I learn is that hiking long distances is not something I can do . . . well, that’s all part of the adventure.

***

(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.”)

The Transition Between Today and Tomorrow

(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.”)

***

I’m still camping out on the couch in a friend’s house. I’ve been without a car for more than five weeks, without a house for two, but my friends have been kind to me, not just giving me a place to stay but ferrying me to dance class.

I seem to be always in transition. At my father’s house, I was in transition between my shared life with Jeff and my solitary future, between grief and renewal. Now I’m in transition between . . . I’m not sure exactly. Maybe between a settled life and an unsettled one. Or maybe just between today and all my tomorrows.

The strangest feeling about my life right now is that I’m not blogging every day. Blogging was a daily exercise for almost four years, but now I’m back to the way I started, just posting as time, inspiration, and need permits. For years I needed to write in order to make sense of all the trauma going on in my life, but at the moment I’m just flowing with the stream of chance and change.

Big changes will be coming, but for now life is uncomplicated. There are no decisions to be made because I couldn’t follow through anyway since I have obligations for the next month.

I’m still dreaming of an epic walk, though, and the reality is coming clearer. A friend who has been urging me to thru-hike so she could experience it vicariously has made the commitment to do a thru-hike herself. In 2017, she will be hiking the Appalachian Trail, and she invited me to join her group. I said yes, of course, though it’s so far in the future, there’s no way of knowing if any of us will be around to do it.

(She chose the Appalachian Trail instead of the Pacific Crest Trail because of the availability of water and the marginally easier terrain.)

I hope you are doing well in your own transition between today and tomorrow.

Searching for a Cause

When I mentioned to a hiker friend that I am thinking of walking up the coast from San Diego to Seattle, she suggested that I walk for a cause because if you have a cause, people are more willing to help supply food, water, a shower or even transportation if you need it, and they might even get others to help.

It’s a great suggestion. The Peace Pilgrim walked for peace. She was walking in response to a spiritual awakening, and she’d taken a vow to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.” Her pilgrimage began in 1953 when she was 44 and ended with her death in 1981. She carried only a pen, a comb, a toothbrush, and a map, trusting to those she met to supply what she needed, though she never asked for anything. (She was also the first woman reported the have thru-walked the Appalachian Trail, which she did in preparation for her pilgrimage.)

Following her example or following their own spiritual wakening, others have walked for peace. Some women have walked for women’s freedom since so many women (perhaps rightfully) are afraid to travel, hike, or camp on their own. These women causewant to show that it is possible to claim one’s freedom and follow one’s adventurous heart. And then there are short walks/runs to raise money and awareness for all sorts of causes and organizations.

My friend suggested I walk for widows or the grief-stricken. Widow Walker. Grief Walker. Or . . . whatever. Her other suggestion, which actually is a fun idea, is to hang a small portable chalkboard on my pack, and change my “cause” as I felt like it.

Having a cause would give people a personal stake in my quest, but I wonder if it’s a bit of a cheat. If the idea of the cause came first, then the walk would be because of the cause. If the idea of the walk came first, as it did, then the cause would be because of the walk.

Still, I would need some sort of support group because I want to walk, not hike, which means no heavy backpacks, no bulky gear, no great stores of food and water. I do understand the need for taking more than The Peace Pilgrim’s sparse kit because I do not want to walk to certain death, but I simply do not want to take everything on a hiker’s “must” list. Of course, if I hike along the coast, there would be plenty of towns or beaches to get provisions and find a motel (and a computer!) for the night if necessary, but there will also be long stretches of wilderness, and in one case, a fifty-mile stretch of highway-shoulder walking.

Grandma Gatewood, like The Peace Pilgrim, was a minimalist hiker, the first woman to solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Although she hiked the Trail three times, beginning when she was 67, she had no special gear. She wore Keds sneakers and took only an army blanket, a raincoat, and a plastic shower curtain which she carried in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. My kind of hiker! Nor did she have a cause — at least not one that I can find. She simply thought it would be a nice lark. Sounds like my kind of hiker.

My true cause is a soul quest, a mystical journey, a response to a barely heard question deep inside — “Is this all there is to my life here on Earth?” I would like to find a deeper connection to both myself and the world, maybe even to go through some sort of spiritual transformation. I originally planned my journey as a car trip, which is still on my list of possibilities, but walking might give me more of the mysticism I am looking for. (Feet on the ground trumps feet on the accelerator pedal any time.)

So, here’s my question. Do I need a cause? And if so, what should that cause be?

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Dreaming of Life on Foot

Once upon a time when I was going through a rough patch in my life, I considered just taking off and walking the length of the Pacific Crest Trail. I figured by the end of the hike, things would be different, or I would.

The rough patch passed, as bad times often do, but I have retained that image of hiking the length of the trail. I don’t remember why I chose the Pacific Crest Trail since I was also enamored with the idea of the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps I was confusing the Pacific Crest Trail with the Pacific Coast Highway, and envisioned a walk along the trailscoastline. Surprising to me now is that although I lived in Colorado, I wasn’t aware of the Continental Divide Trail, or if I was aware of it, perhaps it was too close to home to seem romantic.

And that’s what the idea was — romantic. I know this now. Recently I’ve been on a couple of short hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail (a thrilling taste of that old dream), and I’ve been hearing all sorts of stories, suggestions, cautions from my fellow hikers. For example, my idea of hiking without any sort of preparation, just finding the start of the trail and heading out, is not practical. Through hikers, those who hike the entire trail from top to bottom (or rather, bottom to top — they generally start out at the Mexican border and walk up to the Canadian border) often spend months in preparation, drying foods, mapping water holes, sending ahead care packages to themselves at various places along the trail. They need to be prepared for emergencies, all weather conditions, and whatever might overtake them on the trail. (Apparently, most through hikers make the trek alone, so my idea of walking solo was not too farfetched.)

Someday my current responsibilities — looking after my 97-year-old father and dealing with my perhaps bipolar brother — will end, and then what? What will I do? Who will I become? I’ve been checking out various trails in the US, and if I were so inclined, I could spend the rest of my life on foot. Thirty different trails comprise the National Trails system, and many states seem to have additional trails, such as the Oregon Coast Trail that extends for 400 miles from the Columbia River to the California Border, and the Colorado Trail that runs 486 miles from Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver to Durango.

A friend of mine recently bought a motor home, and she plans to live on the road until she finds a place to settle down. That, too, is a romantic idea (also practical), but not for me. I prefer to be less cumbered, to go lightly through life. But so lightly as to live with only that which I can carry or send on ahead? I don’t know. Still, I can’t help wondering. And dreaming . . .

***

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.