All I want for Christmas

Unlike you — or should I say unlike some of you — I did not go shopping today. I did get a burrito at a taco stand, though I don’t think that actually counts as “shopping.” Instead, I again spent the day at my storage unit, clearing out more of my things. After getting rid of three carloads of stuff, the storage unit looks even fuller than it did before. (Admittedly, a Volkswagen Beetle carload is not the same as an SUV carload, but there should have been some obvious indication of all the work I did.) I still haven’t gone through everything — I only managed to get to about a fourth of what’s in the unit. The rest is packed in tightly, but little by little, I will find a way to get to it all.

Next I have to clean my room. Much of the stuff I need to sort through I brought here, so the room looks like a mini storage unit. So unattractive, and such a mess!

But that’s a project for tomorrow.

Tonight I’m writing this blog and drowning my sorrows in sparkling apple/peach cider.

Not that I have any real sorrows at the moment other than the very sore muscles and aching ex-broken hand from all the lifting. There’s nothing I particularly want. (Lucky you! If you were thinking of getting me a Christmas present, you are now off the hook.) And, considering the amount of stuff I still have, there is apparently nothing I need.

The few things I do want are more for the future, and I am making a concerted effort not to worry about things I cannot (or will not) change right now. When the time comes to worry about money or . . . anything . . . then I will. So even though someday there will be things I need, I don’t need them now.

Of course, there’s still that impossible dream, but that’s not about wanting, either. It’s more about doing. Striving toward a goal. To that end, I got my backpack out of storage, and beginning in January, I plan to stash a gallon bottle of water in the pack, and see if I can walk around the block. (A great tip I read once — use water to weight a practice pack, that way, if you get too tired or sore, you can dump the water to lighten the pack. There will be no dance classes that first week in January, so if I destroy my feet carrying that extra weight, I’ll have plenty of time to recuperate before I need to use them again.


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.

Impossible Dreams

Quixotic means capricious, foolishly impractical, rash to the point of absurdity. But it can also mean (more because of the musical Man of La Mancha than because of the original Don Quixote story) dreaming impossible dreams.

Who hasn’t listened to the song “The Impossible Dream” and not got caught up in the romance of those powerful words? I certainly get caught up and did again today when a friend posted Jim Nabors’ version on Facebook. As I listened, I wondered what it would be like to have such a dream, wondered if I should go out and get myself one, then I realized I already have an impossible dream. Maybe even two.

(I say maybe two because one of the dreams has to do with selling enough books to make a living, and though it is highly improbable as things stand now, who’s to say if it will always be impossible?)

Ever since I first heard of the long national trails like the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, I wished I could do such a hike. The first time I was young (well, younger), but had little experience hiking, no experience backpacking or camping, no money to support such a dream, and no fitness for it either. What I had was a very ill life mate/soul mate, whose death, I knew, would devastate me. I thought one way of dealing with my grief would be just to take off down (or up) such a trail and let my life run its course.

That particular time, he got better, but the idea of walking into oblivion remained in the back of head. Years later, when he got ill for the last time, I was too shattered to follow through on such a ridiculous idea. And anyway, my nonagenarian father needed someone to stay with him. But when my father got bad, and knowing I would soon be ousted from the house, I again resurrected the dream, but researching what it would take to do such a hike made me realize the impossibility of my ever undertaking such a project.

Instead, I went on a five-month cross-country trip in my ancient VW, but still, the idea of an epic hike keeps coming back. I do know why such a rashly romantic idea, such an impossible dream, keeps recurring. Partly, it’s the desire to run away (it was strongest when I was housebound because of my arm). Partly, it’s the desire to run toward something (it’s also strong when I am out hiking in the desert by myself.) And partly, well . . . what an incredible adventure!

I have often felt foolish to still be thinking of such an impossible thing because I am so not fit physically for such an escapade. I can hike for a couple of hours, can even set up camp (I have learned that much!), but carrying a heavy backpack is beyond me. (What is considered ultralightweight for others is immensely heavy for me. I remember when I hiked in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I used my backpack for emergency supplies and extra water in case I got lost, and it felt oh, so heavy. And yet, when I met a fellow along the trail who offered to carry it for me, he picked it up with one finger as if weighed nothing.)

Periodically I think about how to offset the problems that would arise. For example, I did one day hike on the PCT where the trail was eroded, I had to take a very long and unsteady step on a narrow ledge to get past the erosion. A backpack would probably have pulled me over. But what if I could find someone who would be willing to carry the pack for me, sort of like a Sherpa? That’s no more impossible than the rest of the dream.

I also periodically research how to get in shape for such a thru hike, but the exercises they suggest are totally beyond me. Use a park bench for stair-stepping? Uh, no. A curb, sometimes, is too high! But I do go hiking to stretch my ability. I walk wherever I can. I take dance classes for strength and balance.

And I collect items that would be necessary, such as hiking clothes and lightweight camping gear.

Foolish. Quixotic.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

Maybe I will be better for this. Maybe the world will be better for this: that no matter how hopeless, no matter how far, one woman still strove to reach an unreachable star.

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.

Living an Inconvenient Life

I asked a friend why she hated camping, wondering if there was something in the equation I am missing. She said it wasn’t just having to deal with the weather and the bugs, though she didn’t like them at all. It was more the inconvenience of the experience. Nothing was . . . well, nothing was convenient.

cleanWe live in a society of convenience. Most of us live in solid structures, with roofs and walls that keep out the weather. We can adjust the inside temperature, our personal “weather,” however we wish, no matter what is going on outside our walls. Body wastes are quickly dealt with by the push of a button, so we never have to consider how our bodies work — the in and out of the various substances we call “food.” We neither toil nor spin (most of today’s “work” is far from backbreaking, taking place in front of various machines that remove one sort of toiling out of the equation, and add in another sort of toil — toil by tedium).

We don’t even have to entertain ourselves — there are televisions and computers, movies and shows, books, music. All available to us at the touch of a button without having to crack a single drop of mental sweat.

I am certainly not adverse to convenience. I have lived a life that while not exactly luxurious, has certainly been one of comfort. Not financial comfort because I’ve never had much, but physical comfort. Warm beds, even when they were simply mattresses on the floor. Piles of comforters to snuggle under. Stacks of books ready for perusal. Good food made from scratch.

And yet . . .

There is more to life than comfort and convenience. Or at least, that’s what I surmise. I am still in the zone of comfort, though I am preparing to step out into the raw world to see what it has to offer. Maybe nothing. Maybe I will hate the inconvenience of it all, the struggle to stay warm without electricity or heat, the attempt at living a more wild life. But the truth is, I love the idea of it, and I especially love the preparation and how it makes me look at everything from a different angle.

When preparing for an extended road/camping/hiking/backpacking trip, you have to look beyond the daily conveniences and find other ways of doing simple things. Some people take to RVing, but that is not for me. RVing seems like more of the same — convenience and comfort, though in a mobile setting. I’m more interested in the basics. What I need for survival. What comfort I can’t do without. What is important, and more importantly, what can be left by the wayside. (Figuratively speaking, of course. In a “leave no trace” philosophy, one leaves nothing by the wayside.)

It seems silly to have amassed a carload of gear in what is supposed to be a trip into simplicity, but there are vast numbers of goods to make things even simpler. Tents. Sleeping bags, pads, and quilts. Ready made food. Tiny but functional stoves. Emergency equipment and rations. Although I have a vision of myself as another Peace Pilgrim, setting out with nothing but a comb, toothbrush, map, and pen, I am smart enough to know that I don’t have the faith such a venture demands.

Someday, perhaps.

At the moment, doing a more traditional trip is still plenty wild for me, especially considering my lack of experience. I do know how to use most of the gear I have, though. I know how to walk. Know how to be by myself.

Oddly, the thing that worries me the most about living an inconvenient life is what to do with all the time freed up by the simplicity of it all. I don’t intend to drive more than a couple of hours a day. Can’t sleep more than eight hours. Am unable to walk more than three or four hours. (Even less if I am carrying extra water and a few items in case of emergency.) Assuming the inconvenience of setting up a home every day takes up another hour or even two, there is a whole lot of time leftover. A minimum of eight hours.

What does one do with such a surfeit of time? No movies, no books, no music to fill it. No dance classes. No housework (not that I do much of it now). No errands. I will have pencil and paper, of course, but still, there will be one heck of a lot of time for . . . I don’t know what.

I guess I’ll find out.


(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.”)

Seeing the World on Foot

A friend asked me if I’ve gotten adventuring out of my system, and the answer is no. The truth is, I’m getting addicted. I love seeing the world on foot. I love being part of a relatively untamed environment. And I feel as if, in some strange way, I belong out there. Before I got out of the car the other day to begin a seven-mile, no-turning-back hike, I had to steel myself against trepidation, but as soon as I stepped on the trail, I felt as if I’d come home.

That feeling of coming home was as momentary as the trepidation, though the joy of the walk remained until the excruciating last hour. But the hardship is part of the adventure, too. Coming to the end of one’s skill, coming to the end — or almost the end — of one’s strength and continuing anyway is as much a mental adventure as it is physical. During that grueling downhill slide on loose dirt and rock, I just wanted to be done with it all, but before, during the long golden part of the hike, I wished the trail went on forever. Wished I could just keep walking.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to do long backpacking trips, or any sort of backpacking trip — the hard parts of hiking are hard enough without the extra weight of a pack and the easy parts would no longer be easy — but I have the whole rest of my life to train for such a trip.

Dance classes have helped with my strength and stamina, so I’m planning to be back in class for most of September and October. And then? Who knows. More dancing perhaps. Or maybe Louisiana. I have an online friend I’ve planned to meet for many years, and going to a swampy area is better suited to cooler temperatures.

Meantime, I can hardly wait for the next adventure, to see what I can see, to see what I can 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.”)


Is Researching a Type of Planning?

People keep telling me I need to plan, that a person can’t go blithely into the future with no idea of what she is going to do, especially if she expects to undertake an epic adventure. Seems to me that not making plans guarantees adventure, but maybe I’m being too blithe.

Does research constitute planning? If so, then I am constantly planning.

I research the Pacific Crest Trail in case I want to through-hike the most challenging of all the USA national trails. (Well, second most challenging. The Continental Divide Trail is supposed to be even more daunting.) And I research other national trails, such as the Florida National Scenic Trail, the Arizona National Scenic Trail, or even the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail in Hawaii in case I want to go where I’ve never gone before. I research types of backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, food, water purifiers to find the best and lightest for my needs. There is no way I can or would ever want to carry 30 pounds for long distances. And yet, and yet . . . despite the drawbacks and physical challenges, the idea of a through-hike still lingers.

angelI research the state coastal trails of California, Oregon, Washington in case I want to walk along the edge of the world. I even have a friend who will help me dip my toe into such an adventure by taking me a ways up the coast from her house so I can walk back. She has even offered to keep me supplied so I won’t starve or dehydrate. My own personal trail angel!

I research walking across the USA in case I want to follow the roads. (This would have the advantage of maybe not needing to carry a lot of water. It seems to me that carrying a sign AUTHOR WALKING ACROSS USA. NEEDS WATER would be a heck of a lot easier to carry than gallons of water, and maybe as effective.) People who have taken such a walk leave with nothing and trust to the journey, but I can’t see me mustering that kind of trust. Or they push/pull a cart to make sure they have the water and food they need for the long dry stretches, and I cannot see myself doing that either. Still, the lure is there. Walking across the country is not a rare occurrence, but I sure don’t know anyone who has done it.

I research rooms for rent, apartments, and extended stay motel/hotels so I can stay in this area to continue taking dance classes.

I research freighters to New Zealand. Even though they are not that expensive ($100 to $150 a night) what adds to the cost is the medical and travel insurance ($400 to $500 per trip) and a whole panoply of red tape — doctor certificate of health, passport, shots (depending on where the freighter stops). I research distances. New Zealand is 6,000 miles from the USA. Australia is 1324 miles from New Zealand. If I go to New Zealand, would it make sense to extend the journey to include Australia? If I did go to Australia, should I go walkabout? (I found a two week walkabout trip for about $3500. But is that figure Australian dollars? One Australian dollar is worth $.78 American dollars, so would the walkabout be $2954 American dollars? Still a lot of money for such a trek.)

I research cars and other vehicles for a possible extended tour of the USA, the national parks, and all my online friends. Do I want to find a small camper that fits in my budget, and so have to deal with another aged vehicle with a lot of miles? Do I want to get a small van such as a Ford Transport Connect and build my own nest inside? Do I want to get a small SUV-type, such as a Kia Soul, which has plenty of room to sleep when the back seat is folded down, or a Honda Fit, which gets about the same highway mileage as a Prius? Do I want to get a junker, and let it take me as far as it can before it breaks down?

But oh! I already have such a car. Today is my bug’s birthday. I got it new 43 years ago today. I checked with my insurance agent about insuring it if I restored it, and apparently, unless I can get it classified as an antique, which allows but 2000 miles of travel a year, then all I would get if anything happened to the car is the blue book value of nil.

See? Research.

You’d think I’d be wasting my time by researching instead of actually doing something or even planning to do something, but the odd thing is, as I research, the impossible adventure becomes . . . possible.

One of the hardest things to do to make an adventure come true is to overcome the status quo of one’s life, but luckily, my status quo is going to overcome itself without any help from me once my father’s house is sold and I am . . . wherever I will be.

So, back to researching . . .


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.