From “Impossible Dream” to “Why Not”?

I’ve never been much of a group person. I do things alone and sometimes with one other person. The most group-ish thing I do is dance class. I used to go out to lunch with a group, but those people don’t lunch together anymore. I used to walk with a group a couple of times a week, and I even hiked with different groups on the weekend, but the walking group is pretty much disbanded, and I found hiking in a group to be frustrating and dangerous. Groups HIKE. I s a u n t e r. They go fast and purposeful. I go slow and stop frequently to smell the air or take a photo or enjoy a particular vista. Then I have to hurry and catch up. Sometimes they take a break and wait for me, and then as soon as I catch up, they continue along the trail, leaving me with no break. Often, they bring their dogs, and sometimes the dogs harry me or try to push me over a cliff. (True.) One dog wore a bell that about drove me nuts. Why go out to the wilderness to listen to the quiet and be assaulted with the constant tinkle of that dang bell? Even worse, if I hesitated at a stream crossing, people would try to help and I would always get wet. Or they’d try to pull me up an incline even if I didn’t ask for help. Or yank my arm if I struggled to stand after sitting to rest instead of letting me find my own purchase.

Nope. Too dangerous.

I realize there are problems with hiking alone. But there are problems with living alone. Sometimes we simply have no choice. We do what we can.

Before I took my cross-country road trip, people told me I shouldn’t do it — my car was too old, I was a woman alone, it’s too dangerous, etc. etc. etc.

Well, I did the trip. More than twelve thousand miles in five months. And yes, the car broke down — one time the battery went dead, another time a piece of fuel line that was supposed to have been replaced hadn’t been and all the gas leaked out, and a third time, the VW mechanic who changed my oil in Wisconsin put in the wrong grade — it was way too thin, and my car kept vapor locking when I drove through hotter climes.

The most traumatic thing happened when I was with someone — I fell down the stairs backward and scalped myself — but it wouldn’t have happened if I had been alone.

Now that I’m talking about a solo backpacking trip, people are again telling me I shouldn’t do something. They remind me about my destroyed arm. Well, yes, that fall did happen when I was alone, but it was in the middle of the city, and I wouldn’t have been in that dangerous parking lot if it weren’t for other people. (Left to my own devices, I do not go out at night.)

Oddly, the arm thing makes me more determined on a solo backpacking trek, maybe because I have proof of how quickly one’s life can change. If I had someone to go with, I might not go alone, but if it’s a matter of going alone or not going at all, I’m going. What else am I going to do? Hide in my room lest I suffer another injury?

Besides, the point is to be out there alone. To connect with the world, to see if I can handle the immensity — a sort of spiritual journey or vision quest.

My eventual goal is to do one of the iconic hikes, probably the Pacific Crest Trail since I know someone in each state along the way who might possibly be able to help. From what I hear, though, there are so many people on the trail now that it is almost impossible to hike alone. And there are trail angels along the way, willing to help PCT hikers.

Meantime, a three-day solo journey, accompanied by a satellite phone connected to people who would come rescue me if necessary, is as safe as it’s going to get.

All this is still in the maybe, could be, possibly stage. And yet, I can feel the change in me, the change from “impossible dream” to “why not”?

Years ago, when I first thought about hiking one of the long distance trails, I thought it would be so uncommon that if I wrote a book about my experience, the story would propel me into bestsellerdom. Unfortunately, the trails have become so common and the stories so ubiquitous, that the only way to get noticed is if I were to screw up and embroil myself in a lot of drama, and I have no intention of doing either.

With enough research, preparation, and luck, my book would be just a ho-hum story of a woman who decided to hike the PCT and did it.

***

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.

Coddiwompling

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Coddiwompling. Even the definition sounds wonderful. Coddiwompling means to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

Doesn’t that sound like me and my desire to walk the Pacific Crest Trail? (Or any long distance trail, actually. I just want to take a very, very, very long walk.) I don’t really have a need to walk one place or another, just to walk purposefully toward some vague destination. Though, if I ever get to the point of actually going on a backpacking trip, that destination will probably not be vague — I will, of course, need to know where the trail is going and have an approximate idea of how long it will take me to get there.

So maybe coddiwompling isn’t the right word for my aspirations, though my true destination is more spiritual, and that certainly is vague. How does one know what sort of spiritual destination one is heading toward, or what one will gain from a vision quest? That part, for sure, is about traveling purposefully toward a vague destination.

And this whole impetus to saunter the world, for all its purposeful preparation, is vague. I will be doing a solo backpacking trip while in Washington State this May, probably just for a few days, to dip my toes into the backpacking pool (figuratively speaking, of course — I truly do not like crossing water on foot, not even creeks or rivulets, and I truly do not like hiking in wet socks and shoes! So not fun). Then, a longer backpacking trail in the fall.

And then? Who knows. Either I will have had my fill of adventure, or I will be so addicted that I continue to coddiwomple.

I once read an article that claimed it is the pain we are willing to sustain, the pain we want in our life that determines our happiness. I don’t like pain of any kind, but so far, whatever pain has come from coddiwompling in the desert, is pain I am willing to embrace for my greater good. Luckily, many of the rewards of walking come from effort and dedication and concentration rather than sustained pain. (Though carrying a twenty-two-pound pack for five miles last weekend certainly brought its share of soreness!)

It seems weird to still be talking about aspirations, about things I am going to do rather than what I have already done, and yet, what I have already done is . . . done. It’s the traveling purposefully toward a vague and unknown destination that I find so compelling.

So, coddiwomple on!

***

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.

Spontaneous Stupidity or Vision Quest?

There are so many stages to grief one gets dizzy trying to keep up with the changes. I’ve tried to embrace my grief during the past seven months, giving in to the emotion of each stage, but the stage I’m in now is one I will not tolerate — self-pity. Lucky for me, this new manifestation of grief shows up right in time for NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo (National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Posting Month, though considering the international aspects of both challenges, they should be called InNoWriMo and InBloPoMo). The nano challenge is to write 50,000 words during November. The nablo challenge is to post a bloggery every day during November, and I signed up for both of them. Yikes. At least I’ll keep myself so busy that I will have no time to feel sorry for myself.

The nano site says: “Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.” By doing both NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo I’m inviting more than just a little spontaneous stupidity into my life, but I’m looking forward to it.  I’m a very slow writer, so I’ll probably end up writing stream of consciousness, which is a cheat since it’s not exactly writing a novel, but I’m doing this more as a vision quest than a writing exercise. Grief digs deep into one’s psyche, dislodging buried feelings and thoughts — sort of like digging for fossils in a tar pit. I’m hoping that by forcing myself to write an insane number of words the loosened bits will surface, bringing me enlightenment. Or wisdom. Or . . . just about anything other than self-pity.

Nancy A. Niles, author of the upcoming thriller Vendetta, posted an article on the Second Wind Publishing Blog mentioning the three things necessary to maintain good mental health:

  • Challenges, or facing fears
  • Attitude
  • Support system

Well, this month I have the challenges, I have the attitude, and I’m privileged to have a wonderful online support system — people who will help keep me motivated.

I’ll let you know what happens. To be honest, you couldn’t stop me. There’s that small matter of having to fill thirty blog posts during the next thirty days . . .