Friday, February 16, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 8

Much of this entry is dedicated to any innocent persons whom I may have offended with my last post when asked, "What do you do all day?"  In reality, we do more than hike (if we didn't, I know I would go crazy. Tess would probably be okay.)  See below for a less-sassy description of our hiking activities...

Thursday May 25th, 2017  Day 11. Slow start today because Tess felt a little sick, so we ate at our campsite and left around 8 a.m. Fairly easy morning, but seemingly long afternoon for only 12 miles total. Met some other thru-hikers today going NOBO (northbound): women, 65 and 70!  Hope I am still hiking at 70!  Staying at North Cross River tonight. Beautiful but a little crowded with early Memorial Day hikers and campers. Jet is very admired on the trail and is learning to meet and greet a bit better. I feel mentally worn out from the long miles and Tess seems down this afternoon.  Learning to lower expectations and enjoy the trip. Give us joy, Lord!

Tess felt better after her delicious oatmeal breakfast
Hiking Alone
After the “excitement” at Lutsen and our exposure to the Wolf Man, Tess and I were glad for a couple of normal (a.k.a. not overly frightening or depressing) days. On these days, we would do some hiking together and some hiking separately. Although Tess really liked being alone for a portion of each day, I struggled to enjoy my solitude. Normally, I love to walk in the woods by myself, taking time to contemplate the wonders of nature; but, for some reason, on backpacking trips, I really like companionship.  This was especially true of this trip. Though I was able to complete our mileage each day, the exertion required took so much of my energy that I felt mentally drained.  I expected this at first, but I thought my weariness would abate as our trip progressed; it didn’t. In fact, it seemed to get worse.

I don’t know why the hiking was so hard for me, or why I felt like such a loser for not being able to keep up.  Maybe, it was because I was carrying emotional baggage along with my backpack; I think that, unconsciously, the trip represented to me a kind of laborious metaphor: that of my entire last year--one of the hardest in my life. 

In the year previous to our very long walk, I had sent my oldest son and his wife off to live in China, and our youngest son, Cole, moved away from home to attend college. With all my children now grown, I felt forced out of the most satisfying role in my life. Right or wrong, I had placed much of my identity into motherhood, and the absence of this daily reality deeply saddened me. I spent my hiking alone time grieving. I was so unaccustomed to this “new era” that my thoughts became increasingly self-focused; I racked my brain for a new description of "Tori Haverkamp" and came up blank.  I desperately wanted to find fulfillment in something new, since my "mothering days" were over, something I was good at...and it most certainly wasn't hiking.  

Hold onto that thought; I will continue the theme in a future post.

Hiking Together
I was able to escape from my unhealthy self-absorption when Tess and I hiked together. Sometimes, we played little thought experiment games where she would ask a question like: “If you were Brian (in The Hatchet), or Robby Cru (our nickname for Robinson Crusoe--also the name of the book), how would you survive in the northern Minnesota wilderness/deserted tropical island? (Luckily, I was fairly successful in the former game since I had been keeping myself alive in the very cold northern Minnesota wilderness for the last two weeks, but Tess was more adept at the latter since she is somewhat hippie-like and has chased down wayward pigs on an organic farm and regularly makes kombucha). We then talked for hours about the kind of shelter we would need, how we would create it out of a fallen and hollowed-out tree or under the projection of an enormous sheltered rock, and how we would sterilize/desalinate our water.  We wondered if the berries on the prickly bushes that caught our legs were edible or poisonous (and hypothesized as to how we would determine this), and how Robby Cru raised enough grapes to make raisins. This discussion led us to a conversation of the book, Into the Wild, and the main character, Alexander Supertramp’s, unfortunate demise from misidentifying something called “wild potato”.  As we talked about this misfortune, we discussed a movie I had recently watched where two people survive a plane crash in the mountains (which was a really bad thing for us to dwell upon since we arrived in an airplane and would soon be flying home in one), and if it was realistic or not.  Sometimes, we strayed from the “survival in the wilderness” theme and asked each other “If you could only have 5 pieces of clothing to wear, what would they be?”  In normal life, these questions might take a few minutes to answer, but because we were trying to pass the many moments of the many miles, they took hours...and many revisions.  I liked playing the game, “Would You Rather…” where we queried each other about alarming and impossible things like “Would you rather be paralyzed and in a wheelchair for the rest of your life, but have no pain OR have constant chronic pain but have control of all of your limbs?” Or, “Would you rather be a poor kid with attentive parents or a rich kid with distracted parents but tons of opportunities in your life?”  Tess thought my game was depressing.  

When we ran out of thought experiments, we created individual “podcasts”; Tess spent an afternoon recounting the different types of memory that our brains are capable of recording, and I helped her to understand the main themes in the book of Ephesians. We memorized most of the first chapter of Philippians and repeated it over and over to one another. We talked about the years’ highs and lows, our goals for the future, our favorite childhood memories--our own childhoods and my memories of her as a little girl-- and the “Three Most Epic Moments” of our lives.  She asked me to give advice to my “20-something self” and I asked her to tell me what God had taught her in the last few months.  At no other time, and in no other way, would we have set aside this much precious time to quiz and ponder and reflect and play. I wouldn’t trade these times for the endless days of sun that I thought I wanted.   

Moral of the Story: When you are feeling bad about yourself, don't hike alone.  Grab a friend (preferably one with survival skills) and have long conversations while walking TOGETHER in the woods.  

Licorice also helps.  

Happy together
Friday May 26th 2017, Day 12. Woke up to rain again, but it stopped soon after we started around 8 a.m. Better day today, seems shorter even though we did 13 plus miles. Sun!! as we came into camp this afternoon. Sat on the warm rocks with Tess and sunned ourselves. Finally some lasting warmth! Staying at a beautiful campsite tonight. Thanks for your provisions, God!

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