wild and finding a way back to the feminist trail

  “I walked and I walked, my mind shifting into a primal gear that was void of anything but forward motion, and I walked until walking became unbearable, until I believed I couldn’t walk even one more step.
And then I ran.”    Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

For anyone currently snowbound, housebound, or bored-bound, read this book and take your mind on an adventure;  an eleven hundred mile, solo hiking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail with Cheryl Strayed.

What an excellent story about journeys – the physical, mental and spiritual kind, the woman versus nature kind, and the mother/daughter relationship kind.

From the perspective of a twenty-six year old, the author recounts her own contemporary, odyssey-like passage into adulthood after her mother dies. She captures the human spirit of a lost, wounded-strong, stupid-smart, solo hiker and all along the way she struggles with being an imperfect-perfect woman. With each step, she fights to discover, embrace and become her true female self. Daily, her survival is threatened by the obstacles of baggage she carries – the weight of her backpack which she nicknames “monster,” and the inner trappings of her own doubts and fears.

From the first page, I found it difficult to put the book down. I was on the trail with her, listening to her thoughts and feeling all of her discomforts. I knew all to well some of her emotions as I remembered trying to figure out the meaning of life as a young woman in my twenties and beyond.

The writing is ‘over the top’ good. So good, that sometimes I had to close the book because I needed a rest!  By the end of the book, I can confess (without apology) that I never want to hike the PCT trail from Mexico to California, Oregon, Canada or anywhere in between! (Maybe I would try a small portion – but that’s it.) The vivid descriptions of the scenery and the deserted and desolate mood of the wilderness got deep inside my head. Respect… for nature, for the power of the universe and for Cheryl’s story made a great impression me.

The book is inspiring. Cheryl is the Billie Jean King of today, and her backpack is the Bobby Riggs “monster” laughably trying to hold women back. Billie Jean conquered fear and doubt on a tennis court – in prime time on national TV in front of millions. She showed us what it could look like to be a strong woman. Her strength inspired girls and women for generations to come.

I think Cheryl Strayed has picked up where BJK left off. With each step she reminds us of our power to define ourselves. When all we can do sometimes is to go forward, we realize that moving ahead is strength in itself. In millions of steps, she conquers the past and present encumbrances of all women by showing us a what a modern day, powerful woman could look like.

I can’t help but think…that’s a good thing for the next generation of girls.

“Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”
Cheryl Strayed

One of my favorite pictures is this photo of a young protester carrying a “girls are strong” sign. This photo was taken during an ERA march demanding equal rights for women in Tacoma, WA, 1982. Perhaps I like it because the girl seems to be skipping (or running) with a determined look on her face. With a sign that appears to have been written by her and a shirt stating “The ERA is for my future” she is, in some ways, a symbolic reminder that fighting for civil rights, whether it’s based on gende

wow…Colorado is a very fit state

According to the Washington Post less than 20% of adults are obese in Colorado. Doesn’t that make you wonder “What is their secret?”

Source: Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

Hold on to your chair because I think I might know the answer, it’s just a guess but…it’s got to be the mountains. About sixty percent of Colorado’s land surface is covered by mountains. Think about it, if you live in a mountain town chances are wherever you go there is always bound to be an uphill. This means it takes twice as long and much more energy to walk, cycle, jog etc. anywhere. Add to that the fact that if you visit a lot of trails (which everyone seems to do) you must carry a lot with you, in a pack of some sort. Things like water, snacks, TP, rain gear etc. add more weight to the walk which of course requires more energy.

On a recent visit I was humbled by the young folks. They are out and about scurrying like ants on a hill. They trotted past me when I was finding balance points on boulders, they carried backpacks the size of small campers while fording streams, they bike – everywhere, effortlessly, and it always seems to be uphill.

I never saw any health clubs or fitness centers or overweight people for that matter.

Hiking in the mountain highlands, I quickly learned you earn ‘it’. ‘It’ being your drinks of water, your snacks, your evening hot tub and of course a fine meal before bed. You also earn ‘it’ because more trails, sidewalks and roads are up than down. There is really no other way. Gone is lazy, because once you commit to the activity, you’re in “it”.

They are not wimpy in Colorado, their trails between the peaks are not smoothly paved like here at home in Chicago. Most of the trails are in a natural state, made up of leftover glacial rock, boulders, streams, mud and gravel. There are switchbacks and steep downhills. It doesn’t matter if you are walking, riding an animal, in a vehicle, cycling or 4 wheeling. Your heart gets pounding.

There is a reason why the Olympians train in Colorado and everyone else is fit no matter their age, they live in Colorado because they can say to the rest of us…

 

Love this.... it's so us!! Is hiking your gym? Camping? Just being outdoors?

a vacation in the rocky mountains, thank you Pinterest

One dark and stormy night I found myself wandering around Pinterest. I was alone. Lost in the empty void of the search bar. Without the hint of direction or the meager light of an idea, I scrolled aimlessly until I came upon this random signpost…

The mountains are calling...

I stopped scrolling and began thinking about pinning. In that pause, I heard my phone’s familiar and generic iPhone trill. Goosebumps on my arms! I ran downstairs to answer my phone only to find it was my neighbor asking whether or not my electricity was out. Sheesh! That was freaky. Back upstairs and pin it! Definitely, pin it!

I’m here to report, months later, that somehow that particular Pinterest moment took root in my subconscious and grew into my vacation. Kind of scary, but kind of adventurous as well!

Who knew it would become a great modern day road trip? Who new I would feel so refreshed and relaxed? Sometimes planning and executing a trip can be exhausting to the point of “I need a vacation from my vacation”.

Not this time, in fact I am so grateful to have answered the mountain call. Like distant relatives the mountains beckoned, and I journeyed. They bedazzled my soul and gave wings to my spirit. The scenery took my breathe away, as if I was stepping into an amazingly beautiful 3-D painting. A storybook of meadows and valleys and endless trails to hike. Something about the solitude quieted my breathing and slowed me down, put the brakes on my thinking, got me in a lower gear. All of the hours and days of prior walking presented me with the gift of being fit enough for these wondrous hikes. Up into the thinner air, up in the clouds where the air smells like pine and piñon, up where the site of one single mountain humbles a city full of skyscrapers.

The days were as “in the moment” as I can live. Thoreau might have affectionately winked, albeit with a hint of sarcasm, at my brief flirtation with withdrawing from society. No hurries, no worries. Just put one foot in front of the other, carry a slicker and always, always bring water.

My experience with life in a mountain town goes like this…

Wake up. Get coffee. Eat. Discuss a trail. Read a map. Pack your backpack. Go find the trail. Talk with a local. Tread lightly. Drink water. Step well. Eat. The rain comes. The rain goes. Hike up. Hike down. Hike up some more. Drink water. Eat. Look at a map. Make a decision. Turn around. Back to base. Hot shower. Eat. Listen to live music. Look at stars. Be grateful for the day. Sleep. Dream.

I took some pictures of my hikes. One of the most beautiful was Maroon Lake at 10,500 feet .

IMG_2229
Maroon Lake. Colorado
IMG_2209
Conundrum creek trail. Colorado
IMG_2225
Maroon Lake
IMG_2234
Maroon Bells. Colorado

Here is another crazy thing…upon returning home, and checking my Pinterest page, I noticed a pin from when I first started pinning last year – it was a very similar picture of Maroon Lake. I didn’t even know where it was at that time. It never crossed my mind to seek it out. Isn’t life wild? Thank you Pinterest for the reminder…

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly…    Langston Hughes

goldenage

“Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”

I was in high school when David Bowie’s song “Golden Years” hit the airwaves. He was too young, I was too young, so I didn’t really think of the ‘golden years‘ as retirement time. To me, he was singing about a time in life when everything was just right. Therefore, my golden years are very much influenced by my “golden age”.

My golden age will always be somewhere around two years old because that is my first memory of walking outdoors.

   Throughout my life, I have consistently walked.  I learned from a young age, the world was always open to walking. For entertainment, exploration, escape, knowledge, beauty, or truth, there was at all times some sort of path to discovery. Unearthing the earth outside of books, I came to the realization I was just a tiny speck in a blink of time on this grand old planet.
   Walking has always given me great independence and freedom, no matter what age I was. Through my walks, I’ve developed an aesthetic appreciation for my sight, simply because no camera could possibly capture all the beauty I’ve seen with my eyes or reproduce all of the emotion it’s evoked in my being. Walking has inspired me to read books about the history of places and people, while encouraging me to write and share my experiences. I can depend on walking to take care of my body, while it deepens my soul.
   The first time I walked outside my house, I was a two year old living on Lexington street in Chicago. Someone once told me they had to keep the doors locked afterwards, because I always wanted to go outside. My Mom said I loved to walk up and down the block waving to the neighbors sitting on their porch stoops.
May we all hope to one day be half as cool as these stoop sitters. | 17 Vintage Pictures Of Dapper British Teddy Boys And Girls
   By the time I was four, we moved to the middle class “Town of Cicero,” Illinois (just to the south and west of Chicago). This is where I grew up and I walked everywhere. It seemed so much safer back then. My Grandmother walked, my Aunt walked and I walked… 5 miles to the Cermak Plaza (and back) to shop on a Saturday, just to see if I could. I did it more than once. I walked to my friend’s houses and to McDonalds, to school and back, to my Grandmother’s house for a visit, never once thinking about asking someone for a ride. You just didn’t. Each family was lucky if they had one car, that’s right, one car.

   I had no car in college and neither did my friends. We walked everywhere – on campus, off campus to parties, to town, to bars. Our world was out in the middle of cornfields, and sometimes we walked through those. It’s just what we did.
al's cornfield  2
   Then I started my teaching career, got a car and I didn’t need to walk so much, but somewhere in all of my activities and sports I fell in love with hiking.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
   So I hiked. Yearly vacations to glaciers in Alaska and mountains in Colorado, I hiked trails around the forest preserves and nature paths in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Summer trips to Yellowstone, the Badlands, the Grand Canyon, Muir woods and other national parks in the US, kept me on trails so beautiful I wanted to cry.
   Walking through canyons, deserts and mesas in Arizona, New Mexico and the Southwest gave me an new found appreciation for the spirituality of living. Along the beaches and coasts of Florida, Boston, California, Ireland, Alaska and Lake Michigan I felt the infinite presence of something greater than myself. Getting myself on top of mountains in the Rockies, Tetons  and British Columbia made me think about God. Walking helped me create a different kind of religion for myself. My church – the outdoors, my god – nature. My one true commandment – tread lightly.
Tread Lightly!
   And I’m not done yet. Like forest Gump ran and ran and ran, I’m gonna walk and hike until the one day I stop.
   Since retiring from teaching in September of 2013, I’ve walked 500 something miles in and around my Chicago neighborhood. My dream is to continue to find more places to hike and walk and write about how they affect my life. I want to see this Earth as if it is a new planet and I am seeing it for the first time –  with my two year old eyes.
   I consider walking a gift, a reverie, a time capsule I escape to. My imagination soars when I walk. My mind finds an ageless peace. I never know how old I am when I am walking.
   “Nothing’s gonna touch me…” and I am two, until the walk is over.