Grace and potatoes

Written by hootenannie on September 8th, 2014

In the last month or so, I’ve been having a quiet mental breakdown.

I say “quiet” because it’s not like I’m falling apart. I’m waking up and exercising and getting my work done. I painted a wall in my living room the other day. I’m meal planning and taking Foxy on walks and meeting friends for drinks and boarding airplanes and generally just taking care of business.

But every night, I climb into bed and stare at the brick wall across the room, the one that sold me on the house – because hello, charm. But in these nighttime moments, it’s felt like a metaphor for something going on in my soul, something that I struggle to name but have been feeling on a daily basis.

I’m up against it.

I’ve just really been up against it these days, you guys – that desperate feeling that sneaks up for no real reason and with no real warning and tells me that the hard things are never going to get better, and that the things I desire aren’t worth hoping for. I wonder if my days have any purpose. All it takes is one quick trip down the rabbit hole that is Instagram to look at dozens of other people’s worlds that appear more lovely than mine, for a dozen different reasons that really aren’t worth listing, and I’m hit with that same old question: does my life matter at all?

I don’t mean to be dramatic. This isn’t a cry for help or a plea for people to validate me (that would make me embarrassed). But I just wonder if I’m not the only one who sometimes feels this way – futile and insignificant, like I should do more or have more or be more.

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Recently, I stood with my friend Becca over her garden in Minnesota, and she confessed that this year she and her husband had neglected the potatoes that they planted, not doing any of the things that they “should” have done to guarantee a good crop. But even so, their garden has produced dozens of pounds of beautiful, perfect potatoes.

“I look at my garden and I see grace,” she said. “We didn’t do anything to deserve potatoes. But we got them anyway.”

And then she picked some fresh strawberries and gave them to me to eat.

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I’m in the weeds these days. Some are there by my own negligence, some despite my best efforts – either way, they’re messing with my perfect little plot. Because when the things you hope for just aren’t happening and the things you despise just won’t go away, at some point you just want to throw up your hands.

But could it be that there is something good growing underneath?

I think that’s what grace is: the generosity of good things, whether or not we’ve earned them, whether or not we choose to acknowledge that they might be developing.

September

Written by hootenannie on September 2nd, 2014

Well, hello September.

I’ve made nary a murmur in this place for over a month. You want to know why? It’s a little thing called a J-O-B. I went back to work on August 4, and that was that. Because listen, I don’t care how much you love your job – going back after 5 weeks off is rough. August was rough. August was hot. August was a slog, retraining my brain to think in terms of “way too many details” and “never-ending emails” and “calendar deadlines.”

But here we are, August behind us, and September ahead. It’s my sincere intention to write more in September – and I think that maybe that starts tomorrow. For today, let’s play catch up.

In the month of August, I walked hundreds of miles. There are times in my life where my workouts are more than mere walks, but for August, I stuck to hoofing it. As you can see, my “bike to work” days were few and far between – that’s another thing that’s going to change in September.

August

Something else that I’m committed to for September: sticking to using cash envelopes. I need financial accountability, and cold hard Benjamins (okay, Jacksons) seem the best method for right now.

Here’s something we need to talk about: awful TV shows. In August, I watched True Detective and House of Cards. And then I felt so hopeless about the human race that this weekend I binged on season 4 of Friday Night Lights just to renew my faith in humanity (or at least the television version thereof).

I’m realizing that I do not want to consume stories in which I hate every single character. I do not want the good guys to be bad guys. I do not want to immerse myself in narratives with no element of redemption. I don’t care if “the character development is amazing.” I don’t care if “the acting is incredible.” I really, really don’t care if “these shows are a more accurate representation of real life” – because I have to believe that real life includes a lot of good, even if it’s intermingled with the hard.

This month, I’ll be spending time in Boston, Minneapolis, and Seattle – some pretty great places.

Since I last wrote, I had a birthday and so did Foxy Brains! My tiny puppy has turned into a full grown 1-year old dog, and I couldn’t love her more.

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Summer is winding down, fall is on its way, and thank goodness – because sheesh, I am in need of some newness. I hope today somehow feels new for you.

Mountain Law

Written by hootenannie on August 1st, 2014

This morning, I set out to try to climb Humboldt Peak, the mountain that thwarted me last September. I’ll just go ahead and tell you that I didn’t make it to the top – because this is actually a story about something different.

In the trail description, the guidebooks said that a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle is necessary to get to the trailhead, and that if you’re not in the appropriate car, just park at the bottom of the road and hike up. Now, my Subaru Forester is far from being high-clearance, but I figured that it was worth a shot – because who wants to spend a bunch of time walking multiple miles up a rocky road?

Dumb idea. I made it about half a mile before the road got too rough for Subaruthless – and if I didn’t want to high-center my car on a boulder, I knew that I couldn’t go any further. Despite all of the signs along the road that said “PRIVATE PROPERTY” “NO TRESPASSING” and “NO PARKING,” I pulled over.

“Does anyone really enforce those signs?” I thought. “Doubtful.”

I threw on my emergency brake, placed some big rocks behind each tire to keep the car from rolling down the mountain, and Foxy and I took off for the summit.

Fast-forward a few hours. We were 5 miles in and just crossing tree line when the dark clouds got the best of my nerve, and I decided to turn around – because I have a strict No Death by Lightning policy.

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As we headed down the trail, I started to think, “I hope my car is okay…” but was distracted by Foxy leaping into the air and catching a QUAIL in mid-flight.

“Foxy!” I yelled. “Foxy, no!”

And then before my very eyes, my sweet pooch shook a wild bird to death.

“Foxy,” I said, now serious. “Drop it.”

She opened her jaws and the lifeless fowl dropped to the ground.

I can’t decide which I’m more shocked about: that I witnessed my dearest companion’s first blood, or that she obeyed “drop it” on first command.

By now, the rain was starting to come down in sheets. I pulled on my Patagonia jacket and we high-tailed it for the car –

The car!

In all of the excitement over witnessing an actual murder, I had forgotten that my car was parked illegally on the side of a mountain road. “Surely they wouldn’t tow it…” I thought. “But there might be a ticket?”

You can imagine my relief when my Subaru came into view – and without a backwoods rancher with a shotgun alongside waiting to greet me. The rain was pouring, Foxy was a mudball, and I knew that before anything else I would need to get the towel out of the back to dry her off. I reached for the handle to the back door, put my fingers underneath the latch to pull up, and…

What is this.

I pulled my hand back toward my face and smelled my fingers.

It was feces. Of the equine variety.

I walked around to the driver’s side door to open that instead, and found the same.

Someone had packed horse poop under every door handle on my car, and smeared it on the windows for good measure.

I recoiled in horror – and then, surprise of all surprises, I giggled. Before I knew it, I was laughing hysterically in the middle of a rainstorm on the side of Humboldt Peak, drenched and muddy with a handful of horse shit. I knew that I had no right to be angry – the signs had made the rules crystal clear, and I had broken them. And the thought of a crotchety old mountain person securing their perimeter each day by applying the dung of their livestock to any offender’s vehicle… well. It was spectacular, really.

Because when it comes to Mountain Law, all’s fair in love and manure.

Consolation

Written by hootenannie on July 22nd, 2014

Recently, I was talking to a sweet man from overseas. I’ve known him peripherally for a lot of years, although this was one of the only times we’d really talked.

He asked, “Why are you not married?”

I laughed. “I ask myself that all the time! I guess I just haven’t met the right person yet.”

“But how old are you?”

“I’m about to be 32.”

He paused, and then spoke slowly. “It’s okay. You still look young.”

Nothing doing

Written by hootenannie on July 21st, 2014

Let me tell you what: 3+ weeks of unscheduled vacation time? Just what the doctor ordered (and the doctor is me).

First, I must say thank you for all of your amazingly kind words after I bailed off the trail. I knew that I had made the right decision, but still felt a little sheepish that I might be letting people down, and that disembodied internet voices would tell me so. How silly of me. I have the greatest friends and family in the world, and this fact was only more firmly emphasized last week.

So, now I’m on vacation. I’m basically doing nothing. I’m doing a great job of not hanging out on social media and not checking my phone very often (if you’ve tried to get in touch with me, I should just go ahead and apologize). When I first came home and realized that I had 3 ½ weeks of unscheduled free time ahead of me, I thought about going on a big trip – Hawaii, Europe, maybe a Road Trip USA. But then I remembered that my unscheduled time off was also unpaid time off, and I probably shouldn’t go blowing my Dave Ramsey Emergency Fund on frivolous gallivants and romps. So Colorado is where it’s at.

I obviously would never have taken a 5-week leave of absence from work just to lie around and relax – but good grief, have you ever done this before? It’s HEAVEN. Never in my life have I had an opportunity to rest my brain and body to this extent. It’s worth not getting paid for.

I still have two weeks before I have to head back to work (on my birthday, so please arrange for your gifts to arrive at the office), and have a few things I hope to do and thoughts I hope to think. But mostly, I’ll be waking up each day and taking Foxy on a walk and then just seeing what happens next. Last night I got to see this sunset, so life is obviously rich these days.

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The time I walked to Twin Lakes Village – and then got in a car and drove home

Written by hootenannie on July 9th, 2014

On Monday night I rolled my ankle, and that was that. Yesterday morning, I limped 11 miles out to Twin Lakes Village where Kristen and Lacey were waiting to resupply me, and after a few hours in Leadville in which I wrestled it over, I asked them to take me home.

Of course, the decision wasn’t that easy – and even the day after, my emotions are still as raw as my heels.

First, let’s back up. Since we last spoke, I’d been hauling ass across the state of Colorado. In the 4 days since Breckenridge, I hiked 73 miles; by the time I reached Twin Lakes Village, my grand total was 177.2. And despite dumping more than 8 lbs of my original weight, my pack was still hefty, and it was taking a toll on my shoulders, neck, and feet. I kept waiting for the moment when everything would click and I would start feeling good – but it just wasn’t happening.

In fact, my body seemed to revolt against me more and more.

While the original blisters started to heal up, new ones began to form. My shoulder sores grew more deeply bruised. My hands started to crack open – deep wounds that were more like cuts than cracks. I developed a wicked heat rash on my face and ears. My back started to feel strangely reminiscent of the days before I threw it out last year. I couldn’t sleep. And when my appetite all but disappeared, I knew that things were serious – because since when has Annie Parsons skipped a meal, especially after hiking 20 miles in a day?

So when my ankle rolled, I decided to call it – not quits, but good. I called it good. 11 days on the Colorado Trail had been good enough.

I could have slowed down. I could have taken a rest day in Leadville and hoped for my ankle to heal up. I could have dug deep and rallied and soldiered on a day or two later – but you know what? I didn’t want to. I’d had 11 days of adventure that had stretched me and challenged me and given me the confidence to call myself a Tough Ass Bitch. And now I wanted to go home.

It’s a humbling thing to realize that your dream wasn’t what you thought it would be. I had put so much into this experience – time and money and effort and planning – and my family had bent over backwards to help accommodate my plans. So many friends were invested in this trip. And if anything was going to get me back out on that trail, it was the knowledge that the people who love me were rooting for me, cheering me on, and pulling for me to reach Durango; honestly, it brings tears to my eyes to think about how supported I’ve felt through this whole thing.

But it’s especially humbling to realize that I wanted the end result – to say that I had hiked the Colorado Trail – more than I wanted to actually DO it.

I’m just sitting here staring at those words, and wondering when the last time was that I was able to be so honest. Like I said – humbling.

Somewhere deep inside, I think I believed that doing something like hiking the Colorado Trail would make me strong. It would justify me as a badass, and confirm me as a force to be reckoned with.

But here’s the truth about what 11 days solo in the backcountry did to me: it stripped me small. I woke up each morning alone in a tent, no shower, no real conveniences of any kind, and then strapped on a burdensome pack and walked for the next 11 hours. I applied bug spray like perfume, and SPF 100 like my life depended on it (which it kind of did). When I would walk around a tree to drop trou (because the world is now my bathroom), I would bring DEET to immediately spray on my haunches to avoid being eaten alive in the nether regions.

(The mosquitos were truly insulting. I was Thomas J. – they were the bees.)

But here’s the amazing thing: when you’re stripped of all comforts, all eyes, all mirrors, all bravado… you still exist. You still are, regardless of what you have or don’t have or can do or can’t do. I might have been waking up in a tent alone and uncomfortable and grosser than I’d ever been before – but I was still Annie, by nature of nothing except God having spoken me into being and continuing to hold me together.

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“All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Then, when you can get little enough and naked enough and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect.” –Richard Rohr

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It didn’t matter if I got up and hiked or stayed right there in my sleeping bag. It didn’t matter if I had a house in Denver or a job at a big company or was in a relationship or not in a relationship or was good at things or not good at things – I am just Annie, small and simple as I might be. How freeing – because when you no longer have to live up to the person you hope you might be, you get to be the person that you are.

And the person that I am is now off the trail, a size smaller, reunited with my bestie, and grateful to have 3 ½ weeks of unexpected vacation ahead of me. Thank you so much for your amazing encouragement and enthusiasm for this adventure – the stories I lived will forever be a part of who I am.

BFF

The time I walked to Breckenridge

Written by hootenannie on July 4th, 2014

The night before I left, my mom said to me, “I just never want you to be scared, or anything to be hard.”

I laughed, because didn’t she know what I’d signed up for?

Like it or not, I was right: the first week on the Colorado Trail has been scary and hard – mostly hard. And despite the temptation to sugarcoat the details for my lovingly protective mother, I’m just going to give it to you straight.

I was prepared for a challenge. I was prepared for physical discomfort. But I was not prepared for the pain. On the first day, my pack weighed 45 lbs – the equivalent of a 5-year old child. My friend Sarah hiked the first two days with me, and when we would stop for breaks, we would unbuckle our packs to have them drop to the ground like boulders, like that ride at amusement parks that pulls you up, up, up, just to release and send you plummeting to the ground. Granted, Sarah’s pack was mostly a Bota Box of wine (of which we barely had any – sorry, Sarah).

Mine was just heavy.

I quickly developed sores on each of my shoulders, spots where my straps rubbed me raw. I hope you’re not offended by a bare collarbone, because here it is.

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Then came the blisters. First my left heel, then my right pinky toe and the one next to it, then the ball of my left foot, then the left pinky. I doctored them as best as I could, but there was no way around the first few days of excruciating pain. Every step was like walking on knives.

The heat wasn’t helpful, either. Saturday and Sunday, Sarah I went whole hog, hiking 21 miles the first day and 20 the second. The days were so hot, we’d arrive at our campsite ready to vomit (hence the minimal wine consumption).

Before Sarah left on Sunday night, she looked at me and said, “You’re really brave.” But is it really bravery if I didn’t feel afraid? I was too shell-shocked to feel fear.

“But what if I’m not tough?” I said, blinking back the tears.

“You can do this,” she said. “You can do this.” And then she drove back to Denver with her husband Tom, and I spent my first night alone in the woods.

I thought that the decision was made when I put in for my leave of absence last fall, or maybe when I gathered each piece of gear, or definitely when I stepped out on the trail on June 28. But I’m learning that the decision to hike this trail is made every single time I pull my pack back on, groaning under the weight, and then straightening my shoulders and moving forward. It’s a constant re-deciding to keep going.

I could tell you a lot of stories from this week – about how in a moment of desperation I lay on my back in the middle of the trail in Happy Baby pose (feeling anything but happy), or how I leapt an uncomfortably wide irrigation ditch with my full pack on (like a heavy-laden, off-balance superhero), or how I came across a felled tree blocking the path and it was too high to climb over so I opted to crawl under (and wound up stuck, belly to the ground), or how I feel a new kinship with Lance Armstrong (because if someone were to offer me performance enhancing drugs, I would take them), or how I came across car campers who said the 5 magic words (“Do you want a beer?”), or how I awoke on the fifth day with a fire in my bones and tore over the Continental Divide (like She-Ra, Princess of Power). I could tell you how amazing my shower in Breckenridge felt (a holy experience), how delicious my burger tasted (try the curry ketchup at Empire Burger), or how I cried this morning when my dad brought me a resupply of food (and a visit from Foxy).

But it’s time for me to close the computer and head back to the trail – I’m about to be dropped off at the trailhead to hike into tonight’s campsite, tears still in my eyes. I’m going to keep going. And that’s what the past week has really been about – deciding and re-deciding and walking even when I didn’t think I could walk any further, through the tears and discouragement and the most beautiful terrain.

I’m 104 miles in. Here’s to 104 more.

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Unplug and go outside

Written by hootenannie on June 27th, 2014

It’s finally here. I head out tomorrow – and don’t think I haven’t been singing this in my head all morning – especially the part about “How can I live when we are parted?” (Foxy), and also “Tomorrow we’ll be far away” (except only maybe 20 miles max) and “Tomorrow is the judgment day” (it’s supposed to be 95 degrees this weekend).

In all honesty, I am having all of the feelings I could possibly have. Excitement? Check. Nerves? Check. Trepidation? So much. Gratitude? You bet. I recognize how lucky I am to have this opportunity at all, let alone the support of so many people (this #teamhootenannie thing is wringing my heart like a dishrag). I’ve had this dream for so long, and now I get a chance to try it. With the reality of storms and possibility of injury, I don’t have a guarantee of completing the trail end to end – but I’m going to hang as tough as I can.

If I have any cell service, I’ll be posting occasionally to Instagram. There’s a chance I may post a blog or two when I pass through a town, but this space will likely be pretty quiet. I look forward to sharing stories once I’m back – but until then, it’s time to walk away from this computer for a bit. Have a wonderful July, and I’ll see you on the other side.

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#teamhootenannie

Written by hootenannie on June 25th, 2014

We interrupt Annie’s (not-so-)regularly scheduled blog posts to bring you a special message from her friends Juliette, Dani, and Val. This is a blog hijacking!

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Do you know Annie Parsons?

If you do – then you love Annie Parsons. There’s no two ways about it.

And if you love Annie Parsons, you are probably aware that she is embarking on the trek of a lifetime in a little less than a week. You can read more about it here.

Annie will be offline for the majority of her trip, but what if – as her friends and fans – we utilize the few moments that she IS online to flood her with encouragement and joy and remind her that she has a whole team of people thinking of her and praying for her throughout her adventure?

If you would like to be a part of this movement, simply post a photo, video or message to Twitter or Instagram and hashtag it #teamhootenannie . (You can also tag her on Instagram, @hootenannie, if you’d like – but she’s not on Twitter.) Feel free to leave messages/images/video clips for her as frequently as you’d like.

That’s it! Have fun, and welcome to Team Hootenannie.

Trail food

Written by hootenannie on June 24th, 2014

This is the week! I leave on Saturday to hoof it across this beautiful state on the Colorado Trail. I am wrapping up details at work, trying to get my roof repaired (this is cutting it very close), writing out instructions for those taking care of Foxy, and triple checking my packing list.

The most complicated piece of the planning has been one of two things: arranging for food drops, or planning the food itself. Neither thing is completely ironed out yet – but I’m getting close on the food plan. It’s been awhile since I talked at you, so I made a video.

Trail Food from Annie Parsons on Vimeo.