And I would walk 500 miles…

Written by hootenannie on April 22nd, 2014

I’ve only used one vacation day in 2014. I have a couple on the horizon – but mostly, I’m saving them for July when I’ll combine the majority with a chunk of unpaid leave, close my computer, and walk away into the mountains. I finally have a chance to fulfill a dream that’s been years in the making: I’m going to thru-hike the Colorado Trail.

[Insert explosion of exclamation points here → !!!!!!!! ←]

COtrail

[See all that green? That means MOUNTAINS.]

Starting just outside of Denver, I’ll backpack nearly 500 miles to Durango carrying only the essentials on my back. I’m going by myself. In a perfect world I’d bring Foxy, but the days are going to be long; most days I hope to hike close to 20 miles. Between the distance, the fact that her enthusiasm over squirrels and geese could only translate to skunks and porcupines, and her propensity to respond to “Come!” with the equivalent of a bold middle finger, it’s probably not the wisest choice.

I’ve spent the last year or so gathering my gear – pack, sleeping bag, stove, tent – and recently have started carrying it on my walks around town. I look like a homeless person. A homeless person with a Patagonia pro deal. But the hope is that come July, the weight won’t faze me in the slightest.

When I tell people that I’m doing this, and that I’m going alone, I’m usually met with one of two reactions:
1) That is awesome.
2) That is the worst, stupidest, most dangerous idea ever.

You are welcome to either of those opinions; either way, I’m doing it. Also, reaction 2 is wrong.

Here are some questions I’ve been asked – if you have more, feel free to shout them out.

Are you bringing a gun?
No. Why is this the question I’ve been asked most frequently? Annie with a gun would be way more dangerous than Annie without a gun, despite the musical. However, I will have bear spray, and that sucker sprays for 7 whole seconds. (Again, you are welcome to your opinion on this matter. Please trust that I’ve thought this through, that I’m not taking my safety lightly, and that I, more than anyone, want to come out on the other side of this in one piece.)

What will you eat?
Oatmeal for breakfast, homemade dehydrated meals for dinner. In between? The usual hiking foods: trail mix, jerky, heavy-duty crackers with peanut butter, and obviously, so many LÄRABARs.

Speaking of LÄRABAR, how did you get 5 weeks off of work?
Believe it or not, I asked for it and they gave it to me. I am so grateful to work for a company that practices what it preaches when it comes to work/life balance, and for managers who have been supportive of this idea from the beginning. In the meantime, I am working like a crazy person to get all of my July work done in advance (and there’s a lot).

How will you charge your cell phone?
Well first of all, I don’t plan on using it all that much. Part of the appeal of this trip is to disconnect from the technology that I’m so married to. But to make sure I’m not left in the lurch, I will be harnessing the abundant sunshine and using this.

Have you read Wild?
Yes. Such a fantastic book – if you haven’t read it, do. But I’ve wanted to backpack the Colorado Trail since long before I read Wild.

Who will take care of Foxy?
My dad, and then my mom. I can’t stand the thought of saying goodbye to her, so I’m putting it out of my head for as long as I can.

How long is this going to take you?
Most people complete the trail in 4-6 weeks. I have a total of 38 days, and plan on finishing in plenty of time – because when it comes to hiking, I’ve got an engine in me.

Are you afraid?
Of hiking that far? No. Of being alone during the day? No. Of being alone at night? A tiny bit. Of wild animals? Yes. Of lightning? Yes. Of having my period in the woods? More than anything.

Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m actually going to do this. Mostly, I just can’t wait to go. If you have backpacking experience and any advice – what to bring, what not to bring, how to not be afraid of the dark – I’d love to hear it.

All That I Want

Written by hootenannie on April 13th, 2014

It’s been awhile, but I’ve written a new song.

I love this description of the creative process, especially because it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who experiences #3 and #4. Actually, I tend to get stuck there – which is probably why I finish so few creative endeavors these days.

But I pushed myself to finish this one, and even though I want to apologize for its imperfections, I’m making myself share it. Even if it’s just a work tape and even if my guitar skills are bad and even if I’m not sure about certain parts SEE I NEED TO STOP APOLOGIZING AND JUST PUT IT OUT THERE.

Because you guys are safe, right? Thanks for listening.

:::::

[I've taken the track down for now. Maybe you'll hear it again someday.]

Steaking her claim

Written by hootenannie on March 31st, 2014

Foxy and I spent the weekend in Steamboat Springs visiting some dear friends.

This is how I know they are dear friends.

On Saturday night, they made an incredible meal: steak, baked potatoes, salad, wine. We were laughing and enjoying conversation, when all of a sudden Amy yelled, “The dog has the steak!”

Sure enough, Foxy had gotten up on the counter and dragged an entire flank of delicious red meat down to the kitchen floor, where she was helping herself.

Absolutely mortified, I sprang into action, grabbing the puppy and swatting her nose – “Bad dog! Bad dog!” Then I lifted all 35 pounds of her and carried her upstairs where I forcefully locked her in her kennel. “Bad dog!” I scolded one last time, and then headed back down to join the dinner, embarrassed and disgraced – because it’s an odd thing to feel responsible for a living, breathing creature that you actually sometimes have no control over.

When I arrived back at the table spilling over with apology, PJ shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ehhh, we threw it back on the grill. Nothing that 500 degrees won’t kill.” And when he brought it back to the table, we ate it anyway.

THESE ARE MY PEOPLE.

And the next morning when we went for a hike, Foxy, still drunk on red-blooded protein, grabbed joy by the jugular and LIVED IT UP.

Foxy

Let it go

Written by hootenannie on March 19th, 2014

This weekend, something that I wanted to work out didn’t work out, leaving me sad and disappointed. Then my bike seat broke. Then I tried to fix my bathtub drain, but realized I don’t have the right tools. Then several people told me, in various ways, that a dream that I’ve been working toward is a bad idea. Then, after dealing with shoddy, unreliable internet service for over a week, I came home yesterday afternoon to find that my actual electricity was gone.

Must be the wind, I thought, as I dialed Xcel to report the outage. I followed the prompts on the automated service, and then took Foxy on her lunchtime walk.

When I arrived back at the house, I got a phone call from someone in the Xcel customer support department. He asked me some questions about the meter (“It should be on the south side of the house”), so I found myself prowling through bushes, being poked in the eye by branches, and reading the unit number to the man on the phone – only for him to tell me that that’s the gas meter, and we need the electric meter.

That’s when I remembered I was on the north side of the house, and also, a moron.

So I headed around SOUTH into the backyard, crawled on a ledge, and had to touch dirty, rusty things, relaying meter readings to the man on the line, just to have him tell me that none of that helped him, so he would send a technician out – except, wait a second. What’s this?

He put me on hold while he took a look at my account, and eventually a new voice – a woman, probably Bad News Special Forces or something – came back on the line. Apparently, a neighbor had not paid her electric bill in quite some time, so they had disconnected her service – at least, what they thought was her service. Turns out they turned off mine instead.

Whoops.

Oh, and they wouldn’t be able to send someone to turn it back on until tomorrow.

And all of a sudden, it was just too much. Something snapped. This is when, to use a technical term, I lost my shit.

I have worked in customer service before, and still do, to a certain extent – which is why I couldn’t believe I was finding myself uttering words like “infuriating” and “unacceptable” and “immediately” and “you people” and “enraged” and “now – NOW.” My chest was tight but my tongue was loose. I was on an absolute rampage.

I spent the night at Becca and Mike’s, where Foxy whined non-stop in the darkness because that big yellow dog Grizz is RIGHT THROUGH THAT WALL. RIGHT THERE. HE’S THERE. I got a grand total of 2 hours sleep, and spent all day today feeling downright witless.

So now I’m home and the power is back on and I’m typing all of this out, and laughing because it’s so ridiculous. I’ve been sulking about things really not worth sulking about – especially since furrowing my eyebrows is the last thing I need to do more of, seeing as how that look is basically already my natural resting face.

The older I get, the more I realize my strong need for justice – which is unfortunate, since it’s also the more I realize that life just isn’t fair. Sometimes your neighbor doesn’t pay her bills, and you are the one inconvenienced. Sometimes you take good care of your things, and they break anyway. Sometimes someone else makes a decision, and your heart winds up paying a price.

We can try to legislate fairness into our lives, but it just isn’t going to happen.

I could be a sulker. I could resent people and situations and reality itself. I could shake my fist at heaven and tell everything to go to hell.

But to borrow an idea from Proverbs, I’d rather be clothed in strength and dignity, and laugh at the days to come – or you know, Frozen, and let it go.

Twitchy

Written by hootenannie on March 12th, 2014

I am the girl who balances her checkbook. Makes her bed every day. Drives the speed limit. Plans in advance. Goes to bed at a decent hour. Projects ahead so the future will never take her by surprise. Always has a responsible amount of gas in the tank of her car.

This is what’s known as “foreshadowing.”

On Monday, while driving west from Kansas City to Denver after being gone for 10 days, Foxy riding shotgun and both of us desperate to get home to the Shotgun, my mind anywhere but present, I ran out of gas. Subaruthless just sputtered and gave up, right there on I-70.

Subaruthless

Western Kansas was unseasonably warm that day, inching toward 80 degrees. And when the air conditioner died, so did the manic vim, vigor, and verve I’d been running on for a week and a half. I was spent.

My friends call me “the most extroverted introvert” they know, but for whatever amount of social prowess I might possess, the truth is that people, noise, and chaos drain me of my very lifeblood – and right there on the shoulder of the interstate, I realized that the past 10 days had been too much. They’d been good, really good – but they’d been too much.

When I finally arrived back in Denver and stumbled through the door of my house, dragging suitcases, a dog crate, an ice chest, three hardback books, two laptops, and one very squirrely puppy, I could have kissed the hardwood floor. But there’s no rest for the weary; I had errands to run, laundry to run, a dog to run, and a full day of work waiting for me the next day.

Disorganization makes me twitchy, like a spider. And a lot of areas of my life feel disorganized right now, the least of which is the explosion of detritus all over my house or the pile of receipts or the significant amount of sleep debt. Last night, I came home from work and, rather than taking care of the things that needed doing, opted to just twitch for a while instead – which means that today, my house is still a disaster, my calendar is sneaking up on me, I forgot to pack a lunch, and I’m wearing yoga pants at work (although… okay, yoga pants at work are not unusual).

I wish that life was like a gas tank, and that through a simple act of fuel in, our wheels would be guaranteed to keep moving.

Actually, I think that’s just called sleep.

I hope to emerge in a few days. Until then, my earplugs are in and I’m laser beam focused on getting my life back in order. If you know any happy news, please share it – I could use a little oomph in my day.

Ping-pong

Written by hootenannie on March 7th, 2014

This week, work has had me ping-ponging around the nation (and thus, ping-ponging around in the otherwise vacant warehouse known as “my head” – watch out for raccoons!). I needed to be in Minneapolis for meetings followed by Anaheim for a trade show, and all of that travel was going to equal 7 days.

Fine, except for Foxy.

Even for a snuggly wonder pup, 7 days is a really long time to ask someone to dog-sit – that is, unless “someone” is family. So what did I do? I left Denver last Saturday, drove east on I-70 for 600 miles, dropped the little mongrel with my champion of a mom, and arranged all of this travel out of an airport that is conveniently in the middle of the country. Way to go, Kansas City!

I spent a few days in Minneapolis immersed in meetings, the kind that are engaging and interesting and important but leave your brain feeling like a deflated pufferfish, depleted after all of that, well, puffing. Yesterday, I hopped a flight to California, and today I’m in Anaheim for National Products Expo West. After the craziness of the last week, I’m ill prepared for the extroversion it’s going to take me to get through the next 3 days – but it’s time to gird up my loins (any excuse to use that phrase, really).

It’s been an exhausting time, and the trip isn’t over yet – I still need to fly to Kansas City on Sunday night, and then drive 9 hours back to Denver on Monday. But the cause is noble – because like Schmidt says, “I’m in marketing, the backbone of capitalism. Without it, you’d be dead in two days.” Also known as my new professional motto.

(Also, if you are at the Anaheim Hilton and heard an alarm go off this morning, that was me accidentally opening a door to the roof. I’m sorry, and I hope I don’t get arrested.)

The speck on a speck

Written by hootenannie on February 24th, 2014

I’ve heard it said that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches of this planet. And while we obviously can’t count either (trust me, I’ve done some very official Internet Research), I think that the point is that the universe is startlingly, overwhelmingly, mind-bogglingly gigantic – which makes me feel tiny. Smaller than tiny, actually. Indefinitely small. Infinitesimal.

In this knowledge, human beings shouldn’t matter; compared to the rest of creation, we should be negligible. There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea, and we’re the speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on the wart on the frog on the bump on the log therein. To make matters worse, just as the universe is constantly expanding into cold and infinite darkness, stars burning out into corpses along the way, we’re all racing toward death at a breakneck speed.

In case you’d forgotten, none of us are making it out of here alive. We are small, tenuous, and frail. It’s enough to make a girl despair – because does any of this, this world, this living, even matter?

Do I matter?

But then I remember that my nose can smell chocolate chip cookies, and my tongue can taste them. I think of the sky before a summer rainstorm, clouds the shade of polished steel, my eyes receptive to the hues. Sunlight hits the skin and warms it. On lucky nights, I can hear owls high in the trees of Jefferson Park, even if I can’t see them. We experience life in color. We encounter the world by way of our five senses, and we are constantly receiving through them. It didn’t have to be this way, but it is.

Doesn’t this feel generous?

And beyond what we see, taste, touch, hear, and smell, there’s even more. The rhinoceros is actually a thing. Photosynthesis works. Crack open a spaghetti squash and the flesh falls apart into tiny strands. If corn kernels are heated to the right temperature, they explode into soft, edible puffs. Whales sing. Words, invisible and intangible, have the power to heal or destroy. Yawns are contagious. Babies laugh; we all laugh. When we’re sad, tears fill our eyes.

This world is full of beauty and sorrow, and I don’t know which you’re experiencing today – but I’m combatting the numbness that often feels so easy. I am struck with the miracle of what it means to be alive, even on a so-called “normal” Monday. We may be small and our lives may be fleeting, but the gifts of this life are extravagant and lavish, and none of this is an accident.

I smashed my nose

Written by hootenannie on February 11th, 2014

There are seasons when life feels overwhelming, like my brain has too many tabs open. I jump from one page to the next trying to figure out what to focus on, and with each change in visual, I forget what I was looking at before.

Last night, I walked Foxy to the dog park in the dark. About halfway there, I slipped on a patch of ice and landed nose-first on the sidewalk, which totally hurt my feelings. The blood was minimal, and so far my face doesn’t look any different – but even just sitting still today, I am very aware of my schnoz and the throbbing therein.

I own a shotgun house that’s the end of four units. None of the other owners live in theirs – they rent them out – but I email with them about shared things, like water bills and yard work. On January 17, the owner of Unit B went missing in Texas – vanished into thin air. I’ve been tracking with the story, and although I’ve never met Leanne, I feel a strong connection to her. I hurt for her family. The unknown has to be worse than news, good or bad.

I was in California last week for work to attend the Biggest Loser finale (I witnessed the shock in person), and this week I’m heading out on another business trip. I’m packing a yoga mat, snowshoes, and high heels, because always be prepared.

You may wonder what happens to Foxy when I’m gallivanting around the country. I am lucky to have a tag-team of friends and a sister who have been pitching in, trading off, and helping out. This dog is getting big – she’s close to 30 lbs. now – and when strangers meet her, now they sometimes have to ask, “Is she a puppy?” because from the look of her, it isn’t entirely clear anymore. But then she helicopters around and ties me up with her leash, or jumps on someone, or decides that a piece of trash from the sidewalk is the greatest thing she’s ever discovered, and her puppy-ness is all too clear.

I only have one wedding to attend in 2014, which is obviously a huge change from years past. What on earth will I do with all of this vacation time, time that has typically been spoken for? I have a mega-plan, but it deserves its own post. I’ll tell you about it soon.

I still daydream about “one day” when life will feel good and right, but then I realize that this is it. This is what I’ve got. And I have a sneaking suspicion that just like other imperfect seasons of my life, one day in the not-so-distant future I’ll look back on this one and think, “Those were some great days.” I’m living an utter gift, replete with friendship, experiences, provision, and freedom. And cheese. There’s a lot of cheese.

fox

Characters

Written by hootenannie on February 4th, 2014

We are all watching. We are all watched.

To some people, this could seem glamorous. The whole idea of being in a novel or film or reality show is quite appealing.

We know what kind of people they are. We see the shallowness, the superficiality of their self-love. But for some reason, they can’t. For some reason, none of us can when we are set on making asses of ourselves. Listen to your dialogue. Look at your thoughts. Be horrified. Be grateful that God loves characters, and loves characters on journeys, characters honestly striving to grow. If someone else was delivering your lines, would you like them? If someone else was wearing your attitude, would you be impressed?

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I’m a few chapters into Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. Don’t you love it when familiar things are articulated in a completely original, true-but-not-trite, non-sentimental way? I’m savoring this book.

Omaha! Omaha!

Written by hootenannie on January 31st, 2014

We have to talk about the Denver Broncos. We just have to.

Let me preface this by saying that historically, I was never a fan of a single team in any sport. As a child, my heroes were singers and the cast of “Full House.” After 6th grade, I never played organized sports. In fact, I loathed physical activity – because give me a spot on the couch with the VCR and a bag of makeup. I joined the marching band so I didn’t have to take P.E., because I literally would have rather worn a plumed hat than sweat.

I got it in my head at an early age that I wasn’t good at sports – so why pay attention to them?

But in 2010, a fateful thing happened: I moved to Denver. It was the beginning of Tebow-mania – and love him or hate him, that guy made Broncos games worth watching because you never knew what was going to happen. It could be a disaster or it could be magic, and the city spent a couple of seasons on the edge of their stadium seats, never quite sure which they would witness.

One night in November, I had been shopping at the Park Meadows Mall and was heading through the food court on my way to the car. As I walked toward the doors, I noticed that the game was playing on a few big screen TVs and that everyone – EVERYONE – had stopped in their tracks to watch. Without knowing what was going on, the electricity in the air was obvious even to me. I found myself drifting toward the game, and was quickly enveloped into the crowd. And in the last 6 minutes of that game against the Jets, I watched as Tebow led the team to come from behind and score two touchdowns for a Broncos victory.

And the crowd literally went wild. There at the mall, absolute mayhem broke out, strangers were high-fiving me, the noise level was off the charts, and I even saw a man shed some tears. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a sports fan – all of a sudden, I was a Denverite.

And just like that, I was paying attention to football.

Becoming a Broncos fan proved to be a turning point for me in my Denver tenure. Up until that point, friendship had proven difficult and I was checking Craigslist for apartments in different cities just about every day. I was lonely and felt displaced. But all of a sudden, I had a point of connection with the people around me. It’s like the Broncos had been a foreign language, but now I knew some of the words. I had something to say to the grocery checkers, my next door neighbors, strangers at parties. And suddenly, in this city in which I previously had zero investment, I started to gain some traction.

I’ve now lived in Denver for over 4 years – twice as long as I lived in Nashville, which is bonkers and hard to believe. I love this city and my life in it. There are a few things to which I attribute this sense of Denver becoming “home”: buying a house, obviously. Getting a bike, because it’s easier to feel connected to the people around you when you’re passing each other and breathing the same air, as opposed to next to someone else in a car. Adopting Foxy, because a dog is the very best excuse for conversation with strangers. Spending every possible minute I can in the mountains. A job that most days, I really love.

But before all of that was the Broncos, a team that has been more and more fun to root for over the past few years (Peyton Manning, we love you!).

I’m sure there’s a girl in Seattle who would say that the Seahawks have had the same effect on her life, but that girl isn’t me. So despite the hundreds of people in my Facebook newsfeed who are cheering on the other team, on Sunday you’ll find me unapologetically in orange and blue.

GO BRONCOS!