July, 2014

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Consolation

Tuesday, 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

Monday, 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.

photo (12) copy 2

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

Wednesday, 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

Friday, 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.

ContinentalDivide