Colorado Trail

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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.

photo (12)

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

Unplug and go outside

Friday, 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.

unplug_square

#teamhootenannie

Wednesday, 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

Tuesday, 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.

Why I’m doing what I’m doing

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Are you stressed? Aggravated? Fed up? Worn out?

Call Annie Parsons – the Bullshit Exterminator.

This is what one of my beloved co-workers called me today – a moniker I proudly accept.

Listen, life is too much these days. I’m inordinately stressed at work. I’m in the midst of an insurance battle over my roof. I cannot for the life of me get a single lawn service company to call me back. Foxy came back from our weekend backpacking trip with a “small wound” that had to be treated at the vet. Projects just keep not getting finished. My inbox is overflowing, my patience is dwindling, and today, I couldn’t take it anymore.

Shaky rage-voice was used. Emails went flying. I put my foot down. I took action. In essence, I exterminated the bullshit.

I am *thisclose* to teetering off the edge – so it’s a good thing that I leave on the Colorado Trail in just 12 days. I am so ready – so so so so ready – to close my computer.

Am I ready to be alone in the mountains for over 4 weeks? Who knows. But it’s happening – and it’s happening soon.

To be clear, my lack of emotional bandwidth is not solely about my job. For most of us, work is stressful – I’m not unique in this regard. It’s about so much more than work.

The further I grow into being a so-called grown-up, the more I feel myself bucking against the absolute nonsense that “adulthood” tends to bring with it. Some days I feel that I’m losing the person that I once was, the person that I want to believe that I still am, the one with dreams and passions and gumption and guts. I love Annie the Risk Taker. What happened to her? She’s been bound and gagged by what others have told her is “reality”: worst case scenarios and doomsday forecasts and fiscal cliffs and snowballs of disppointment and never, ever getting your hopes up.

But I know better than that.

It’s time to steal my life back. It’s time to remember all of the things that used to make me come alive, that used to make my heart skip a beat.

Who knows if walking alone into the mountains is the way to do it? But it seems worth a shot.

mountain

And I would walk 500 miles…

Tuesday, 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.