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.

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

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.

unplug_square

#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.

A nighttime park sit

Written by hootenannie on June 22nd, 2014

Last night at 10pm, I walked Foxy the block to Jefferson Park.

Even in the dark by myself, I feel safe in the park. It’s the hub of the neighborhood, home to big family barbecues and outdoor movie nights and workout boot camps, and late at night is the only time I feel safe letting her run (because remember?).

When we showed up last night, three college boys were tossing a light-up Frisbee, which was terrifying to Foxy and she ran wide circles around them. Whenever the glowing disc would hit the ground close to her, she would bow, barking ferociously, but never get close enough to investigate.

Eventually, I sat down on the hillside and called her over to me, talking to her like she understood what I was saying. “Fox, that’s just a Frisbee. You’ve never seen one before! I know, it’s verrrrry scary.” She sat right beside me in the dark, following the saucer with her eyes, and l scratched her ears. As I continued to talk to her, she leaned her body into mine and nosed her way under my arm until she was completely encircled.

We sat there in the darkness, leaned up against each other, each taking comfort in the others’ presence, and I thought, “I am so thankful for this dog.” I may have gotten this pup from a rescue, but I’m learning that rescue runs both ways.

Foxy.jpg

Don’t Give Up Zion

Written by hootenannie on June 20th, 2014

My sweet nephew Zion, the ultimate miracle baby (besides Jesus), is now 3-years old. He is humongous and gorgeous and funny and emotional and snuggly (except when he doesn’t want to be snuggly) – and if you’re interested in learning more about this precious boy, you should peruse my brother and sister-in-law’s family blog. For as great of pictures as they take professionally, they are both darn good writers, too.

Zion has been officially diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and Jeremy and Ashley are fighting to get him placed in a school that will be the best fit for his needs. This is an expensive process, and some of their friends have started a fundraiser site for them. I know that all Parsons people feel weird and uncomfortable asking for help, so please know that this isn’t a demand or an expectation or anything. But I know that so many of you have followed Zion’s story since 2011, and have expressed so much care for this little boy – so I wanted to make you aware of this need, in case you want to pitch in.

DGU_Zion

If you need to have your heartstrings pulled on a bit, just watch this.

Why I’m doing what I’m doing

Written by hootenannie on 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

Northern exposure

Written by hootenannie on June 9th, 2014

I spent the weekend in Minnesota along the edge of Lake Superior, an area called the North Shore. I’d been to Duluth once before – but that was in November, and I was really only there during the dark. I needed to see it in the summer, in the daylight.

I was not disappointed. Northern Minnesota is magic, and I had the dreamiest time.

On Friday, I drove north from Minneapolis and was in Duluth by 5pm. I checked into the Hampton Inn (which is basically just like the Hamptons), and immediately changed into my walking clothes; it was 85 degrees outside, and my very top #1 hobby is walking around. Talk about low-maintenance – someone marry me!

Duluth

After a shower, I headed out on Friday night to realize a dream I’ve always held: to eat alone in a legitimate restaurant, a place with a menu and a server and a cloth napkin. For the amount that I hang out by myself, I don’t know that I’d ever gone out for the express purpose of dining alone – but I’m happy to report that everything went really well. I ordered Pinot Grigio and the truffle mac & cheese with bacon (a respectable Grown Up Lady meal). And because I tend to excel in situations where I don’t know anyone, I struck up conversation with the man sitting next to me.

He was a complete weirdo.

I wasn’t being flirty or anything – I just wanted to talk to someone. I wound up having my leftovers boxed up and walking back to the hotel, turning around every block or so to make sure he wasn’t following me. He wasn’t. I am not blogging from the grave. Hooray!

I had big plans for Saturday: I was going to hike 18 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail. With just 3 weeks to go until I set off to thru-hike the Colorado Trail, I felt the need to get some mileage in – but Mother Nature (that old hag) had other plans. When I woke up on Saturday, it was pouring rain.

Ever delusional, I got in my car at 7:30am and headed toward the trailhead. “It will burn off in the next 30 minutes,” I thought. “Rain never lasts.”

Oh sweetie. Welcome to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, all of which were apparently filled by ceaseless precipitation.

It kept raining. So I kept driving north. For hours. All the way to Canada.

And since I didn’t have my passport, nor a legitimate reason to flee the United States of America (besides the national debt, portion sizes, and Pat Robertson), I turned around. Still in the rain.

North Shore

When I stopped at the Java Moose in Grand Marais to order a chamomile tea, I noticed a massage parlor across the street – and it struck me. That would be a great place to wait out the weather. Whilst someone rubbed my body.

Let me tell you, the worst mistake I ever made was to have smelly massage oil smeared all over my skin, only to have the rain let up and therefore head out into the boggy, mosquito-ridden wilderness of Minnesota. I now have West Nile. I don’t even need a test – it’s just a fact.

I wound up hiking for a little bit around the Temperance River – which, for the record, shows no temperance. It shows rage.

Temperance

Then I hiked 6ish miles around the Split Rock River, which I felt earned me all sorts of snacks and sweets. So I ate cookies and drove back to Duluth.

If you’re looking for natural beauty, lighthouses, interesting people-watching, and gift shops with names like Moose-scellaneous, get ye to the North Shore. It’s one of the most lovely, charming places I’ve ever been.

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The whole time, I felt a million miles away from Seattle Pacific University, the school that used to be my address.

I don’t understand why some of us get to live longer than others. I don’t know why I was able to spend my weekend up to my eyeballs in beauty and charm, feeling wonderfully independent and alive, while others were forced to grieve. But I know that I can’t be okay unless you’re okay – because to quote the ever wise Frederick Buechner, “there can be no real peace for any of us until there is some measure of real peace for all of us.”

Seattle, from one waterside town to another, I’m sending you all my love.

Heads and tails

Written by hootenannie on May 28th, 2014

For me, Nashville is a safe place to land. It’s a city that always welcomes me back and tells me that I belong.

After spending last week with friends, holding new babies and touring new homes, being surrounded by people who know me and accept me, talking about life, love, and other mysteries (not this), I found my heart creeping back to that place that it always goes: Do I want to move back?

But I know that the question is bigger than that. It always is. The real question is, Is my life what I hoped it would be?

And for the entire 17-hour drive back to Denver, Foxy curled up in a ball on the passenger seat, I turned that question over and over in my head, an existential coin toss.

I don’t live in Nashville – tails. But I do live in Denver – heads.

I don’t get to see these people on a regular basis – tails. But I do have them as friends forever – heads.

I’m not independently wealthy – tails. But I do have a job that, most days, I really love – heads.

I don’t have a guest room – tails. But I do have a charming little hut just big enough for my dog and me, with high ceilings and skylights and an interior brick wall and a gas stove and a clawfoot tub – heads.

I’m single – tails. But I am single – heads.

Sometimes we choose our circumstances, and sometimes they choose us, and sometimes the only choice we have is to choose them back.

Fox

Trading for cantaloupe

Written by hootenannie on May 20th, 2014

So, on Saturday –

Wait. Let me back up. I’m currently in Nashville. I drove here.

I was in Minneapolis last week, flew back to Denver Friday night, loaded up the car, and headed east first thing on Saturday morning. A quick stop over at my mom’s house in Kansas City on Saturday night, and another in St. Louis on Sunday afternoon (to see one of my dearest friends, THE Juliette Genteman), and by last night, I was pulling into the driveway of Brandon and Miranda – or as I like to call them, Mirbranda. Everything about this trip has been tops.

Back to Saturday. In the middle of Kansas, I took a detour and wound up at Mushroom Rock State Park – probably the tiniest state park I’ve ever seen (5 acres), and the strangest phenomenon: gigantic alien rocks standing inexplicably in the middle of farmland, an agricultural Stonehenge.

mushroom

Foxy and I jumped out to snap a few pictures, and – oh. This is where I show you the vehicle I was driving.

car

Nice and loud, right? It attracts a lot of attention. So I wasn’t surprised when a woman approached me. “You’re from Colorado?” she asked. “I’m heading there tomorrow. Anything I just gotta see?”

She looked to be about 65, maybe a little older. She was driving a little white pickup with Florida plates, the topper on the back packed to the brim with her things. Her spunk was all too clear, as I soon learned that she was en route to Wyoming to work on a ranch for a few months – much to the worry of her children.

“But you know, I just tell them, you’re only old once!” And she laughed with her entire body.

I asked her to take a picture of Foxy and me in front of the rocks, and she was happy to oblige, calling for the dog’s attention: “Roxy! Roxy!” I didn’t bother to correct her.

As I was leaving, I pulled out a box of bars and offered them to her. Her eyes wide, she immediately raised both of her hands, fingers spread, and aimed her palms at me: “Oh, nooooo, I couldn’t possibly accept!” I told her that it was okay, that I work for the company, and that part of what I do is give stuff away. I opened the box and showed her all of the different flavors, and said, “Please take them!”

She thought about it for a second, and then said, “Well, do you like cantaloupe?”

And before I knew it, she reached into the bed of her pickup and pulled out half a melon, covered in foil.

“Oh, that’s okay –” I started, but she cut me off. “No, take it! Fresh from the farmer’s market this morning.” And with that, I traded a box of bars for half a cantaloupe – because don’t you want to live in a world where melon is currency?

I opened the car door and Foxy jumped in, the lady calling after her, “Bye, Rocky!” And then she turned to me and said, “Remember – don’t talk to strangers. We never met.” I smiled and laughed and said, “I won’t tell if you won’t tell,” as I buckled up and got ready to leave.

When I started to pull away, I noticed her next to the car waving her arms. I stopped and rolled down the window. She trotted up alongside to say, “Don’t forget a spoon.” And she handed me a plastic spoon, because maybe I’d want to eat the cantaloupe out of my lap while flying down the interstate.

I never caught her name.