Experiments in … Adventure: Getting Wild in the Woods

On 25 September, I made a decision. It was more a stroke of recognition that burned right through me like a flash of lightning. It was spurred by an innocuous post on a friend’s Facebook page. When I first read this post – about a mild-mannered woman who quietly set the women’s record for fastest Appalachian Trail thru-hike – I simply thought: Hmmm. That’s interesting. Good for her. But, in the way Inspiration often does, that post began to whisper to me at the oddest times … while I was lying in bed at night … as I was doing dishes … while brushing my bunny’s hair. Pretty quickly that whisper turned into a high-volume roar. There is something for you here. Pay attention.

So I did. I paid attention. And suddenly the desire I’d long ago held to hike the Appalachian Trail was rekindled. And this time it felt like a real possibility. It felt like a worthy goal. And on 25 September (2015), I decided to make it a reality.

Now, my mama didn’t raise a dummy. I know that there is MUCH more to this adventure than just deciding to do it. And it will be a long process to get myself to a point where I feel physically, mentally and financially capable of the adventure. But, the process has begun! I’ve been researching and reading about the trail and the experiences of others who have gone before me. I am starting to gather up gear. I’m planning some physical training to prep my body. And I’m incorporating practices like pranayama, meditation and journaling to prep my mind/spirit. I took my first actual, real-life backpacking trip a couple weekends ago with my sister and brother-in-law. My brother-in-law was an Eagle Scout, so he’s an invaluable resource.

We were originally planning an overnight hike on Cold Mountain, but tales of blustery cold weather (even in Summer) urged us to change our locale. Instead we made for Max Patch Bald on the recommendation of a friendly REI employee. We hiked (on the AT!) north from Max Patch around 6 miles. There we found a spot to set up camp, where brother-in-law made a beautiful fire and taught us how to hang a bear bag. (For those of you not in the know, that’s where you put your food in a bag and hang it up in the trees away from trunks and branches to protect it from hungry bears.) We had dinner around the campfire, then tucked into our respective tents for a good night’s rest under the stars. The next morning we awoke with the sun … well, okay, a little after the sun … and re-traced our steps back to Max Patch Bald. Somehow we managed to shave an hour off our time on the return trip. And that included stopping at one of the AT shelters to have lunch. It was an awesome experience. And while I confirmed for myself that I chose my trail name of Tortoise wisely, I also confirmed that I really want to do this. I’m excited about the challenge.

I always feel so at home in the woods. And it was nice to have this first experience with some company as I’m still not super confident in my skills, and am, therefore, a little nervous going it alone. However, in the spirit of getting out of my comfort zone, I hope to plan a solo trip soon. I’m not sure if I’ll get to do it this year or not. The weather will have a hand in that. I don’t have a lot of winter gear. But I figure I’ll be spending a good deal of next year in the woods, getting more comfortable with my Self and my backcountry skills. If you have any suggestions for good places to go in and around North Carolina, or if you’d like to plan a trip with me, give me a shout!

Have any of you hiked the AT? Did you day hike, section hike, flip flop, or thru-hike? Did you white blaze, blue blaze, yellow blaze, or rainbow blaze? Did you love it? I’d love to hear your experiences!


Post Script:  Once again I’m having trouble loading photos.  I will do my best to get some as soon as possible.  Until then … let your imaginations guide you!


Wheel of the Year: Samhain


We celebrated Samhain this weekend past.  Samhain is yet another holiday on the Wheel of the Year.  It occurs at sundown on 31 October, and continues through sundown 1 November.  Yes, much of the secular Halloween celebrations are echoes of Samhain traditions, but Samhain is a much more reverent and spiritual holiday.  This is a time when ancestors and loved ones who have passed through the veil are honored.  It is the festival that marks the end of the agrarian harvest season and the introduction to the colder, darker days of Winter.  As such, it’s a time for personal reflection and even deeper, more honest introspection than we might have already been undertaking during the harvest holiday season.

This is a simplified explanation of the holiday, of course, but you are welcome to do a search for more specific information if you’d like.  In a full disclosure, I have been dealing with some of my own personal darkness of late, and I’m finding brevity is all I can offer during this time.

For my celebration of the holiday, I, as usual, kept things simple.  I also allowed myself the luxury of not getting too caught up in the time table of my celebrations.  I did a mini ceremony on the night of the 1st.  I performed a classic “cutting away” ritual in which I made a list of those things that are no longer serving me in my life – things I would like to release from my life.  After taking a moment to meditate on those things, and how they may have served me in the past, I took a flame to them.  As the paper was burning, I tried to imagine my life without these encumbrances.  Then I let them finish burning in a little mini cauldron I have.  (It seemed only appropriate.)    Once the flame was safely extinguished, I said a small prayer for hope and fortitude, and went to bed.

The next day I did a tarot reading, using my Oracle Tarot deck.  I used a basic Celtic Cross without the outlier cards.  I did a little yoga stretching beforehand.  This was what I was given:

1. BONDAGE (Issues of Control, Freedom):  This card is in the Significator position.  The Significator is indicative of the querent in her/his current situation.  This is a familiar card for me.  It often shows up when I’m feeling trapped or stuck in situations that aren’t particularly fun.  It also heralds times when I am feeling like I’m being pulled in a number of directions, none of which seem like the clear choice.  The Bondage card correlates to the Devil card in traditional decks.  The idea here is that we are only enslaved by our own acceptance of the slavery.  We have the power to eradicate the chains that bind us, but to do so requires a willingness to buck the status quo and risk stepping into the unknown.  The handbook that accompanies this deck offers this piece of wisdom:  “This card indicates … that you are unable to be your true self and are acting the way you feel you should in order to … maintain the situation in hand.  To be free, you must rediscover your authentic self and walk away from the chains.”  Yep.  This card is the perfect Significator card for me.  It could sum up my life, really.
2. 4 CUPS (Nervous About Change):  Position 2 is the Crossing Card.  It depicts that which is blocking the querent from moving forward through the current situation.  Fours in the minor arcana (suits cards) are related to the Emperor of the Major Arcana (thematic cards).  They mirror those older masculine authority figure qualities and challenges:  Qualities are a sense of stability, a solid foundation.  Challenges are a stubborn refusal to change, or a sense of being stuck, which often results from a fear of stepping away from tradition and trying something new and unproven.  Fours turn up a lot in my spreads.  The cups suit are representative of our emotional and spiritual selves.  The four of cups, here, is telling me that I am allowing my Self to be stuck in unserving patterns out of a fear of causing some kind of emotional pain for my Self.  Most likely, I am afraid of failure.  Although, it could very well be that I am secretly afraid of success.  I do have a tendency to self-sabatoge.  In any case, I am allowing fear to keep me from making a move – any move.
3. 9 SWORDS (Stress, Anxiety):  The third position of the Celtic Cross spread shows the superficial view of the current situation.  This is what might be noticeable to the querent and/or to those around the querent.  Nines are related to the Hermit card in the Major Arcana.  They depict a time of introspection and rumination, often on completed or near-completed projects or cycles.  The Swords correlate with our mental selves, and with communication and progress.  This card is showing me the darkness and solitude I’ve been experiencing lately.  The stress and fear that always lift to the top of the matter might be the easiest feelings to access, but they are just that:  the film that covers the sweet cream underneath.  Sometimes one just needs to take a moment to wallow there before that film can be removed and the cream can be enjoyed.  It’s an accurate representation of things, for sure.  I spent the whole weekend holed up in my house feeling sorry for myself.
4. THE STAR  (Hope, Inspiration, Nature):  Position four represents the root of the matter, or what is really brewing for the querent in this current situation.  It may not be noticeable to anyone else, and the querent may not even be aware of this aspect of the matter at hand.  The Star is a Major Arcana (thematic) card.  These cards, when they appear in a spread, usually carry more weight than the minor arcana (suits) cards.  They suggest that whatever they are depicting is going to be of some special significance to the querent.  The Star is, for me, most often a symbol of hope.  It’s a sign that good things are brewing and the Natural Order is on top of things.  Ironically, as I mentioned above, I had just been praying for some hope.  And here it is in my tarot spread, in a very fortuitous position.  Thank you, Powers That Be.  This card is telling me that, first and foremost, I have not abandoned hope, but, rather, it is what is guiding me through this process, through this current challenge.  It is also letting me know that, whether I can fully recognize it or not, I am operating under a clarity of vision for my Self and my future.  And, ultimately, I can rest assured that things are happening as they should.  This discomfort is part of the process, and should lead me somewhere good.
5. 6 SWORDS (Cautious Progress):  Position five depicts the past, the time before the current situation, and the situations and circumstances that lead up to the current one.  Sixes are related to The Lovers card in the Major Arcana.  They are about finding balance and harmony, and can sometimes represent the discovery of what your soul desires/requires.  Sixes often offer some kind of solution to problems, or revelations about what is missing.  There is often a choice or decision to be made to find balance or completion.  Swords, as mentioned above, are representative of the mental self, and with communication and progress.  This card is spot on for me:  I had that light bulb moment a couple years ago in which I realized that my soul was begging me to take better care of my Self.  I’ve been really working hard to do that, and I have been making “cautious progress”.   I may still have moments of over-thinking things, but ultimately, I am slowly and steadily creating a better life for my Self.  And all the work I’ve done thus far has lead me to this current place and time.  The challenges that I’m facing now, are just one more step on that journey.
6. THE WORLD (Rewards, Expansion, Destiny):  Position six is the future card.  It predicts what could be in store for the time following the current situation, all other things staying the same.  It’s the probable outcome assuming that the current situation follows its natural course.  The World is the final card in the Major Arcana.  As such, it is both an ending and a beginning.  As one cycle is completing another is blossoming into being.  It usually heralds the successful conclusion to a project or situation.  This card is telling me that if I stay on the path I’m on, and keep working on creating better health, wealth and well-being, that I will succeed and be rewarded justly.  I will also be prepared to begin the next phase of my Life Journey thanks to all the work I’ve been doing and all the challenges I’ve overcome during this current phase.  It’s another hopeful card, and I’m thankful for it.  It’s nice to be reminded that all this work is not for naught.

Overall, it seems that I am nearing the end of a cycle in my life.  All I need to really move through to positive completion is to give my Self the permission to change my patterns and to develop new ways of moving through and looking at the world.  I need to be willing to take more risks, and continue stepping out of my comfort zone.  This, of course, is not always an easy thing to do, but, really, is a mere trifle when I think of it contextually.  If this is all that is holding me back from breaking through my old unhappy, unhealthy way of life to a new stage of hope and possibility, then I will need to find a way to make it happen.  My life depends upon it, after all.

PostScript:  I hope to eventually have photos of the tarot cards here, but my computer is old and slow and I don’t have time to wait right now.  Apologies.