Gratitude

I arrived in Park City last night. It was dark when I got here but this morning it’s all clear bright morning sunshine. I went for a run through the woods, stopping every ten steps to take pictures of all the fall splendor. fallsplendor

It’s one of those mornings where I’m just grateful to be alive. It’s funny how little it can take to make you happy sometimes.

Anyway, I’ll take it.

 

The girl who goes alone

Izzy is always late. I probably shouldn’t generalize from only two data points but somehow I’m sure this is the case. It’s funny though, she’s so charming that you love her for it. Her lateness, arriving trailing a scarf off one shoulder and declaring that she got lost again, it’s all part of her charm. Izzy is from Australia and she’s traveling around the US in what appears to be a completely haphazard fashion. From LA to Portland to Austin to New York, there’s neither rhyme nor reason as far as I can tell. But this too is just so Izzy. She marches around as she pleases with a smile that can’t help but spread.

I can’t remember if she messaged me or if I messaged her, but we found each other on couch surfing and agreed to meet for a beer at The Commons Brewery. She comes flying in with only a half hour till closing and introduces herself. She orders what I’m drinking, a farmhouse ale worth writing home about. She’s twenty-three and fairly fresh out of acting school. She’s been saving up for ages to go on this trip. Her ‘mum’ spent months trying to talk her out of it. We commiserate on being a girl traveling alone and how often we’re told not to, told it’s not safe, that we should stay home or travel with buddy. Girls should be chaperoned. This is the unspoken message. I’ve had this fight many times with my own mother. When I told my mother I was traveling alone she managed to be so circumspect that I wanted to send her a fruit basket or something. Congratulations. You’re finally learning to stop telling me to live my life the way you’ve lived yours. I think my mother is risk-averse, to the point where I sometimes think she is just afraid of life. Afraid of the inevitable unknown that is the future. The only way you can make the future knowable is to keep it the same as the present. If you do the same thing and stay in the same place you can know what’s coming for you. Any change is a leap of faith really.

But in my perspective it is so goddamn worth it to take that leap. The best experiences of my life came from launching myself out of my comfort zone. Two years ago I decided to get up in front of a room full of strangers and tell a personal story at a storytelling event. I was so nervous  I could barely breathe. I completely spaced out halfway through and there’s this terrible long pause where it’s obvious I’ve completely lost my train of thought. But I did it and afterwards I was elated. It made me realize that I didn’t just want to scribble in notebooks anymore and then stack them in a closet. I wanted to share my thoughts with others and get feedback and improve. I wanted to get better at sharing my stories so that someday someone might read them and feel the way I feel when I read a good blog, or hear a great podcast. There’s something about stories, isn’t there? They have a power that I don’t understand. All I know is that they can change the way I see the world. They can shine light on me when I think I’m in unreachable darkness. Stories can take you places.

I took that leap of faith and started sharing my stories, such as they are. And I tell you, nothing has made me as happy as writing these little bits and pieces has. I’m grateful that I was given that push that made me take the risk. So I’m here, at this bar with Izzy. We’re taking this new risk together. I think she would agree that we’re both better for it.

Izzy left me with a gift and, as the best gifts always are, this one can’t be bought. She gifted me two phrases from her dad. Apparently he told her after she left for her trip that “after you left I had a bit of a blub darling.” I was so delighted with this turn of phrase that I had to pull out my notebook and write it down. Seeing my delight she gave me a second one. He once told her “well I felt just like a pork chop in a synagog.” I think I have been waiting my whole life to hear this phrase. I feel like this all the time and now I have the perfect simile for it.

Sometimes if you want to grow you have to be willing to feel like a pork chop in a synagog.

Cheers,

Carol

P.S. Here’s a cute cat I saw in Portland:

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This guy offered to get cat hair all over my yoga pants while I’m away from my cat Sprout, who is usually in charge of that

 

Title credit: The girl who goes alone by Elizabeth Austen

Trainhoppers and rose gardens—A simple life

Well, here I am, alone in Portland. So much has happened already, even though I only left home this morning. A transient man snuck onto the train and then refused to get off. I was sitting, drinking coffee in the dining car, when an Amtrak employee walked up to him and told him he had to get off. They were standing not three feet from me. They had a protracted argument where the employee told him he had to get off, he couldn’t stay on, and threatened to call the police. Then he actually called for police, and still he wouldn’t budge. The train hopper kept telling them to call Amtrak and they would say he had a right to be there.
Finally they made an announcement apologizing for the delay because they were “having issues de-training a passenger.” I don’t know why, but at that point he sort of deflated. He said “tell you what, I’ll go back to the station and you guys can be on your way.” Maybe it was the official feel of an announcement, maybe it was having it announced to every person on the train that he was making us all wait. Who knows, but he walked off the train. I’m glad he did, not because I felt any animosity towards him, but because I really didn’t want to see him get arrested. I worked at the public defenders office too long not too feel for him. I have an inkling of how hard his life has been. I’m glad he left before the police came.

The train hopper was in sharp contrast with my arrival in Portland. My hostel is in a really upscale part of the city. I ran to Washington Park and back, passing through some of the neighborhood. I ran past high end restaurants and beautiful old single family homes with Range Rovers parked out front. The streets are clean and landscaped and beautiful. I caught myself, as I sometimes do, picturing myself living here in a beautiful home on a quiet street. Walking to a restaurant on the corner for dinner. I fill up with this sharp sweet yearning. The thing is, this place feels like it is about money. It’s pay to play. And I know that the pursuit of money and all it can buy is not what I want my life to be about. I’ve watched my father spend his life chasing money and success. I’ve watched him buy new cars and move into corner offices. And through it all I’ve never seen him get any happier than he was before. At least not as far as I can tell. So as I ran past beautiful homes and richly dressed people I struggled with myself. I tried to remind myself of my values in life. I tried to remind myself that money is not what this life is about. For me, friends will always be worth more than money. Simplicity worth more than material possessions. And to be loved by one is better than having a hundred people reporting to you in your corner office.

Freedom, all the way down

My blisters have healed now and it’s time for another adventure. The idea has been in my head for a while now to do some solo travel. Every time I drive out to the mountains my hands start to itch on the steering wheel. When I get to the turn off, part of me wants to just keep on driving. I’m sure you know the feeling. I want to get the hell outta dodge. And it just keeps getting worse. I want to see some new things, meet some new people. Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle and I’ll always come back here. But I need to get away for a bit and have some adventures.

My first idea was to drive in a big loop, visiting National Parks. While that is still on the back burner, I don’t want to do it this year for two reasons.

(1) Driving alone in a car isn’t very sustainable

(3) I can’t write while I drive

Part of what I want most from this trip is to write about my experiences. I used to do a lot of things while driving—I once ate an entire bowl of soup—but I know no one wants me trying to write an essay while driving. I’ve learned the error of my ways and the most I’ll do these days is listen to podcasts and public radio. I did hear a story once about a man who read the paper every morning while driving into work (I think I heard about this on public radio, of course) but I think he must have been an odd case. Or very lucky. So instead I have decided to take public transit. I will ride buses, trains, and other forms of communal land travel. I like the idea of it just being me and a backpack on the road, plus I can write on the bus.

The idea has been living vaguely in the back of my head for months now but today, it became real. Today I bought my first train ticket. I leave Monday. I am so excited! But also terrified. Last night I went into a minor panic about traveling alone, about spending so much time away from my partner. I fell into an uneasy sleep and had dreams about being chased by dinosaurs. Like dinosaur apocalypse.  I don’t know what that means, probably just that I’ve been taking too much Skullcap.  I bought it from an herbalist while I was still a stressed out mess, working at the public defenders office. I’m not sure if it helped me relax, all I could tell was that it gave me incredibly vivid dreams. So I’ve been taking it again recently just because it’s sort of interesting. But I digress. I woke up this morning and felt better. I felt excited again. It’s funny how different you can feel after doing nothing more than sleeping on it.

So on Monday I take the train to Portland. Then on Friday I’m taking an eighteen hour bus ride to Salt Lake City to visit a friend of mine. Then after that I’ll figure out a way to get to Denver. That’s as far as I’ve planned. From there it’s wherever I want to go next. From there I hope to realize that it’s freedom, all the way down.

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Bye for now, Seattle!

 

Section J – B is for blisters

All my hopeful predictions were correct: I was so tired by the time I reached my camp that I slept no problem. I woke up a few times and peered out of my tent, but all in all I slept just fine. It helped that there were people camped, just out of sight, on either side of me and that the moon was incredibly bright. It lit up the whole lake so instead of waking up to a dark unknown, I woke up to a silvery fairyland. The trees cast shadows in the moonlight and the lake reflected a perfect mirror image of the ridge above.

I woke up refreshed and feeling excited again. Ned woke up with “OH MY GOSH WE’RE STILL HERE ON THIS AWESOME LAKE” and went swimming. Again. Repeatedly.

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Section J – A is for asinine

I should never have worried about bears. What I should have been worrying about was chihuahuas. Nowhere in all the wilds is there a beast that can become a more super-concentrated bundle of hate than a chihuahua. But demon dogs are a little later in the story and I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

Preparation

I planned my route using a combination of the mileages in The Pacific Crest Trail guidebook and Guthook’s PCT app. I discussed this a bit in my pre-hike post. As prudent safety planner I planned for five days but packed food for six in case we needed to take an extra day. I also packed a Fremont IPA that somehow didn’t make it into this photo. Don’t worry though, I captured a photo of it in the wild.

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The scrambled eggs and the mango ended up being my favorites of the trip

I also got the idea to stick little pieces of duct tape to my trekking poles from this guy. He has a really helpful description of the route, although he must be in much better shape than me because he makes it all sound easy. Don’t listen to him. I think there’s something wrong with him, like maybe he was bitten by a radioactive mountain goat.

Packing for a solo trip was difficult because there wasn’t anyone to share weight with (Ned only carried his own food and water and emergency booties). It really added up to be carrying my own tent, stove, water filter, etc. I’m used to sharing weight with Partner and this pack got heavy, like coming up on 30 pounds heavy. I’m still thinking about ways I might cut that down. I actually ended up not bringing the camera and opting for iPhone pictures. I just didn’t have the space for a real camera and I needed to cut down on my weight. So all my photos are iPhone pictures.

It’s still kind of incredible to me that this all fit in the pack:

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But it did!

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So, all packed and planned, I went to bed early in preparation for a 5:30am wakeup.

There’s not much fanfare to the start of the trail at Stevens. There’s just a path heading up the hill from the main lodge and a single sign that says “Hiking Trail.” Partner kissed me goodbye and took a few photos of me and Ned before we headed up the trail. Despite grand plans of an 8am departure, we started up the trail at 8:45am. Close enough. The trail weaves up the slopes at a pretty mellow grade. Part of me is excited to finally be on the trail. Part of me is wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into…

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Bye, Stevens!

 

Coming over the top of the ridge was incredible. It was like the whole trip opened up before us, possibility and adventure spreading before us.

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Can you see the possibility, Ned?

 

The trail cuts down the valley to the left from here and heads into the forrest for a long trek through the shade.

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About seven miles in I was feeling great. My pack felt light, and I felt like I was finally starting to leave my worries behind. Ned and I had been hiking for hours, enjoying sunlit forests and clean mountain air. We’d seen a few people on the trail but no dogs. Then we came around a corner and saw two little dogs. One was a piebald Pomeranian-looking thing, who looked like it was considering friendliness with some tail wagging and cautious sniffing, but then it’s friend came tearing up with it’s little demon chihuahua eyes fixed on Ned, screeching it’s shrill war cry. It came screaming at Ned, biting at whatever it could reach (not much, really). Ned starts barking, trying to stand off with these two tiny monsters (because of course little Pomeranian joined in when his buddy started scrapping). Poor Ned is not really a formidable beast. He’s sweet and dopey. I mean look at this guy:

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Just not the face of a killer  (photo credit to @evanpetrie, this is the only picture not actually from my trip)

Ned is a tender soul but he will always stand his ground if he thinks Lady is threatened. So he starts barking.

“Defend Lady from tiny evil! Protect! Danger, Lady, DANGER!!”

Ned and I fend off the dual onslaught long enough for the owner to come pick up the little devil. I’m too busy confirming that Ned doesn’t have any tiny punctures to say any choice words to the person who decided that it was a good idea to have that little monster off-leash. I mean, really? But Ned is fine, I’m fine, and we’re ready to get to some lakes!

We came to the right wilderness area I think. So many lakes. The first photo is at Lake Susan Jane and the rest are at Mig Lake. I can confirm this because the iPhone maps all my photos if I click on the location now so I can see my trail of photos across the wilderness.

Ned swam in all the lakes, then we hiked, and we hiked, and we hiked. Then I saw a bumblebee.

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Then we hiked some more. It was around the time of the bumblebee that I realized that I hadn’t been eating enough, and I started to get tired. And hangry. Like tired and angry and hungry and hating everything. By the time I climbed the ridge to look down on gorgeous Trap Lake I was finding the end of my rope.

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Trap Lake did manage to lift my spirits a bit

Getting to the top of this ridge is the point where I start wondering what in the hell I’m doing here, and I still have two miles to go. I’ve used the word “exhaustion” so many times in my life and I realize, as I’m coming down the other side of this ridge, that I never really knew what it meant. I’m so tired that I have no defenses and every doubt or anxiety I’ve ever felt about my life rises up, filling my whole head. Suddenly everything is terrible, I feel like a failure, like I’ll never get my shit together. For two miles. I run out of water, finally coming to a stream about a mile away from my planned camp. I sit down in a tired daze and start pumping water. My inlet hose moves in the stream and I reach for it. I don’t want to get mud into my filter, but in my state I keep pumping with one hand even though I’ve let go of the other handle of my water filter. There is a loud crack that slices through my already aching heart, that reverberates all the way through me to the bottoms of my swollen feet. Part of my water filter has broken off. I experience a moment of utter despair. I’ll have to borrow someone’s filter to fill up my water and quit on day one. As I’m staring at the broken piece I realize that it’s just the outlet nozzle that attaches neatly to my water bottle that has snapped. None of the actual mechanism of the filter is damaged. A tiny ray of hope shines into my mind. It will still work, as long as I’m careful not to cross contaminate the outlet with any unfiltered water. I finish filtering water and pack up my poor maimed filter and hike the last mile into camp.

By the time I get into Glacier Lake, my camp for the night, I’m too tired to be hungry. I set up camp like a zombie and have to force myself to eat. The only thing I actually enjoy is the Fremont IPA that I cool in the creek for a while. Drinking that beer was indescribably blissful. Sitting there with my cold beer I experience a moment of real peace. Fish were jumping in the lake and a few birds were gliding over the lake, looking for fish. The pattern of their movements were the most graceful thing I’ve ever seen, floating in slow loops over the lake. A profound quiet settles over me. This might be an absurd, asinine adventure for me to be undertaking, but I feel that, right now, I am exactly where I need to be.

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Story continues in “B is for blisters”

A wayward girl (and beast)

So, I quit my job. And not because I had a new job, or for graduate school, or for any legitimate reason whatsoever. I quit only because I knew I didn’t want to do this work any more. So I just quit, deciding to take some time off before launching into the next thing for me.

The first thing on my bucket list is a solo backpacking trip, just me and my dog (a dopey black lab named Ned) and five days in the wilderness. I felt like I needed to spend some time alone in the wild to heal, to grow, and to let some of the madness of five years at the Public Defenders Office bleed out of me into the mountain air. Which sounds nice, right? Restful? Restorative?

Or terrifying. Maybe. Depending. See, the thing that I realized is that I’m afraid of sleeping alone. Ha! So why do I think solo backpacking is a good idea for me? Because I am a fool, obviously. I also do not understand why this hadn’t occurred to me previously, either. I was totally oblivious of this until I went on an overnight trial (to test out some of my gear) and was so terrified all night that I did not sleep. I lay awake in my tent listening for small noises and imagining what terrible things might be causing those noises. All night. I would tell myself,

Carol, that is the rain dripping off the trees. You know it is. There is nothing out there, and even if there is, odds are that it won’t bother you and your dog. 

No, it’s bears. Rabid bears that have teamed up with cougars to come after you.

It’s not bears. Rain. It’s rain. You know what rain sounds like and that is it. 

But I wasn’t listening to myself. I just kept thinking of absurd scenarios involving bears that would never ever happen and continuing to not sleep.

So I hiked out at 6am, exhausted and miserable. I got home and slept it off and thought about my backpacking plans. What the hell was I thinking? But, you know what I decided? To go anyway. Because, as I said, I am a fool. A stubborn fool. I’m not going to let Afraid Carol make decisions for Bold Carol. Even if I make both of us miserable in the process. And I think I want to refer to myself as Bold Carol from now on. Maybe Carol the Bold. I haven’t decided yet.

Now I’m planning to do Section J of the Pacific Crest Trail (with Ned), over the course of  five days and four nights. I get occasional little jolts of panic as I plan to sleep alone, in a tent, for four consecutive nights. Maybe it will cure me of my fears, or maybe it will be one long nightmare of sleep deprivation and terror. Either way it will be an adventure. Something to write about, and as Calvin’s (and Hobbes’) Dad would tell me, it will build character.

Did I mention that I leave in two days?

I’m almost done preparing. This morning I spent hours mapping and adding up mileages and picking my campsites.  Then I did a little online research and found this brilliant little app which makes all of that work I did totally unnecessary. It’s like the google maps of backpacking trails. I just need to make sure my phone doesn’t run out of battery… and a friend graciously allowed me to borrow his portable charger to bring along. Right now I’m about to bike to REI and buy bearspray, you know, just in case. I also need bugspray, for keeping slightly lesser creatures than bears at bay. At least I’m not afraid of bugs. Or snakes, heights, spiders, or joint pain! Not afraid at all!

I’m not even really afraid of bears and cougars during the day. It’s just sleeping alone in a tent that gets me, and I think it has more to do with the unknown than anything else. At night you can’t see what’s coming and that unnerves me. Right now that feels like a particularly uncomfortable thing because I’m dealing with so much uncertainty overall. I don’t know I’m going to do after taking this time off. Also, my miserable sleepless overnight was compounded by the fact that the mountain was covered in mist—I basically slept in a cloud. I couldn’t see more than fifteen feet off the trail and walked through what I christened as Creepy Meadows 1-4 before making camp (I also appreciate the metaphorical significance of not being able to see the trail ahead and not knowing where life will take you). But anyway, the uncertainty of nighttime, the whole not-seeing-what’s-coming problem, was doubled that night. So I’m hopeful that with a little luck and some clear, dry weather, I might have a better experience this time. Maybe I’m overly optimistic. Maybe I’m a fool.

Either way, I expect to have a whole lot of extra character by the time I get back and I’ll be sure to share it with you when I do. That is, if the cougar-bear nighttime hit squad of my overactive imagination doesn’t get me.

Cheers,

Carol the Bold

 

Invisible

The first time I saw him he was sitting on the sidewalk, his face hidden in his hands. The sign leaning against his knees said “I feel invisible just for asking.” I never give money though, so I kept walking, but his message stuck with me. After that I started noticing him around and I began to wonder. Who was he? What happened to leave him on the street? He carries this massive backpack around all the time—was he traveling? I think it’s odd that we can live in the same city, walk the same streets, yet live in worlds that are so far apart. All the details that make my life recognizable—his life has none of these details. So I resolve to talk to him. To follow my curiosity. But as soon as I decide to talk to him of course I can’t find him anymore. I see him once but when I follow him around a corner he disappears. Weeks go by where I walk up and down streets on lunch and after work to no avail. Then, finally, he finds me. Well, sort of.

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Four fall cocktails and a metaphor

When I went out looking for a fall cocktail I wasn’t really expecting to become interested in psychology. But you don’t always know what it is you’re actually investigating when you start a case. And that is what happened. I went looking for fall flavor and I found it. I found four spectacularly delicious warming things to toast the change of seasons with and four damn patient bartenders. Which I appreciated because, as always, I had a lot of questions.

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metaphorically significant cocktail

My first destination was Spur in Belltown. I’ve never had a bad drink here. I sat down at the black stone bar and Quiet Bartender gave my request for a fall cocktail a few moments thought before bringing me a Dixon Hill. It was beautiful. Apple brandy, suze, lime, and celery soda. Suze is (apparently) a french apéritif—a bitter with citrus undertones that could be likened to Lillet. Apparently Picasso painted a bottle of it once. Who knew. But it added a beautiful element to my drink. It was sweet and tart like a green apple but with just a hint of bitterness at the end. It’s a perfect metaphor for how I feel about fall! Beautiful, sweet, but with a hint of bitterness for the end of summer. I’m not sure Quiet Bartender did this on purpose but I was still impressed. Continue reading

Summer bells

Last August I was sitting outside of a coffee shop on first hill, writing, when I heard a bell begin to toll noon. It was a beautiful sound, coming through the quiet moments in my music. I’d never heard a bell tower there before, not as far as I knew. Sitting there in hot sunshine with iced coffee and listening to the bell mark the time I felt like I was traveling. I felt far away from work and worry. But time ticked on and I had to leave. And I didn’t hear the bell again, not until a full year later.

A few weeks ago I heard the bell again. I was sitting outside the same coffee shop (we’ll call it a ritual not a rut, shall we?) when I heard it once again. I’m convinced I had not heard it once between those two times. It seemed like a strange coincidence, that the only two times I’d heard it had both been in the end of August. I started to wonder why. Did it only ring in summer? Or very infrequently? So, of course, I decided to look into it. The next time I walked up to that coffee shop I asked the two baristas. I know both of them by now although saying I “know” them is maybe stretching the relationship. After a year they have sort of recognized that I come there a lot but we’ve never had much of a conversation.

I asked if they had heard the bells. The guy said yes, sometimes, but that it was hard to say because he didn’t really notice most of the time. I asked where the sound was coming from and the girl said she thought it was from the Church just around the corner, the Lutheran church. The guy said it sounded like it came from that direction and pointed vaguely in what I believe was a south-eastern direction. I walked up the hill and found myself self at the base of an impressive Catholic cathedral. Peering up I saw what appeared to be a bell-tower at the peak.

that's a bell tower, right?

that’s a bell tower, right?

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