Fear…on the trail and elsewhere

I found this post from early 2017 that I never published. Here it is for your reading pleasure, with an addendum for 2019. -Jodi

Yesterday, I was out for a walk with Sadie in the giant Arboretum near our Boston apartment. It’s honestly one of my favorite places on earth. It’s been around since the 1800s, and it contains trees and plants and shrubs from all over the world. There’s a mix of paved and dirt paths, hills, magical glades where the sun creates fairy havens, and huge, huge trees that seem to beg to be listened to.

On nice days, it’s full of people of all sizes and shapes, and more than a few nationalities. Most everyone is friendly, because, really, if you’re out for a walk in the Arb, you’re being healed by nature, no questions asked.

So, yesterday, Sadie and I were strolling along, and I noticed two elderly, white-haired ladies walking ahead of me. They were chatting merrily away and as they moved aside to let us pass, I heard one say to the other:

“Ooh, look at that tree. That looks like something you’d see in Spooky Hollow.”

Charmed, I turned to them with a big smile and said, “I was once walking in here at night and I heard owls hooting to each other across the path.”

Some of you might be wondering at this slightly odd entry into the conversation of perfect strangers, but those who know me well know that this is a perfectly normal segue for my mind to make: I heard the word “spooky” and I immediately remembered the most spooky moment I’ve had in that space and decided to share it. They didn’t call me “storyteller” on my college volleyball team for nothing, folks.

For the record, this odd conversational habit of mine is probably why I will never be a great front-line fundraiser; my conversations always veer just a bit too far off the beaten path. But I digress (thus proving my point). Interestingly, the two ladies chose their own path for the conversation to take, and it wasn’t where I expected it to go. Almost in unison, they gasped, and one said:

“Oh my! Why would you ever be in here at night?”

I blinked. The truth was, the night I’d been talking about was the night of the Super Moon, and the only way I would have gotten to see it was if I was walking in the Arb, at night. I immediately started to justify myself: it was sunset, I was walking home fast, I was being careful.  I glanced down at Sadie, and as if reading my mind, the 2nd lady said “Well, you have a dog, that’s something, but even then, you shouldn’t do that. You can’t trust ANYONE these days.”

Gone was our charmed little moment about the spooky woods, and I was left feeling like I’d failed somehow. I remembered reading, just the day before, this article about women backpacking alone in the wilderness, and I had that familiar flash of anger unique to the chronically single – that desire to shoot back, childishly: “well, some of us don’t have a CHOICE but to walk alone, at night or otherwise.”

And then, of course, because, well, it’s what I do, I started to wonder at the nature of fear. I once heard a TED talk about how our brains – stuck in the past – are wired for fighting predators who literally wanted to kill and eat us. However, because we aren’t in the physical danger our cavewomen predecessors were in, we fear everything with a surge of adrenaline usually reserved for life-threatening situations.

And then, of course, I thought of FDR’s famous line from his first inaugural:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

By the way, the full speech is worth a read in light of our current political situation; I found it fascinating and eerily familiar.

And finally, yesterday I spent nearly an hour looking at photos and reading blog posts about a particularly challenging hike in Zion National Park that I’ll be tackling on a trip out West in the next few weeks. Some of the photos made my stomach jump in the way it does on rollercoasters and at the edges of vast canyons. I have every intention of doing the hike, but I won’t deny it’s giving me a little thrill of fear.

So it was with all of these thoughts zipping around the neurons of my brain that I set out with Sadie for a short hike today. See, on this upcoming trip, there will be lots of hiking and exploring happening at high altitudes, and, well, I get nervous that I won’t be able to keep up. Which is silly, really, but…see previous note about how the brain messes with us.

It was an icy, blustery couple of miles on the trail. I wanted to get some elevation under my legs, so I had a 4-mile route in mind, up and down a bunch of gnarly hills in the Blue Hills Reservation. I also wanted to test out my new trekking poles, and give Sadie some exercise, and gain more confidence in my boots (and myself) to handle snow and ice. It was a tall order for a little hike.

The first part of the trek was great – up a bit of a slippery, snowy slope that I was able to do steadily, with minimal gasping for breath, and both legs and boots seemed up to the task – excellent. Before I knew it, we were at the Observation Tower, looking down on the world, with the Boston skyline on the horizon.

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Then, we headed toward the tougher part of the trail, a steep downhill scramble that, even without snow and ice, usually takes me a while to navigate down. I knew my proposed route would have a bunch of such up and downs. The ups didn’t scare me, but the downs did. My recently ordered microspikes haven’t arrived yet, and I was just too intimidated by the slope and loose snow/ice. So I turned around and headed back down the relatively easier slope that I’d come up.

What’s the moral of this narrative? Well, I guess it’s that sometimes, fear does win out. I did wonder if those little old ladies had gotten into my head and scared my mojo away. But nah, I don’t think so. I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone today, and there was a way to respectably turn back, so I took it. See, I think there are times when it’s right to let fear make you cautious. On an icy hill is one of them. Walking home through a park as the sun goes down? I’m not sure. I know the stories. I’ve heard my whole life that women should never-walk-alone-carry-pepper-spray-grasp-keys-between-your-fingers-be-alert-know-your-surroundings- don’t-wear-headphones-don’t-have-long-hair-keep-your-shoulders-back-be-ready-to-run…and most of us do this.  But I don’t see how we can live our lives as if we can’t trust ANYONE. Especially my solo gals out there. It’s hardest for us because we can’t just grab our partner by the hand and magically be less of a target.

I guess I’d chosen to take the chance, to hear the delightfully spooky owls hooting to each other over my head as I watched the super moon peer out from the trees. I guess it was worth the risk. I guess we all have to make those choices for ourselves. And accept the consequences.

Addendum for 2019:

Since I wrote this, much has changed in the life of Jodi. At this point, 2017 was a young year, and full of promise. Up until November of that year, things went smashingly, and then began more than a year of stress that took it’s toll on me, my mind, and my body. But I’ve turned the corner, and am proud to say that I’ve done a ton more things that scared me since this old post. I hiked Angels Landing, the hike mentioned above, squeezed through slot canyons in Utah, clambered around waterfalls and up cliffs in Maine, and rambled all over Canada, including briefly hiking alone in bear country.

Yes, I carried bear spray on that hike. Yes, there were likely times that I chose not to do something because I was too scared. And the other night, when I decided to run on a trail in a nearby park without Sadie, I still felt the need to text a friend and let her know where I was. These things are common sense, I think, because I still feel as I did that night in the Arb. There are too many adventures to be had to consider not doing them simply because sometimes, there’s just the one of me.

 

 

On top of the world: The Sulpher Skyline Trail

There was a moment during my recent hiking trip to Canada when I found myself asking an important existential question.

Do I even like hiking?

See, as regular blog readers will know, I tend to have the occasional meltdown while climbing up hills (see this post from back in May). I worked hard before this trip to prepare – as best I could while living at sea level – in the hopes that I could avoid the meltdowns of hikes past. I was more or less successful. Still slow, still doubtful at times, but there were no tears shed on the trail this time around.

But there were definitely a couple of moments, on steep uphills, moving at a pace less than that of a snail, when I wondered if my legs would make it, when I questioned my overall sanity. Had I tricked myself all these years? Was I seduced by the fun of buying gear, by the buzz of planning a trip, by the promise of a great photo?

Was I a giant fraud selling myself as a “hiker”, when really I’m just a person who likes to take long walks in nature?

On the eve of our 4th hike, I tried to fall asleep, stomach jumping. We’d had a lovely day, starting with 6ish miles on the Edith Cavell Meadows trail, which featured more elevation than my sea level legs had seen in a looooong time. We’d been rained on, and shrouded in a fast-moving mist that wiped out all visibility beyond 5 feet. That mist had cleared, leaving us with incredible views of snowy mountains. We’d seen marmots and a strange-looking pigeon, lots of mountain wildflowers, plus a glacier ! and its associated pools/waterfalls. We’d added a few more flattish miles en route to gazing at rushing waterfalls, enjoyed a marvelous dinner, and now were cozy in our cabin, resting up for an early start the next day.

But I couldn’t sleep.

See, Shawn had warned me that the Sulpher Skyline Trail, our next hike, would be steeper than we’d faced previously, with another steep summit. I had visions of several miles of serious uphill, and I had serious doubts about my ability to actually make it to the top.

When I woke the next morning, anxiety had settled into my stomach, but I was also resigned to the real fact that we were doing this hike, and there was no going back. At the start of the trail, I set my shoulders, preparing for humiliation and embarrassment and hoping I’d be able to keep it together. As we started out, on a gently sloping paved path, I forced my legs to move slowly, at a deliberately measured pace, in the hopes of saving some juice for the steep parts. Which I knew were just around the corner.

As a couple of kilometers fell away, and the slopes remained manageable, I found myself daring to hope that I might make it through without too much struggle. Then I ruthlessly quashed such nonsense, because surely the really steep part was coming soon. Up we went, switchback after switchback, and while I had to stop occasionally to catch my breath and give my legs a breather, it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined.

At one point, Shawn said “Hey, we’re almost there!” and I shot back “Don’t do that! I know there’s worse to come!” But a few minutes later, we popped out of the trees and beheld the magnificent views of the pre-summit clearing.  Oh, those views. They were wonderful. And we weren’t even at the top.

Now, at this point, it got steep, for real. But that was to be expected, and the realization that I’d gotten through the bulk of the hike in relatively good form was heady.

I won’t lie, it took me a long while to climb up the final bit to the summit, but we made it eventually, and the payoff…well…see for yourself.

The purple and blue haziness of that valley view…honestly, I never wanted to leave. The summit was fairly busy with other people, but the vibe was happy and chill and everyone was proud to have gotten to the top. At one point I said to myself “I can’t get enough of this.” A total stranger overheard me and said “Yeah, well, you earned it.” All I could do was grin at him.

And at that moment, I realized that I really do like hiking. I might have less love for hiking uphill for extended periods of serious steepness, but being a flatlander, I have decided to forgive myself for that weakness.

Because, standing in places like this, looking out upon a grandeur that very few people get to see in person, and knowing I got there by the power of my own two (admittedly tired) legs…that’s pretty damn cool.

And as a wise man once said “50% of mountaineering is downhill.” And I dig me some downhill.

PS: As usual, a big shout out to Shawn for being an awesome hiking partner who never, ever makes me feel bad for stopping to “admire the view”.

Hold on, little girl…

This one might ramble a bit, because it’s been a while and I’m feeling rambly.

I have a 5-year-old niece; let’s call her C. She’s an incredible child (how could she not be, coming from such excellent stock?). Smart as can be, curious, a champion reader (again, natch, given her family), long-legged, prone to shrieking, possessing of endless energy, manipulative, maddening and altogether, well, FIVE.

I was a little sad that she wasn’t into the Women’s World Cup recently, but given her opinion of football – “it’s just a bunch of running and it’s boring” (and that was American football she was referring to) – that’s to be expected. She preferred to create her own parade around the house, only diverting her route away from blocking the TV after repeated admonishments.

But I wanted her to see those women play together – proudly, fiercely, unapologetically – and I wanted her to see them win. In all their purple-haired glory.

Women’s issues…those have been a slow and hard challenge for me. I am wary, perhaps too much so, of being influenced by the unrelenting agendas of the media and the political parties and the corporations in our country, all of whom make it their life’s work to manipulate our thoughts and emotions. But after reading and trying to “do my research” I can’t shy away from the fact that women, as an entity, still have a ways to go to shake off the reigns of a misogynistic history. Sure, there’s been progress. But we still get paid less than men on average, and as for all the justifications of that? They are justifications but that doesn’t mean they are ok. We still die in childbirth at alarming rates, particularly black women. It’s been a mere century since we were “granted” the right to vote…which puts to rest any theory that “all men are created equal” really meant “mankind.” 1 in 4 of us are sexually assaulted at some point in our lives, and based on the experiences of my female friends, I’d wager that number is too low. I could go on, but most of you reading this will have heard all of this before. That’s not my point.

My point is that my niece is 5 years old, and already I can see it at work on her. Or maybe not so much on her, but on her parents, who are trying to raise a vivacious, demanding, bossy little girl who can grow into a strong, independent woman…while also trying to teach her the values of caring, kindness and quiet.

Example 1: I recently gifted C a new toy, donated to me by a friend who was housecleaning. She was exploring the toy, enjoying herself, and then she eyed a piece of the equipment that didn’t make sense. We watched as she puzzled it out. She knew we were watching, and after a couple of fruitless minutes, she set the toy down and huffed “I’m done with that.” We grownups all looked at each other in both amusement and dismay. Embarrassment at being unable to figure it out…at the age of FIVE?! Luckily, she has great parents and they talked her through it, but oh my sweet girl it’s too early to be embarrassed for not being able to figure something out. I’m sure that someone will tell me that’s a part of life, and it is. But it took me decades to be able to be ok with not knowing things, and I just want to fast-forward through all that self-consciousness and self-doubt for her.

To be blunt, part of me wants C to grow up not giving a damn what anyone thinks. Because caring what people think is exhausting. But the rational part of me knows that I also want her to be self-aware, kind and compassionate, because that’s how she’ll find real satisfaction in life.

Which brings me to Example 2. Whenever my toddler nephew comes to visit, all objects within reach of his grabby little hands have to be placed out harm’s way. It’s C’s job to help with that whenever they come to visit. As she was moving things, one at a time, from the TV console shelves to the table, she came across my super old, reconstructed Outward Bound mug. She picked it up carefully and set it safely down, and I heard her murmur, almost to herself, “It’s only a little bit cracked.”

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For some reason, my heart gave a squeeze at those words. Because that mug is more than a little bit cracked; it’s a mess, held together with superglue and a prayer. I don’t know if her quiet little comment was for me or just an idle observation. Maybe she really thought it was just a little crack. Maybe not. But what I saw, in that moment, was my little niece trying to figure out how something like that – something broken and imperfect – could be valuable. It was a flash of the compassionate and loving person that I know she will grow up to be. And that our harsh, still-misogynistic world will do it’s best to defeat, in all the nefarious ways that keep cropping up each time we make a change for the better.

And thus we come back to those American women winning the World Cup. Who yes, had some privileges and advantages in their lives, but who also worked their asses off and did it as a team. They had different ideas, different beliefs, different hair, different sexual orientations, and maybe even different politics, but they still existed as a team and they set their goal and won it. They gave girls and boys everywhere the gift of seeing women playing a sport, playing it well, and celebrating their accomplishments. All while trying to actually do something more than “stick to soccer.” And all while millions of people tried to devalue their accomplishment with a deluge of criticisms.

I hope they are back in another 4 years. Maybe then C will be ready to pay more attention. Or maybe they’ll rise to the forefront of more than sports. Maybe C will grow up thinking nothing is odd about outspoken female athletes who challenge the status quo. That would be awesome. I say we keep working toward that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Google “where can I watch women’s soccer on tv?”

Zero to 6,000 – #hike40 of the #52hikechallenge

I had made a vow to myself before this hiking trip. I broke it just a few hundred feet into our first hike.

When one lives at – literally at  – sea level, it’s to be expected that hiking at 5,000 feet of altitude won’t be easy. After a rough 2018, I’ve been doing better in the fitness department, but I have a ways to go. Part of being healthier is trying to appreciate my body where it is now, and thus I vowed, before heading out to a long weekend of hiking in Utah, that I would be chill and relaxed and give myself permission to struggle without suffering embarrassment or self-hatred. Mind over body, right?

It was a good thought.

With me fresh off the plane and eager to breathe that city mountain air, we headed to the Living Room, a popular Salt Lake City hike that is usually referred to as “short and steep” or “moderate.” 1000 feet of elevation gain in a little over a mile.

A gradually sloped and wide path begins the hike and there were flowers to look at and hillsides to marvel at, but I could already feel my lungs struggling to take in enough air. And then we started to climb.

Within a few hundred feet, my lungs started sending distress signals. My calves, which hadn’t climbed real hills in 5 months, began screaming obscenities at me. My upper legs did the lactic acid thing, and just like that, my zen was gone. I started to dream of elegant ways to turn back (I couldn’t think of any). It felt like I stopped every 10 feet, and I felt like an abject failure.

The patient steps of my hiking friend, who lives at 5000 feet and was barely breathing hard, sent me into a mild panic of embarrassment, and I had to stop and wave him on – “go ahead a bit, make some friends, and wait for me.” Having been through this with me before, he did, and I bent over, gasping, fighting nausea, and reminding myself that this always happens, and that I was supposed to be forgiving myself for it. Then I straightened, plodded forward at the slowest pace I could conjure, and kept going up.

At one point, I looked at what we had left to climb and wondered aloud if it was worth it. Bless my friend for simply not accepting my foolishness, and cheerfully urging me onward.

I was saved by the dogs out for hikes with their owners; petting a dog is a wonderful excuse to stop and gasp like a landed fish for a bit. I took solace from a few other hikers who stopped to sit and rest, sitting with them. And then suddenly, we reached the top, sooner than I’d expected.

The hike is named The Living Room because there are rock “chairs” and couches spread all over. It’s a popular hike at sunset, which meant there were quite a few people up there with us.

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We watched as the sun set over the city, oddly comfy in our rock chairs. Titus the dachshund, who’s climbed more mountains than me, stopped by to say hi, and we agreed that we should have brought some beer. With downhill in my future, suddenly it all seemed magical.

As we headed down, my legs reminded me that I hadn’t done this in while, and I mentioned that I’d likely be sore the next day.

To my surprise, I felt great the next day, with very little soreness. My friend, upon hearing this, remarked “You see? You’re fit, you’re fine…you just live at sea level.” I don’t think he knows how much those words meant.

The moral of the story? There are three:

  1. Mind over body is a good theory, but sometimes its just a theory.
  2. Thank god for dogs (in this and all things) and patient friends.
  3. I’m not a failure, I’m just a flatlander.

Solo Snaps: Sparkling rose in the rain

Welcome to “Solo Snaps”, exploring some of my favorite photos, their stories, and the musings that sometimes come with them. Click here if you’d like to know more. 

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Biltmore Oct 2018 (31 of 43)

I won’t lie: I LOVE taking pictures of flowers.

And while I like to consider myself a non-traditional girl who is immune to the pressures of society, I love roses in all their lush, overblown, blowsy glory.

I believe 100% in stopping to smell them. When they don’t have a smell, I feel slighted by the universe.

I also am not immune to receiving them (hint, hint), but that doesn’t happen very often since roses are mostly given by significant others who have been pressured by the aforementioned pressures of society into gifting them. Not that friends can’t give roses, but it’s not quite the same, alas.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, this picture:

Biltmore Oct 2018 (31 of 43)

Here’s the story:

This one was taken at the Biltmore Estates in North Carolina, in their gardens outside the greenhouse/conservatory. Obviously, it had been raining.

I adore this picture for it’s vivid color, sparkling drops and lovely background. It came out of the camera like this. I love it when that happens.

It seemed like a good one to share for Mother’s Day, a holiday that has, of course, been totally corrupted by Hallmark, and is now, for many people, a stressful time of: 

a) worrying about giving the right gift to their wife/mother
b) feeling sad because they are not mothers
c) feeling sad because they miss their mothers

I am sorry for everyone who feels sad on Mother’s Day. I hope this photo gives you a little joy, and makes you think fondly of someone who played the role of mother in your life.

NOTE: This photo was taken with my Canon EOS Rebel T5. I used my kit lens at 49mm. Settings were ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/60.