It’s time to tell you this story. I was sitting on it because I’m superstitious and didn’t want to jinx the Magic. But with the Facebook photos of the truck being converted to a two-person sleeper and of cabins in the colorful northeastern woods, anybody who’d care has already figured out that this Bobcat’s on a whole different kind of adventure than her usual.

It starts with a dream, so let’s back up a bit …

Previously, on the Roaming Bobcat … I was released from the hospital with a mystery. The doctors had found no obvious cause for the belly pain that diverted me from my AT thru-hike. As Western doctors – even well-intentionned ones – are known to do, I was released with a laundry list of catastrophic potentialities – cancer, ulcer, tumor, etc – my asymptomatic mystery still could carry, and a busy schedule of ongoing medical tests I would need. A week and a half after my release, I dreamt of my Grandpa Henri. Henri died when I was 14 years old, but I never met him, and I only know what he looked like from one small photo my Grandpa Alex gave me.

I approached Henri’s casket in the dream. The family was gathered around, but nobody I knew. He opened his eyes and looked straight at me. Was this normal behavior? Maybe just some leftover nerves. Nobody moved. He sat up suddenly, pale as death, and the family ran. With both eyes still fixed on me, he swung his stiff legs over the casket and stood up.
“You can’t get up.” I told him, “You’re dead, remember? You died of cancer a while back.”
He didn’t care. He jumped out of the casket and skipped on down the corridor.
“Henri! You’re dead!” He finally turned around to acknowledge me. His face was young and fresh, full of vitality. “I chose to die back then because nothing could be done. But now there are alternative, holistic, earth-based medicines. This is a good time to wake up.”

I woke up with a knot in my throat. Was this a message? Was it saying that the pain in my belly is cancer? A flash of fear ran the length of my spine. I breathed thought it and sat with my own mortality. Relax! Henri is right, there are alternatives. I decided then that if I had cancer, I would not follow the western path of radiation and chemo. I would follow the earth-plant-holistic path. And if I failed? Then I’d die. And that was fine. In that moment, I felt such gratitude for my life thus far. It has been exceptional by my own standards. The best life I could have ever wished for. I’d want to know that my truck was in good hands and that the story in my book  lived on. Other than that, I felt perfectly fulfilled, content and at peace with what was and has been.

So it was with surprise and confused fascination that I watched myself roll over to my phone, download the Tinder app and create a profile.


I don’t remember the first man that was presented. Jimmy James was the second. He looked kind, handsome, and could do a handstand. I “liked” him. In the following hour, I swiped “no” to at least 300 undoubtedly wonderful men. I “liked” two others, not out of interest, but because I felt I should at least have three eggs in this basket. But the other two eggs never hatched.

I understand that it is customary to exchange Tinder messages for a while, then move on to personal texts, eventually a phone call, and way down the line, finally a meeting face-to-face, once compatibility and sanity have been fully checked and vested. Ugh! Who has time for that? My Tinder flame’s truck had just landed in the shop, his wallet was just stolen, and his phone had just fallen and shattered. It seemed to me the man needed a break from a bad luck streak, so after a few texts, I drove to Maine to pick up Jimmy James.

First impressions – A tall man, a peaceful demeanor, long white dreads, torn jeans, bare feet, a joyous gait, an army bag topped by a rolled wool blanket.
“Great! I just drove an hour to pick up a homeless hippy”, I though, but instead I said “Hey, here you are!” as genuinely as I could fake.
“Yay, here I am.” He walked to my truck as though he always had and naturally placed his belongings in the back with mine.
“Where are we going?” I assumed he had a plan, since we were in his town.
“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought any further than this meeting right now. We can go anywhere.”

As I turned the key in the ignition, I sensed an adventure had begun, one beyond the miles we might cover that day. The calm joy of that man in the cab of my truck – Certainty, solid ground, landmark, and a launching pad for a rocket ship combined. Suddenly all other adventures were canceled. THIS needed to be explored. And what was this? I’m not sure yet. But it’s that thing that makes you take your shoes off – unless you’re already barefoot – and run through fields in the sun, and laugh, and dance, and blow milkweed puffs in the wind. It changes the flow of time and reorganizes your life like the advanced stages of a Tetris game. It’s that thing you didn’t know you were missing in your “perfectly fulfilled, content and at peace with what was and has been” life. It makes it not okay to die. Not at all.

And it gets worse.
This one comes with two more – a two year old and a four year old. A man and two boys to steal my heart and deconstruct my well-oiled solo roaming life.

So, this is the end of this post, but the beginning of what could be my biggest adventure yet. There will be more stories. I have already climbed a physical and metaphorical mountain with the boys. Now the Cat-mobile is being converted to fit two people. Our sights are to the southwest for the winter. We have known each other a little over a month, have no money, and will be confined to a 32 square feet home for the foreseeable future.

You think I’m scared? You damn right I am. But …

“There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own.”
~ Mary Oliver, Felicity:Poems.









AT final debrief. And the next adventure …

I finally updated the AT 2016 stories page, linked to the menu above. Here is a prologue of sort to the next adventure …

I had the means, the time and the gumption. I was going to hike the Appalachian Trail (the AT), all 2,200 miles from Maine to Georgia. My plan was to start at the summit of Kathadin in early July and roll on down south to Georgia for Thanksgiving.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and bobcats … I made it to the top of Kathadin, across Maine, New Hampshire and half of Vermont. 500 miles I walked. Then I landed in the hospital. Here are the stories of my hike and its unexpected left turn –> here.

As I update this page in the fall from my temporary home in New Hampshire, I now know that the sickness that landed me in the hospital was a gift. This is still 2016. The year when I asked the Universe to “surprise me”. It might even surprise you … but hold on a little bit. The next chapter is being written, and I don’t have a full grasp yet of its extent. For now, I’ll tell you that it comes with delicious green eyes (or grey, or orange, depending on the weather) and an air of certainty, of game-change, of uncharted territory.

So, stay tuned. The adventure ain’t over yet, even if the AT is temporary (or permanently) on hold.


AT – day 44 – the unposted story 

[I still had one story written on the trail saved in my phone.  This was the day that started it all. I hiked another entire day after that one with belly pain before deciding it’d probably be wise to exit, especially since the rotten egg burps and frequent runs to the woods I had expected never came.]

Some days, I fly 20 miles up and over steep rocky mountains. Others, I drag my sorry ass 10 miles on almost perfect level terrain of soft easy pine needles. I guess it’s called balance. 

This all started last night. I knew a big storm was coming,  and I knew a nearby trail angel offered hikers dry space in a barn and breakfast in the morning. But I was enjoying my solitude in the Vermont open forest so much that I made a conscious decision to stop short a mile from town and brave whatever storm came my way instead of facing yet another crowd of new hikers. 

The storm came, and what a storm! Vermont went from drought to flood warning in a few hours. The rain was so heavy and thick that it collapsed my tent immediately. I had feared this would happen. I had pitched the tent stakes at an angle through a few inches of leaves over a solid bedrock of granite. In dry weather it probably would have held,  but in that storm, not a chance.

I got out in the downpour and dragged my tent to an area with thicker leaves. There were no loose anchoring rocks anywhere in sight, but eventually, after the n-th collapse, the tent finally stayed up. I was soaking wet by then, and still needed to hang my food bag up in a tree. Lighting crashed just over the next hill. I quickly coiled my bear line for the throw and found a worthy tree. The first two branches broke under the weight of the wet food bag – a nice full bag replenished that morning in Hanover – but the third one held. I was very pleased with myself – I can take care of myself in the wilderness. Yay! – and crawled back into my then still dry home.

I slept on and off,  woken up often by some of the loudest thunder I have ever heard. The clashing traveled from one side of the sky to the other, creating shock waves that shook the ground under my sleeping pad.  I had to contend with the usual tent leaks, and kept count of the time between lightning and thunder to gage the storm’s proximity. The closest it got was 3 seconds,  so still about half a mile away.  I don’t worry until it’s less than 3. I felt safe, in spite of the situation.  

I awoke this morning to clear skies, a dry pad and quilt (my sleeping bag is off to Western Mountaineering for refluffing of feathers – that’s another story). But, by my feet, my pack swam in a inch-deep indoor lake. The area had been level and dry the night before, but leaves cannot be trusted to hold up weight. Everything aside from my pad, borrowed quilt and the electronics in a ziplock bag was dripping wet. I sat up to assess the damage and was immediately shot back down by a sharp pain in my lower right belly. 

My brain quickly ran through its experiential files. Period cramp? Nah, too localized. Muscle cramp? Nope, too internal. Well then, I guessed I was in for some fun times ahead – rotten egg burps and frequent runs to the woods. I have a pretty good guess which of the water sources did it too. The stagnant one below the beaver dam, right after the steep uphill where I lost half my own body weight in sweat,  and 9 miles away from the next water source. That one.

This isn’t my first sick belly rodeo. I don’t filter. I treat my water by loving it. It works 99% of the time. I have long ago accepted the consequences of my unusual choices.  

So I started the day in pain,  with a pack heavy with wet gear. My pack belt occasionally unsnapped, forced open by the growing girth of my bloated belly. I just walked slower and focused instead on the beauty of rural Vermont, its sugar maple forest,  little barns and open fields of wild flowers. I was slow and bloated, but not unhappy … Until I climbed down the bank of a stream, slipped on rocks and landed smack on my tail bone. 

That pain was so intense that I laid right where I fell for a minute, with tears in my eyes and both shoes in the river – damn it, those were my dry socks! A moan escaped my lips, the polite emissary of a rising flurry of curses. I kept them all in. A family of day hikers with kids was approaching. 

“Are you alright?” The mom yelled down from the top of the bank.“I don’t know yet.” I crawled back up to her on all four and asked her to look down my pants. Nothing broken, she said, just a bit of blood from a cut right on my tail bone. “You’ll probably have a bruise.” Yep.  I expect it. 

I slowed down even more after that. Bruise in the back, bloat in the front. The forest was still beautiful. I was still mobile.  

A few painful slow miles later,  I came upon Sweet Toots, Monster and their dog, Beast, in a river. 

“It’s only going to be a 9 mile day,” Monster said,  “but we’re going to camp right here.  Look! There are pools where we can bathe!”

Good enough for me. The water was frigid, but it was nice to get the sweat and blood off my body. 

Sweet Toots (the man of the couple) built a fire,  and Monster (his wife) recounted how they met in China, where she once ran a sex toy import business. I was full of questions, and, in the back of my mind, grateful to the slow miles for the opportunity to camp with these two.

So, overall, I think this day still comes out in the positive. Now, I’m not sure how I’m going to sleep. My belly wants me on my back, my tail bone won’t have it. Also, there are mice here. I haven’t had to deal with mice in a while. 

Should be another interesting night. 

Lights out. 


The Bobcat. 

Vermont, the beautiful. 

VT – day 1.  

Well, folks, I just moved to Vermont. 

My hospital room has been looking more like an executive’s office this morning. I’m up, in no pain, unplugged from the IV, eating solid food and I have pants on. There’s been an almost constant parade of people with paperwork in and out of the room.

J.R. from financial assistance visited.“Are you moving to Vermont?” “I can, I’m mobile.” “Good. I looked at your file, with your income (royalties from Crazy Free), you qualify for Medicaid.” – So, that’s it. This entire hospital bill, all associated follow up meds and the upcoming colonoscopy are covered. See Dad? You worry, and I tell you it’ll all work out, and it always does.🙂

I also had the visit of Virginia, the hospital dietician. Get a load of this … I’m on a restricted fiber diet for at least a month. The anti-Melissa diet, only grain products made from white or refined flour, and as little vegetables as possible. The irony makes me giggle whenever I look at the list of food I can and can’t have. Thank God it’s temporary. If I’m gonna be moving to VT, I want to be able to indulge in all its farmers markets.

The transition/release facilitator lady was here. She is going to find me the most alternative, health-based doctor in town (Rutland). This will be my doctor when I get out of here. I don’t know what she heard out there in the corridors,  but she came in very excited to meet me. She said I’ll just love Vermont in the fall and that Rutland is a very progressive town. I guess I’ll find out. I only had time to see about one city block of it before I landed here.

Lisa the social work had to wait a bit – I almost need a secretary at this point! – but finally got to see me. She’s arranged for the last of the antibiotics to be ready at the pharmacy when I get out of here. She says I should have no problem finding work as a yoga instructor here. Two friends of hers just opened a cross-fit gym. They have a team training for the Spartan Race. She gave me her number and invited me to come and check it out when I’m all better. 

Doctor Bruce was in also. She said we might never known what I had, but all my ongoing lab cultures will be forwarded to my doctor in town, now that I’ll have one. 

And finally, Lynn, my friend Brian’s mom, who is a nurse on the 3rd floor, came by. She’ll be taking me home tonight and keep me until I get a ride to my truck, which should be later this week when my North Conway Elves come to get me. In the meantime, Lynn said I’m welcomed to use her truck for my errands. I think Brian is concerned about all the embarrassing childhood stories his mom is about to share with me. But he’s too far (on the PCT) to do anything about it. Bwaahaaaha 😁

Seriously! Why wouldn’t I want to stay in this lovely town of delightful people?  

Maybe this all thing – walking the AT, getting a bellyache, landing in the hospital, etc … was just a ploy to get me to Vermont. And North Conway is still only 2 hrs away.

So, here ends this section of my journal, and the next adventure begins. 

Thank you all for being by my side in spirit and through the electronics during this most strange of adventures. You sure know how to make a Bobcat feel loved. ❤


Rutland … for an undetermined bit. 

AT – off trail day 5 – Move to Vermont?

The nurse in charge of nurses just visited, she wanted to know how her staff is doing.  I gushed goodness about them,  of course. On the way out she said “You look way too good to be in here!” 

I feel as I look.

The doc came by yesterday and said I’ll most likely be able to get out Monday. They still dont know “who donnit”, but I’m improving by leaps each day, with only a little pressure left in that one abdominal spot.  I’ll still have to take antibiotics for 2 more weeks after I get out, and I’ll need a colonoscopy after the treatment is over. He made me promise I’d get one, looking me straight in the eyes for signs of evasion. That doc sure figured me out fast.

I promised, but also explained my financial situation. He said “I understand you are mobile and can live anywhere. If you move to Vermont, our social worker, Kate, can set up a full coverage medicare for you and you could have the colonoscopy done here.”

Well, why not? Vermont is a beautiful state and I’ve liked everyone I’ve met from here … Mmmh. Wouldn’t that be a twist in the plot?

My plan thus far is to retreat from here to The Bobcat Rehabilitation Center in North Conway, NH (i.e. my truck). I’ll have paperwork to fill and phone calls to make. Just a bit of adulting, not too much. I’ll also need to rebuild. Get all sorts of good bacteria back in my belly, healthy food in my system and get my legs moving uphill again. 

The AT’s on hold for now. I’ve got too many unknowns, financial and otherwise, to know yet what I’ll decide about it. I’m pretty confident I’m no longer thru-hiking it, but I might still catch the Smokeys in the fall, maybe Ashville to Georgia, or maybe I’ll go back to Sedona, or elsewhere, or stay in North Conway, or move to Vermont. 

The antibiotics have eradicated all former plans. Blank slate … reset. Not a bad place to be. Not a bad place at all. 

From here … Infinite possibilities

Sunset through the window of the room at the end of the hall, on the 5th floor of the Rutland Regional Medical Center. My home for a week.

AT – Off trail day 4 – Dr Mustard, in the kitchen, with the …

Good morning world! Its sunny, bright and warm in the room at the end of the hall,  on the 5th floor of Rutland Regional Medical Center. 

The IV was moved again – my hand couldn’t take the amount of substances injected, especially after the spine-arching painful dye for the CT scan traveled through. The IV is now on my left forearm  (4th location!) and my right hand is free again for writing. Yay. 

Yesterday, I had 2 CT scans (for a total of 3), 4 more blood cultures, 2 more blood tests of other kinds and  1 stool culture. I now have 3 doctors working on the case, including the general surgeon (because if the antibiotics fail, I’m going under his knife) and a newly hired specialist in infectious diseases, in case I have something of the sort. 

The CT scan shows a large inflammation in the lower right corner of the abdomen.  “The kind that would cause massive pain” the doc said – why yes, that would be the kind. Behind that,  a bit of the appendix pokes into view and it looks fine. Usually, with appendicitis, the whole thing would be inflamed, so it doesn’t look like appendicitis, but they can’t rule it out either, because they can’t see it. If it were an inflammation of the colon (forgot the name), the antibiotics should have cleared it by now, so it might not be that, but they can’t rule it out. If it was cancerous, an abscess or tumor, the sides of the inflamed area would have a definite line,  and they don’t see that, but they can’t rule them out either. I could just have an atypical one of any of those.

The blood cultures show nothing yet, but they’ve only been brewing some for a day, some for two, so nothing in there yet, or at all. Same with the stool culture. 

My blood count is normal,  vital signs of a healthy person,  still no other symptoms except for a bit of diarrhea – but then my last solid meal was roasted corn on the cob, cooked over a fire in a lookout cabin on the AT, 5 days ago. 

If it’s Giardia or another water-borne diseases, I’ve got none of the symptoms. It’d be a very atypical one, but again, they don’t rule any of them out.  

So, that’s that. Until they know, they feel the best course of action is to keep the drip of antibiotics going and keep looking. 

Meanwhile, I am actually doing much better.  I can sit up by myself,  move around, and no longer need help to the bathroom. Talk about an exercise in vulnerability and trust. Nothing like a bit of pain to drop all “I can do it myself” pride. 

The nurses and nurses aid have all been exceptional angels of love, respect and patience. Each comes with a precise unique mix of qualities they all possess. All are professional, efficient, caring, comforting, etc. but draw on these qualities in various ways. In short bursts of visits to change IV bags or take vital signs,  I get glimpses into their world.  Here, it’s all about the patients,  but outside, they are mothers, wifes, girlfriends, mountain hikers, motorcycle riders, maple syrup fudge recipe inventors, travelers, with a whole spectrum of adventure dreams and plans. My surgeon is a mountaineer and climber, waiting for his kids to be old enough to become his rope guns. I imagine not everyone gets to find out all these juicy bits, but I’m curious, and my backpack with all my gear (brought to me from the Yellow Deli Hiker Hostel by Trail Angel Tom yesterday – thank you!!!) sits on the chair reserved for visitors,  first in view when you come in the room. It’s a great conversation starter, that’s why I leave it there. 

I see the nurses the most,  but really, everybody that has come into my sphere has been absolute top-notch personel, from the transport-technicians who gives me bed rides down to the CT scan room, to the cleaning ladies, to the handsome green-eyed maintenance man who came to unclog my toilet – right, because I totally want to meet handsome men while wrapped in a saggy hospital gown, with dreadful fever bed hair! Luckily, he was also very efficient,  and out of here in two flushes. 

I’ve also had the visit of the hospital dietician – how cool is that? This hospital has a dietician! She came to enquire why my tray of mostly sugar and high fructose corn syrup water was returning to the kitchen intact. I told her that it seemed to me the last thing my body needed right now, it the midst of this epic fight to heal itself,  was nutritionally empty substances I don’t trust or usually consume. Now my tray comes with hot water, herbal tea, wedges of fresh lemon and chicken broth. 

So, overall, I’d say life is good and getting better!

Thanks again for the deluge of love and support. I am sure it’s helping, in one way or the other. 

The last solid supper – the night before I got off trail.  

AT – off trail day 3 – the mystery thickens 

This will be a short post.  They’ve moved the iv to the top of my right hand,  which makes doing phone things difficult.  

A doctor was just in here. The massive antibiotics they have me on seems ineffective (so far). Still in pain, but better than yesterday – yesterday was epic! Now I’m spiking fevers. So,  they don’t know what I have. But kudos to the doctors here for how hard they are working on it. They’ve checked for tick-born diseases,  bacterial infections … several blood tests, urine tests, etc. and now back to the CT scan in a few minutes.  I have no symptoms aside from the pain in the one spot in my belly.  

I’ve just been sleeping a bunch. I even finally befriended the incessantly beeping iv machine. I’m hurt but not unhappy. Just having a very different kind of experience than what I’m used to. Also, I can see mountains out the window (I’m on the top floor). And the moon was full last night and hovering right there.  The outside world is not too far.

Thank you for all the love making my phone buzz like mad whenever I turn it on.  


AT – Off trail day 2 – The facts. 

WordPress alerted me that a whole lot of you have visited my site, looking for info, I surmise. 

I’ll write the full story when I’m in less pain and have a little more perspective.  This is just a bottom line of facts.  

I got off trail two days ago because of increasing pain in my lower right abdominal area.  I figured I’d better be in town if the apendix was the problem. I landed at the Yellow Deli hikers hostel, in Rutland VT, and slept for about 18 hrs before deciding to go to Urgent Care.  Urgent Care took one tap at my appendix and sent me to the Emergency Room. Nice people too, didn’t charge me for the visit (I have no health insurance), and the doctor gave me his cell number in case I need anything. 

I spent all afternoon yesterday in tests. CT scan, blood,  urine,  etc. The verdict is that it is most likely not the appendix,  but an inflammation of the lower colon.  Pain is the same, and the usual method is also surgery.  The doc said that, at this point,  if he was to perform surgery, he’d have to remove a big chunk of my colon,  so instead, he’s bombarding my body with antibiotics for a few days and hope that does it.  The pain is pretty intense. I think my pain scale went up a notch. I get morphine at night. 

Silly and Long Spoon, two nobo hikers I just met, and Angel Tom “plans too much” have been visiting me.  And my friend Brian’s mom, who happens to be a nurse here (what are the chances?) visited too. Tom said he’ll come back later with Miss Janet. Not how I thought I’d meet the famous Angel Miss Janet, but pretty cool still. Trail family is the best! Thank you all, trail family or not,  for your love and support!

The doc said I’ll be here a few days. I don’t know how long.  I talked with the financial dept. They said they’ll work with me to get me the most financial assistance they can. 

I’ll decide what to do about the AT when I’m back on my feet.  

That’s all.  The iv machine is beeping again,  driving me bonkers! 

Love to all. This is just an experience among many. I’m feeling good mentally. Xoxoxoxo 

The beeping nemesis. 

AT day 39 or 40 – lessons from the green tunnel

I’m 1.3 miles from the NH-VT border, waiting for the rain to let off a bit, eating pastries and yogurt at the Co-op in Hanover. 

The trail across the end of NH was nothing but a series of delights – Squishy paths of soft needles, no rocks, no roots. Then a mile or two through private fields under the sun, followed by a tunnels of black berries and grapes (the grapes aren’t ready yet) and a boardwalk above a small forests of cat tails, then back into the forest. The miles dissappeared under my torn up Cascadias like they were nothing at all.  

Last night I slept at the edge of an open field to watch the meteor shower.  But I only saw a few deer and one firefly. I was asleep before the shooting stars show began.  

I was dreading the green tunnel, but so far, it’s a wide airy tunnel – a very different kind of forest then up north. I can actually see between the trees and the sun can find me here and there on the path. Also,  the trees here love being hugged, they’re not grumpy and jaded like up north. We’ve had some good conversations. It’s nice to be alone. Trees are shy,  they tend to not speak to hikers in group.  Or maybe they do,  but no one listens. 

I made it to Hanover in 2 days,  again faster than I expected.  So this morning I purposely slowed down to enjoy the forest for the last few miles before town. There were fun messages everywhere.  

First I met a leaf that wouldn’t fall.  It stood on its edge,  oscillating back and forth but never fully laying down. “How do you do that? ” I asked it, out loud.  “Why aren’t you falling? ” I suspected a magician’s thread so I wrapped my pole above it and sure enough, the leaf flew up. I laughed triumphantly and we danced in circle for a few minutes.  Nobody saw me. I left the leaf suspended on a branch a few feet of trail so it can have a better view.  

Then,  this tree happened. 

Way to stand out,  Tree! Grow your own growth. You don’t need to fall in line. 

A mile later,  this cat tail greeted me by the side of the trail. 

Just like that.  That cat tail doesn’t care that there’s no swamp around. It’s just gonna grow in the middle of the forest and stand tall and proud, certain of its right to be exactky what it is, where it is.

I want to be like that leaf,  and that tree,  and that cat tail. 

And now that I think about it,  I’m not even sure it’s called “cat tail”. But in the spirit of this post, I’ll call it whatever I want.  

The rain stopped.  It’s time to go to Vermont!

AT day 35 – the Whites – Attitude adjustment.

​AT Trail journal. Day 35. New hampshire. 

I know I haven’t written in a while, but, after Maine, I had nothing nice to say and a lot to process. Maine temporarily broke me, mentally and physically. I needed a serious attitude adjustment. In fact, I needed a complete overall. Who was this Bobcat who was forcing, enduring, complaining and dreading the trail? Thru-hiking was never before a task to accomplish, nor a checkbox on a list of adventures or a bucket  list, it was, and is, an honor and a privilege. 

Something had to shift. 

Many miles and moons ago, before the PCT, a loved one once told me “If you ever feel like you want to quit the trail, take three town zeros,  then get back on the trail for three more days. If you still want to quit then, call me, I’ll talk you out of it.” The last resort option is no longer available to me,  so I made the most out of the first two. 

I took three zeros in North Conway, surrounded by a tribe of loving friends and mountains I know and trust. I slept in my own bed in the back of the truck and gorged on fresh, organic, local vegetables and grass-fed meat. I snuck in free yoga classes and didn’t even look at my gear. My mind was completely off trail. I allowed myself the space to imagine I might just stay in North Conway, accept I might not walk the AT after all, then finally admit I actually didn’t have choice. 

Some dreams hold us captive like a tiger’s jaw. Even if they hurt, there’s no getting out, and struggling only makes them clamp  tighter. In North Conway, I relaxed in the jaw. I made myself limp and maleable. And I listened.  On or off trail,  I believe no experience pointless, so I sat with my trail malaise, right where the fangs contact the skin, and asked my body what ailed it. 

“Entrapment”, it said. I felt trapped on the AT. While in Maine, I blamed my claustrophobia on the opaque canopy – the “green roof”. But when I scratched a little deeper, I realized the trail weighed on me like a job – get up at dawn, study the map to determine the miles to the next shelter, keep head down and put in the time to get there, eat lunch and dinner with “coworkers” – people working on the same goal, then go “home” to the tent, and repeat, every day. 

Scratch still deeper. Right before the PCT, I quit a PhD, committed to six weeks of discipline to become a yoga instructor and navigated an all-consuming, difficult love relationship. Right before the AT, what was I doing? That’s right –  whatever the hell I wanted! Single and free in the wide open Sedona desert. So the first trail gave me more freedom than my pre-trail life, while the second took some away. I think the shelter-miles-driven mentality is a good segue way to trail life for people coming from a mainstream structured existence. Nothing wrong with it. It just isnt where I come from. So, I stopped all accounting. I hiked the Whites alone, with no concept of time or miles.  I got up when I had slept enough,  ate when I was hungry,  lingered where it was pretty,  stopped walking when my legs asked and a good camp (i.e. with a view and away from people) appeared. With the added solitude,  I talked to the trees and observed the forest with a friendly mind again and slipped into a natural state of flow I recognized as my own. I felt happy again.  

With my natural flow restored, the next ailment surfaced.  I hiked the PCT like all the other thru-hikers,  on a steady diet of Ramen, Pasta Sides, Pop tarts and M&ms. Common trail wisdom claims “you can’t walk a long trail unless you like junk food.” I lost twenty pounds of upper body muscle on the PCT and slept for eleven days after Canada. “That’s just what the trail does.” 

Well, apparently, my body doesnt care about trail wisdom. As early as my first night in the Whites, on top of North Carter, it refused to digest the Pasta Sides dinner I fed it. It gagged on M&ms and frowned at the sight of cheap summer sausage. I climbed up and over the Wild Cats on a growling stomach and up Mt. Washington fueled only by nuts and seeds. Luckily, my friend Moss met me at the summit with a ham and cheese croissant and a giant oatmeal raisin cookie. That’s some good magic right there! I got it then: I must eat real food. I don’t know how the whole “trail diet” started or if it became the norm because of low cost and weight, but at this point, I’d rather be unable to finish the trail because I ran out of funds then because I am depressively malnourished. A few texts from the summit later, my trail angel Sally had arranged to pick me up at Crawford Notch and bring me back to my truck for yet another zero in North Conway, a day of food bag adjustment. 

The next afternoon, after a leisure breakfast and yoga morning, and in the temporary company of the lovely Laura,  I returned to the trail loaded with five days worth of whole food. My pack was bulging with bean thread noodles, miso paste,  deli meat, fresh green beans, dark chocolate, homemade cookies, dense bakery bread, coconut oil, banana chips, bee pollen, indian spices, etc. My pack was heavier with five days of real food than it had been with eight days of “hiker food”. I had accepted I’d be slower.

But, a strange thing happened then. Not only was I suddenly excited for every upcoming trail meal (a new experience), I also flew over Franconia ridge,  the Kinsmans and Moosilauke. I really didn’t mean to. I meant to savor every exposed ridge,  360 view, every step on my beloved Whites. But my legs felt so strong that pushing up vertical rocky paths was fun.  And I did linger plenty,  and stealth camped on exposed ridges under the stars. But still, I landed in Glencliff effortlessly and the Whites, reputed to be some of the hardest terrain on the AT, were over in a blink – three days, three sets of mountains. I arrived in Gencliff with no soreness and still two days of food (which I didn’t need because Legion and Sweets, the Hiker’s Welcome caretakers and friends of mine, have been spoiling me with fancy grilled sandwiches and cooked breakfasts). Whole food hiking – I’m a believer!

So, that’s where I’m at now.  I took two zeros to soak in the Legion-Sweets hospitality, for a total of eight zeros on the AT so far, more than I took on the entire PCT. No miles, no schedule, no worries. Georgia isn’t going anywhere.  

I’ve said it before,  I’ll say it one more time now that I’m getting a glimpse of how deep that statement runs: this is a different trail, and I’m a different person. Officially, all bets are off. I get back in the green tunnel tomorrow with a heavy bag of good food and a commitment to solo,  unstructured roaming. 

Haha. I think I’ve got it all figured it out. Do you hear the Universe laughing?  Yep. Me too, me too.