I struggled to sleep last night knowing today I would officially be on my own. Whenever I had Len with me I knew I was safe, but without him, and without cell service to reach him or anyone else I couldn't help but feel a little nervous. What was I going to do if someone attacked me? Or if I came across a bear and I wasn't able to scare it away? Or if I got hurt and couldn't walk? There were so many what-ifs. But I knew I couldn't let them stop me from living. There are many people that walk the Appalachian Trail every day and from what I've heard, and the conversations from last night, the community out there seem to have everyone's best interest. The people out there look out for one another.
Len and I were slow to pack up and get moving. After trying the dehydrated eggs a second time and realizing how much I did not like them I couldn't force myself to eat anymore. And unfortunately, I was very cold yet again this morning. I decided when we get back that I would need to change out some food and grab a sweater if I was going to be able to hike in the mornings.
We set out from the William Douglas shelter to Prospect Rock. The walk was much more manageable than yesterday's had been. Yesterday we had to bushwhack through the thick humble bushes for hours on end and jump from rock to rock to avoid heavy mud puddles. Today we were lucky to walk across many planks when there was mud and the trails were much clearer. You could actually walk beside each other rather than in a line. I couldn't help but cling to Len a little more tightly today knowing that he was only going to be with me another few hours. Holding his hand gave me strength, the strength I knew I needed to find for myself out here.
When we finally got to the parking lot, Len left me by a beautiful river while he ran to get the car over at the next parking lot mile away. I decided to give my father a call knowing that this adventure was stressing him out to the max. I reassured him I had everything I needed and that there were lots of people on the trail and that I knew how to use my water filter and all that jazz. He didn't sound so convinced, but there was more of an acceptance to his voice this time I spoke to him now that I was finally here. It kind of felt nice to know he was worried about me. I guess I'm still a Daddy's girl after all.
Len took me into town to replace some of the food that I had brought with new foods as well as to grab a sweater. He found me a bright blue sweater since none of my other clothing was very bright. I could tell he was trying to do everything you could to make sure I was safe while still giving me the space I needed to do this. It was just one of the many reasons I appreciated him.
We had lunch at Manchester House of Pizza and spread a picnic blanket out on the grass to reassess all of my gear and to reassess my food for the week. I had originally bought Mountain House meals and a ton of beef jerky, but now that I knew I didn't care for many of the Mountain House breakfast meals and that I needed more heavy carbs and salt so I wouldn't get dehydrated and weak when hiking, I traded things out for good old ramen noodles, tuna packets, juice packets, and after seeing Animal with a big bag of M&M's last night, I had to grab one too.
After shopping and putting everything back into my bag I was starting to feel very nervous. I kept wondering why I thought I needed 2 weeks out here. Why couldn't I have just planned for one week? Was I crazy? The weaker part of me wanted to just stay in the car and go home with Len, but the more brave/determined side of me, or stupid, needed to give this a try.
I kissed Len as deeply and as passionately as I could, trying to press into his spirit and to hold on to a small part of him once I set out for this adventure. He walked me over to the Bromley trailhead, holding my hand as we read the sign. My heart was racing knowing that once I let go of his hand and walked down that path, I would truly be on my own.
Just then a husband and wife turned to me and smiled. They asked if I was the girl from YouTube that recently posted videos about my preparations for the trail including how to hang a bear bag and everything I planned to bring. Len and I laughed. I was so surprised to be running into someone out there that has seen my videos since I only just started making them over the past few weeks, and I only had about 20 followers.
I kissed Len one last time and headed down the trail, looking back three times to see him standing there smiling and waving at me until I passed by too many trees to see him any longer. I almost cried with both fear and excitement but pushing past that fear without stuffing it down gave me a new sense of strength and I held onto it for dear life. And then I remembered to pray. I prayed for guidance and safety and for the strength and endurance to take on this 2-week challenge. I prayed that I wouldn't feel so alone and that God would help me when I needed it. I prayed to be brave.
I crossed a single log bridge, over planks, and up rocky trails and with each step I began to pray/say thank you for everything I was grateful for. I gave thanks for the many blessings, people, friends, and family in my life. I gave thanks for my health and my ability to even take this challenge on. I thanked God for my legs, my heart, and my sound mind. With each step giving thanks, I began to feel a little stronger and a little more sure-footed. I smashed my feet down on the muddy path and banged my trekking poles off rocks in hopes to scare any animals away. Which reminded me of how my whistle failed me on that first night.
When Len and I had potentially heard a bear outside our tent, I tried blowing on the whistle I've been carrying around for the last 10 years on my life jacket and was unpleasantly surprised at its lack of volume. It was essentially useless to me. And I had wished I had tried blowing it before coming on the trip.
And as if God was listening to my thoughts, just like that I looked up and saw a strange silver ball strapped to a tree. I have first thought it was some nature camera and thought that was strange but I might as well give whoever's watching a good laugh. So I walked up to it ready to make some funny faces when I realized on the strap was a picture of a bear in the silver ball was a bell. I laughed and took it off the tree thankful for my new trail magic toy but also a little on uneased realizing this gift may be needed more than just as a precaution.
I jingled the two miles up to the Bromley shelter. Once there I placed the bear bell in the little pouch with a magnet to keep it quiet. This was definitely one of the nicest shelters I had seen yet. The shelter had an enclosed picnic area and a beautiful A-line roof. Wanting to put my pack down and set up camp, I followed the signs for the tenting area and was very excited when I stumbled upon Chris and James, the couple I had met the night before!
I was instantly relieved knowing that I wouldn't be spending my first night alone with complete strangers. Being in the same shelter made me feel safe. So I set up my tent near theirs and then met back up with everyone down at the shelter. People began to come and go as it was the last available water source for the next 8 miles. This bit of information caught me off guard. Up until then, I had seen water every few miles. There was so much water until that point and that I had only been caring about 1 or 2 liters at most at a time.
The average hiker only needs about 2 liters of water a day. But someone like me who's not physically fit, and does not have hiking experience, can go through three to four liters in a day easily, especially if it's hot outside. And being July, the days got very hot. Looking at the map I realized I'd have to climb over three mountain peaks before I made it to the Peru shelter which had the next available water source. There was nothing I could do about the situation now that I was already here. So I told myself not to worry about it tonight. And that I figure it out tomorrow.
I met Anna and Anna down by the waterhole while I was refilling and washing my underwear off to the side using a large gallon bag. They had a voucher for some of the upcoming shelters and offered it to me as they would be hiking more miles and were not planning on staying at the shelters the voucher was good for. Most of the shelters are free, but some of the nicer ones, like Bromley, Stratton pond, Little Rock pond, and Griffin Lake had innkeepers and they charged $5 per person per night. So I was grateful for the trail magic.
Back at the shelter, I met a group of college kids while making dinner with Chris and James. We all got to talking about trail names. Trail names are like nicknames given on hiking trips that are earned through the reason that somebody might be there or an experience they go through. Sometimes it can take weeks or months before someone has a name and other times it comes quickly. My name came very quickly. That night the group decided to call me Faith. Because I was out here to restore my faith in humanity as well as to reconnect with God. I accepted.
Len and I slept in. I loved waking up to the sound of the waterfalls and the sun casting soft light into the tent. Quietly I tried to sneak out of bed to make us breakfast. I made us eggs with ham and peppers by the waterfalls using my little pocket rocket stove that's the size of a cigarette pack. It was pretty cool that such a small thing was so important to my survival. I was never very much good at starting a fire so I was grateful that I could just push a little button and set my pot of water on top to boil.
The air had an icy chill to it, so much so that I was getting cold and having a hard time enjoying the moment. The temperature had dropped to 40° at night. To be honest, I had ended up being cold most of the day and had wished I had brought a lightweight jacket with me or even a windproof sweater. While hiking I was sweating but as soon as I stopped I would get goosebumps. We took a half hour lunch break by a river and we filled out water bottles using the Sawyer mini filter and another break when we reached Bourn Pond which was absolutely beautiful and looked great for swimming but again I was too cold to go in. We saw a few tents there and a bunch of rafts people had blown up tied together next to a tree. It looked like it would be a fun place to enjoy on a warmer day.
We hiked from about 10 am to 6 pm. All together it was about nine and a half miles from the Lye Brook waterfalls to the William B. Douglas shelter where we set up camp for our second night.
We met a fun couple who were thru-hiking the Long Trail named Chris and James. They are from New Hampshire and teach at an elementary school. Chris is an art teacher and I believe James said he taught math. We got to chatting with them for a while before going over and setting up our tent on a nice flat spot. I even washed my shirt, underwear, and sports bra in a large gallon Ziploc bag with some water I had leftover and a little bit of Castile soap. It didn't do much for the smell but it at least felt a little cleaner. I then used the extra rope I had from the fly of my tent to make a clothesline between two pine trees.
While setting up a girl about my age came by looking around for a flat spot. I said hello and introduce myself but she didn't seem much interested in chatting. Maybe she was just exhausted from hiking all day and wasn't up for much conversation. Which was too bad, because I was excited to see another solo girl hiking.
Len and I went over to the fire pit in front of the shelter to chat with everyone once we were done and ready for dinner. Two more men had joined. One was an older man with a fun accent that I couldn't quite place. He seemed a little eccentric but friendly enough. The other was an AT (Appalachian Trail) through hiker. He went by the trail named Animal. He said he was originally 400lb when he realized that he needed to do something to change his life. He lost a hundred pounds and went on two camping trips. He said he didn't realize how angry he was until he came out to the woods and felt calm for the first time. That's when he knew you wanted to walk the Appalachian Trail. I thought that was pretty inspirational.
I spent most of my life in fear and following old traditional ways of what a young woman is supposed to be. About three and a half years ago I finally began to break free from that lifestyle. I left an abusive relationship and was fortunate enough to meet my soulmate shortly after. Since then I've been pushing myself to grow stronger and braver every day.
In May, when I first found out I would have the month of July and possibly August off from nannying, the first thing that came to my mind was that I wanted to go live in the woods. I'm not completely sure why that came to my mind, but it did.
Now I have never done anything like this before, even though I've always loved nature. Sure I've gone camping and on plenty of day hikes before, but never have I attempted to carry a 30 lb bag packed with everything I need on my back. But after a few days of thinking, I decided I was going to solo hike the Vermont Long Trail for two weeks. I spent six weeks training physically and mentally as well as purchased and practiced using everything I needed to survive. And now I was finally here doing it.
Typically it takes the average person four to six weeks to hike all 273 miles of the Long Trail which stretches from the Massachusetts/Vermont border up to Canada doing about 9 to 12 miles a day. That sounded like an awful lot to me. I only walked about 5 miles a day on average according to my Fitbit. And that was on flat city streets, never mind miles climbing up a mountain!
I didn't know how far I get each day, I had hoped about 5 miles but I told myself it wasn't going to be about the miles. This trip was for me to prove to myself that I could do something like this. That I can truly survive on my own. That I don't always need to have a partner or a friend to hold my hand in everything I did in life. I needed to learn how to face my fears myself, how to conquer them, and to trust that God would protect me.
Despite his concerns, my partner Len completely supported me in all of this. He drove with me up to Lye Brook waterfalls, a side trail off the LT, and we hiked the 2.3 miles down the winding path to the place we sit now. He's planning to spend the first two nights with me to help me get adjusted and then Sunday morning he'll drop me off at an entrance to the part of the trail near Prospect Rock so I can continue north on my own.
We were lucky to make it all the way to the falls before dark but unfortunately, we had to set up camp using our headlamps as well as hang up our bear (food) bags. Being on the edge of a waterfall there was almost no flat surface, so we had to place our tent on the edge of the trail and use a not so ideal tree to hang our food from. To be honest, I was praying it would still be there in the morning since we saw bear cave directly across from the falls.
As I was writing this journal entry, Len was falling asleep beside me. That's when I heard loud footsteps walking by. So loud I had at first assumed it was a person night walking the trail. I started calling hello? Who's out there? And there was no answer. That's when I woke up Len and told him what I heard. He started yelling too but whatever it was must have walked away. It took me a little while to fall asleep after that. I couldn't help asking myself, how am I going to handle something like that when I'm all alone? Little did I know what was in store for the upcoming days that followed.
I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had periods were our faith is not nearly as strong as it had been in the past for whatever reason. For me, I had always believed in God but my idea of him was vast and complicated. At this moment in time, I had not yet known Jesus and so without the Bible I had only my heart to base my beliefs as well as all the influences I had encountered through my life.
On April 3rd, I was crying and driving to yoga and called out to God to please help me believe in him. I had spent the last two months trying all types of churches and looking for a community of people I could make friendships with. I had moved to another state almost a year ago and had yet to make new friendships. I was starting to feel really lonely and was missing my old friends back home. Unfortunately, some of the churches I tried were an elderly only community, others had great events on their calendars but when I went, I ended up being the only person there, others I had called or emailed and never got a response, one was just outright crazy with people lying on the floor saying they were having conversations with God (we literally ran from that place) and so I was starting to feel like giving up. I debated just going back to my solitary worship. And so with all this feeling of hopelessness I called out to God praying that if he wants me to worship him with others to please help me find the right church and community.
Being in the upset state I was, I was nearly in two car accidents on my way to the yoga class. I wondered if it were God showing me he was protecting me when I had come so close to being hurt. Then when I went into yoga I was lying underneath a fan and the light reflection on the blades looked like a pair of two crosses. I wondered if that were confirmation that he was with me in those two moments. But I disregarded it saying things (good or bad) always happen in 3s, not 2s. Then I said to myself that's too easy of a sign to make myself see. So I said, show me a sign with mother Mary (thinking that would be harder to make up in my head). I looked around the room and saw an angel carved into a Himalayan salt lamp but said no, that's me trying to see something that's not there.
A moment later the teacher came to the front of the room and said "I don't normally start the class with chanting an Om, but Mary at the front desk is having a really stressful day, so I told Mary we'd all chant her a nice loud Om so she could hear it all the way out there." I almost missed the sign and then realized how fast God had answered my request. I began crying again. Then 30mins into the class the fire alarm went off. I completely froze into the fetal position with my hands covering my ears. It took me a few moments, enough that everyone else had left the studio, before I could see straight enough and start to move on autopilot. I grabbed my shoes, coat and mat and headed out of the studio, down the hall, and out the main door in a head haze. Only when I got to my car did I realize if I hadn't panicked I would have realized I was sitting in front of an emergency exit door on which the other side was my car because it was the last parking spot available when I had pulled in. So there was my 3rd save of the night on top of my Mary request. The next day on April 4th I found my church, one with a large young adult community that has been extremely welcoming and has many events.
For many years I've celebrated the changing of seasons. I've honored the directions and the elements and given thanks for the many blessings nature gives us. And in each ceremony, even before I knew Jesus, I could feel the presence of him with me. God has been by my side all along. And so I want to be able to thank nature for helping me see God. Or maybe I should say thank God for helping me see him in nature. So I wrote this simple ceremony, blending my old traditions with my newfound love and relationship with God.
Casting a circle of love and light with Jesus:
1. "Thank you Jesus for the direction of East. The place of the rising sun. A place of new beginnings. And for it's element Air. Like the Wind we can feel your presence always with us even when we cannot see you."
2. "Thank you Jesus for the direction of the South. The place of everlasting light. Like the Holy Spirit you shine your light through us. By the element of fire you warm our hearts and guide us through the darkness."
3. "Thank you Jesus for the direction of the West. The place of our first and second birth. Through the element of water we are born and reborn in baptism washing away our sins and coming forth as a child of Christ."
4. "Thank you Jesus for the direction of the North. For the fertile land that provides us with all we need. The element of Earth is one of your greatest gifts to us after salvation. It is out home until we meet you in the Kingdom of Heaven."
5. Once the circle is cast, it's time for the honoring of the season and/or the sermon. Here you can reflect on the meaning of the season and how it connects with the bible. For example, Spring is a time for new beginnings and second chances. We can connect this to the Bible by remembering the resurrection of Christ and his forgiveness of our sins so that we may be given a second chance in our life to connect with God and enter his kingdom of heaven.
6. Next spend time in prayer or if you like to sing then sing. You could also hold a drumming circle. Or if words escape you, make something to honor him and give thanks for the blessings of nature.
7. Now take time to pray for others. Or if you are with a group take a moment to go around the circle one by one and allow each person to ask for a prayer that is either for themselves or someone they know who needs it.
Closing your circle of prayer:
8. "We thank you Jesus for connecting us with the direction of North and the element of Earth. May you always guide us on this Earthly plane."
9. "We thank you Jesus for connecting us with the direction of West and the element of Water. May we continue to try to strive for an honorable life now that you've washed away our sins."
10. "We thank you Jesus for the direction of East and the element Air. May we stay strong knowing you always with us."
I had the opportunity to visit the Art Shoppe in Plymouth, Ma this past Sunday to participate in an Alcohol Ink Art Workshop lead by artist Jessie Fries and co-host Eddy Murray. Art, especially abstract art, I find to be one of the most freeing and healing mediums. As Jessie is always saying, “Art is fun!” By being able to explore and let go of control in a playful and safe environment it teaches you to trust and that it’s okay to not always know what is going to happen. For this workshop we made tiles, which I am now using as coasters, magnets and even a few fun pendants!
Now lets say you are truly not happy with your design. No need to worry, you can remove all of the paint by mixing a little rubbing alcohol and blending solution on a paper towel and wipe it all away! Or if you love it, go ahead and seal your work by spraying a layer of minwax glossy polyurethane.
If interested in trying this or other fun workshops held by Jessie or her business partner Eddy Murray who does fun metal works visit their Facebook page to see all their upcoming events: The Art Shoppe Jessart Studio
As a trauma survivor I have learned to move forward in my life and heal from my past by exploring many passions such as spirituality, art, travel & herbalism. I hope my blog can help inspire healing in others and let them know they are not alone on their journey.