Dealing with Fatigue

Hello again!

So there’s this stereotype in the backpacking world of a young, eager hiker who gets on trail for the first time and is really into it. They’re excited to make miles and because of this they tear up Georgia for a few weeks or months making excellent time. But sooner or later their break-neck pace catches up with them and they either injure themselves or just burn out. Either way they’ve so completely mentally and physically depleted themselves that it’s impossible for them to continue and they go home pre-maturely. Unfortunately this stereotype is firmly grounded in reality and it occurs often.

But this is isn’t a phenomenon confined to just backpacking. It can crop up anywhere. And it’s a problem that raises interesting conundrums: on one hand it’s important to accomplish as much as you can but on the other hand if you destroy yourself in the process then you won’t be able to accomplish anything else later. So where’s the middle ground?

This is something I’m constantly struggling to balance. For example I missed an update last week because I wasn’t feeling well and anything I wrote wouldn’t have been very interesting. And I knew that if I went ahead and pushed myself to write a blog post anyway then it might hurt my emotional capacity to write later. I knew this from years of feeling out that fine line and occasionally crossing it and dealing with the consequences.

Understanding this is also how I graduated high school early, how I’m planning my hike, and how I’m figuring out financial aid for college. Incidentally it’s become more important recently, as I’ve become more susceptible to exhaustion and simultaneously begun working full-time. Because of that particular combination I’ve given up martial arts for the time being, in order to be capable of continuing to bring in an income.

The point of all of this is that knowing your limits and making the most efficient use of your abilities is an essential skill, both on trail and off. And that sometimes it means prioritizing your goals.

Just some things that have been on my mind recently.

As a side note I’ve also decided to start posting more intermittently. Not exactly because I don’t have the energy but more because I’m working full-time right now and not doing much hiking. This summer contains all the boring parts of preparing for my thru-hike and none of the exciting stuff: I’m not buying anything and I’m not making any intricate plans. However I’m switching to only working weekends at the end of August and I’ll probably go back to a regular schedule at that point, mostly because I’ll have interesting things to say and I don’t now.

And of course I will still be posting between now and then, but not as regularly as I have been.

That’s all for now. I have a post or two planned and I look forward to sharing them with you.

Until then,

Eliza

 

Jackson Cave at Cedars of Lebanon

Hello all.

As part of my job I give tours of a quirky little feature of Cedars of Lebanon known as Jackson Cave. It’s great in person but I want to extend the pleasure to all of you, no matter where you live. So join me to go deep into the earth and explore the world beneath Cedars of Lebanon State Park.


 

As you initially approach Jackson Cave you’ll see something like this:

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You draw a little nearer and see that the entrance is only about four feet tall, so that you’ll have to crouch to enter. You stop at the mouth of the cave and peer inside. This is what greets you:

Jackson Cave

Dark. Lots of dark. Best to bring a light along. You’ll also note the uneven footing which, coupled with the low ceiling and occasional mud, makes navigating the entrance a challenge. But you’ve come prepared with light and shoes with a grip, so you resign yourself to stooping and make your way hesitantly forward. After about fifty feet, much to your relief, the ceiling rises and you can stand again. But there’s a new challenge now: water.

The entire cave sometimes serves as a creek bed to drain excess water off the lake, which is situated at the back of the cave. But the water never completely evaporates and so inevitably you will wade through at least a little water. Today it’s knee-deep and to help with balance you grip the walls, which you discover are covered in mud. It becomes apparent that you’re going to need a shower when you come back out.

Other cool things you see:

  • Giant crawdads, as long as your hand is from the tip of your middle finger to the beginning of your wrist.
  • Rock carved into miniature ravines by the water that’s flowed through it over the eons.
  • Sparkly ceilings. Thousands of tiny drops of water coat the roof of the cave and make it glitter. There are also shiny minerals in the rock wall that add to the effect.
  • More mud than you thought existed in the entire world and you get to wade through most of it.
  • It’s been raining just a little so you also get to see little underground waterfalls.

After three-quarters of a mile enjoying these sights you reach the underground lake. Standing there, on the gravely shore, you get the sense that the water goes on and on through cavern after cavern and rock hall after rock hall, filling a thousand cracks and a million crevices. If you’re lucky you might see a cave fish swim by. They’re blind (a little like the ones Gollum eats in The Hobbit) and where their eyes should be there’s only a shallow, scaly indentation.

Now is a good time to turn off your light and get a sense of how dark it really is down here. No light from the sun ever reaches this deep so even if you had the eyesight of an owl it wouldn’t help you much; you are hemmed in by darkness on every side. Not only darkness but silence. No sound can penetrate the rock that surrounds you and so, if you take the opportunity to listen, you may hear true silence for the first time in your life.

You turn your light back on and now, unless you decide to swim (some people do), you’ll turn back. There is a legend that if you follow the cave far enough you’ll come out at the town square, a full six miles away. But that’s for the spelunkers and scientists to decide; you’ve come as far as you can and now it’s time to head back to the surface.

So back you go, through the mud and water and past the tiny waterfalls. It goes faster this time because you know what to expect and before you know it there’s a hazy glow up ahead and you realize that it’s daylight. As you near the mouth of the cave the ceiling descends and you’re obliged to crouch again. You’ve already forgotten how hard it is to keep your balance during this stretch and you’re a bit over-confident, taking risks you didn’t take on the way in.

Then, at long last, you emerge into the warm, dappled sunlight of the forest.

Jackson Cave(2)

You stretch in relief, glad to be able to stand up straight again, but notice that while in the cave you have become immeasurably filthy. Mud has somehow gotten on your face, on your legs, all over your hands, and it’s doubtful whether it will ever come out of your shoes. But somehow this only adds to the joy of the adventure and you laugh as you make your way to the Nature Center where there’s a hose and (hopefully) a clean change of clothes waiting for you.


 

So there you go: a virtual tour of Jackson Cave. If you want the real experience come see me at Cedars of Lebanon and I can get you set up.

That’s all for this week, you guys.

Until next time,

Eliza

 

 

Jackson Cave(1)

The mouth of the cave from above.

A.T. Thru-hike Budget (Progress Update #13)

Hello again, all.

We’re now coming up on the time when I hope to finish my thru-hike next year. That’s a big deal and I t makes me excited. It also makes me want to jump into the specific financial logistics of this hike a little more, and that’s what I’ve got below.

Thru Hike Budget

Inital Equipment – $1,500

On-trail purchases – $500

Food – $2,000 

Lodgings, Travel, Fees, Emergency Trips Home, etc. – $1,000

Total: $4,923

Some notes on each of those categories:

Equipment:  I’ve spent $923 on equipment so far but I’ve built in room for roughly $570 more I n accordance with the lots of little purchases I still need to make.

On-trail Purchases: This for when my boots inevitably fall apart, when I need a new sleeping bag because mine is for some reason shredded, when I decide I hate my pack, etc.

Food: $2,000 for five and a half months roughly equates to $12 per day. I’m going to try to eat well, giving myself all the meat, protein, and fat I need, so if I go over-budget anywhere it’ll be here. It’s worth it though.

Travel and Fees: I’m probably going to keep a “no beds until Maine” policy which will deter me from spending nights in hotels as much or, if I do, splitting the price of the room with a buddy and sleeping on the floor. Hopfully in return for the comfy bed they’ll bear the greater part of the bill. I also need money for transortation to and from the trail and a little buffer in case I suddenly need to rush home.

Basically, I want to keep my expenses under $5,000 if I can. But I hope to also have some buffer room in case I go overbudget on any of these categories. Working full time right now I know I can pull together the cash for all of this. I’m just excited for the adventure to begin!

Until next time,

Eliza

P.S.

I didn’t post last week, for which I apoligize. I was feeling quite sick and figured it was best to wait until I had the energy to deliver something of quality. To make up for it here’s a beautiful picture of Jackson Cave I took the other day.

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A Guest Post from my Father

Hello again,

Today I have something a little different for you: a word from my father. He’s written a short personal essay for you, about a poignant and symbolic day for our family. For context, my sisters were both very ill for many years while they were young and this had a devastating effect on our family, though we ultimately pulled through intact and a little stronger (or, as the Mad Hatter would say, stranger) for it. It’s also worth noting that at the time when this essay takes place we had a small hobby farm, complete with a cow, that Jennifer is my mother’s name, and that Pearl is my little sister. She was three when this story is set.

I’ll let my father tell the rest.


 

When I brought Kate the cow to our property I set up an electric fence for her. I learned then how little I know about electricity and, though I had enclosed Kate in a small area, I wasn’t confident in the fence’s power. Nightmares often woke me in the middle of the night. I would hear someone knocking on the front door and always leapt up and ran across the house, fearing someone was there to tell me that Kate had escaped. Of course no one was ever on my doorstep and Kate was always where she should have been, except once.

It was ten years ago tonight. She was dried off, so I wouldn’t need to get up early the next morning to milk her, and we took the opportunity to stay out late at a friend’s house for an early celebration of the Fourth of July. But I knew the fireworks might spook Kate so I was a little worried about her.

A friend and I were outside lighting sparklers when Jennifer came out of the house and told me Pearl had pooped her pants. This was odd because Pearl had been potty-trained early, for months by this time, and we had never had any problems like this with her. We didn’t know it at the time but this was the start of all her medical problems.

When we got home I checked in on Kate, still concerned about the fireworks. But she seemed fine.  She was an older cow and, like most things, she had seen it all several times before. Satisfied, I returned to the house and went to bed. Later, in the middle of the night, I again heard a knock at the door. It was not the two loud knocks, one after the other followed by silence that I heard in my dreams, this was different. I jumped up quickly, climbed across the bed as I always did (much to Jennifer’s annoyance), and ran to the door.

There were lights in the driveway, so this time I knew someone really was here. And indeed, when I opened the door a couple of ladies stood before me. They said they loved driving by and seeing Kate grazing but had noticed, on this occasion, that she seemed far too close to the road. I thanked them and went to check for myself. Sure enough Kate was in the tall grass by the road as happy as could be. I pulled her back, got her secured, and went back to bed.

But, July 3rd will always be remembered in our family as the day the nightmare came true.

Author’s Note: I originally wrote a version of this nine years ago. Pearl had an indeterminate diagnosis similar to Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis with a liver disease called PSC.  Nika, my second daughter, was born that November with MCAD. We had three straight years of monthly hospital stays after that night. Thankfully the last few years have been better. A combination of miraculous (in the true sense of the word) events and a really smart and determined wife have allowed us to manage our health issues very well.  We have made mistakes along the way but our kids are okay.  Ten years ago tonight the medical nightmare started. We appreciate all the people who have walked with us since this started.

Fatigue and Tech Issues

The laptop isn’t working tonight so I’m writing this on my phone. It should be brief. I just wanted to pop in and say that 1) I finally got to go deep into Jackson Cave and 2) I’ve been feeling very weak over the past few weeks but that I’m feeling a little better now and may, soon, begin going back to martial arts and doing more hikes. It’s a fine line between letting your body rest when it needs it and not giving it enough excercise. I tent to err on the former side, for reasons I might explain in a later blog post. Anyway I’ve been experiencing fatigue from suddenly working full time and the whole thing has been a learning curve.

I guess the point of all this is to simply drop in and say I am alright, I’m still working for what I always have been working for, but there’s challenges I’m facing along the way and I might elaborate on them later. Also that I’m having tech issues but that should be fixed soon.

Alright, I’m going to sleep. More detailed posts to come.

Until next time,

Liza

About the Bees

Hello again.

Today I wanted to share an idea I’ve been mulling over, since my thoughts from last week seemed to go over pretty well and because it has to do with my work with animals over the past few weeks.

I’ve noticed that often times people will look at animals and say, “Oh if we were all more like [some animals species] then the world would be a wonderful place, full of cooperation and harmany and peace and hard work!” They say this of ants, and dolphins, and dogs, and bees, and doves and the list goes on. People seem to believe the animal world works by some angelic standard, and humans ought to strive to achieve its innocence and beauty and perfection.

I’ll take bees as an example because I often here people say how hardworking bees are and how humans should try to be more like them. So here’s the truth: I’ve been observing a hive of bees for a month now (we have one on display in the Nature Center) and I can tell you for a fact that bees are cannibalistic, incestuous, fratricidal, filicidal creatures. That is to say that I’ve watched them eat their young simply because they were hungry, and that the queen mates with her brothers, and that they routinely kill all the males in the hive once a year.

It seems to me that no one in our society is advocating eating babies. But they are advocating imitating bees. And bees eat their babies.

I guess my point is that animals are not perfect in some way, they don’t operate by magical innocent rules; there is bloodshed and murder aplenty in the animal kingdom. In fact I would argue humans kill one another less than animals do, even if it’s not by much.

On the flip side, as I’ve been thinking about that, I thought of this: the point of being human is to rise above those animalistic instincts. We are to not murder, not eat our children when we decide we have too many, not to steal, and so on. These are basic rules everyone agrees upon as being beneath any human being. Humanity is, so to speak, called to be more than animals. Called to be better than that.

I mean, really, what do we think of a person who does whatever their urges or desires or instincts (whatever you like to call it) tell them to? That person very quickly becomes a liar, a thief, and even a murderer, and the law cracks down on them. Yet these same things we find perfectly acceptable in animals, who simply follow their urges the same as the hypothetical criminal did.

It seems to me that when we do whatever we like, following our instincts, we give up a bit of our humanity. And when we do the right thing, only because it was right and not because it helps us in any way, we take one more step away from the animal world and become just a little more human.

Does that make sense? This is still a fledgling notion in my mind and I’d love to hear other thoughts.

That’s all for now, I’m quite tired.

Until next time,

Eliza

On Silence

Last week I talked about getting a flip phone. Today I’m going to talk about the silence that comes from being alone with no voices but your own. I’m including in my definition not just the voices of the people physically around us, but those from the internet too.

I’ve only really experienced this once, the first time I ever backpacked. I was hiking in a forest of rather short and underwhelming trees, putting one foot steadfastly in front of the other, catching glimpses of the lake, and following a flat, uninteresting trail. From time to time I saw fishermen on the lake and sometimes I even got close enough to wave. At other times their voices wafted over the water to me, the meaning lost but the inflections preserved. For twenty-four hours it was just the thin forest, the trail, the lake, a few distant fishermen, and me. I was alone in the midst of that reality.

It was eerie. I was unnerved. The silence was crushing and I honestly became afraid that backpacking wasn’t for me, that I couldn’t handle the isolation, that I would buckle under the weight of the silence and have to head home after only a week on the A.T. Later I felt somewhat reassured after I got to backpack with a group and found it to be a very social environment, but that worry still stayed with me for a long time. During this week, however, I’ve begun to see things differently.

I’ve begun to feel that my thru-hike is about confronting the silence. It’s about learning to step back from everything and everyone and learn to see the meaning and beauty that is not loud like the human world, but instead operates within the silence. The subtleness in the sunset, for example, or the pattern in the bark of a tree, or the meaning in the life of a mourning dove. None of these things are loud or obvious, but they are real on a level it’s still difficult for me to grasp, a level I’m just beginning to recognize. And that’s exactly why I have to spend six months in the wilderness: I have to learn to recognize it. It won’t be easy. It will, in fact, be incredibly difficult. But it’s what I need. I need to face the silence.

I guess this thought scares me because all my dysfunctions are laid so horrifyingly bare in the stillness of silence. I hate having nothing to look at but myself. But I want to learn how, and that’s the latest reason I have for my thru-hike.

I wonder if anyone else has dealt with this, in the context of backpacking or a similarly isolated setting? Anyway, just wanted to share that reflection with you this week.

Until next time,

Liza

P.S.

I know, of course, that there will be plenty of people on the A.T. and I will be far from alone. But during those early days when it’s still February, and perhaps the later ones in the North, I may have some instances of isolation. And anyway, I’ll surely have the odd day of walking on my own, which can be a weighty enough silence on its own.

 

 

I Got a Flip Phone!

Yep. I traded in my iPhone for an old-school flip phone. Why? My smart phone was just really distracting.

I guess I’ve been working towards this decision for a while. For a long time I’ve felt like my phone was keeping  me from the more important things in life. With social media and the constant barrage of notifications I feel as though I’m thinking broadly, but not deeply. It’s easy to consume fifty short news articles a day and have a fleeting and insubstantial impression of each one but it’s much harder to sit down and read one chapter of a good book, even if the word counts of the two are roughly equal.

And I’ve begun to suspect that just because I have access to more opinions and information than I ever have before that doesn’t mean I’m digesting it or learning from any of it. In fact, I’m just confusing myself. So my new strategy is to drink deeply of the perspectives of others until my soul understands theirs in some fundamental way. I want to learn and grow from the information I consume and I hope my flip phone will aid me in achieving the clarity of mind I’ll need to do that.

So that was my reasoning. I started trying to implement my plan about a month ago and I’ve been fighting with the phone company ever since just be able to get a flip phone. It’s taken me many visits to three different Sprint stores over the course of a month, but today I finally got this little guy activated and ready to go:

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My phone ❤

I recognize this topic isn’t, strictly speaking, related to backpacking. But it is, in another way, very much in the spirit of backpacking. It’s in the spirit of leaving behind the usual world with its busy chaos and entering a more calm place where there is peace and room to think. Additionally this step is a part of my journey towards the Appalachian Trail and as such I wanted to share it with you guys.

That’s all I have to say today.

Until next time,

Eliza

I Got a Job at a State Park! (Progress Update #12)

Hello again,

So I got a job! At a state park, where I can be outdoors and near lots of trails.

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Myself and Pete the gray rat snake. ❤

They have a little mini-museum there, called the Nature Center, and I’m taking care of it for the summer. Not a bad gig. It’s relaxed and pretty slow paced. Basically I give tours daily, show the snakes to visitors upon request, sweep up, feed the fish, and answer questions. I’ll be there full-time for the duaration of the summer.

(Fun backstory: when I was interviewing for this job my soon-to-be boss wanted to make sure I was comfortable with the snakes. So she let me hold Mazey the corn snake and stroke and pet her and all that normal stuff. I did okay, I even thought Mazey was cute. So next she draped Mazey around my neck. I would have been just fine with that too but Mazey wasn’t. Mazey wanted to be back in her bedding where she could hide and she noticed that my hair was in a high, poofy bun that day. So, fast as she could, she slithered up my head, through my hair tie, and into my bun. And she just chilled there. To my credit I didn’t scream or freak out, although I really wasn’t used to having snakes in my hair. We did eventually get her untangled, and I’m now on good terms with Mazey, but I’ve decided to wear my hair in braids from now on.)

 

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Exterior of the Nature Center, where I work. It’s  a cute little building.

Strategically this job is well suited to my plans. I knew I needed a few thousand extra dollars to make my thru hike possible and before even hearing about this job I decided I wanted to work just over the summer so that the autumn was free for applying to colleges and backpacking in earnest. This job is perfect for that. It’s full-time but short and I have my autumn free.

But those are short term benefits. I also knew that this was a field I was interested in entering later on in life (p

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Our blind cave fish. They don’t do much. 

erhaps as a park ranger?) so a job like this couldn’t hurt. And I love the outdoors and being near hiking trails. Heck, my instagram is nothing but pictures from state parks right now. My senior pictures were even taken at this particular state park. So all around it seemed like a great fit.

Oh! And I did eventually test out my poncho. It works fine, I didn’t get wet, but I never did get any pictures. Ah well, someday I’ll be on a lonesome trail in the wilderness when the sky suddenly starts pouring buckets. On that day I’ll get out my rain poncho and my water-proof camera and I’ll take a selfie of my dry, comfortable self. Then you’ll have proof. Until then you’ll have to trust my word that the poncho works.

That’s about all. I would have told you guys I was going to get this job a month ago but I wanted to wait until I really had it and everything was set in stone.

Until next time,

Liza

 

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Pete and I again. They like to wrap around the neck because it provides a secure hold, so they know they won’t fall. But don’t worry: she’s not strong enough to cut off my airflow, even if she wanted to.

 

 

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One of my senior pictures, shot at the same state park where I now work.

Radnor Lake Fun+Pictures

Short one today. I haven’t done anything specific to backpacking this week but I did go explore Radnor Lake State Park with my family today and I have pictures.

The first thing to understand is how delightful the Lake Trail was. It’s about three miles of woodland tunnel but the path is an old abandoned asphalt road. The result is incredibly picturesque and fanciful.

roadd

 

The lake, too, was stunning. It’s a bit (very) small, but clear and blue and at a few points I felt as if I could fly away on the wind coming off it.

 
Radnor Lake

We also spotted a fawn, not three hundred feet from the parking lot, just chilling with his mother Apparently that’s commonplace at this park, which I think is really cool.

Full tally of the wildlife we spotted:

  • Toads
  • Many turtles
  • Fawn and doe
  • Ducks (or possibly geese, they were far away)
  • Cranes
  • Snake
  • A blue and an orange salamander. We named the blue one Sally.

This is the snake:

snek

Snek, snek, snek.

 

I had fun. It’s a great little park.

To update: my water filter and poncho probably work but I still haven’t tested them (oops). I’ll do that eventually, probably on my next backpacking trip, if I’m honest. I would rather test them in the field and be able to given an accurate opinion than have nothing to say at all.

That’s all for now.

Until next time,

Liza

 

feet

Feets.