A quote from one of my favorite funny men speaks to the wanderer in us all
I'm having a rough moment.
Bet you can relate.
They come and go. By the time you hit seventy you've had your fair share. More are coming, for time will strip all of us of many more things before we're date-stamped and sent along to the Next Big Thing.
There will be plenty of deeply painful moments which will likely be followed by untrammeled joy, the likes of which we can't appreciate without the rough stuff.
You learn to ride them. If nothing else, you most assuredly grow out of believing in Happily Ever After, for that fairy tale inevitably smacks hard into some kind of reality.
The last three years have been interesting, a word many friends of mine use in lieu of "just plain awful" or variations thereof. I'll be fine; you really do learn that this too shall pass, as you and I pass into new iterations of ourselves.
Let's talk about funny people and the grace they give us.
I was at a conference in Florida last weekend. Heading out and back I had plenty of airplane time, which I spent re-reading two books by one of my favorite authors, the brilliant and brilliantly hilarious Bill Bryson. It was in the latter of the two, his wonderful A Walk in the Woods, that I found his description of the moment I was having.
Bryson was in his early forties at the time he set out to hike the storied Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen Katz. This moment came at a point where they had made good progress. The two men realized that they did not absolutely, positively HAVE TO hike the whole damned thing in one go, so they each went home.
Bryson was drawn back to the AT in the ensuing weeks. The trail drew him like a siren song, but he found himself in a state about himself, and the AT, this huge task he had undertaken.
In fits and starts, Bryson would drive to parts of the trail and hike alone, now that he was both shaped and toughened by his first weeks on the AT. Yet, he found himself deeply dissatisfied. Troubled, even.
Here is that moment:
Everyone has a supremely low moment somewhere along the AT (Appalachian Trail), usually when the urge to quit the trail becomes almost overpowering.
The irony of my moment was that I wanted to get back on the trail and didn't know how. I hadn't lost just Katz, my boon companion, but my whole sense of connectedness to the trail. I had lost my momentum, my feeling of purpose. In the most literal way I needed to find my feet again. And now on top of everything I was quaking as if I had never been out in the woods before. All the experience I had piled up in the earlier weeks seemed to have made it harder rather than easier to be out on the trail on my own. I hadn't expected this. It didn't seem fair. It certainly wasn't right. In a glum frame of mind, I returned to the car.
This breathtakingly perfect piece sums up where I am right now. After twelve major surgeries in five years, most especially the two very difficult reconstructive surgeries on both feet, I am quite literally having to find my feet again, too. I can barely walk, hiking is a joke.
Every step at day's end an aching reminder of how far I have yet to go. But if I am to do what I love again, I must push through.
I hadn't expected this either. I thought that by now, I'd be in Mongolia riding camels, hiking the Altai Mountains. Back on horses, galloping the beaches in Spain, Costa Rica, Portugal.
I'd be on the adventure trail again by summer '23.
That summer is long past, Mongolia of course never happened, and I am still stumbling around in considerable pain watching the frustratingly slow but steady progress inch forward. I still drop things because my hands don't work. Yet.
I am in a passage identical to Bryson's.
All the experience I had piled up in twelve years of adventure travel now made it extremely difficult to even consider heading out again. It didn't seem fair. It certainly wasn't right.
As I have written previously, I found myself scared even to take on a soft adventure, one which landed like an early Christmas gift in my lap.
Bryson's words were my own.
Suspended like Spanish moss in the limbo demanded by recovery and constant pain, the achingly slow regrowth of critical nerves and a body battered by injury and surgery, I can't head out. Not yet.
My confidence, once a homing beacon for whatever befell me in the wild, has guttered.
Not out, but a candle in the wind, struggling to stay alight.
I have another year before my feet are fully healed. A nearly five-mile walk Thursday night left my feet in pure agony. My newly-healed hip hurt and the torn groin muscles were firing as I limped to my car, grateful for a place to sit down.
How the hell did I get here? This was the year I had committed to hike Kilimanjaro again on my anniversary date.
Ten years ago right now I was just landing in Tanzania, preparing to go on my first big safari, preparing to hike the great Kilimanjaro.
The world was ahead, there were unimaginable adventures in my future. I had no idea what was coming. I was in incredible shape after seven months of hard training for the summit.
Here I am ten years later, my body polka-dotted with metal, my once great strong legs weakened by too much sitting, my storied endurance reduced.
How did I get here?
One step at a time.
Just like Bryson. One step at a time.
There is such grace in Bryson's words. Permission to be in a deep chasm of not- knowing, of having done a slew of remarkable things, then ripped out of that space into even deeper question.
Who the hell am I anyway? Where on earth am I going? And harder, why?
I'm thirty years older than Bryson was when he had this epiphany. I've weathered plenty of them, which is perhaps the real grace here. We forget that we are sheep-dipped into deep question regularly. For my part, those immersions force me to explore heretofore unquestioned areas of the self, and face the kinds of queries which make me squirm.
Uncomfortable as hell. The handmaiden of growth.
Every so often I hear myself say that I didn't sign up for this.
Actually, yeah I did. I most assuredly did. I wanted all of it, and all of it includes the muck, the shit, the crappy days and insecurity, the losses and failures and flubs, the defeats and face-plants. All of it. I don't get to step only on the stones which allow me to feel masterful and competent and capable.
Those words feel so very far off right now, even as I sit on a wealth of incredible experiences which speak to those very things.
This morning as we ease into the holiday season, my house is completely upended. I am continuing what is now nearly a year and a half of living with much of what I own boxed up and stacked will-nilly in the house. Piles of my belongings are crammed into corners. I slept on the floor or my couch while recovering from six surgeries. Starting mid-December, construction work begins.
It's been a minute since this house was any kind of calm, clean or soothing to the eye. I am due for more months of the same. That said, I found out this week that I get to choose new paint for the walls in my bedroom.
Why I hadn't realized that, I dunno. I promptly went online, found some gorgeous shades of sage green to replace the latte brown on the walls where I sleep, and pondered what this house construction really means.
My dining room walls are painted an unpleasant mustard color (my mother would have called it "baby diarrhea"). With everything else being changed, now's the time to paint over those walls with something soothing and gorgeous. My colors.
I get to make this house truly my own, just like I'm doing with the last of my life.
My colors. My life, in fact.
No wonder it's scary.
To that, then, construction work continues on this body. Each week I introduce some kind of new "ask" of muscles and feet and hands, often quite painful, but necessary if I want to return to my own personal Appalachian Trail.
Whatever that looks like, whatever form the next adventure takes, I will be fully prepared for it. The journey to fitness this time is forever changed by the loss of that fitness as a result of injuries, surgeries and Covid-induced limitations.
What I regain over time, I will hold even more precious, if for no other reason than I cannot take it for granted.
The house is under construction. I am under construction. I have absolute and complete faith that the end product will be an improvement.
So to that, a hot bath, a visit to the gym, a good long walk on the treadmill, and a day of moving boxes out of the garage into the house in preparation for more construction.
I'm ready for this.
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