It's been a bit since I have posted. The holiday Season has been crazy, and unfortunately, planning has kind of been put on the back burner. It seems every time I get my focus off of our hike, someone sends me a message telling me how our story is encouraging them, or I am asked to elaborate on our plans and why we are doing this and it makes me start thinking and planning again.
I left off of my Giant series from our church, but this last entry on that subject is incredibly important and a good reminder right now. When I first started researching the AT, I was seeing how much money people were pouring into the "right gear". It had to be this, because it was more lightweight, or it had to be the newest, hottest item or there was no way you would make it on a thru hike. The same applies for how much people were stressing being in shape, and the proper training, etc. This was really stressing me out even though I knew without a doubt that this was something that I was being called to do. How silly was I to forget one of my favorite bible metaphors where it talks about how God feeds the birds of the air and he cares so much more about us, so therefore wouldn't he provide and care for us and give us what we needed. When you look back on some of the most remarkable heroes and prophets in the bible, NOONE expected them to do anything extraordinary, especially themselves; yet God equipped them with what they needed to accomplish His will for them.
Having spent some time focusing on this, it finally dawned on me that we didn't have to have the latest, greatest gear. There are people that have been hiking the AT for decades and some, like Grandma Gatewood, carried nothing but a sack over their shoulder and they completed it. Yes, we may carry more weight and some of the stuff we have may not be as shiny and new as others, but I am going to let the nay sayers say what they want. All that matters to me is that we are able to accomplish this and be as comfortable and safe as possible. In the story of David and Goliath, when Saul finally agreed to let David go fight, he insisted that David put the armor on that the rest of the soldiers had.
Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. "I cannot go in these", he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose 5 smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine 1 Samuel 17:38-40
David was used to the weapons and clothing he wore. He would not have been able to defeat Goliath had he used what everyone else was telling him he needed to. He trusted God to guide him and provide him with what he needed. In the same sense, I am trusting that whatever God provides us with we will be able to defeat our giant with it. David also trusted God with the abilities God had given him, which i touched on in my last post. God has been conditioning us for years without us even realizing it. Yes, I may be overweight and not in the best shape physically, but this is part of my giant, and I trust him to give me the strength, stamina, energy, and support systems I need to be able to conquer it. I am also trusting him for health and safety from injuries that would potentially put a stop to our journey.
Some may say, well, that's all well and good, but why not start with smaller, personal giants and defeat them slowly and then work your way up to the big one. In the words of my pastor "You've always been told to start small and work your way to bigger things. NO!!! Start with the biggest giant and defeat it and the rest will flee!!!"
Giants are meant to be defeated, and with defeating my giant, there will come a reward. My prayer is that that reward will be sharing our story and helping to inspire others to victory.
There will always be people that will tell you what you can't do, or why they feel you can't do it.
The Giant Series at our church was a 6 week series, and every week I was able to apply the sermon to our plan to thru hike. I have to give the credit to First NLR in North Little Rock, AR for the inspiration for this set of blog posts.
The second week dealt with why people can be so critical and how to deal with them and still go after our giant. He listed a few different reasons that people often choose to criticize our plans.- -They need to fight the same giant, but aren't yet willing.- -They are insecure- -They are jealous- -They simply don't have anything better to do.- Looking back, I realize these are actually pretty accurate. The trick to this is to not let the criticism keep us from going after our giants. We must keep focused on the giant we are trying to slay and the reason we are slaying it. One of the best ways to emotionally deal with how their words make you feel is to simply pray for them and then move forward. You know you have done your part and you are leaving the rest up to God and taking care of your business. For me, this applies to anyone who wants to tell me that I can't succeed at doing this because of my weight or physical shape, or because of the gear that we don't have (there will be a future post specific to this topic), or because I am choosing to do it with 4 kids. I think that has been my number one criticized item when I mention this. I even posted a question in a backpacking page for kids and families, of all places, and the remarks I received were unbelievable. I was told it was crazy and "irresponsible" to try to take 4 kids on a thru hike. It was too dangerous, or it wasn't fair to them because there was no way that the kids would be wanting to do this. I was even told by one person that it wasn't right for other "real hikers" to have to put up with kids along the trail... And of course there is always the question of schooling. Usually when I say they are homeschooled the subject is dropped, but occasionally I have people asking what they will be doing on the trail. That is mostly just out of pure curiosity and they drop that subject after that, but I get soooo frustrated when people say kids shouldn't thru hike. I have worked really hard at trying to just thank them for their input and respect their thoughts and agree to disagree and move on.
The last part of the handout this day was talking about how small battles are practice for big victories. When David offered to go and fight Goliath, Saul told him he was just a boy and not capable of fighting this giant. But David told Saul how he had been tending to the sheep and had rescued them from a lion and a bear himself. Although neither of them were near as big or as intimidating as Goliath, God had been preparing David for this very day with the confidence and the skills to be able to win the fight. 1 Samuel 17:31-36.
The ability to win your fight does not come from within, it comes from God.
For me, God has been conditioning all of us without us even realizing it through all of our crazy camping and hiking adventures. We have been caught in storms, dealt with wild animals and floods. We have gotten lost and ended up hiking 10 miles when we thought it was only 3. We have dealt with overheating due to that extra mileage and running out of water and had to share the last bottle we had with the youngest because she was so hot. We have been in situations where we had to rely on each other and those times, even though in the moment were some of the WORST times, are now some of the most fond memories we have and brought us so much closer as a family. I see now that all along, God knew we would be here, and he knew that I would need those experiences to be able to look back and say "look... we made it through that... we are going to do this, and show EVERYONE that with God, ANYTHING is truly possible".
How the AT is my giant
In knowing that we were going to thru hike the AT, I began to try to understand myself why? Why was I so drawn to this trail I had never given a thought to before? Why was I so at peace that we were not only going to do it, but we were going to finish it. What was the purpose behind all of my thoughts and feelings, because everything rational in my mind was saying it was crazy and there was no way we would actually even start it, let lone finish it.
Once we got settled back in AR, we returned to our previous home church in North Little Rock, AR and the pastor was starting a new series titled "GIANT". On the first Sunday of this series, they printed out the story of David and Goliath and put it in our bulletins along with our regular handout that we fill in the blanks while listening to the sermon.
This Sunday we were given a challenge. The first line in our bulletin read "I will never reach my full kingdom potential until i overcome my Giant"... then there was a blank for us to list our giant. That was pretty powerful to me. He named off a bunch of giants (stress, anxiety, addictions, money, marriage, parenting, etc). It took me the rest of that day and into the next to finally put my giant down and it incorporated my weight/addiction to food.
I have always struggled with my weight. As I stated in previous blog I am currently between 260 and 270 lbs with a 5'6" frame which isn't exactly anywhere near healthy weight wise although I am perfectly healthy otherwise. The past year I had actually attended a few overeaters anonymous meetings and began to learn that over a period of a very long time I had become what is considered an emotional eater. If i get stressed, I turn to food..... Happy, celebrate with food... Sad... you get the picture. It was my friend. It was always there for me and it wasn't alcohol or drugs so my thinking was it was "safe".
Now, how does this relate to the AT and it being my giant or have anything to do with the reasons for me to do this hike?
I love nature. I love to be outdoors. Something about it quiets my soul and i found every time we went camping all the stress and anxiety would roll away and i would get so caught up in that to even notice that it was time for lunch, or to snack, or need to get that emotional "fill". It only makes sense that God would have chosen something that I loved to do to motivate me to defeat my giant. The thing about it is, I realized this is about so much more than my weight or my food addiction. It is also about beating my fears, which are what led to my overeating and overweight. What are my fears?
1.My children growing up and leaving and losing the connections with them. Yes, I know this is a natural part of life, but it's not one I am facing very well. 2.Being around other people. I love social events but I have realized I love them because I enjoy people watching. I will be the one you will find in the corner hiding because I don't want people to see me and guess what I hide behind? Yep, my weight... It's become a logical reason to hide because I'm embarrassed and can only imagine what people are saying about me behind my back. 3.Failure- I'm afraid of not succeeding, so I rarely really try. I have had lots of really good ideas in the past, but due to fear of failing or being rejected just presenting my ideas, I didn't stick with them for very long.
The more I sat and thought about this hike and what the AT meant for me, the more I realized the AT really is my Goliath and I WILL defeat it. This will give me much needed time to connect with my kids, it will prove to myself that I can handle any situation that is thrown at us in the middle of the night in the middle of the wilderness... It is going to push me to my limits physically, spiritually, and emotionally, but you know what? I'm excited for that because i know it is going to change who I am from the inside out. At this point, I'm not even focusing on the weight. I know that will be a welcome side effect from it all, but I am more excited about the person I will be when I come off the trail vs. the person I am now. Unlike all of my other "good ideas" that i dropped I'm following through with this one. God used something that he knew I love dearly and he has been conditioning me for years with the knowledge and experience of camping and hiking to have the confidence that I can and will do this!!!!
At the end of the bulletin that day the last sentence read "Giants don't leave on their own; they must be defeated" For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand 1 Samuel 17:16
In researching and collecting gear, I am preparing for battle to finally defeat my giant in life while at the same time taking the journey of a lifetime.
Why the Appalachian Trail
For the past two years my husband has had a job with two different railroad companies. For the first year we were not allowed to travel with him so the kids and i loaded up our tent in our truck and headed to Texas in February of 2016 where we officially began our adventure of fulltime traveling in the Big Thicket of Texas.
In August of 2016 my husband switched rail companies to one that would allow us to take our 27 ft travel trailer and travel with him. While we were at a campground near Boiling Springs, PA, I began researching the area for hiking trails (which I did everywhere we went) when I was told that the Appalachian trail was less than an eighth of a mile from the back of the campground. I had heard of the AT a few times before but never thought anything of it. We are from Little Rock, AR and we hiked Pinnacle Mt. a few times and I even remembered one time running into a guy who was wearing this enormous pack literally running up and down the hill. Looking back I recalled finally asking him (after he passed us about 3 times) why on earth he was carrying that huge bag and going up and down so many times. He replied that he was training for a thru hike on the Appalachian Trail. "Cool" I said and wished him good luck all the while thinking he was insane to even contemplate that. All of this came rushing back while the lady was explaining all the hiking trails in the area. I blew it off and thanked her for the info still having no intention of trying the AT. I messaged my Aunt who is also a fulltime traveler and we often exchange our traveling adventures and told her about the conversation I had had with the lady in the office. She went on and on about how awesome it was that I had an opportunity to be on the AT and begged me to at least set my feet on it and send her a picture (she LOVES feet pictures). So.. My oldest daughter (Ashley) and myself decided on Easter Sunday we would just go walk a little bit on it and leave the younger kids with their dad for the afternoon. We had gone to church that morning and had a flashlight egg hunt planned that evening so he was just cooking out at the camper and we were itching to get out. We began on the rugged trail behind the tent area of the campground and expected just another ordinary trail once we hit the AT. Little did I know what a surprise I was in for. As soon as we came to the T from the campground trail to the AT it was like a whole new magical world opened up. We looked to the right, then the left and then we saw it... The white blaze... We were mesmerized. We decided to hike to the left and crossed a wooden bridge across a crystal clear creak and then we just walked and walked and climbed this insanely steep hill. I thought we were going to die just trying to climb it but we kept going. When we reached the top, we realized it was about to storm so we decided to go back to the campground despite the incredible urge to just go on and not stop. Over the next few days, we discovered the town of Boiling Springs and the AT Conservancy there, which we visited a few times in the next week and probably drove the lady at the desk nuts with all of our questions. We found out that the mountain we had climbed was actually the original halfway point of the AT and had we known that, we would have known to look around for the original plaque for it. (We will find it next year!!!) We began watching youtube videos and my daughter decided she wanted to thru hike. I told her she wasn't doing it alone but she didn't have any friends that could do it with her so on a whim I started googling families and kids that had completed a thru hike. I found a youtube series made by @toesalad about a family with 3 kids that did a thru hike and we watched all of their episodes. I decided if they could do it, we could to. My husband was leery, and didn't really want to support it at first with understandable concerns, but he at least listened to us and watched a few videos of families and kids and what the trail had done for them. That was it. While I still sometimes question why, we decided the 6 of us (me and the 5 kids) were going to thru hike in 2018. It was going to be our last big adventure with me and the 5 kids before Ashley flew the nest. We have camped and hiked. We had even done backwoods camping, just with a regular tent and camping equipment, but we had never backpacked, nor did we have any gear for any of us for backpacking. I was so out of shape and weighed in at the most I have ever weighed at 270 lbs. It just didn't make sense for me to be even thinking about this. I didn't care. All i could think about was the day we set foot on the trail and how it kept calling me back. On May 1 of 2017 my husband lost his job with the rail company. We were in Hagerstown, MD when he was let go and we had one night left in the hotel. The kids and I of course had found a trailhead for the AT and begged him to hike with us so he could see the trail for himself, so before we left Hagerstown, he agreed to the 3ish mile hike to Annapolis Rock and he even got to see one of the shelters and how well the trail was marked and traveled. This helped alleviate his worries quite a bit. On May 2 we left Hagerstown and we landed in WV as camp hosts for about 2 months, and then moved on to Oklahoma for another camp host job hoping to find my husband a regular job there.
Fast forward and life got in the way a little. Ashley decided to move back to Arkansas on our way through to Oklahoma and got a fulltime job and was no longer able to commit to a thru hike. I was devastated and due to her cancelling and fear of being able to afford gear, etc I cancelled our plans for it as well. The more I tried to not think about it, the more I couldn't stop thinking about it and I finally realized that whether I knew the reason or not, we HAD to do this thing and we HAD to do it in 2018 whether Ashley could go or not. I had no idea how we were going to afford the gear, how I was going to pull it off in such short time, etc, I just knew without a shadow of a doubt that we were going to do it. Phillipians 4:6-7 says ....
"Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
This was how I felt and still feel. Every time I think about how much money the gear we still need is going to cost, or how we are going to handle food, or how I will get in shape before we leave, or how afraid I am of sleeping in the middle of nowhere with bears and coyotes and lord knows what else around, my soul is silenced with this incredible peace that tells me our gear and food will be provided and we will be kept safe. I still can't completely wrap my head around it and probably won't for a very long time but I do know that this hike is about so much more than just me or the kids and our "story".
In August of 2017, My Husband was offered an amazing job back in Little Rock, AR. We found a quaint little house to rent (for now) where there is even a hookup in the yard for the camper and Ashley and Lacey are now roommates in our camper. A few friends have stepped up and donated some used gear and I have found a few things at second hand stores or on clearance. Things are falling into place and while we still have 4 months left to finish planning, I feel like it's just tomorrow. I am excited, nervous, scared, and a whole slew of other emotions but most of all I am blessed.
Day 79 - VA 56 Tye River to Dripping Rock, BRP 9.6
A long, hot day.
There was some weird animal in the woods last night at our campsite that kept me awake with a screechy, squeaky noise. I've never heard it before and it freaked me out a bit.
Started the day with a 3,000 ft climb up to Three Ridges Mountain. It was hot already. We were so tired from hiking that we didn't even care about the overlooks.
We were expecting an easier hike after Three Ridges Mountain but the guide was deceptive and the trail was really rocky, though "relatively" flat. By 3pm we had only hiked 9 miles!
We ate a late lunch with Loon, who we have been leap frogging all day, at Maupin Field Shelter. At Reeds Gap there was trail magic, more soda. So divine on a hot day.
At 5pm we stopped for water at a stream and met section hikers going south who warned us the water was a slow trickle, was not dependable right now, at Dripping Rock, our intended destination.
After our experience at Salt Log Gap we don't want to go without water again so we tanked up and carried all that weight for the last 2 miles.
We get to Dripping Rock and true to its name the rock is dripping and the water is just fine! There is plenty of water here. I don't know what those section hikers were talking about. Section hikers.
It was so hot this afternoon. We were dripping sweat and even Padawan was stripped down to her sports bra (she usually prefers her long sleeved top to protect her from the bugs). Some of us experienced nasty crotch chaffing in this heat.
By the time we got to camp at 7pm we were exhausted from the heat, sore from the chaffing, and @toesalad was especially tired from carrying pounds of extra water.
My camera display died again from being carried against my sweaty body. This is both frustrating as heck and disgusting.
We are too tired to make supper tonight. But thankfully there are familiar faces here - Pending, Botany, Yellowbeard, Lazer Cat, & Patch. Cheese Squeeze and other food bag goodies were shared around the fire. Shared food, shared memories. Hanging out with other thru-hikers has redeemed the day.
I think everyone is going to bed happy and restored from the campfire.
Day 78 - Hog Gap Camp to VA 56 Tye River
Today was a long day and the 3,000 ft descent down from The Priest to VA 56 was tiring at the end of the day, that's for sure.
The day was beautiful but the weather is heating up and we were hot at midday.
The morning was fairly easy hiking, a lovely morning really, rolling terrain and nice trail. We met up with Loon and interviewed him on video. We're always happy to see Loon.
We hiked through another Salt Log Gap. This one at a road crossing, USFS 63, and there was trail magic soda, always a welcome treat on a warm day.
We were making really good time today so we stopped for a midday nap. @toesalad is still recovering from being dehydrated a few nights ago, when he expended a ton of energy and water looking for water, to no avail. He seems more tired since that experience and like his body needs more rest. I'm always ready for a midday rest.
This was my second nap on the trail in two and a half months of hiking. I take naps on a semi-regular basis in my normal life, once or twice every couple week, whenever my body needs an afternoon rest. Not having that option on the trail has been both mentally and physically difficult. Some days it seems like every fiber of my being longs to have an afternoon nap, and we walk on, but today we rested.
Ironically, I didn't sleep but I did enjoy the reprieve. Because of the bugs, which weren't bad in that spot, but definitely bothersome if you're trying rest, Padawan, @toesalad and I set up our tents. We're experienced now so that job only took a few minutes. Padawan enjoyed the quiet time in her tent but Otter found the break boring.
We decided to have our big meal at 3pm, at the end of our siesta. That allowed us to hike through late afternoon and early evening till dusk. And just snack during the afternoon and evening before bed. It's nice to mix things up a bit.
The hike up to The Priest was buggy. The shelter area at the top of the mountain was unappealing and the log book, which has a hiker confession theme (Priest Mountain) was more ribald than necessary.
We left the shelter and hiked the 3,000 ft down to VA 56. It was difficult and tiring. We got our water for the night from Cripple Creek. We're not in wilderness in this part of VA, not the wilderness we're used to at least, and the water from a mountain creek seems safer, less chance of all manner of contaminants, than the river at the bottom of the valley.
There is no campsite here, we've pitched our tents so they aren't visible from the road but there's nothing stealth about our site. Camping across the suspension bridge seems more prudent but we couldn't find the space.
I don't like being so close to the road and to houses and the accompanying guard dogs. There are loud dogs in this neighborhood. I miss the woods.