“Everyone you meet always asks if you have a career, are married or own a house; as if life was some kind of grocery list. But nobody ever asks if you are happy.” – Heath Ledger
Two weeks ago Ken and I returned to Pennsylvania for a weekend trip on the Appalachian Trail to work on knocking out our goal of 300 miles this year. With the mild winter this year, backpacking in February was doable, but to air on the side of caution, we did some platinum blazing and stayed indoors both nights, rather than out in the woods. Saturday morning we met our shuttle Mike at the parking lot at Clark’s Valley Road and got a ride north to PA 443 for a 15 mile day, then Sunday we met Mike at Peters Mountain Road and got a ride back to Clark’s Valley Road for 10 miles. This trip was healing for me. My oldest son James was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in the beginning of February and the burden of one more diabetic in my household fell heavily on me. I was very quiet on the trip, and used the time more as a walking meditation to explore what was going on inside, rather than appreciating what was happening on the outside.
Saturday morning we had an initial climb to the ledge after crossing under a road. The climb wasn’t too bad, around 1,000 feet but it had been awhile since I had hiked and I felt fatigue early on, along with a lot of congestion. About three miles in, we found ourselves having to cross a dam. We had seen signs for a detour, but we didn’t think much of the crossing until we got there and since I had worn running shoes and not waterproof boots, it was essential that I didn’t slip off any of the logs. The temperature was a brisk 40 degrees, and if I had gotten wet, we would have had to turn around and wait for a ride. Ken went first, and threw back some logs so that I had something to traverse the swamp. Luckily I didn’t get my feet wet and we were able to continue on.
Saturday’s hike, after the ascent, was mainly flat. I spent a lot of time thinking about James and just how upset I am that both of my kids inherited diabetes from me. I know that it is not the worst, my kids are alive and they will be healthy and it will be ok. But it is an extra burden on me. I now manage three diabetics and that includes meals, snacks, supplies, doctors appointments, dosing adjustments, contact with the school nurses, waiting on hold with the insurance companies for hours, etc. In some ways I feel like everyone should be as upset by this as me. But everyone has their own thing. A few people in my life have offered support by telling me that it is a good thing James already knows about diabetes, or how lucky he is that he has his brother and I, etc. What I really want is just an acknowledgement that yes, this fucking sucks. I’ll take the reminders that it will all be ok after I simmer down. Knowing this has made me reflect on how I interact with others. A few times since this last hike, I have had friends or students come to me with a problem, and my first thought has been selfish – that there is no way this is a big deal, I mean look at what I am going through. Instead of comparing apples to oranges, I have been giving what I want, which is empathy. More often than not just an acknowledgement that I have heard them, and yes, their situation is shitty. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde. Everyone has something going on in their lives that is their version of “unfair,” and oftentimes when they are struggling to see the stars the last thing they want is to be reminded that the stars are there.
When I did take a moment to not be completely in my own head, I appreciated the sights of the day’s hike. We didn’t really have many views, but we walked through Rausch Gap and read about the old coal mining town that had been there in the 10th century. We also saw a mailbox in the middle of the woods at Yellow Springs to mark where an old coal mining village ruins are. We passed a campsite with chairs made from large stones around a fire pit. I am looking forward to camping outside again, so many of our quick weekend trips have been mostly just to check miles off our list during the colder months. As much as I want to close the gap we have in Pennsylvania to New York, I am considering doing a longer trip to Virginia and returning to harder climbs and sleeping outside.
“If it is right, it happens – the main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.” – John Steinbeck
Sunday we started back at the Clark’s Valley Road parking lot where we had ended the day before and headed south again. With only 10 miles that day, we knew it would be fairly quick. I was again very quiet and reflective and spent my time in the woods spending some time with my thoughts. Friday night as we were driving towards Harrisburg my ex called and was concerned about James’s blood sugars going low. After analyzing the data, I corrected his dosage, but I was concerned about his levels. I track both of my sons’ blood sugars from my phone, and I was both anxious and excited about turning my phone onto airplane mode. Sunday I realized that it was such a relief to be on airplane mode. I didn’t want to come out of the woods and turn my phone back on. At the same time, Ken was getting anxious to get home because he had work to do and as he was rushing ahead, I was pulling back. There was one overlook where I stopped and yelled up to Ken that I was just going to stay there for a few minutes. I knew I couldn’t stay in the woods and avoid my responsibilities. I lifted my face to the sun and took a deep breath in, and realized I do the same thing in between classes when I walk outside of my classroom door (I am in a portable classroom) and I can connect back to those moments of calm whenever I need them.
On the drive home I told Ken that I was upset that he had rushed us along and we agreed that unless there is something major, no working on Sundays after backpacking trips. Walking from white blaze to white blaze I came to the realization that I was reacting to chaos by trying to overcontrol everything I could. I spent a lot of time even trying to control my emotions. Instead of working out in the mornings, I have been journaling and meditating. But the most cathartic moment since his diagnosis came when I lost my composure at work and cried in the academic dean’s office telling her that I was just barely holding it together. I tried so hard to force control on everything that once I admitted that I was struggling to do so, I was able to focus on one task ahead of me at a time. And the best part is that no one’s diabetes is any worse since I stopped trying to micromanage it all. Sometimes during tough climbs, runs or workouts the task you’re struggling to accomplish feels impossible. It is always helpful to break it down. “We generate fears while we sit. We overcome them by action.” – Dr. Henry Link