Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from Calvin (CG) and Hobbes (DT)!

At a very crowded, loud music venue this evening...

Stranger: What's the joke?

Us: We're Calvin and Hobbes!

Stranger: No, I get that. I know you're Calvin and Hobbes. What's the joke?

Us: ...

Stranger: No, really, what's the joke?

Hobbes (DT): I literally have no idea what you are asking me. I'm Hobbes. She's Calvin. That's it.

Stranger: I get that part. But I wanna know the joke!

Hobbes: What joke?

Stranger: The joke from the comic!

Hobbes: What joke?

Stranger: You know, THE joke.

Hobbes: I give up.

Calvin Girl

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

56. Campfire

Warmth gently recedes from the air and the earth. We lay our burdens down and sigh, gathering into circles like humans always do. Sometimes there is something in the center of the circle; sometimes there is a story to be told. Sometimes there is only silence, and the echoing heartbeats of a day well traveled. 

It begins with a gathering, an accumulation of dry leaves and twigs. Someone's hands, worn thick and calloused, mold separate pieces into a coherent whole. A balancing act, the creation of a tiny teepee for a sprite of the forest.  Breath forms into fog in the evening air, as the warm dampness of breath is freed from our lungs and is set free to cling to itself as it rises into the atmosphere. 

A spark and a catch and there is a tiny new being suddenly clinging to the smallest of leaves. Her life will be short, the smallest blink of an eye, but she is caught before she can fade away. The wind shifts and the fire wraps its minuscule fingers around the base of a branch, taking a breath and growing upward, protected by the round shelter above her. Stretching tall like a dancer reaching for the sky, she spins and twists, following a rhythm unheard but only felt by us, sitting in this circle, bearing witness to her story.

We murmur to one another, our voices carrying more meaning than words, sending out threads of connection and quiet understanding. Our presence creates a protective circle to envelop the fire, and in that circle she grows, alive and giving. Laughter dances across all of us, and weariness, and the peace of being only present. We are wholly here, in our bodies, aware of the heat at our chests and the chill at our backs, pressing us closer. Our shoulders rub and we offer our hands forward, palms to her, giving back love and gratitude. Smoke spirals upward, taking tiny embers on short-lived flights toward the stars high above the trees. 

In her life she is fierce but kind, possessing a gravity that pulls us to her, but not so close as to feel too sharply her embrace. In this way she is always surrounded by a beautiful, ever-changing community of people who need her but respect her. And she will always be alone. 

When at last we are truly at peace, and can lay our bodies down to let dreams take us, her life fades from that of a mesmerizing woman to that of a gentle, wise crone. As we fall asleep, one of us remains alone to watch her lay down her own weary burdens to rest, to follow her into the dark. The coal glows with waves of color, deep wrinkles of ashes collapsing inward until the last light fades, and only her perfume remains.

In this way she lives one thousand lives, being brought to life by our hands, giving us warmth and safety, and then allowing us to lay her down to rest. This campfire, the most beautiful woman of all.

Clever Girl


Monday, October 27, 2014

Sick Velociraptor

Hi friends,

I'm so sorry, but I am quite sick, and not up to the task of writing today. I was starting to come down with something on Friday, and then had a whirlwind 2-day trip all the way to New Orleans and back for a wedding. My body gave me the lovely gift of postponing my sickness, and then when I woke up this morning it all came crashing back. I have spent all day in bed with my enormous cat, and I hope you can all forgive me.

So much love,
Clever Girl

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

57. Stupid Challenges

Regardless of how humble you are, once your body is strong enough, you can't help but be tempted to try to do crazy feats. Whether or not you follow through with those temptations is your own business. But the truth of the matter is, if you do long distance hiking, you will eventually be strong enough that you could do crazy feats, if you so chose. Which is pretty cool. I can't say that actually doing these challenges are a good idea. In general, I would say they are not a good idea. But they make good fodder for one day terrifying and/or boring your grandchildren.

Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea that the four of us (Whistle, Dumptruck, Grim and I) should try to do the Four State Challenge. The Four State Challenge involves starting in Virgina and walking to Pennsylvania in one day. This is a challenge that is issued by no other authority than pure group mind idiocy. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has no bearing on this. There are no awards, or prizes. It is simply an act of sheer will power, for which you receive no accolades other than bragging rights.

I can't say that I hiked the AT for bragging rights, but I CAN say that I hiked the AT for the community and relationships, and if Grim and Whistle wanted to do this challenge, then I was willing to try it.

You can find the full account of the day here: Grim Determination. I recommend you go read that first, and then come back here. I'll wait. I've got a cup of hot chocolate and it's a nice rainy night, so you do you, friend. I'll be here when you get back.

Welcome back! I am going to trust that you actually went and read that, because I have some photographs now to supplement how it actually went. Dumptruck took hardly any photographs that day, because we were just blazing like Tron through the woods. I took barely any photographs either, because I wanted to save all my iPod battery to be able to play music for Dumptruck and I to listen to to keep ourselves sane for 18 hours of hiking.

But at the end of the day, when we finally collapsed onto the ground, Dumptruck did take out his camera and took just a few photographs that accurately sum up what was going on for us physically, mentally and emotionally. I was like a numb exoskeleton, and Whistle was like a 4-year-old child that was coming down from accidentally eating an entire bag of chocolate covered espresso beans.

When we finally made it to the Mason/Dixon line, it was both glorious and disappointing. For all the heartache and hallucinations* when I had been hiking, a part of me was hoping for something a little more glorious at the end. A bouncy castle or something, or at least some balloon animals. But alas no, there was only a wooden cross. 

I thought I would feel something more when I got to the end of that challenge, maybe something explosive and accomplished. I did feel pretty badass for hiking 44 miles, and I wouldn't go back and change my decision to do it. But it felt strange to do something so huge without a real motivation. Should "just because I can" be enough of a reason to do something? Maybe I didn't have a motivation before I did it, but I had a motivation afterward. I was proud of myself for trying something like that, for doing something scary and big and maybe a little stupid. 

But that's part of the beautiful, incredible story of being alive. We allow ourselves to take risks, to be part of this grand adventure of living. Sometimes we have a really good reason to throw ourselves into something crazy, and sometimes we feel compelled, because our feet just keep moving in spite of ourselves. 

Clever Girl

*P.S. Whistle: "Heartache and Hallucinations" Band name. Called it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

58. Callouses

"Hold up, there's something wrong with my shoe."

I stopped and turned around, my breath steaming in front of my face. I pushed the hood of my jacket back, to see Whistle more clearly in the foggy mountain air. My forehead was still gently throbbing from earlier in the day when I hiked directly into a low hanging tree branch. I had been so focused on avoiding slipping on ice and snow that I forgot to pay attention to my environment. 

"What's up?" I rubbed my forehead and watched as Whistle leaned a hand against a tree, reached down and yanked a hiking boot off her left foot. She was standing in slushy, icy snow, and to avoid dunking her sock into the mush, she gingerly balanced herself with her boot-less foot on a large rock. I noticed that her sock was soaking wet, and my suspicions were confirmed when Whistle turned her shoe upside down and poured out about a third of a cup of melted snow water. Pursing her lips in concentration, she then stuck a hand into her hiking boot and started rummaging around.  

A few seconds later there was a ripping sound, and Whistle's hand emerged holding the entire insole of her shoe, a mangled, ripped mess of fabric and insulation. She frowned.

"Well that's your problem right there," I said.

Whistle slid her left foot back into the hiking boot shell and then went through the exact same process with her right foot. 

"Hmmm," she said, now looking at the two handfuls of dripping, mushy hiking boot insulation.

"We can probably get you some new insoles in town. Were those inserts?"

"Nope, those were the factory insoles, sewn into the boots," Whistle responded, bouncing a little on her toes to test out how her boots now felt.

"What are you standing on now, then?"

"I guess... I guess it's just the top side of the rubber bottom of the boot. There's no more fabric in there."

I opened my mouth to respond, but Whistle grinned and said, "They feel MUCH better now." 

Whistle never did get new insoles. We went through several towns, and she insisted that her boots were much more comfy without any insoles at all. She had built up the right sort of callouses, and no amount of padding was needed. Once the weather got warm enough, she changed over to wear Chacos, a type of hiking sandals, and threw her old boots in a motel trash can in some town.

To a hiker, building up callouses is like collecting coins in Super Mario by jump-smashing your head on the underside of a brick block over and over again. It's difficult and painful, but ultimately satisfying. 

By the end of the trail my feet were like leather, even though I wasn't hiking barefoot. When I was barefoot, I could walk on gravel without being much impacted. Our boots dissolved around our feet, and we kept walking until our feet touched the earth, and then we'd finally get new boots and start all over again.

That hiking boot has got no sole!

The "Boot Tree" in Neels Gap, where discarded boots go to heaven.

Drying out boots and socks.

Apollo's hiking boots, about a fourth of the way into the trail.

Yes, those are Whistle's calloused feet on the shelter's picnic table. No, no one cared.

At a shelter in the Shenandoahs. Notice the boots to the left with duct tape.

I don't know this hiker, but Dumptruck snagged this photograph.


Whistle's first pair of Chacos eventually ripped across the ball of her left foot, creating
a sensation that she described as "Nail Foot" in which it felt like a nail was being
driven into her foot at all times. She had to get new Chacos.

New yellow Chacos pictured here, alongside the feet of their owner, Miss Whistle.

Near the New Hampshire/Vermont border

Barefoot hiker!
Clever Girl

Friday, October 17, 2014

59. Sweat

Whistle and I were hiking into the White Mountains, and the day was swelteringly hot. We knew we were heading straight up a huge mountain, and we were already covered in sweat. Often, I would hike wearing only a sports bra, and Whistle would usually wear a gray sports bra with an open button-down shirt. On this particular day, I just so happened to be wearing a tank top, while Whistle had packed away her shirt and was just rockin' the sports bra. Trust me when I say I spent probably 2 straight months wearing no shirt. Ladies wear sports bras to the gym or when they're out on a run, so I always figured that it was perfectly fine to just wear a sports bra while hiking. It's within context! I wasn't shopping at Bloomingdales, I was walking over mountains. There was no escaping the heat, but I could wear as little clothing as possible while still being decent.

A photo from this specific day!

Very recently we'd passed a road crossing, so there were several day hikers on the trail around us. Whistle and I were chatting away about something, probably something philosophical and thought-provoking (The structure of D+D Character Sheets) when we passed by a young couple hiking down the mountain with two children. One of the children was an infant in a bjorn on the mother's back, while the other was a 3 year old toddling along.

The family stepped aside for us to pass, and I offered a cheery "Hello!"

In return I was given the dirtiest of dirty looks. If this look was a mobster, it would be the kind of mobster that cheats at cards and then throws the other guy in the East River. Dirty. 

"You might consider putting on a shirt," she sneered, looking past me at Whistle, her voice absolutely soaked in passive-aggressive contempt, while trying to cover the eyes of her toddler. 

The Feminist Bronx in me immediately roared to the surface, and I opened my mouth to say something totally boss, but Whistle (luckily) spoke first. She flashed the woman a genuine smile, completely side-stepping the disdain.

"It's hot today!" she chirruped, not sarcastically, as though she took the woman's words at face value, rather than absorbing the grouchiness. A few minutes after we passed them, Whistle began whistling behind me, clearly in a good mood. I was meanwhile glowering about the utter rudeness of the woman.

"Did that bother you?" I asked Whistle.

"Did what bother me?" She replied, concerned.

"That woman."

"Oh, her? Nah. I figure, I'm just lucky that I don't have to live my life being miserable and judgmental. It's probably pretty exhausting. If anything, it just makes me sad for her that she has to carry that burden. I like being happy."

Well said.

In the context of regular life, we can sometimes get caught up in the way we look to other people. Especially with sweat. There is an entire aisle in the grocery store dedicated to making sure that people can hide the fact that they sweat. Don't get me wrong, I like wearing deodorant. Sitting in an office all day, I'm glad that I don't have to get random whiffs of molted green onion coming from myself. 

But being in the woods, I don't have to care about sweat, ever. No other hiker cares if you have pit stains, or if there is dried salt on your face from the sweat that collected there and then evaporated. No one cares what you smell like, and no one thinks its weird if you wanna hike without a shirt. Day hikers might have judgment, because they've never experienced what it's like to be unshowered for a week, and being able to be perfectly at peace with the reality of the human body.

Bodies are GROSS. And it's AWESOME.

Rinsing off some sweat at a river!

Drying sweat off ourselves with the cool air whooshing out from underneath a road!


Bug net = triple the sweat. But hey, no bugs in the face!

This day was so hot.
Clever Girl