About The Art of Flexibility

I love plans. And I love when all the work I have put into something unfolds perfectly in front of me. I plan and organize things well beforehand so that I can enjoy the experience and not have to worry about details or be surprised by anything.

So far, my entire life seems to be one big lesson in learning to let go of my grip on these plans and the PCT was no exception.

Food packing party

A pre-trail food packing party: 360 meals prepped plus snacks and drinks for each day.

As I prepared for my thru hike on the PCT, I had spreadsheets, to do lists, labels, and books to read. The basement in my house was a designated storage and preparation zone for my gear and food. I had a food packing party so all my resupply boxes were ready to roll and contained everything I would need. I had the details laid out from getting to the trailhead to arriving in Canada. The organization of it all made my heart happy and I could breath easy as I set off on the adventure!

But . . . From day one my hike did not go as planned.

I got to the southern terminus the morning of April 27 with my friends Rachel, Jonathan, and Crystal. Jonathan was hiking the first three days with me and Crystal was joining me for the first three to four weeks. We took pictures, wrote in the trail journal, and put on our backpacks. We were ready to roll!

As we stood at the monument I looked around and realized I didn’t know where the trail was. I was so prepared and just assumed the trail would be easy to find at the start, right? Everyone was looking at me to start hiking and I said, “I don’t know where to go!” After some hysterical laughter, we took a couple minutes to look around, eventually finding the trail (which, by the way, is not right at the monument).

The hike began.

The morning of day two brought another unforeseen change to the plan. My friend, Crystal, who was hiking with me for the first few weeks, has some food allergies that can be really hard on her body. As we woke up that morning, Crystal was sick and, from experience, we knew it would take awhile before she felt better. We were about 5 miles from a town so we at least needed to get there.

When we arrived in town the decision was made for Crystal to leave the trail. Jonathan and I waited with her until a friend could drive out from San Diego and pick her up. By early evening, Jonathan and I were headed back to the trail while Crystal drove away from the PCT.

This was a big adjustment for me. Mentally, I was prepared to have someone with me as I learned the thru hiking life and rhythm–a partner to make decisions with and make camp with each night so I wasn’t sleeping alone. Now I had one more day before Jonathan left and I would be alone. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it did affect the next few weeks of plans Crystal and I had made. Plus, I was really sad to see her go. I had to make a mental shift, take a few deep breaths, and open myself up to the reality of trail life.

This was just the beginning of my lesson in flexibility on the trail. These lessons came in many different ways: Two surprise snowstorms in the desert delayed my journey. Store and post office hours in small towns are limited and meant waiting for businesses to open. Hitchhiking was always on someone else’s time and their willingness to pick me up on the side of the road. Wildfires closed the trail in more than one area, which means I have a couple sections of trail left unfinished. A calf strain in southern Oregon slowed my pace and mileage for a few days. I left town stops a couple of times forgetting to purchase things I needed.

Whether it’s with big dreams like the PCT or normal daily tasks, life changes in ways I can’t predict. I get blind-sided. I get tired of having to adjust when things shift and change without any warning.

As I journeyed through the uncertainties, joys, difficulties, and highlights of the PCT and life in general, I have became more and more aware that the only thing I have control of is me and how I respond to situations as life happens.

I have journals from the PCT full of what I call “Lessons From the Trail.” These things even have their own journal hashtag: #trailwisdom. As I hiked, processed, and learned new things daily, it was usually accompanied in my head with this hashtag. One of the most consistent and relevant lessons for me was what I started to call “the art of flexibility.”

I started to think of flexibility as an art form on the trail as I realized the refinement that was taking place in me as I came up against different roadblocks (or perhaps “trailblocks” is a better term?). There are no hard, fast rules in learning to be flexible; each situation is different. For some people it comes naturally but for me flexibility is something I have to embrace and work on. Similar to how my 13-year old niece can sketch incredible pictures and I can still only draw stick figures as an adult . . . We are all uniquely created!

As I have become more aware of my reactions to things and let go of control, I have learned to get creative and dial in on tangible things that help me keep perspective. For example, I practice deep breathing and step away from situations which helps me think and not say the first thing that comes to mind (which I have a tendency to do and it can get me into trouble).

The most helpful question I am learning to ask in the moment is, “In the grand scheme of the world, how important is this?” I don’t say this to minimize issues I’m experiencing but to put it in perspective. It may still be something that needs to be figured out rather immediately but I find that I am kinder to people around me and have a more gentle and calm demeanor as I work through the problem. This question also helps me to maintain a good attitude and practice gratitude.

During situations that require my flexibility or interfere with my plans, I have become aware that my reaction is to find someone or something to blame. Often the person I blame ends up being me. I should have known better, I should have researched this more, if I just would have thought through every possible scenario maybe I could have prevented this. Apparently, I expect myself to know the future! I am learning to quickly recognize when I am out to place blame and have to remind myself to offer grace to others and myself.

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Surprise snowstorm in southern California

Over my four months on the trail, I was so excited about the transformation I was seeing in myself, especially in my ability to be flexible and adapt as needed. With all the uncertainties that came on the trail, I decided I could either fill my time with blame and stress, frustration and pride or I could live life in the present moment seeking to graciously greet the surprises I encountered.

As I got off trail and headed home I wasn’t expecting to be tested in this area so much and so soon . . .

In September, as I was adjusting back to the life of beds, houses, cars, and multiple clothing options, the first thing to hit was my dad’s cancer diagnoses. This isn’t what anyone ever expects is coming, and instantly you are living in a world of uncertainty. In the following two months it seemed that each week something happened that tested and pushed the flexibility I had learned on the trail. My oven broke, my car was broken into, my brand new computer and tons of personal information were stolen meaning updating all my accounts and initiating an identity theft alert, my car broke down twice and was towed twice, the computer to replace the stolen computer didn’t work so I had to replace the replacement, my phone was stolen, the borrowed phone to replace the stolen one stopped working . . . Just to name a few things.

It was constant and hard. By the time my phone was stolen, I remember laughing and saying, “Of course this is happening!” On the positive side I have become an expert in navigating customer service phone calls, filing Portland Police Bureau reports, and the “Find my Mac” feature on my computer and phone. If anyone ever needs help in these areas let me know!

Besides those very useful life skills I acquired, there was another bright spot in all that happened this past fall. I noticed my demeanor and attitude in each situation. I felt my resiliency and strength. I moved forward and adapted as a new challenge came my way each day. My perspective was changed as I compared the inconveniences of a stolen computer with my dad’s cancer diagnosis. And I realized I was functioning in these situations with grace and, yes, flexibility. I was responding differently than I would have pre-PCT. This “lesson from the trail” had sunk in deeply. What a life-giving thing to recognize growth and transformation in ourselves!

There are so many good things that come from my personality; the Type A, planner and achiever in me gets things done. There are times when my stubbornness can be super helpful in situations. I’m not trying to get rid of these good things but with every strength there is a shadow side, as well, that can cause problems in my relationships, work, spirituality, etc. And these are the things, like loosening my grip on my plans, that tend to continually come back around for me to work on. Instead of fighting it, I want to live my life embracing the work . . . Some days this happens with a better attitude and less heels dug in than other days!

Maybe flexibility isn’t hard for you. Maybe it’s something else that you notice affects how you live in the world and interact with others. Whatever it is I want you to know that the hard work of embracing growth areas has been worth it. This coming from someone who resists and sometimes has to get to the end of her rope before that embracing happens. The give and take, the letting go, the compromise, choosing others before myself . . . This is when the good life happens. If only I could remember this more quickly in each situation!

May you know the struggle and joy of whatever “art” it is you feel drawn to refine and may you experience the freedom it brings.

 

 

About Intentional Spirituality

Besides the question of “Why would you want to walk 2650 miles in the wilderness alone,” I have a wonderful, deep, thought-provoking community who ask things like, “How are you hoping this will change you? Do you have thoughts or hopes for how it will be used by God in your own development? I can’t help but think this journey will be transformational for you . . . Tell me about how you’re hoping to be transformed.”

Sheesh, can I get an easy question like, “What kind of water filter are you using?” (A Sawyer Mini Filter . . . Worked like a rock star) or “What was your favorite piece of gear?” (My Purple Rain Adventure Skirt . . . Simply the best gear choice I made.)

Seriously, though, I knew this journey would be transformational. How could something like this not be? And I knew that I wanted to be open to what the experience had to teach me and not manipulate it. I also wanted to go in with a bit of a plan so I could direct some of my time on the trail in order to help facilitate growth in specific areas. So, for my over-scheduling, list making, achiever personality, I was seeking rhythms and disciplines that would be life-giving while trying to balance those disciplines with open hands, allowing God to direct the journey as needed. Easy, right?

Speaking of God, when I started my planning I was in a bit of a rough patch in that relationship. I was having a difficult time spiritually in the midst of some things going on in my life. Remember the angry, cynical, bitter Tami I wrote about in the last post? Those things have a way of taking over your heart and mind if you let them, not leaving much space for hope, faith and love. I knew those good things were still in there at my core and I knew God was still a central part of my life but it was becoming more difficult. I felt strongly that I needed to grab hold of the opportunities this experience would offer to be transformed and renewed.

As I prepared for my journey, I looked forward to getting a glimpse of what it is like to be comfortable with so much solitude and be alone in my head all day without my normal myriad of distractions. To give my mind and heart the much-needed space to process hurts and questions without having a place to run away. It’s easy in my Portland life not to process things in a way that brings health and vitality. Instead, I just work harder, play harder, and entertain myself more.

So, I began the process of choosing very intentional and specific spiritual disciplines. If the term “spiritual discipline” is a new one for anybody reading I would encourage you to check out The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster or The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. The general idea is to pursue practices or actions specifically for the purpose of spiritual growth and transformation, a focus on our inward journey and heart. I wanted to see what it was like to practice a discipline with consistent dedication over a longer period of time. I was also hopeful that choosing to engage in the same daily practices would focus my mind as I walked.

The first discipline I chose to do was the Prayer of Examen at the end of each day. I love this part of Ignatian spirituality. The Prayer of Examen would provide self-review and reflection to help me be more aware of God’s presence in my life, name what I am grateful for, and notice patterns and areas of growth.

The second practice I chose was the discipline of study. For one-week periods of time I would memorize a passage of scripture, quote, poem, etc. and meditate on it daily while I hiked. I tend to read over things so quickly without letting the words sink beyond my head and into my heart. I was really excited about the practice of holding these words for a longer period of time and seeing what I noticed as I mulled them over. I asked a number of close friends and family to provide these pieces that I memorized. I loved carrying parts of these dear people with me as I hiked!

Finally, I decided to engage in journaling. I already loved journaling but had fallen out of practice over the past couple years. My hope was that it would become a normal daily routine again. The journaling had no specific focus . . . Just to write about my day and whatever else flowed onto the paper.

So, these are the disciplines in which I chose to engage. Now, for what transpired over the course of my journey.

Like with any discipline, or desired habit change, I started with the greatest of intentions. Similar to the intention I have that I will be disciplined and won’t buy the Chicago Mix Popcorn each time I walk into Trader Joe’s . . . If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, right?

As soon as I set foot on the trail, I was in a new reality, trying to figure out my daily rhythms in the wilderness and trying to simply keep myself hydrated and fed and to get to my next campsite each day. Around day five I realized I had written in my journal twice, done one Prayer of Examen, and had memorized nothing. I’m a perfectionist. This was not a perfect record.

I heard the voice of my friend, Martha, in my head saying, “Tami, be kind to yourself.” (For anyone else who finds this phrase helpful here’s a song for you to listen to from the wonderful storyteller/musician, Andrew Peterson. Actually, just listen to the the whole album!)

So, I took her advice, offered grace to myself, and looked at it with new perspective. I was essentially getting used to a new way of life. That by itself was so much transition! I allowed myself another week to adjust before focusing on the spiritual disciplines. I was reminded that I couldn’t change everything at once. Sometimes it’s just too much. I settled in for the long haul.

The Prayer of Examen, which I thought would be the easiest discipline for me, turned out to be the most difficult to engage. At other points in my life it has been really instrumental so I assumed it would be the same on the trail. However, I found myself so exhausted at the end of the day that I would crawl into my sleeping bag and forget all about it. Or, I would fall asleep in the middle of my reflection time. By the time I was in Washington, the Prayer of Examen had become a distant memory.

Unlike the Prayer of Examen, the discipline of study became the BEST PRACTICE EVER!! I had my doubts about this one and how much I would get into it. I was just memorizing stuff . . . How great could it be? Well, let me tell you! I started with one quote, memorized it and meditated on it. The next week I added another quote and then another and another. Each morning of my journey I would go through my entire repertoire of memorized quotes. By the time I reached Canada this would take me a little over an hour. I loved it so much that I started going through the list each afternoon, too. After going through the quotes I would then focus on the piece for the present week, saying it over and over, wondering about the words, the author, the context, and how it spoke to me at that time. Each day I would become aware of new things. Words would hit me differently throughout the journey and be exactly what I needed at the moment.

Between reciting each quote I also breathed a prayer, “Lord, my Lord, help me to listen to your voice and decide for your mercy.” This prayer got added onto during the journey as I realized what a difficult time I have fully trusting the Bible. Each time I read scriptures there are tons of questions that come up. Sometime in the Sierras I added “and trust your word” to my prayer so it became a rhythm of saying, “Lord, my Lord, help me listen to your voice, decide for your mercy, and trust your word.” This prayer brought each quote back to a central focus of listening and loving well.

The discipline of study has become a part of my daily life. It turns out when I really connect with something, I want to keep doing it! As I walk or run around Portland I find that the movement of my body automatically brings these memorized quotes to mind. The words are like old friends, reminding me of who I am, what I’ve learned, and what’s important to me.

Journaling was what I expected it to be. It didn’t surprise me too much. I used it much more as a record keeper for the journey (daily mileage, who I met that day, who I camped with that night, cool things I saw along the way, etc.) and sometimes I found the energy at the end of the day to document what was happening in my heart, as well. It has become a daily practice again. Mostly. No extreme likes or dislikes with this practice. It’s a staple discipline for me that consistently seems like a helpful way to process.

And, now for the greatest surprise of my trip! Prayer! I had not chosen prayer as a daily practice because, honestly, I was scared. I had not felt the desire to pray for a while and didn’t want to feel the weight of disappointment if I failed at this discipline. I was struggling to find the words to engage in conversation with God as I muddled my way through my spiritual life. With my cynicism hanging over me, I wasn’t sure what to say and felt overwhelmed by the heaviness of things going on in the world around me.

Then, one morning about a week into my journey, I felt so overwhelmed by the immensity of the task before me, the beauty surrounding me, and the gratitude I felt to be out there. The words just started coming out! I had tried for the past year to formulate words to prayers that I could authentically say and here I was just being present while the unformulated words started tumbling out of my mouth from deep within.

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This location is where the praying started.

And that was just the beginning. Any of you who have backpacked for long periods of time with a group of people know that there is something about being in the wilderness that opens you up. You talk about things with your fellow backpackers that you would never talk about in the “front country.” This is how my prayers felt–the most open and authentic prayers. I said honest things and asked hard questions and trusted that God would hold those things with me.

This was exactly what I meant when I said I wanted to balance the trip with intentionality but also open hands to allow God to direct the journey. Since there was an opening, I jumped in and engaged fully in this gift.

So, now I’m off the trail, living a perfectly disciplined spiritual life. Ha! Not so. I write this not as someone who has not mastered anything (especially in regards to that popcorn at Trader Joe’s) but as someone embracing the journey of honest and messy spirituality.

Discipline is hard. It takes effort, intentionality, and determination, which can be exhausting at times. But if we want something bad enough, we’ll continue pursuing it. Change happens when we fully engage in opportunities for the growth and health we desire. And, now, after an intense encounter with these specific disciplines I find that my soul craves these life-giving practices.

And we won’t do it perfectly. No matter how dedicated we are to our spiritual life or change we desire some days are just . . . Blah (for lack of a better word). These are the moments when the phrase, “Be kind to yourself” is especially helpful. It isn’t, “Be kind to yourself, don’ t care anymore, throw in the towel, and give up.” It is about receiving God’s grace, offering grace to yourself, noticing where we got side-tracked, adding what we learn to our self-awareness file folder for next time . . . And choosing to try again.

It is a balance of discipline and open hands. Along the way we may find that the thing we are so adamant about engaging in just isn’t working for us (like the Prayer of Examen for me) or maybe doesn’t connect with how we learn. This is okay! Offer yourself the freedom to explore, practice something different, and release it if it doesn’t seem like a good fit. You may also find that God has something surprising and better in store for you that you hadn’t thought of. Like my prayer experience!

We all have to figure out how we honestly and authentically pursue Christ in our daily life depending on what that daily life looks like here, now, today. You may not have four months of free time to hike on a trail. I get it. I think sometimes we feel like we need some grand, big “thing” to help us pursue the Christian life while really it’s the little daily things that I’ve found are the most important–making the choice to intentionally interact with God even when we are tired, busy, uncertain, not sure what we believe, or when things seem to be going perfectly.

What does this look like for your daily life–here, now, today? Maybe there is a specific spiritual discipline you want to commit to daily for a month. Or, maybe you’re where I was before I left for my trip and any form of engaging with God would be a good place to pick up. Wherever you are in your journey I encourage you to just take one step down this path. That’s all there is to hiking any trail–metaphorical or literal–one foot in front of the other walking towards your desired destination.

 

 

About the Why and Why Now

When I told people I had decided to resign from my job and hike the Pacific Crest Trail there were many different reactions and questions that came up. Questions like: Are you going alone? You’re doing the whole thing? How do your parents feel about this? You’re carrying a gun for protection, right? Yes, I’m going solo. The plan is to do the whole thing. My parents are two of the most supportive people in the world and have seen me go to more dangerous places. And, let’s not engage the gun question right now (I’m only doing thirteen entries, remember?).

The most frequently asked question was, “Why?” As in, “Why are you quitting your job to walk 2,650 miles and sleep on the ground every night?” Given the place I found myself in life last winter when I made the decision to go for it, this question has to be broken into “Why” and “Why now?”

I first heard about the PCT when I was in college. I hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail with the outdoor club and learned about the concept of “thru hiking” a long trail. When I learned there was a long trail out west called the Pacific Crest Trail I was hooked. More reading on the subject confirmed that someday it was an endeavor I wanted to pursue.

I knew it would be one of the hardest physical and mental challenges I would probably ever pursue. It’s a tough trail climbing 489,418 feet and descending 488,411 over 2650 miles. As a comparison, summiting Everest is 72.5 miles (one way) and a gain of 20,540 feet (combining the trekking approach and southeast ridge route). Just to clarify, I am in no way saying I could climb Mt. Everest or announcing that I’m going to try . . . Just a little comparison here. Obviously, Everest has extreme weather conditions, avalanches, frostbite, and altitude sickness. Okay, maybe this isn’t such a great comparison.

Anyway, back to the “Why”. I honestly did not know if the PCT was something I could finish. For me, and how I am created, not knowing if I can do something is enough to push me towards it with curiosity. So, on a very basic level, the answer to this question is that I simply wanted to find out if I could hike the entire PCT! That’s it!

On the flip side of that curiosity, I spend a lot of time talking myself out of pursuing things, especially big dreams if I’m not sure I’ll excel or be able to finish. The voice in my head and voices in the world around me tell me to be responsible, to finish what I start, to create a financially comfortable life, make sure I’m saving for retirement (when I may or may not be able to pursue dreams like the PCT). You know, the things we’re supposed to do as adults. Do you talk yourself out of things that seem too big, irresponsible, or “out there” or am I the only one?

I don’t want to spend my life wondering if I could have done something. I want to know. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, I want to be someone “who at the best, in the end, knows the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst if he she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” So, fifteen years after the initial dream of hiking the PCT took hold, I dared greatly, not knowing if I would finish.

Another specific “Why” has to do with my spiritual life. My adult life since college has been full of wilderness experiences. Working as a backcountry guide and spending time in creation on my own has continually confirmed I connect best with God in nature. As I intentionally step away from the busyness of life in the city and the quiet beauty of the wilderness encompasses me, I find my mind, body, and soul are ready to listen. This is not usually a reality in my day-to-day life so to have an extended period of time and space for this is something I’ve wanted to pursue for a while.

This all brings me to the “Why now?”

Where to start?

In all honesty, it was the only thing that made sense moving forward. After a mostly stable and content eleven years professionally and personally, I had been muddling through a couple years of unknown and uncertainty about jobs, vocation, and direction. I had no clue where I was headed. I found myself in a situation that was affecting my emotional, spiritual, and mental health. I was angry and bitter and cynical. I had become a person that I didn’t readily recognize. At my core I’m a very joyful, playful, caring being…I was having trouble finding that person. Something had to change.

As I talked with close friends, family, and my spiritual director, it became clear that not only would the PCT be a good thing for me to pursue, it was possibly the most responsible and healthy thing to do for myself. I remember my spiritual director asking me what I felt like I needed and I said, “I just want to get outside and hike a long way.” Light bulb moment . . . Remember the PCT, Tami?!

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A cold Sierra river finding a way towards its intended destination.

The very basic answer to “Why Now” was I simply did not know what to do next. One of my favorite quotes from Wendell Berry is “It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” I had come to a place of unknown–baffled and impeded. My real work and journey for this stage of life was a pilgrimage of sorts on the PCT, to push over, around, and between the rocks of this life stream, finding my way.

The final decision came down to a question my friend, Erin, asked when we were out on a run. “Tami, would you regret NOT doing it?” Instantly, from deep in my soul, came a firm and definite, “Yes.” I’m a big believer in listening to those gut responses, to how my body and soul respond to something. In my Quaker community, we would refer to this as the Spirit’s movement and discernment. I’m not sure what you believe but I think God speaks to all of us in this way–in nudges, inclinations, attractions, dislikes–even if we don’t have a name for it. My role, I believe, in this movement is to be aware and attentive to those things, seeking to understand where they are coming from and where they are leading me.

Once I decided I was going to hike the trail it was like watching a line of dominoes fall into place. Even the hardest logistical pieces came together perfectly.

One thing I struggled with in my final decision-making is that my reality and freedom to pursue this trek is not a reality in which many people live. I definitely don’t take it for granted and I know it is from a place of privilege that I can choose this experience. While so many in my community could really use this type of space to get away and have desires to do something like this, I know they can’t leave a mortgage, family, and job or it’s not financially feasible. I totally get that.

The thing is, though, it doesn’t have to be some epic-quit-your-job-wear-the-same-outfit-everyday-for-four-months type of dream. It could be that you’re like me, writing secret blog entries that you think about putting out there but don’t. Or, like my sister-in-law who has spent many years caring for her kiddos and now has more space to further her education in an area of study she is really passionate about. She’s totally going for it!

What have you wanted to pursue that the voices around or inside you have shut down? How about asking your community to come around you and allow yourself to be vulnerable about what you want to do or what your soul is aching for? What’s holding you back? What do you think about doing but really want to KNOW you can do? Maybe there is a small step you can take today to dare greatly.

I would love to hear some of your answers to these questions. Feel free to share in the comments section. Maybe you just need to voice it to someone as a start! Telling people about the PCT helped me be more accountable to actually pursuing it. Send me an email if you don’t have anyone else to tell (ankeny.tami@gmail.com). And, please, if you respond to someone’s answers in the comments section keep it positive and encouraging. No reality checks or critique on this one. Allow the space for dreaming–for yourself and others.

Also, here is the rest of the quote from Roosevelt for you. I memorized this on the trail (more on that next time) and it’s continually a good reminder of how I want to pursue life:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man [woman] who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man [woman] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself [herself] in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he [she] fails, at least fails while daring greatly . . .”

About Saying Never

I’ve said never quite a few times in my life . . . As in, “I would NEVER do (enter current thing I’m adamant I won’t do).” For some reason my personality pushes back against expectations or trends. I usually tend to say never when 1) people think I should do something or it seems like an obvious action for me to take, 2) things are trendy or new and I haven’t bought into it yet, or 3) I really don’t want to be that person . . . About whatever “that” thing is at the time!

Like when I said I would NEVER move back in with my parents after college (thanks for having me, Mom and Dad!). Or, when I said I would NEVER live in Newberg, Oregon or attend or work for George Fox University (simply because its what people did in my family). I’ve done all three – lived in, attended, and worked at – and I am so grateful to have called that place home and that community my own. And, now I live in Portland after saying I could NEVER live in a big city (I’m a farm girl–I need my space!) but I actually love it.

So, when I said I would NEVER write about my experience thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in further detail than what I put on Facebook during my journey I meant it. Not a peep. I would not join the trend and ranks of people writing about the thr100. 1 Southern Terminus 1 4x6u hiker experience. I am especially adamant about this when people ask me if I heard about the PCT from Cheryl Strayed (No. No I did not.).

Oh, wait. With my track record of saying I’ll never do something, looks like I’ll be writing a bit about my experience on the PCT!

Also, add blogging to the list of things I don’t do. I’ve tried a time or two when traveling internationally but it never becomes my thing. I do, however, write blog entries. I have a folder on my computer of blog entries I’ve written and topics I want to explore but nothing ever goes live. They’re just sitting there . . . Waiting. It’s like the practice of writing it is helpful enough so I have just let it be.

Perhaps the real reason these blog posts are written but not posted is that being vulnerable, especially online, is hard for me. Online there are people you don’t know who will read your stuff. They might comment and not like something you say. Online there are people you do know who say harsh things and then you run into them the next day at the local coffee shop. Gulp. It’s scary out there.

At the time of my PCT hike in 2015 I felt strongly that the experience was for me alone. I was focused on being fully present in each day, not worrying about what my next blog post would be or spending time writing. Yet, as I have processed my PCT experience over the past few months, I keep coming back to the exercise of writing and continue to feel drawn to share. I have no idea why or what may come from what I write but I’ll let the entries go from my grip, release them from my secret blog entry folder, and free them to speak to someone. I’m following the advice of Mary Oliver who, in her poem Sometimes, tells us:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

So, from someone who will NEVER write about her PCT experience, I’ve decided to “tell about it.” As of now, I think there will 13 posts – one post each week for the next 13 weeks. Thirteen is my favorite number so that works out well! Who knows? Maybe there will be a bonus entry by the time we arrive at the end. Maybe I’ve unleashed my inner blogger and I can’t be stopped (comments or no)!

Saying never has a way of coming back around, at least in my life. What are you saying never to right now? You might want to be on the lookout.

If you’re looking for gear, food, and hiking advice I am happy to offer that information if that’s what you want. Contact me personally so we can hang out and talk trail. While these posts may contain some of that info, they will more so contain stories of my learning, awareness, and transformation over the course of the experience.

Happy reading!

Side note: If you grew up in the 80s with me you may appreciate that this song is what was going through my head the entire time I was writing this post.