2015 in review

Thank you for helping me realize that 2015 is the year of new experiences and a new found love of writing. Here’s some cool statistics WordPress came up with about the blog.

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,800 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 47 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Hollywood’s Favorite Things

So I know I said the last post would be the last post, but apparently I lied. I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the gear I used and what I liked and disliked, so I figured I’d do a gear review/what’s in my pack for all you wonderful people. Also, I’ll do pretty much anything to talk about the trail at this point, so it’s also for my happiness/sanity. This is basically Oprah’s Favorite Things, if she were to live in the woods for six months.

ULA Catalyst: I loved this pack. It was comfortable, sturdy, and super lightweight. The first few weeks it chaffed my shoulders and back a bit where my tank top didn’t cover, but that stopped when I broke it in. If I were to do the trail again I would probably get the ULA Circuit instead. I just didn’t need nearly as much space as it offered and the Circuit is cheaper and lighter. Though, be aware that it is an ultralight weight pack and does not carry more than about thirty pounds well. Also, I loved the mesh pocket and hip (snack) pockets.

Grade: A

 

Feathered Friends Hummingbird Nano: Great bag, but very expensive. It was hard for me to put forth that kind of money on a sleeping bag, but I don’t think there’s another option for something this lightweight. I used the 20 degree bag for the whole trip and it worked well. Looking back, maybe I should’ve used a lighter blanket during the summer, but I get cold easily so it wasn’t too bad. There were a few nights in the summer when I just used my sleeping bag liner, but overall I was in the bag. It kept me warm enough in Maine and on the 23 degree nights in the Smokies. My only complaint was that occasionally feathers would come out, but it was never a problem.

Grade: B+

 

Six Moons Design Lunar Solo: I honestly think this is the best tent on the trail. It was insanely light, very easy to set-up, never let in rain, and quite spacious for a one-man tent. One night it fit me, my sister, and her dog. I honestly don’t have a single complaint about it. Truth be told, I don’t think I ever really figured out the best way to set it up, but it still worked amazingly. I saw many other people with the same model and we all set them up differently. All the reviews I read about it said that for years people were finding new and better ways to set it up.

Grade: A++

 

Therm-a-rest Prolite: This is a good product. I refused to spend over $100 on a sleeping pad, so it’s not the very lightest model out there, but still worked very well. The group I was with in Maine was making fun of how bulky and heavy it was, but I was fine with it. Haters gunna hate. Also, I didn’t have a single hole the whole trail and used it every night, so there. Good work, Therm-a-rest.

Grade: B

 

Brooks Cascadias 10: Okay, I was recommended these shoes by everyone and was super pumped about them, but they kind of let me down. I went through four pairs and each time after about 300 miles they would tear across the toes. I’ve heard that every model except the 10s are like Beyonce-level perfection. Hopefully Brooks gets their act together for their next model. On a positive note, they’re very comfortable and cute.

Grade: D

 

Leki Jannu Trekking Poles: Good poles, bad customer service. It seemed that the only brand poles that didn’t break on the trail were LEKI and Black Diamond. Unfortunately, mine weren’t that lucky. I’m very rough on them and shocked they didn’t break earlier, but in Maine, after bending one when falling in a stream, it broke while trying to straighten it. I tried for a couple weeks to get them to send a replacement with no avail. Eventually my mom was able to get ahold of customer service and they sent…the wrong parts. About a month after the pole broke I finally got the correct part. That being said, they really are great trekking poles.

Grade: A- for Trekking Poles; D- for Customer Service

 

SteriPEN Ultra: These do not work. It was awesome for the first couple weeks. I was charging it every chance I got, but it kept dying at random times. I called customer service (who was very helpful) and they said it was probably just a dud. They sent me a new one that ran on batteries right away. It was great for a couple weeks, then it died. It put new batteries in it regularly, but it kept dying. Luckily I was around people who let me borrow their filters, but this is not a good thing when you’re living in the woods. I would not recommend bringing one of these on a long distance hike, however it is probably perfect for a shorter trip. I switched to AquaMira drops about a month in and was happy with them for the rest of the trail. They’re super light, easy, and cheap.

Grade: F

 

O2 Raincoat: Everyone needs one of these. I got it for $30 on Amazon and truly felt that it worked just as well as everyone’s $300 jackets. In addition, it’s lighter than anything you’ll find. I met someone else who got several tears in theirs, but I never had that problem. Nearly five and a half months with it and not a single rip. Also, it seemed like everyone else’s raincoats still got them wet after a bit, but mine kept me warm and dry all the time. And I think the bright yellow color is fun.

Grade: A+

 

Darn Tough Socks: These’s no other sock on the AT. They’re comfortable, comfy, and darn tough. After not washing them for a couple weeks they get pretty disgusting, but a little wash fixes it. And the best thing about them is the warranty! If they ever get a hole in them (which is inventible when you walk 2000 miles) you can take them to any outfitter that sells them and they’ll give you a brand new pair fo’ free. Some of the outfitters don’t honor this, but sometimes if you’re really sweet they’ll give it to you anyway.

Grade: A+

 

Lululemon tank top and sports bra: So I loved my Lulu stuff. I’ve never owned it before because it’s so expensive, but now I’m officially a fan. My sister bought it for me when my Walmart clothes were breaking down. Immediately after putting it on I felt super stylish and was so comfortable. The clothes are excellent quality and lasted through some of the worst conditions you can imagine. There were some really hard days on the trail, but my clothes always made me feel great. It’s the little things. Someone seriously needs to hire me to be their rep or something, because I swear I could sell their stuff like crazy.

Grade: A+

 

MSR Pocket Rocket and Snow Peak Titanium Mini Solo Cookset: Both of these worked great. They are lightweight and do their job. But to be honest, I didn’t use them a whole lot. I hate cooking and wasn’t using them much, so I sent both of them home when I got my winter gear in Vermont. They don’t weigh much, but every ounce counts and I wanted to lose a few. I get a lot of crap for this, but I ate dry ramen for dinner every night for several months. For some people it’s not worth the sacrifice, but I don’t mind it that much. That being said, if I were to do it again and use my stove and pot regularly I’d buy the same thing.

Grade: A

 

Diva Cup: WARNING! I’M TALKING ABOUT LADY STUFF. This is such a great way to handle your period on the trail. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks, but this is probably the best way to deal with it. You can’t feel the cup while you’re hiking and only have to change it every 12 hours. I didn’t even change it that much. Also, be sure to test it out before you start your hike! My college roommates can attest to the fact that I had a lot of trouble getting it in and out the first couple months. It was very stressful, but eventually I figured it out and it became simple.

Grade: A

 

Freshette: MORE GIRL STUFF. This is so cool. It’s basically a little funnel you stick down there, so girls can pee standing up. It saves a bunch of time and is super easy to use. It really freaks guys out when they walk up on you using it, but there are worse things. I think all girls should get this! I used it everyday.

Grade: A+

 

SPOT Gen3 GPS Tracker: It was kind of annoying to carry, but made my family 1000% happier, so was worth it. The GPS tracks your coordinates to six decimal points. Every morning and night I pushed a button that said I was okay and went on my way. It would send my coordinates every hour. I never had to use it, but there were a couple buttons to press if I was ever in danger or hurt. It’s a small sacrifice for the peace of mind it gives to loved ones.

My grade: B

Mom’s grade: A+++++++++

 

Everything else in my pack:

• REI Caccoon Silk Mummy Liner

• 2- 32 fl. oz. Gatorade bottles

• Rite Aid flip flops

• Toilet paper

• Travel size tooth brush

• Toothpaste

• Compact hair brush

• Disposable razor

• Hand sanitizer

• DEET bug spray

• Lighter (became obsolete when I got rid of my stove)

• Victorinox pocket knife

• Ear plugs

• Chapstick

• Bandaids

• Spork

• Black Diamond headlamp

• iPod Nano and headphones

• iPhone and charger

• Buff

• AWOL Guidebook

• Pepper spray

• Whistle

• Crystal Light Liquid

• 5 feet Duct Tape

• Bandana

• Aleve

• Synthroid (Thyroid replacement pill)

• Gildess

• Pack cover

• Beanie

• 2 pairs ExOfficio undies

• Columbia Omni Heat long sleeve

• Target athletic shorts (will want compression shorts under or built in to prevent chaffing)

• Leggings

• Gloves

• Northface Osito Jacket (everyone thought I was crazy for carrying, but I loved it)

• Marmot Jena Jacket (given to me after Dirty Peanut summited Katahdin)

• REI Dry sack 5L

• Sea to Summit 8L eVac (food bag)

• REI Pillow stuff sack

• REI Compression sack

 

I hope this is helpful  to any future thru hikers! If I can do it, so can you. Truly all it takes is determination, stubbornness, and deciding you can. Good luck! Feel free to send me a message at KimberlyLMaxwell16@gmail.com with any questions.

Love,

Kimber

 

I dedicated this hike to the orphaned children at Heart For Africa in Swaziland. For more information, I hope you visit my fund raising page at

Kimber’s Heart For Africa

THE END

I’ve been putting off writing this post for as long as possible. I think I had somehow convinced myself that if I don’t write the blog, then it’s not really over. That I’m still on the trail. That I’ve just taken 17 zero days in a row. I wish that were the truth. It used to feel like being on the trail was this long dream that I was going to wake up from. Now I just keep hoping that soon I’ll wake up from “real life” and be back in the woods. I had been told from my first week on the trail that readjusting to life without it is much harder than adjusting to life on it, but it’s hard to understand that until you’re going through it. Even in my last week before Springer I was sad that it was all coming to an end, but didn’t think I’d be one to have “post-trail depression”.

Readjusting is weird. The other day Allison and I were in the car and I was shivering from the cold. Suddenly I remembered that if you’re cold in real life, you can change the weather with a turn of a dial. How cool is that! I rediscovered that I can control the temperature.

There are many other perks like that that I’ve rediscovered, like light bulbs and purses, but most of the readjustment hasn’t been in concrete things. I was honestly shocked at how easily I slipped right back into my daily routine of checking my phone, having the ability to drive, and having a daily schedule. I think that may have been the scariest part. I’ve worked so hard for the last five months to make changes within myself and within a matter of days I’ve already seen some of those things slipping. It’s so easy to distract myself in the “real world” with technology that many of my old habits are already coming back. Don’t get me wrong, it has been amazing to reconnect with old friends and have immediate access to the news, but it does come with a cost.

I, along with the rest of the world, was shocked and devastated to hear about the attacks in Paris, as well as in Beirut and across Israel. It makes me want to run back to the woods where I can so easily be blissfully ignorant. Life is simple out there. You worry about basic necessities, like food and water. Beyond that, your mind is open to focus on personal growth, connecting with others, connecting with nature, and spreading love. On the trail I was used to smiling at and talking to every person I pass. I miss that. It’s amazing what a little smile and “hello” can do. Not that it will do anything to change the atrocities that have already happened, but I challenge you to spread a little kindness this week by making a conscious effort to genuinely connect with those around you, even if just in passing. I think a lot of people need it right now.

It has also been a particularly tough week at Project Canaan, the home base of Heart For Africa. They caught a serial rapist, lost the life of one of the children’s caretakers in an auto-related accident, had a fire deliberately started by locals on their property, had two babies rushed to the hospital, and two babies in surgery. With so much sadness going on in the world it’s hard to see the light, but I truly believe it’s there. It’s only through love that we can rise from such devastation.

This past week I had a meeting with Beth Blaisdell, Executive Director and Head of Fundraising at Heart For Africa. We talked for a while, discussed our options, and eventually decided where to focus the money we’ve raised over the last six months. Because of the donations you’ve all so generously given, we are going to be able to fully furnish the entire first grade classroom. I could not be more thrilled! Together we have been able to raise nearly $3,800. It’s this kind of love that gives me hope. Your generosity will directly contribute to the education of children for years to come. In addition to all of the furnishings, they will put up a commemorative plaque recognizing this journey and your dedication to these beautiful children. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I cannot thank you enough.

I will keep the Go Fund Me up for one more week. Any more donations we’re able to raise will go to furnishing the first grade teacher’s office. We are only a few hundred dollars from making that happen. It’s this kind of love that gives me hope for the future. It’s amazing to know that, at least in this classroom, built through love, that these kids will be filled with love and hope. This is the future.

On October 29, 2015, I finished my journey on the Appalachian Trail. I walked 2,189.2 miles, crossed through fourteen states, saw thirteen bears, one moose, one rattlesnake, countless other wildlife, took two trips to New York City, a trip to Washington D.C., a trip to Portland, Maine, a trip to urgent care, saw seven plays, was given nearly $400 by complete strangers, had five complete breakdowns, made friends with some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met, and learned more about myself than I could’ve ever imagined. I learned that I am smart, strong, and brave, and that there are no limits to what I’m able to achieve.

It’s funny how the most common question you get asked on the trail is also the most difficult to answer—What made you want to do this? What could possibly make someone want to do this? It’s crazy. It really is. I am reminded this anytime I look at a map of the trail. I walked a stupid amount. Before I started the trail I really had no idea why I wanted to do it. Yes, it sounded interesting and like something I’d enjoy, but why? Despite not knowing, I felt with certainty that this was something I needed to do and, for some reason, listened to that voice. I think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve figured it out. Through my trip I’ve proven to myself time and time again that I am limitless. There are no bounds if you don’t impose them on yourself. I was told nearly everyday on my trip that I should be scared, that it would be safer just to go home. I was constantly told that I was asking for trouble by embarking on this journey. I had a choice to either listen to this fear or to make the decision not to be scared. I chose the later. After all, there’s no point in giving in to fear. I realized that if I was as scared as everyone told me I should be, then I never would have taken the first step out my front door. Every single day I chose strength, and in doing that have gained an unprecedented amount of confidence.

After summiting Springer, the boys and I took our pictures and headed down the mountain to meet our families. The sun had just popped its head through the clouds and the birds were singing a song of celebration. I stopped for a minute to take one last picture and realized that I was the only person there. I stood on the summit and took in the world around me. I accomplished this because I decided I could. I did not do it alone. I had my family supporting me, my friends cheering me on, other hikers looking out, and God lifting me up. I am so thankful for all of these people in my life. It was your support that helped me get here. It was also on that summit that I realized why I did this. And when I realized that I’ve actually always known. I decided that I am boundless. I realized that I can do anything. Can you?

Love,
Kimber

I encourage anyone to also check out Janine Maxwell’s books, “It’s Not Okay With Me” and “Is It Okay With You?”. They’re both phenomenal!
Heart For Africa Blog

Go Fund Me

WEEKS 21, 22, 23: THE FINAL CHAPTER

Sorry this one took so long to get posted. We’ve been having technical difficulties.

——————

I have two days of hiking left. Yeah, two. I just sat here for five minutes and stared at that last sentence. I don’t want it to be over. I really thought I was ready for the end and ready to join the “real” world, but I don’t know if I am. Life is great out here. Yes, another hurricane came through and it has been raining nonstop for the past few days again, but I’m still happier than I think I’ve ever been. How do you slow time down?

It’s really weird going through a last week on the trail twice. It’s the happiest, most exciting week, while also having that thought of knowing it’s almost over. It’s sad. I feel like I’m going through a breakup with the trail. Think John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing In a Burning Room”.

So much has happened since my last post…over three weeks ago. Oops (I’m really sorry, guys!). I was quite the Sad Sally and maybe just a tiny bit mopey. I wish I could say that total solidarity didn’t bother me, but one of the biggest realizations I’ve had on the trail is the innate need for human connection. I think my last post may have freaked my family out a bit, because suddenly they were all asking off work to come hike with me. Nothing says family bonding like a cop telling your daughter she’s going to be murdered.

My mom came out for a week and she slack packed me a couple days, we took a couple days off, we hiked a couple days (okay, maybe just one day for eight miles), and did a lot of glamping. I was either at a hotel or hostel every night that week. Not complaining.

Then after my mom left, my sister, Allison, and Beaux, her sweet dog, came out for a couple days. The first day was great. We hiked up one of the most beautiful sections of the trail and found our way to the shelter with plenty of daylight left. Allison refused to sleep in the shelter after I mentioned that the shelter mice sometimes crawl on the hikers while they’re sleeping, so we set up my tent. It was a bit of a squeeze to fit two fully grown adults and a dog into my one person tent, but we made it work. That is, until it started to downpour in the middle of the night. I woke up soaking wet. In the morning we packed up and went on our way. As the day went on the rain just continued to intensify. We made it to a shelter for lunch, but when we tried to leave, Beaux decided he didn’t want to hike anymore. He was just standing there refusing to move. Beaux is a little dog, so Allison and I switched off carrying him for a couple miles. When we got too tired to hold him we tried waving beef jerky in front of him to get him to move. This worked for a while. Allison would hold his leash while I stood about fifteen feet in front of him with the jerky. Then we ran out of beef jerky. We felt bad because we thought that maybe he was cold and sick from the rain, but after a bit we realized that he literally just didn’t feel like walking anymore, so Allison just carried him again for the last mile or so. Now that I’m looking back on the situation, it really was pretty funny. However, I don’t think Allison will come backpacking again anytime soon. Glamping is more her style too.

A couple days after that my dad came to pick me up for a doctor’s appointment. It was for my new endocrinologist (thyroid cancer doctor) in Atlanta. I know I’ve never addressed this in the blog, but my cancer still is there. It’s very small and not a huge concern to the doctor, but I am so freaking tired of it. I just want it to go away. I think three years is enough. I know that most people with cancer have it a ton worse than me and I probably sound really whiney again, but can it please just go away? I try to pretend like it’s not there, but that’s hard to do when I have to take medicine daily and go to doctor’s appointments. I made a decision to not let it stop me from doing anything, but sometimes I do need to realize that I’m not in amazing health and while the other guys might be able to do 25 miles days every day for a week, my body just can’t handle that. Okay, rant over. Anyway, after the appointment my dad dropped me back off at the trail right at the start of the Smokies. I had hoped that after being on the trail for five months it might be easier for him to drop his little girl off in the woods by herself, but it wasn’t. He had a really tough time letting me go. It breaks my heart that it’s so hard for him, but I know that I just can’t let it stop me. I thought about it all through the Smokies. On my last night there I got to a shelter full of section hikers and had a great time talking to them and telling them about the trail. There was a group of five dads there who go for a backpacking trip every year. They all have daughters around my age. I ended up talking to one of the guys for about an hour and told him about how hard it is to see my dad this terrified about my trip. I told him about how my dad is the greatest guy in the world and how he would and has done anything for me. The guy listened and really helped me to settle my mind about the situation. It’s crazy that I told all this deep, personal stuff to someone I just met, but sometimes that’s how it goes on the trail. I went to bed and felt a lot better. When I woke up I got ready and found a bill in my shoe. (I wonder who it could’ve been from.) it was still dark so I couldn’t see how much it was for, so I finished packing up and went on my way before everyone else woke up. When I looked at it in the daylight I saw that it was a one hundred dollar bill. I was stunned. It will go directly to my Heart For Africa fundraising. Thank you, kind stranger.

After leaving the Smokies something great happened. I finally made friends!! Who hoo!! I can’t properly explain how excited I was, so I’ll do my best with this: zusnalrivkexpeks!!! We all sheltered at Fontana Dam and I excitedly planned the whole rest of the trip for us. I did this partly so we had an idea of timing, but mostly so they had to stay with me. I guess it worked, because we’ve all been hiking together for over a week now. There are five of us in the group: Swift, Dr. Busch, Mass, Couscous, and me. I’m the president of the group (self named). We’ve had a lot of fun together. I still love and miss my NoBo group, but it is good to be back with a team.

Last week we arrived in Franklin and the Ingwersen family hooked us up with a great night away from the trail. Lindsey (one of my neighbors and best friends from back home) picked us up from the trail and brought us back to their cabin where we showered, washed our clothes, stayed up telling stories around the bonfire, and ate like kings (and queens). The Ingwersen family had so much fun with us smelly hikers that they’re thinking about turning their cabin into a hiker hostel/B&B. How cool is that!

We hiked a few more days, then got to Helen, Georgia just in time for the end of Oktoberfest. It’s crazy how that worked out (actually it’s not at all. Making it to Oktoberfest was my only time goal for all of my southbound section). While at dinner a section hiker saw us with our packs and wanted to talk to us about the trail, which we were happy to do. This guy has hiked a lot around the area. As we were paying our bill the guy came back over and asked if all five of us were thru hikers. When we said yes he slapped a one hundred dollar bill on the table and told us to enjoy. We did. This was the second one hundred dollar bill I had gotten in a week. Later that night Lindsey met up with us and we all hung out and danced the night away. After that we went back to a cabin that a northbounder I met a couple months back owned. He wasn’t going to be there, but he let us stay at his awesome cabin for free. The hiker community is so cool.

And here I am. Today we hiked to Neels Gap and have just over thirty miles to Springer. I will be done on the twenty ninth. Like I said, it might be raining for the rest of the trip and yeah, it’s very cold, but I’m surrounded by great people doing the thing that makes me the happiest. I might not be able to slow down time, but I can try to live completely in the present for the next 36 hours or so. Life is good.

Also, today Swift and I were crossing a road at a gap and a car pulled up beside us. They asked why we would be hiking on such a dreary day and when we explained what we’ve been doing for the past five months the old man put a bill in Swift’s hand and said he wanted to buy us dinner. He said that we reminded him of he and his wife when they used to do things like this in their younger days. It was another one hundred dollar bill. In the past two weeks I have been given three one hundred dollar bills. What?! When we got to the hostel we paid for everyone’s stay and bought some sodas and candy to go around. I know I say this a lot, but people are too cool.

That’s all for now. My next post will be the last one. I don’t know if I’m ready for that, but I’ll be fine. It’ll be emotional and that’s exactly how it should be. The next time you hear from me I’ll be a thru hiker.

Love,
Hollywood

WEEKS 19 and 20: BACK TO THE BEGINNING

These past two weeks have been filled with my highest highs and most recently my lowest lows. I’ve gone from one of the most perfect days of my life summiting “the greatest mountain” to crying in the middle of a McDonald’s in Hampton, Tennessee. It’s crazy how within a matter of days I went from feeling literally on top of the world to feeling completely alone.

At the time of my last post, The Law, Yaeger, Wildcat, and I had just spent a relaxing couple of days on the lake and were about to head into the 100 Mile Wilderness. That was an adventure. The first fifty miles were extremely tough. This was disappointing, because we had been hearing for a while about how easy the “wilderness” was. After recently hiking the Whites and southern Maine I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, and so ready for a break. In the past few weeks leading up to this I had had several anxiety attacks and countless injuries from falling on rocks upwards of five times a day. Also, one of my trekking poles had just broken after I fell in a stream, so that just added to the difficulty. While I’m normally one of the fastest in our little hiking group, I was suddenly far behind everyone else. I guess I relied on my trekking poles more than I realized, because it felt like I was having to get my “trail legs” all over again. I was expending way more energy than normal and getting ravishingly hungrier with every step. I noticed that I was eating more snacks than I probably should’ve, but due to the hunger I couldn’t stop myself. Suddenly it became very apparent that I needed to seriously space out my food or I would be in big trouble. As I stated in the last post, there are no towns or places to get resupply in the Wilderness unless you had arranged it ahead of time and paid some big bucks. We decided to forego that option because we’re badasses (but in hindsight maybe it would’ve been a good idea). Luckily, the last fifty miles really were as easy as everyone said, which helped me to ignore the hunger pains a bit.

We met some awesome people that week, like TAR Man (Total Ankle Replacement) who regularly runs ultra marathons and Iron Mans and had been leaving the trail every couple weeks to simultaneously run his farm in Maine. Oh, and he’s 61 years young. We also met an interesting section hiker who recently got back from living in the Alaskan bush unsupported with his daughter for a month and a half. People are cool. To top it all off, I saw a moose.  They’re cool too.  The four of us spent a lot of time together that week and I’d say were pretty successful in just enjoying every moment we had together. While I regretfully don’t feel like I ever completely opened up to them, I know that I could trust those guys with anything. Each night was spent hanging around the campfire and each morning Law would wake up a few minutes earlier than everyone else, so we could wake up to a campfire. This is off topic and I wasn’t going to admit this, but a few weeks ago Law taught me how to build a fire. I figured it would be really embarrassing if I walked the entire AT and was still insufficient at this basic survival skill.

Anyway, back to the Wilderness. By our fifth and last day in hundred miles my hunger had gotten so bad that I started getting splitting headaches and suddenly felt extremely woozy. The boys were significantly ahead of me at this point and I knew I was not doing well. I had tried not to complain up to this point, because it was my own fault for not planning my food well enough and there was nothing the guys could do anyway because they needed their food just as much as I did. I sat down on the nearest log and ate my last snack, a large snickers. After a few minutes it kicked in and got me over the mountain and to the shelter. When I told the guys what had happened they quickly began offering me their food. I am so thankful for trail people.

The next morning Yaeger’s mom met us at the end of the Wilderness and fed us a huge breakfast and sent us on our way with sandwiches for lunch. This would be our last day of hiking before Katahdin. With only about 14 miles to do that day, we took our time and stopped for breaks at waterfalls and sat by gorgeous views for lunch. It was picturesque. Maine is the most beautiful state I’ve been to. It’s really bothering me that I just ended that sentence with a preposition…gosh, I get distracted easily. Anywayyy, that night we built a huge fire and huddled together for warmth.

In the morning we built another big fire with the remaining firewood, packed our stuff, and were off. We started up the mountain a little after 6:30AM and already had to wait in a line to start. Katahdin is a busy place! We’d agreed to all hike together that day, which proved to be more challenging than expected due to excitement and adrenaline. However, every couple miles we would all meet up and start off together again. We passed dozens of people on the way up and before we knew it we were only about a mile from the summit. We reconvened one last time, then made the final push up. I tried my hardest to pace myself, but I was hungry for the summit. When we were only a few hundred yards away we watched as our friend Regular Goat (the guy who saved Chance and Lost Boy’s packs in Pennsylvania) ran up to the sign and became the first person of the day to reach the top. No more than a couple minutes later, Law and I simultaneously reached the sign and became hikers #2 and #3 to get to that glorious summit. Shortly afterward, Wildcat and Yaeger made it to the top as well. It may have only been for about ten minutes, but for that ten minutes the five of us had that summit all to ourselves. I teared up a bit, then quickly held it back so the boys wouldn’t see me crying. I went up to the summit sign to take my obligatory summit picture and when I stood up and looked out I felt invincible. I looked out at the mountains around me and the earth below me and suddenly felt like I had become exactly the person I had always wanted to become. A few weeks ago a fellow thru hiker named Gray Goat told me that when he looked at me he saw three things and they were: confidence, competence, and commitment. While they were very kind words I admit I almost immediately dismissed it as nothing more than nonsense and fickle words, but in that moment, standing on that summit sign, I believed it to be the truth. Up to this point in the hike I would repeat to myself daily the words of Cheryl Strayed, “I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” While I still love that quote, I think that maybe now I have a new mantra.

On the way down we realized how difficult and dangerous that mountain really is. The majority of the mountain was more akin to rock climbing than hiking. While I was slightly terrified of falling to a gruesome death with every step, I still had a blast. That will forever be one of the best days of my life.

It was hard saying goodbye to the guys the next morning, but I have a feeling I’ll see them again soon. While waiting to board the plane in Bangor, Maine I was catching up on some reading from Fahrenheit 451. I came upon an excerpt that reminded me of the friendships I’ve made on the trail. It said, “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop that makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over”. I love this trail and I love the people on it. I’m thankful for every single person I’ve met and every experience I’ve had. As the plane lifted off, I looked out the window at the beautiful scenery and the grandiose mountains I had just conquered and thought, “I’m pretty sure this is as good as it gets”.

I landed in Richmond, Virginia a few hours later and was greeted at the airport by my sister’s best friend from college, Andrea. Andrea lived with our family for a summer and even flew out to visit me at college a couple years ago. She and I are very close. We spent a couple days relaxing, bonding over Crazy, Stupid, Love, and exploring the city. I’m so glad I had that time to spend with her.

Tuesday morning she dropped me off in Pearisburg and sent me on my way. You might be saying, “why would she drop you off in Pearisburg? You started the trail in Damascus”. Well, friends, remember in a post long ago when I confessed to yellow blazing twenty miles from Pearisburg to The Captain’s party? I went back and did it. For those of you who don’t know all of the trail lingo, yellow blazing is when you skip a section of the trail, usually by car. AKA…cheating. I am happy to say that I am no longer a dirty yellow blazer and when I finally reach Springer Mountain, Georgia I can say without hesitation that I am a true thru hiker.

The next day I had a (expensive) shuttle give me a ride from Pearisburg to Damascus to officially start my southbound section. I picked up a few groceries, got a southbound guidebook at the outfitters, had a nice last meal, then set off. Though I had suspected this for quite a while, I soon discovered that southbounding is a lonely activity. In the last week I’ve had in the woods I’ve seen more bears than people, with the head count being three bears and two people. I am seriously too extroverted for this. To add to the mix, it has been pouring rain nonstop since I arrived in the south. I have yet to see the sun. Thanks a lot hurricane season. Each day had me missing my NoBo trail family more and more. Suddenly breaks were no longer fun. Nor was the trail, for that matter. My days went like this: wake up, walk, take snack break on a log, walk, eat lunch by myself, walk, walk, eat dinner by myself, go to bed, repeat. I thought that some solitude would be good for me, but so far it sucks. I want my friends back. And the sun. That would be nice too.

Yesterday I arrived in Hampton and was at an all time low. After ordering at McDonald’s I sat down (by myself) and realized that I had cell reception for the first time all week. I immediately texted my NoBo boys and told them how much I miss them. As soon as they started responding with words of encouragement I completely broke down. And I mean ugly, snotty sobbing…in the middle of the McDonald’s. Not my best moment. After wiping my tears away and eating my feelings I met the town cop who agreed to give me a ride to the hostel. I thought this was a great option until he started telling me about the murders on the AT and my likely probability of being raped and murdered. This was the longest hitch of my life. In his words, “if they’re gunna rape ya, they’ll probably murder ya too to keep from getting caught”. This went on for the twenty minute ride up the mountain to the hostel. Thanks for the support, dude.

I spent one more lonely night at the hostel only to wake up to another day of pouring rain. Normally this would bum me out, but not today. My mom gets here today and nothing can make me sad. I was planning on doing an easy eight miles, then meeting her at the bottom of the mountain, but I don’t feel like it, so I’m not going to hike at all. Instead I’ll sit in this cozy game room at the hostel and watch Wanderlust. I deserve it.

Also, I did make one friend. I may have scared him off a little bit with my desperate attempt at communication, but it’s a start. I’ll take it. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Here’s to a sunny week with my favorite mom.

Love,
Hollywood

Kimber’s Heart For Africa

Live From Swaziland…it’s Saturday morning!

WEEK 18: KATAHDIN

Well, this is it. By this time next week I will have summited Mount Katahdin and be on a plane back to Virginia. The goal I’ve been working at for a year and a half is only 115 miles away.
This morning we head into what’s known as the “100 Mile Wilderness”, which I have always thought is a funny name, since I’d pretty much say the whole trail is a 2,189.4 mile wilderness, but I guess I’m not the one who gets to make the decisions around here. It’s the last stretch of this trail, known for having no towns, roads, outside communication, or civilization of any sort. It’s just us and the trail for 100 miles, then we submerge from the forest to Katahdin in our sights. I’ve heard it’s rocky, “rooty”, and muddy (like the rest of Maine), but other than that, it’s an easy section of Maine. This is all relative, of course, since Maine is the only state rated 10/10 for difficulty, but still exciting to hear. I’m just a few rocks and roots away.
It doesn’t feel real that I’m here. This is a dream I’ve had for such a long time and I’ve seen myself up on top of Katahdin countless times, but now it’s actually going to happen…and soon! To be honest, I don’t feel like I deserve it. This whole trip I’ve felt a little bit like the kid that’s just tagging along, it hasn’t actually done the stuff the big kids have. And this is true. I started in Damascus and have close to 500 miles less than everyone else under my belt. Katahdin is not the end for me. While I’ve been very happy with my “flip-flop” trip and know I had to do it this way because of graduation, I do kind of feel like a cheater. This may seem like I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill (lol), but I can’t shake the feeling that I know is there. I’ve been trying to change my mindset. I’m attempting to think of Katahdin as my big finale and the rest as 500 bonus miles. That’s dumb, I know. I’ll get back to you on how that goes.
It’s scary that we’re at the end (my fake end, their real end). This whole week we’ve been very real with each other and revealed things we don’t tell the rest of the world. I’m in awe of their bravery and ability to face and overcome their obstacles. Between Yaeger, The Law, Wildcat, and me, we’ve been through a lot. They’re able to talk about these events and how they’re affected them and how they’ve used the trail to overcome. I usually sit there in silence for these talks, because I can’t say the same for myself. Not only have I not overcome my biggest obstacle, but I’m not even brave enough to talk to them about it yet, nor you guys. There’s an event that I’ve had trapping me in a cage of fear for many years now and I can’t even say with certainty that I’ve faced it at all. I’ve dealt with a lot, learned a ton about myself, and gained confidence I didn’t know I had, but the journey is far from over. That scares me. I’m jealous of their honesty. This week I hope I can get enough courage to be honest with them, even if it means crying (something that I hate to do and that scares me more than just about anything). Maybe it’ll take the last 500 miles that I’m walking solo to face myself and not use others to distract from what I know is most important. Maybe this won’t be overcome in 500 miles, or 2189.4 for that matter. I guess only time will tell.
This week we will try to be present 100% of the time. I want to notice every flower, bug, tree, and root that I trip on. I also want to actively listen to everything and everyone around me. It reminds me of a line that I often think about from “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. The character Emily is saying goodbye to the world and in desperation asks the stage manager, “do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?-every, every minute?”. The answer is no, we don’t. We can’t. But this week I’m going to try to anyway.
The past two days we’ve spent at a lake house near Monson, Maine. We water skied, gone tubing, kayaking, canoeing, and watched someagical sunsets. Most importantly, we’ve been actively enjoying our time left together. Once again, our hosts have been wonderful, giving, beautiful people. This was the perfect way to spontaneously spend our last zero day. I feel ready and hungry to take on The 100 Mile Wilderness and Katahdin.
There’s only a few hundred miles left and we are unbelievably close to the fundraising goal for Heart For Africa. Thank you so much to everyone who has donated and gotten involved and interested in their mission. Raising money for them and getting others interested is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done. I encourage everyone to read Janine’s blog posts (links below) from the past few weeks, as there have been some important and heartbreaking things going on at the orphanage. Also, I’d like to ask for you to share my blog and donation page on your social media sites to help me make the final push to my goal.
Thanks again for all the support through my whole journey! Next week I will have summited the greatest mountain- Mt Katahdin.
Love,
Hollywood

http://www.gofundme.com/st984k

janinemaxwell.blogspot.com

WEEK 15, 16 and 17:

It has been a while since I wrote on here. I can’t even begin to describe everything that has happened, but I’ll do my best. At the time of my last post I had just finish Moosilauke and was ready to take on the rest of the Whites. And we did. We have also entered into Maine and currently have 183 miles left until Katahdin. Things are quickly wrapping up. It’s a weird experience. I feel physically and mentally stronger than I ever have and want to bust out miles, but also want to slow down and make every moment last.
Honestly these past three weeks have probably been my happiest on the trail. I love every minute I’m out here. I hope I can hold onto this happiness.
After Moosilauke The Law, Yaeger, and I decided to spend the night at a hostel, then slack pack over Kinsman, a 16.5 miles section of the Whites that goes straight up and down. As soon as we began it started pouring rain and that continued for the rest of the day. It seemed odd to me that they would put the trail straight up a cascading waterfall, but I sucked it up and did what I had to do. It actually ended up being a blast. It wasn’t until we got back to the hostel that night that we found out that the trail isn’t usually a waterfall. It was a memorable experience nonetheless.
A few days later Yaeger’s friend picked us up from the trail and we went to Indian Acres, the boys’ camp Yaeger was a counselor at for ten years. We relaxed on the river, played a little basketball, then The Law and I got some inner tubes and went lazy river tubing for a couple hours. The next day we were stopped for lunch on our way back to the trail and made a split second decision to turn the car around and drive two hours to Portland, Maine. May as well experience it all while we’re here! After a night of fun and a good bit of drinking we eventually returned to the trail. I don’t regret anything, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to hike the Whites after a night of drinking. Maybe not our best decision.
Our craziest story came the next day when we make the push up Mount Washington, the big kahuna. Despite a clear forecast, the weather quickly turned south when we passed the tree line. Everywhere we turned there were signs warning us to turn back due to Mount Washington having the worst weather in the United States. Every step up to the summit was a struggle and visibility got as low as about ten feet. At the time of our summit the weather station registered gale force winds of 75 miles per hour. However the battle had just begun. The next nine miles were ridge walking as well and the wind just continued to get stronger with wind gusts reaching 90 miles per hour. I now understand how someone can be blown off a mountain. It took every muscle in my body to not fall off the ridge and even so, I was being thrown around like a rag doll.
Shortly after that, we finished the Whites and entered Maine. It was odd, because almost immediately after entering the state the forest got denser, the rocks got bigger, and the terrain got significantly more rugged. Maine is no joke, man! I thought the Whites were tough, but that was nothing compared to the first fifty miles of Maine. I don’t think I’ve ever been this worn out in my life. But my, is it rewarding. It seems like around every corner is a breathtaking view. We sometimes just sit for hours and stare at the beauty in front of us. It feels a bit surreal that this is my everyday life right now. I’m so lucky. I wish there was a way to sufficiently experience everything around me or if I could just bottle up these memories and pull them out on a bad day in the future. Gosh, please don’t make me leave. Being out here feels like this well kept secret that only us lucky few get to experience. When we get to towns I look around and just think that these people don’t even know what they’re missing and a selfish part of me doesn’t want to tell them. I like that it’s my trail.
In the past (almost) four months I’ve become more confident than I’ve ever been. And I thank God for every opportunity I’ve been given. As you can probably imagine, I have a lot of time to think out here. Recently I’ve noticed that many of my thoughts have been about how strong, intelligent, and important women are and how few know it. Since coming on the trail I’ve learned that I’m awesome and I hope everyone, man and woman alike, know that. But I think, unfortunately, a lot of women in particular don’t. I’m here to tell you that you are. I can’t count the number of times I’ve talked to day hikers, locals, and vacationers who, when finding out that I’m hiking the trail by myself as a single young woman, will turn to their daughters, wives, or girlfriends and say, “she could never do that”. It breaks my heart every time. I want to turn to those girls and beg them not to listen, then turn back around and smack the guy they’re with. (Not really. I don’t want to hit anyone.) I know I say this in almost every post, but I want everyone who reads this to know that they can do anything. Absolutely anything. I’m realizing how fortunate I am to have grown up in a home where I was never once told I couldn’t do something because of my gender. It took until I was much older to realize that most people aren’t that lucky. I want to thank every teacher, director, mentor, and friend who has encouraged me in my wild pursuits and let me know my strength. You’re the reason I have the courage to be out here today. When I get back to real life I hope I can do some mentoring myself to let other little girls know how strong they are.
Katahdin is near and by this time next week I’ll only be a few days from the summit. It’s unlikely that I’ll have service, since it seems that the entire state of Maine is without cell service, but I’ll try to be better about posting. Less than 200 miles left, then it’s back to Virginia to finish the 450 miles back to Georgia. I’ve still got quite a ways to go, but this chapter is almost done. Til next time!
Love,
Hollywood

http://www.gofundme.com/st984k

janinemaxwell.blogspot.com

WEEK 14: SUGAR CUBE FACTORY

I was afraid there wouldn’t be anything to report this week. Whatever sickness I caught ended up keeping me in Hanover until Friday afternoon and moving at a slow pace. About a mile out of town I met a group of hikers taking a snack break who greeted me with, “so you’re the Hollywood everyone’s been talking about”. I’m not sure who has been talking about me or how they knew who I was, but just like that I found a new group. They’re all very nice and are already looking out for me. I’m still hiking my own hike, but it has been fun to be back with a group for a few days.
On my second day with this group we decided to do an easy 17 mile day to a store we saw in the guidebook that allows hikers to camp. It didn’t really give much of a description at all, but it seemed like a fun adventure. The guidebook said the store was the Mt. Cube Sugar Farm, however, there must’ve been a misunderstanding, because we were asking every day hiker we saw if they knew about the Sugar Cube Factory in town. We were fully expecting to pitch tents in front of a factory. When we got there that night, our hitch dropped us off at a small maple syrup country store and drove off. We stood there confused for about a minute, then a man ran out of a trailer that was behind the building next door and greeted us. We quickly learned his name was Maple Jim and he was going to take care of us. He corralled all seven of us into the maple syrup factory, showed us where the sleeping pads were, and encouraged us to grab our wallets so we could buy some stuff to grill up from the convenience store. We did as we were told and were driven to the closest food store about twenty minutes away. We bought hot dogs, beans, chips, cookies, candy, and anything else that sounded good at the time. Maple Jim got us back and fired up the grill. We feasted, then got a fire going, sang songs and told stories. It’s funny to me how rarely we do that on the trail. Before I started I thought it would be fires and stories every night, but often we are too tired for that and just go to bed. I’m learning to cherish the times it happens. In the morning, Maple Jim got the coffee and pancakes started, then showed us how the maple machines work. I didn’t totally get the whole process, but we put the syrup on the pancakes and I’m very satisfied with how it turned out! Who knew that such a random stop would lead to such a fun adventure. We didn’t want to leave Maple Jim and the maple farm, but the Whites were calling.
We hiked a short day to the last hostel before the Whites, then rested up before our big day. The hostel had hundreds of DVDs and a small tv, so we all had to huddle around to watch anything. It was hilarious seeing twenty smelly hikers squeezed into a tiny room trying to watch Forrest Gump and quoting every line.
When morning came, we were all business. It was time to hike Mt. Moosilauke. The hike up was shockingly easy. It was about 3,500 ft up over 3.7 miles and we were able to reach the summit in just about two hours. When we initially reached the summit it was foggy and not much past the summit could be seen, but within about thirty minutes it cleared up and the view was simply breathtaking. I wanted to stay up there all day. I think I would’ve too, but I knew how difficult and treacherous the descent would be, so I figured I had better get started. The first two miles down weren’t bad. It was steep, but nothing worse than the ascent. Then with 1.3 miles to the bottom the trail met up with a stream and followed it the whole way down. I don’t think I breathed for the entire 1.3 miles. Every step was cautious and a risk. One wrong step would either send you slipping down the jagged rocks or the rushing water that became a waterfall every hundred feet or so. I have never seen that steep of a descent. Thank God it wasn’t raining! It took almost as long for me to go down that 1.3 miles as it did to climb the other side of the mountain. Finally I reached the bottom and remembered how to breathe. It wasn’t until I got to the bottom that I was able to say, “that was fun. Let’s do it again!”. The original plan was to hike on another eight miles that day, but I was still feeling a bit under the weather and felt no need to push it more, so Law and Yaegermeister went into town with me and we found a hostel.
This week I am missing old friends, but thankful for the new ones who have entered my life. I’m excited to see what the rest of the Whites bring and what stories I’ll gather with this new group. And hopefully I can finally get rid of whatever illness has been knocking me down for more than a week.
Happy trails!
Love,
Hollywood

http://www.gofundme.com/st984k

janinemaxwell.blogspot.com

WEEK 13: LEAVING FEAR BEHIND

It has been an eventful week.  I started it off by doing a 26.7 mile day to make myself feel a little better for taking days off last week.  All was well, and I was on schedule to finish before dark, when suddenly I saw dark rain clouds above me.  Not a big deal.  I walk in the rain all the time.  I looked at my watch, saw it was 6:40, looked at the map, saw I had 3.6 miles left, and started cruising up a 1,100 foot climb.  Just as I started up, a huge lightening bolt struck the tree right above me.  I almost peed my pants.  I tightened my load lifter straps and started running.  As I closed in on the top of the mountain, the trees started thinning and I was exposed to open sky.  Lucking I had gotten slightly ahead of the storm by this point, but there was still lightening and thunder crashing right behind me.  The running continued.  By 7:30 I had reached the shelter and took cover just before it started pouring.  I think this is the first time I can say that I literally outran a storm.

To my surprise, I had reception at the shelter, so I quickly checked my fundraising page before hitting the hay.  I just started incoherently screaming when I saw it.  Not only had I crossed my halfway point, but I had gotten my two biggest donations to date.  I hoped no one had been trying to sleep, because they definitely weren’t anymore.  This means so much more to me than how many miles I’ve walked.  All of the excitement led me to telling anyone within ears reach about the amazing things happening at Heart For Africa and the sweet babies who are going to get a fair chance at life and will be loved every single day because of the donations we’ve been able to raise.  A Southbounder, whom I had just met, overheard my story and gave me the only $3.00 in his wallet to donate to the cause.  People are beautiful!  Thank you to everyone who is helping me to reach my goal of $1.00 for every mile walked.  We are getting close!

A few days later, I was doing another fairly big day through some tough terrain.  With no more than six miles left for the day, it started to downpour.  I don’t mind hiking in the rain that much, but it was a bummer to know I’d have to hike in wet socks until I got a chance to wash them.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 10.17.16 PMRight when I got to the town, I was hoping to find somewhere to set up my tent. I heard party music and assumed it was some high schoolers throwing a party.  As I walked by the house, I saw about a dozen people playing ping pong in the garage and drinking something fun out of red solo cups.  I said hi, followed by “you guys look like you’re having too much fun”, when they waved me over and told me to join the party.  Who am I to object?  Within minutes of arriving they gave me a cider, had me take a shot with them, and were offering me food.  I picked the right party to crash!  It turns out this was the annual back to school bash the principal of one of the local schools threw for the teachers.  I want to go to this school!  They know how to have a good time.  We took many more shots, played some polish horseshoes (I’m no good), watched some intense ping pong and ate lots of yummy food.  Then just about everyone had to go home to let their babysitters go.  It was a little embarrassing that the elementary aged children were able to stay up later than me.  The family let me take a shower, washed my dirty clothes, and set up the pull-out couch.

In the morning, they made me a big breakfast of bacon and eggs and I was able to hang out with their sweet children a little bit.  I couldn’t help but see myself in their daughter.  She’s got a big spirit and will go on to do great things.  Who knows, maybe she’ll hike the trail one day.  After breakfast I packed up, we took some pictures, then we went our separate ways.  I hope to keep in contact with them.  It was the best trail magic ever! (Yes, they told me to say that, but it’s true).

Later that day, I walked down what’s known as Trail Magic Street.  A street just before the New Hampshire border where residents leave coolers full of sodas, cookies, and other treats for the hikers.  I crossed into New Hampshire and immediately arrived on the Dartmouth campus.  They know how to treat hikers right!  The local pizza place gave me a free slice and the gelato store gave me a free latte’ just for being a thru-hiker.  Also, the campus gym let me borrow a frisbee to practice my skills with some other hikers.

Unfortunately, I must have caught some sort of bug because later that night I started feeling sick and have yet to recover.  I get so bummed when I have to take zero days, but I have to realize that my health comes first and that it’s better to deal with this now than in the middle of the Whites.

Speaking of the Whites.  Almost immediately after leaving Hanover I will reach the White Mountains, which are pretty much universally known as the most difficult section of the trail.  They have literally been built up by just about everyone I talked to since my first day on the trail.  I’ve spent the last three months completely intimidated by them.  However, in the past week I’ve tried to change my mindset.  I know I’m going to get through them.  After all, quitting is not an option, so why fear them?  I am strong, capable, and can do anything I set my mind to.  It reminds me of voice lessons in college.  When I’d tense up and psyche myself out for a big note, it would come out strained and lead to pain and exhaustion in my throat, but when I’d relax, take a big breath, and approach it with ease, the note would come out sounding ten times better.  I’d feel good and would only then actually be able to have fun with it.  That’s my goal for this week.

See ya on the other side of the Whites!

Love,

Hollywood

JanineMaxwell.blogspot.com

http://www.gofundme.com/st984k

WEEK 12: BACK TO NATURE

Sorry it took me so long to get this blog post out to you.  I’ve been really struggling to find phone reception and internet connection since I entered Vermont.  I wonder if it will continue to be like this as I get to some of the more remote locations in the northernmost states.

Anyway, I did what I said.  This week I flew solo for my first time on the trail…and I loved it!  I experienced so many new things.

First off, to celebrate my halfway point, I hiked up to Mt. Greylock (the highest point in Massachusetts) at sunset.  I got up there, snapped a picture, and within five minutes the sun had fallen below the horizon.  You’re not supposed to camp up there, but I met up with Dexter and Lost Boy for the night and we stealth camped right by the top.  When I arrived at their campsite they had already made a fire and had celebratory halfway point hot dogs roasting.  It was a fun night of telling stories and enjoying each others company.

The next morning I hiked a quick six miles down the mountain to meet up with my friends at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.  They treated me like a princess!  First Lindsey gave me shampoo and conditioner and let me use her hot shower.  Then she let me borrow her pretty blue dress while we washed my clothes.  Meanwhile, Brad arranged for me to get my own private room to sleep, complete with clean sheets and towels.  Then Alan and Lindsey snuck me into the cafeteria several times to make sure I ate enough to satisfy my hiker hunger.  In the time that I was there, I saw Jake, Lindsey, and Alan perform, saw some of Brad’s lighting design, and the beautiful props Dalyn had been working on.  Man, I have talented friends!

To make my visit even better, I briefly played with Brad’s sweet, sweet puppy.  I miss playing with dogs so much.  After the first night, somehow Alan and some of the other acting apprentices convinced me to stay another day.  While I somewhat regret losing a day of hiking, it was great to hang out with my friends a little more.  I don’t know when I’ll get to see them next.  That day I was able to spend some good bonding time with Jake, used Alan’s car to get groceries, and best of all, Lindsey let me lay on her bed for two hours and watch anything I wanted on Netflix.  This may seem insignificant, but it was such a treat to just feel clean, normal, and completely lazy.  That night, there was a huge party I was hoping to attend, but it didn’t start until after 12:30.  My usual bedtime on the trail is 9:00pm, so I fell asleep before the party even started.  Jake let me crash in his room while he partied the night away.  Around 2:30am I randomly woke up in complete confusion to find myself not in a tent.  Once I figured out where I was, I checked Facebook briefly.  My dear friend Emily (from Shakespeare and Company camp) had sent me a message, which immediately brought me to tears.  She agreed to let me share it with you.  I hope it impacts you as much as it impacted me.

One of my favorite days of life ever was the day I got to go outside after one month in the same air controlled room at Mass General. I didn’t know I’d be allowed that day and after my second blood test (one at 3am and the next at 7am) a nurse told me to “go before they changed their minds”, which could have been in reference to my cells or the doctors, hah.

I had to take the elevator with an escort and go through the main Mass General lobby and then I’d get to the door to a courtyard where a lot of people sat on the grass and people had lunch. All the nurses said it was a pretty area in the center of the hospital. So I padded through the center of Mass General in my slippers, hospital socks, and pajamas, with my hair falling out in patches, an enormous teal mask to block any kind of germs from the hospital over my face (which they said I could take off when I got outside–apparently only people are germy) and with a PICC line (a bunch of tubes running through my brachial artery and hanging on my arm) danglin’ in the breeze. Again, I had also not been outside in a month, had enormous amounts of blood taken every day, and was getting arsenic and a billion other drugs and chemotherapies in me. I looked…good. People stepped aside, people getting xrays of their ankles and pregnant women going to get checkups and old people waiting for their taxi to arrive were all in the lobby and I must have looked like I was making a break for it.

I remember pushing the door to go outside and having to put my entire weight on it–I had no energy and my muscles felt like marshmallows. The first thing that hit me was heat, which I hadn’t felt in so, so long. It was mid July and it was so humid in Boston, and I hadn’t felt anything but controlled, chilled air and the crazy fevers and insane hot flashes I’d been having, much less the damp air outside. I have never, ever liked humidity, but this air felt like someone holding your hand.

When I stepped into the sunshine I immediately teared up and had the most Lifetime movie moment with my face to the sun, looking so ridiculously hospitaly in my full glory. I couldn’t even face the sun because my skin felt so thin and my eyes were burning after a bit. My doctors had said that I would burn really quickly in the sun because of the chemo so I sat down but it felt like I was waking up. It was probably 75 something degrees out which is kind of chilly for Boston in July, and I had to wrap several stiff hospital blankets around me and took my slippers off.

When I put my toes in the grass it all kind of hit me again–I felt a little bit human again. There was soft, beautiful grass in between my toes and it was so freaking green I couldn’t get over it. I felt like I’d been on a desert island, and I’d only been inside for a month. It was brief and an eternity based on what it cut out of my life. I realized I wasn’t immune in my basic needs–I’d been holed up with a crazy change in my life and somehow been expected to deal with it every day and yet never be left alone and deal with cold handed doctors who didn’t make eye contact. Having felt so disconnected from my body, my self, and the world around me left me thinking that I could hopefully now sense when I felt a part of it again. I wriggled my toes a lot.

I wanted to tell you this because it reminded me so much of that day at S&Co when Dennis asked us to walk outside and to find patterns in nature–and in that way see how we too were part of nature. In the everyday flow of life it is so corny, but when you really look, and “listen with all your senses” (thanks Melissa I believe?) it can be really beautiful and calming. I still think about my toes in the grass in the thick of things, and how confusing and weird and sad and strange life can be, and how simple and complex the sunshine and the grass can be to us and our minds.

I hope you see yourself in the leaves and the light dear Kimber! You can do anything. heart emoticon

That was the exact emotion I needed.  This week I’ve been focusing on appreciating my blessings and seeing myself in the leaves.  Here’s to another 25 mile day tomorrow.

Love,

Hollywood

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