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

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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

http://www.gofundme.com/st984k

janinemaxwell.blogspot.com

WEEK 11: WHY AM I HERE?

This has been a tough week.  Nothing really in particular has gone wrong and I haven’t had some sudden change of heart, but it has been the first time on the trail that I’ve had the thought of actually wanting to go home.  I hate to admit that.

I wish that my posts every week could be filled with positivity and life changing events, and there is some of that.  But, I also want to be honest about the hard times.

We started this week by going into NYC for the second time.  We had slept literally ten feet from the train tracks the night before and had been kept up all night by loud steam engines whizzing right past our heads.  We groggily took the train in the morning into the city, but quickly realized that nowhere would let us in with our hiking packs.  This led us to running around all day from museum to museum like chickens with our heads cut off, only to be told that we couldn’t enter.

The highlight of the trip was the night when we went to dinner with several of my theatre friends from college and Shakespeare and Company.  It was great to see all of them.  It really rejuvenated my spirit.  I told them stories from the trail and they told me about all of the exciting projects they are working on.  I wish I had more time to spend with each of them.  As my acting professor, Dr. Pender, would say, spending time with them “feeds my soul”.  Their hearts are so open and honest and I find I’m able to have vulnerable conversations with them in ways that I often struggle to have with most of the hikers.  The next day my friend let us leave our packs at her place so we were able to get to The Museum of Natural History and the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.  I quite enjoyed both!

Overall, NYC was an exciting and soul feeding trip, but the combination of lack of sleep, limited funds, navigation problems and the general stimulation over-load of the big city led to high tensions on our return trip.  I had several meltdowns while hiking that day.  I started to think about how nice it would be to take a shower, sleep in a real bed, and use a flushing toilet when suddenly these thoughts had consumed me.  I wanted to get away.  I didn’t sleep well that night or the night after.  Like I said earlier, I wanted to go home.

The only problem is that I am an unbelievably stubborn person and refuse to ever give up on anything, so I had to find a solution.  It took a couple days of walking, and thinking, and walking while thinking, but I eventually figured it out. On the trail, we often say the phrase, “hike your own hike”.  I’ve been hiking with a group since my first day on the trail and have been so focused on the needs of the group that I hadn’t really been hiking my own hike.  I came out here to find my own strength and test my limits, but have had a security blanket around me the entire time.  Don’t get me wrong, it was great to have that, but now I’m ready to take it off.  My goal this week is to put me first.  I’m going to stop at waterfalls when I feel like it and camp near a view if that’s what I need to do.

Last night I got to the Berkshires in Massachusetts and went to see Henry V at Shakespeare and Company (where I trained a couple summers ago).  Next to this adventure, training at Shakespeare and Company is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.  The whole time I was at the show I was thinking how good it felt to be home.  I miss that place so much and I know I’ll be saying the same about the Appalachian Trail in a few months.

This week I will hit my halfway point, which brings up a lot of emothions.  I don’t know what the second half will hold, but I can’t wait to find out.  And I will find out!  I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to find out here, but for now my goal is to be selfish and do what makes me happy.  I’m ready to hike my own hike!

Love,

Hollywood

http://www.gofundme.com/st984k

janinemaxwell.blogspot.com