Posted By drsao on November 1, 2015
My name is Shirley Albertson Owens and I am 71 years old. I am an avid quilter and often pack up a wagon (similar to a backpack, but on wheels) complete with sewing machine and materials to camp out at quilt retreats (ok – to be truthful, no tents or campfires have been involved, but I have slept in a trailer!) I do KNOW how to pack a week’s worth of supplies into one wagon and one case!
I admit that I am directionally challenged, but I am very good at navigating with a GPS. I have found my way (all alone) from the suburbs of Midlothian, Virginia to the beach at Corolla, North Carolina for Quilt Camp every year since 2009. Shown below is the BIG YELLOW TENT that 14 of us have successfully camped out in for many years! The years when I haven’t had a broken foot, I have enjoyed long hikes along the beach.
A REVIEW OF MY REAL BACKPACKING EXPERIENCE THUS FAR
I HAVE backpacked for a week, once in Havasupai Falls, Grand Canyon National Park, in 1986 (that was almost 30 years ago, but I remember it being a “piece of cake” except the part where my husband only packed 1/2 roll of toilet paper for BOTH of us to share. Did I mention that we were tent camping for an entire week – with 1/2 roll of toilet paper?) Seriously the rugged and rocky hike is considered to be moderately difficult and it involved steep switchbacks for at least 1 ½ miles of the almost 20 + miles one way. I remember that we hiked a total of 40 miles. We had to carry our tent and all of our food and water to last a week. Since my husband is a literal zombie without coffee, we also had to carry all of the equipment necessary to brew his life-line! So, I have SOME backpacking experience!
WHAT SPARKS LEAD ME TO ANSWER THE QUESTION “TO HIKE OR NOT TO HIKE?”
I belong to a book club. A small group of us in Midlothian, Virginia meet once a month to discuss a book that each of us takes turns selecting. We are supposed to read “WILD” by Cheryl Strayed in January, 2016; but since I am an avid reader, I found myself halfway finished with the book by the end of October, 2015. After reading only a few chapters of “WILD,” the idea of backpacking – in the wild – started a little spark in my psyche! Actually this was SPARK 2. SPARK 1 happened after I saw Cheryl Strayed being interviewed on television a few weeks ago! It was with Oprah that I heard Cheryl say that she had walked from the Mojave Desert to Oregon (the Pacific Crest Trail – PCT) with very little prior experience or preparation. She found the experience to be life-changing and empowering. Cheryl said that she walked herself to a point of healing and forgiveness. It all happened while she was on the PCT!
Then SPARK 3 happened while I was having my morning coffee and connecting with my Facebook friends! I read about GRANDMA GATEWOOD on Facebook. Emma Gatewood had 23 grandchildren when she hiked the Appalachian trail the first time! WOW! As far as I know she has now done it 3 times and the third time she was 75. REALLY!!!! I read (with great interest) that she hiked the trail in Keds sneakers and carried an army blanket and a raincoat (I think that I recall that she also had a shower curtain that she used as a bag.) HEY, I have running shoes, a quilt and a raincoat……..DING DING DING – my SPARK 3 turned into a SPARKLE. Maybe I could do this! Maybe I really could do this!
TO HIKE THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL OR NOT, THAT IS THE QUESTION
I mentioned on FACEBOOK (only halfway serious at this point) that maybe I should hike the Appalachian Trail (since Emma Gatewood had!) and asked whether or not there might be any of my friends who might volunteer to join me. Right away Michelle Martin (a friend and a colleague from our days of teaching at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California) expressed an interest. And get this, she had read Cheryl Strayed’s book, had already purchased a tent, and seemed to be sincerely interested.
SPARK 4 – I just might have a hiking buddy. I asked myself the question, “With two PhD’s on the trail, two mature middle-aged women who had survived motherhood, divorce, writing dissertations, and negotiating university politics (among other life happenings,) what could go wrong?” I should really clarify that only one of us is a middle aged woman and one of us is beyond middle aged, but I will refrain from referring to myself as old! So for now, theoretically and loosely speaking, we are two middle-aged women! Furthermore, Michelle not only has a tent, but one that we could stand up in! She sent a picture to me on Facebook.
Hiking the Appalachian trail
ANALYZING WHY I CHOSE TO HIKE THE TRAIL (BECAUSE I AM A RESEARCH PSYCHOLOGIST AND I NEED TO ANALYZE THINGS)
I am going to put HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL on my BUCKET LIST. Once it is on my list, I cannot get it off unless I cross it off as FINISHED! So, I need to make sure that I am SERIOUS! I need to remind myself, why again do I think that I can hike the trail?
First, I was “newly” inspired by my recent experience with my brother and sister-in-law in Kauai. Connecting with my OUTDOORSY ADVENTUROUS SELF led me to recently cross zip lining off my BUCKET LIST! If I could zip line, and if Emma Gatewood could hike the PCT at age 75, then why couldn’t I do such a hike? I started to imagine myself blowing a big yellow whistle to scare away bears and mountain lion on the trail. I had a new, exhilarating, wonderful, and strange sense of power and excitement.
September 2015 Zip lining in Kauai with Dan and Glenda Albertson
Second, I thought that walking the trail might lift my spirits. I had been feeling a bit sad at times as I watched my husband (15 years my senior) being progressively less able to be a full participant in all of the travel and concert-like activities that we once shared. Slowly, over the past 10 years, I had become more and more of a caregiver than a partner. That is really OK, but it was sad to watch a chapter in my life end. It is sad to watch someone decline.
Third, while I have always tended to maintain silly, humorous, and positive aspects of my “self” in full swing, I have also recently felt some uncomfortable feelings related to being spiraled into a second-generation empty nest. As I watch my children grow into mid-life and my grandangels become young adults, I have been having pangs of nostalgia. I have found myself wishing for a little person to go on the Dumbo ride at Disneyland with, or a little person to laugh at my feeble attempts at humor (but it is not time yet for great-grandangels, and come to think of it, eye-rolls are somewhat enjoyable as well!)
The bottom line is that I have been feeling that I really needed to begin a new chapter in my life. Yes, that is what I needed. I NEEDED to do something in this new ME CHAPTER of my life that wasn’t linked to being a mother, grandmother, or wife. Hadn’t I also been prodding myself recently to make new goals, to learn new things, and to always have things to look forward to?
And now I might have a hiking buddy – with a tent! So, why not hike the trail! Yes, the answer to the question is that HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL is the newest and latest item on my BUCKET LIST!
FOLLOW Michelle Martin’s progress in preparing for our hike at