Monday, October 15, 2012

The Courage of Discourse

I got a handwritten letter today. The letter came from someone I’ve never met. Carol lives in the nearby town of Marshall.  While I’m not sure how she got my address, I’m glad she wrote.

She wrote me this letter, explaining some of her decisions to vote democratic and for Obama in the upcoming election.

A letter from Carol Dixon
Before I opened the letter I considered it. I wondered if this hand written envelope enclosed a letter from someone espousing political views. Before I even opened the letter I thought about the fact that we do need to be using our voices, our pens, and the tools of communication to share our opinions with our neighbors.  We don’t have to agree, but we should feel empowered to discuss our ideas, even if those ideas are different from those of “our” established political party lines. This is the power of democracy that I feel is commonly overshadowed by media pundits, the commentary of editorial talk-show hosts, and the pervasive and simplistic arguments of “We’re right. They’re wrong.”

Not knowing what the letter would be before I opened it I decided that no matter the position presented, I would reply with a letter that acknowledges her feelings and opinions, and thanking her for writing to start the dialogue.

Thankfully, I opened the letter to find it expressed her personal opinions. Based on her life and family experience she intends to vote a straight democratic ticket.

What I didn’t find was a finger pointing at me with “you should” or “what you don’t know…” that I feel has slid into political discourse. That kind of dialogue devalues the listener. It supposes you are incapable of a decision. It supposes that you’ve given no thought or consideration to your experience and what you witness in your life. We all have opinions, experiences, and feelings. If we tune in to what’s inside us instead of repeating arguments or ideologies conveyed by the media, we’d be much closer to the democracy we claim to be part of as Americans.

I love that she wrote to start a conversation among her neighbors. I love that she wrote for what she believes in, based on her experience, to members of this county that are largely republican, and I love that she spent her hard earned money on the paper, envelopes, and stamps to send this mail to people.

I deeply respect that she has opened herself up to the dialogue with her neighbors, those who agree, and those who disagree. It may produce mail that is filled with vile and bitter tones, rather than a calm response of personal opinion in opposition that makes up a true discussion. Regardless, she has knowingly opened the door to this discourse, and I admire her courage.

I talk politics sometimes, but I generally do it in the company of close friends or relatives. I don’t generally use Facebook or Twitter for sharing my political opinions because I believe its purpose is to connect people, not divide them (and our current political structure is very divisive). But Carol’s letter reminds me that as long as what I present is my opinion, my feelings, based on my experiences, it’s a fine idea to talk politics, because this type of discourse is the cornerstone of our nation.

Perhaps, I’ve taken to heart the expression to not talk about religion, politics and money (or is it sex) in mixed company, to garner a more peaceable existence. Then again, if I do that am I short-changing what it means to live in a democratic society?

What do you think? Do you talk politics with your neighbors? Why? Why not? 

(I seek a civilized conversation. All comments are welcome as long as they are thoughtful arguments rather than combative assaults on a difference of opinion.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Interview with PCT Thru-Hiker Anne Tully

Anne is a 2008 Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who said she’d never hike another long trail after completing the A.T. Two weeks later, she thought she might want to hike the A.T. again, but then didn’t give it much more thought. 

Four years later the urge to hike another long trail hit her hard. She started planning for the PCT at the end of 2011, and she and I met in March 2012 to talk about the similarities and differences of her experience on the A.T. and what she could expect on the PCT.

We talked again last Saturday, and I asked her about her experiences on the PCT and insights she gained on her 2012 PCT thru-hike.

When did you start at the Mexican border and when did you get to the end in Canada?
I started on April 20 and on September 4 I had made it to the border. I left through Manning Park on September 5.
Anne's trail name is Stride.
 I was talking to my aunt the other day, and realized, all of that is 2,700 miles.

What are your overall impressions of the PCT?
It’s interesting for me because I hiked a lot of it as a solo hiker. That’s a totally different experience than my A.T. hike where I had people with me. I walked at least 1/3 of the PCT alone and spent nights by myself. Northern California was the longest stretch where I was by myself.

When I look back at pictures I am taken back by how absolutely beautiful it was on the PCT. Moments I stopped in my tracks and was just literally in awe, but it didn’t make up for the fact that the trail was hard. When I talked to people before my hike, people told me I wouldn’t experience the physical pain of the trail because of the beauty. People romanticize the trail, in particular, the high Sierras. In fact, I think the Sierras were more difficult for me mentally; I became resentful because it was beautiful but it wasn’t enough to take the pain away.

At one point I was talking to [trail legend] Billy Goat, and he gave me the lesson I took away, to “take the trail for yourself.” Don’t allow other people to formulate your experience based on their experience.

There is stunning scenery, but you have to go in with the blank slate, without expectation, because it will likely be more difficult. If you go in with a romanticized vision you could be disappointed.

What was the best part of the hike?
Goat Rocks wilderness in Washington State is for sure a section that has stuck with me. When we went through the weather was perfect, the wildflowers, the lupine, were in full bloom. One fella I met had lived in the area for 57 years said he’d never seen the lupine in full bloom like that, ever. We had beauty of wild flowers everywhere and jagged rocks. You could see Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams you just finished walking around. Then, BAM!, Mt. Rainier. It was spectacular. There was lots of ridge walking there, and I liked that. 

In Oregon I liked the Three Sisters and Mt. Jefferson, and in California, Muir Pass was my favorite. I was blown away. It was one of the first times I felt truly stunned with what I was able to experience and live in.

What was the hardest part of the hike?
After I left Ashland Oregon alone, I was by myself for next three and a half days. Physically I was so tired. I had been doing 30-mile days in northern California. There were hikers ahead of me and hikers behind me. I couldn’t go any faster than the 30, 32, and 35-mile days I was doing in Oregon. I couldn’t slow down for people behind me to catch up because I was on a deadline to finish so I could return to work on time. I was by myself, feeling mental weariness. I was just struggling to stay in the game. I was hard on myself too. I just wanted to quit.

When I got to Crater Lake I really wanted to stop, and ask some tourist to take me away.

It was a time of growth, because I realized that I didn’t have a guarantee to finish the trail. It doesn’t matter how tough you think you are.

What kept you motivated to continue?
When I got to Crater Lake, I got food, and picked up my mail, but my maps weren’t there. That was almost the straw that broke camel’s back.

At the same time, I got mail from friend of mine that had letters of encouragement from other people. I sat outside and read all the letters. I was truly humbled that people would write me letters, and words of encouragement. There were letters from people I didn’t know. Those letters were awesome.

After that I had to go to the hiker box at the store. While I was there I talked to this girl, Jenna, and told her I was having a hard time. She and I talked for 5 or 10 minutes while I finished packing my food. She came back 20 minutes later with words of encouragement, energy bars, and invited me to her campsite for dinner. I ended up spending the night at her campsite.

It’s those kinds of interpersonal relationships with people, either in letters, or dinner with Jenna that kept me going. It was a rich experience to share life with people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. It was a beautiful experience that just connected for me, and gave me a morale boost.

What advice would you offer someone planning or starting a PCT thru-hike?
Try to touch base with as many people as you can who have hiked the trail to learn about their experience, but recognize that the weather is so variable. I talked to you, and you had a lot of snow. I didn’t have much snow but I had a ton of wind. A ton of wind. It was scary.

Be flexible in your mind. Maintain inquisitiveness the whole way. Ask people you meet along the way questions. I learned that people on the trail are very creative with their gear.

Lastly, be aware that there’s an obsession with ultra light hiking gear on the PCT. I probably, realistically, had forty people say, “wow, your pack looks heavy.” Even into Washington where I had walked 2,400 miles, they were still amazed. Ultra light isn’t for everybody.

I had a man challenge me about my tent, then lecture me about the number of ounces over 3 pounds. Ounces aren’t going to make or break my hike for me. That’s not important to me, but it was really important to him.

I encourage people to research it, learn from people, keep some perspective, and be confident in what you decide works for you. Be ready to pop off sassy comments; because people don’t get off the ultra light soapbox, I had to have my own.

The Northern California blues actually happened. It took me three months and week to walk California, two weeks for Oregon, and three weeks for Washington.

What did you do to prepare for the trail?
I felt really overwhelmed. I had a back injury the year I decided to do this. I had a strong conviction about hiking, so I took a slow, patient approach to physical activity until my back healed up. I did some running, and I did three day-hikes up to Wesser and back with food in my pack. I didn’t do much training.

From my Appalachian Trail experience I knew that if you are slow from the beginning, the trail will kick your tail into gear as it needs to be. Nothing prepares you for the trail except the trail. If I took it slow and mindful in the beginning my body would acclimate.

It takes realizing that the first couple of weeks does feel like work and is hard.

I had to be sensitive to the transition from normal life to trail life by understanding that I may feel overwhelmed at moments, because of the east coast to west coast culture change, by going alone, walking through the desert, and the elevation of the Sierras.

I had to start by learning about the first part of the trail, and then take the rest of it as it comes after that.

It’s cool when it moves from a feeling of working, to a feeling of a lifestyle. Eventually at some point you wake up robotically, pack up and start moving. You embrace it and enjoy it.

The same thing happened on the Appalachian Trail, where I felt like I can do this forever.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Name change

I just changed the name of the blog from "Shadow of the Moon" to Leanna Joyner.

May's Super Moon viewed from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Shadow of the Moon referenced my trail name "Moonshadow" that has been my alter-identity on long-distance trails, the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, and in trail circles for nearly ten years.

Maybe one day I'll write about how I got my trail name, how it stuck, and my general thoughts on trail names as part of the hiking subculture, but for now, suffice to say that this blog is an outward expression of myself in this world, as so it will be named.

There's another reason, too. When I started this blog I wasn't sure what my presence would be online. I was wary of identity theft, unsure of my posting frequency, or if anyone but friends and family would read it. I'm moving beyond the anonymity I one sought here to claim the voice and opinions that I share.

Thanks for sticking with me along this journey. I'm having a lot of fun with it so far and hope to bring you much, much more.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Be, Don't Do

Sometimes the things I need most seem counter-intuitive to what I think I need to do.

See, pressure around here has been mounting. I've been adding more projects to my plate, and they're all things I really enjoy doing. I've been giving presentations, writing for various publications, attending trainings, and organizing Joyus Groove classes. I've been settling in to a relationship with Marcus that's feeling good and solid and true; albeit, just like any relationship, it requires time, attention, and nurturing.

Meanwhile, he's been finishing his patio and putting finishing touches on his tiny house. For a while we were really stressed, spiraling in a place of new busy-ness as we simultaneously juggled our own worries and responsibilities.

It's in those times, with activities seemingly closing in around me like a tight corset, making it hard to breath, when it's hardest to find the latch and step outside. 

The singular salve that makes everything better, hiking. It's just there...outside the door, with a map, a bottle of water, an apple, a jacket, my headlamp (in case it turns dark), and my boots.

Marcus and I finally did just that on Sunday, barely speaking to one another for listening to the wisdom of the experience, Mother Nature, and our quieting minds.

When I get filled up with what I think I need to do, hiking helps me remember how to be who I am, and that, for me, is its greatest lesson.  

We drove to Camp Creek Bald and hiked to Firescald Knob along the Appalachian Trail. I think we'll return again this Saturday to hike a loop from the river up to the ridge, exploring more of Shelton Laurel, an area I've talked a lot about in my presentations lately.