Traveling up Mount Washington

I spent almost every summer of my childhood in New Hampshire. I can see now how fortunate I was to be either near Lake Winnipesaukee or Dan Hole Pond for much of the summer, rather than in the heat and humidity of Wilmington, Delaware. My father was a schoolteacher and had the summers off to work at Camp DeWitt, which gave my family the opportunity to sail, hike, canoe or swim for endless hours. Mount Washington sits proudly at 6,288 feet in the Presidential Range (various mountains are named after presidents) of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I remember it was always a great landmark, much like the Empire State Building is in Manhattan. I would gauge where I was in relation to Mount Washington. Until a few weeks ago, I had never been on top of that mythical mountain.

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Myself on top of Mount Washington and all those rocks!

If you spend most of your childhood summering in New Hampshire, you would figure I had been to the top of that mountain at least once. The issue is getting to the top of the mountain with the time and money you have allotted to spend.

Here are the various ways up Mount Washington:

Hiking

My boyfriend Roy hiked up Mount Washington on Labor Day weekend while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. When thru-hiking, one must either put up a tent in an authorized spot, like Madison Hut or stay in a hut operated by the AMC, which can cost upwards of $120 (but includes a bunk, dinner and breakfast). One can hike up from the town of Gorham along Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which is 7.9 miles long, up 4,000 feet and is indicated as “strenuous” in all hiking guides. It is referred to as the “rock pile” and takes 8 or more hours to hike. Then, once on top of the mountain (if you manage getting there), you must descend the mountain. Hiking the mountain is only recommended for experienced hikers. Mount Washington has had 137 fatalities since 1849 and it also has some of the most dangerous weather on record. Having supported Roy on his thru-hike, I can tell you that the wind speed, weather and wind gusts varied greatly from hour to hour and elevation to elevation. It has the highest wind velocity ever recorded at any surface weather station at 231 miles an hour. Based on all these stats and my current level of hiking skill, I chose not to hike up Mount Washington. I am in awe of those, like Roy, who have accomplished such a feat.

Railway

Before Roy left on his thru-hike, I imagined meeting up with him, hiking up Mount Washington, and taking the Cog Railway back down. I imagined it. Once the reality of how strenuousness the hike would be set in over the months leading up, I realized what a technical hike it would be scrambling over rocks where every footstep could result in a twisted ankle. The Mount Washington Cog Railway opened in 1868 and travels up to the top of the mountain via cogs, not rails.

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Cog Railway on top of Mount Washington

It’s three hours round trip and is remarkable because the engine is in the back of the train as it pushes the single car (with the aid of cogs) to the top of the mountain. The Appalachian Trail goes over the rack and pinion railway as it meanders through the White Mountains. It is the second steepest rack railway in the world with an average grade of 25% and a maximum of 37.5% (!!!). I ended up not taking the railway but it’s still on my bucket list.

Auto Tour

The road to the top of Mount Washington has been open since 1861. It is a 7.6 miles toll road that has always been privately owned and the road climbs 4,618 feet. When I picked up Roy as he ended his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I wanted to take the opportunity to go up Mount Washington while I was in New Hampshire. I figured I would drive up the road but, luckily, Roy suggested getting a van tour up the road. The vans that drive up and down the auto road offer rides to thru-hikers, and Roy had taken one of the rides a week or so earlier. He said that the tour was informative and interesting; that if we drove our own car, we would miss some interesting facts. Was I glad we took the tour! It was interesting but as my dad would say, “there was some hairy driving” on the way up the mountain.

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Roy next to the Appalachian Trail and one of the many cairns.

It is scenic and we had a beautiful cloudless day. This only happens about 40 days out of the year on Mount Washington. But hairpin turns above the tree line? Absolutely terrifying. I was squirming as we passed descending cars on the outside lane as the driver pointed out the sights and I prayed with each gesture that he would leave both hands on the wheel. The only ride I can think of that was more terrifying was a bus ride driving up to Machu Picchu. The view at the top? Tremendous. We were so fortunate that we went up on a cloudless day. There were the cairns to mark the Appalachian Trail, the cafeteria and museum to see the back packers and other tourists who took the far easier way to the top. If you have a choice and suffer any acrophobia, be sure to take the van instead of driving yourself.

I’m pretty sure that at least one of my brothers have submitted Mount Washington but I called my mom to confirm if I had been to the top of the mountain before. It was interesting because as I reflected with my mom, “Paying to drive to the top of a mountain is not a very Noice thing to do”. There is a reason my parents scrimped and saved and, therefore did not spend money to drive up a mountain, it was to send my brother and me to Ivy League schools. Odds are, it was my first time on top of that mountain. And the views from the top confirm that belief as I know I would have remembered those rock covered mountains and deep forbidding notches.

Leaving the Trail

My boyfriend Roy has been thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail since March. He came off the trail September 3rd after hiking 1,439.4 miles of the 2192 miles of the trail. His right knee wasn’t cooperating anymore. It was becoming dangerous to descend the mountain. He was concerned he was doing permanent damage to his knee; perhaps irreparable damage. It was an anguishing decision that thru-hikers make every day. So the mental debate becomes: “If I continue, what damage am I causing to myself and those that love and support me? If I don’t continue, what damage am I causing myself and those that love and support me?” He made that decision and I support it completely.

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Roy standing on McAfee Knob in Virginia

This is what I have learned from my experience helping support a thru-hiker:

Let go of control

As much as I would like to think I can control the temperature, wind and weather that occurred over and around Roy, I had none. You may find this not surprising. I, on the other hand, found it very surprising. I honestly thought that if I prayed, wished and gnashed my teeth enough, that the wind speed on Mount Washington could drop to 30 mile an hour gusts instead of 65 mile an hour gusts. It didn’t. I wished and prayed for that thundercloud to avoid Mahoosuc Notch (the hardest mile on the entire trail) on the one day Roy was there to no avail. I had to let go of control. I could not control anything on the trail. Not Roy’s knees, not the rain, not the temperature, not the rocks, not a thing. The illusion of control is what was causing me the anguish. I have very little control in this world except for my own thoughts about control. Once I let go of the thought of control, things are much simpler.

Embrace the unknown

I met up with Roy about every three weeks while he was on the trail. In preparing for him to go on the trail, I was under the delusion that I would be able to know exactly where he would be four weeks in advance. This is crazy in retrospect. I don’t even know my precise location four weeks from today. I may assume I will be in my home but I’m not completely sure. Roy? He could average 5 miles a day or 7 miles a day or 10 miles a day or 15 miles a day. He averaged all those rates depending on the terrain and weather. As you can imagine, this means upwards of a 200-mile difference in locations. We could end up meeting in Virginia instead of Tennessee. Sometimes the hotel I had reserved weeks in advance was over an hour’s drive from where I met Roy on the trail. Sometimes I found him in the pouring rain and the GPS wasn’t working. Once the GPS wanted to take me up a gravel fire road instead of Skyline Drive which took me an hour out of my way. There were trail towns I thought I would definitely see this summer like Damascus Virginia and Harper’s Ferry which I didn’t. I ended up in places I never thought I would experience like Rangeley, Maine. These last six months have taught me to be more flexible and to accept the unknown.

Be here now

Every time that Roy was able to call, text, or meet up with me were golden moments. I have a new appreciation for technology and the fact that Roy could call me in the middle of the Wildcat mountains to tell me how he was. There was no rhyme or reason why he could or could not get in touch with me. He might be at the bottom of a valley, the top of a mountain, or trudging up the side of a boulder-strewn mountain. I learned to appreciate the moments we had were able to be in touch regardless of the time or place. If we were in a motel in New Hampshire or a hotel in Georgia, it didn’t matter the quality or location of the place, what mattered was that moment. We could be eating at Taco Bell or in a local a diner or driving 45 minutes to a grocery store for a resupply. Take each moment as it comes, regardless of where or when it is. Appreciate the moment, right now.

Hike your own hike

This hike was Roy’s hike. He had to do it his way. My “hike” is my hike. I have to do it my way. We’ve talked a lot recently about what hikes he would do, now that he is done with the AT. I’ve realized that I love to hike to the top of a mountain. I don’t care if I hike back down, or sleep in a tent. I just want to get to the top of a mountain. I’m nervous about carrying 30 pounds on my back, when all I really want is the sense of accomplishment and view from the top. I’m not saying I’ll never backpack again; I just know that what I really want is getting to the top of a mountain. In comparison, the Appalachian Trail skirts quite a few mountain tops.  Many of them are a blue blaze (alternate trial) away. It might be .2 miles or 1.5 miles, but the AT does not go over every mountain top. I think about that in life. Am I headed to the top of the mountain? Am I looking for a view from the top? We are all just hiking our own hike. Perhaps I need to look for the blue blaze to get to where I want to go.

I am so proud of Roy and all that he accomplished this year. Many of the hikers he met were in their early twenties and practically running down the trail. Many were section hikers and only doing a day or two on the trail. He met folks from overseas, retired military, engineers, students, boy scouts, triple crowners, stoners, dropouts, and reborn Christians. They are all out there on the trail making their own way; hiking their own hike. I’m so glad I got to experience this journey with him and most grateful that he is safely home. I can’t wait for the next adventure.

5 Ways to Stop Worrying So Much

Do you want to procrastinate? Do you like to procrastinate? Do you want to come to a complete stop? Start worrying. Worry about the what ifs. Dwell on all the things that could happen? Might happen? Should happen? It sucks the life out of you. Quit awfulizing.

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I had a client recently gnashing her teeth because her child was going overseas for a month. Her biggest issue was the not knowing. How would they communicate? What is Skype? Where would he be living? So my question was: “How is all this worrying working for you?” Well, it’s not. It’s paralyzing, sleep-depriving…a waste. Worrying or not worrying will not change the outcome.

I’m not saying I don’t understand. I have two twenty-something children who have been more than an hours drive away for the last three years (one 11 hours south and one on the west coast). I have a boyfriend thru hiking the Appalachian Trail with countless obstacles including weather and car size boulders. They are making their own decisions, their own plans and their own mistakes. My worrying or lack of worrying won’t change the outcome. But at least I sleep. This has not always been my M.O. (modus operandi). It’s taken me years to back off the Ledge of Worry.

How to get to worry free in five not-so-easy steps:

1. Decide.  You need to simply get on board or not. If you really enjoy thinking of endless ways how your child, your parent or your spouse could be in a car accident. If this is your fuel, then join the fretters club. But if you’re ready to do the mental dump and start living in the moment, then you need to make the commitment. This can’t work unless you do.

2. Optimism.  You will need to be optimistic. This will be difficult for the glass-half-empty-people out there. What if everything is going to be better than expected? Maybe the plane is getting in early. Maybe your team will go to the NCAA finals. Maybe the boss’s office door is shut because they are working on your raise. Everything is possible including the windfall, the referral and the next project. Expect the best.

3. Turn it off.  The news, that is. I was recently at a hotel in Maine and my boyfriend Roy had the evening news on. OMG. Shootings. Drownings. Murder. Car accidents. My blood pressure went up. My mind starts wandering down horrible trails. What if that was my kid, friend, or coworker? Nothing good can come from the news. 98% is sensationalized and depressing. I’ve taken a clue from my daughter. She gets caught in rain storms without an umbrella or in freezing temperatures with flip flops on. She doesn’t watch the news or the weather. She takes is as it comes. Why ruin the surprise?

4. Moment.  As in, Ya Gotta Live in the Moment. This is the most difficult. There is always a certain amount of reflection and planning in life. We just need to stop dwelling on embarrassments, back stabbing and finger pointing. We need to quit anticipating the worst outcome. So your friend has cancer. Worrying for them is not going to help them. Praying for them can. Assuming they will be cured is a much more positive approach. Being with them in the moment is a gift.

5. Alert.  Pay attention to your thoughts. No one else will. You need to be vigilant. Pessimism has a way of seeping into our heads. When you get caught in your fourth red light in a row, chill out. It’s going to be fine. Sometimes, I fantasize that if I didn’t get caught at the red light, I would have been some place three minutes earlier and caused a car accident. This was meant to be. Just make sure you’re staying in charge of those fretting thoughts. You are your own sheriff. Clean out the riff raff.

So the next time your spouse/partner is late, imagine that they’re picking up your favorite coffee or scoring tickets to your favorite theater. It will send out positive energy and you will sleep so much better.

What would you do?

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper

I recently read an article by James Clear where he referenced a statement often heard in grade school. He referred to the admonishment to not cheat. Clear pointed out the deeper message, “It doesn’t make a difference what the person next to you writes down for his answer. This is your race to run. It’s your assignment to complete. It’s your answer to create. How your paper compares to someone else’s is not the point. The point is to fill the paper with your work.” It’s the same as Hike Your Own Hike or Sticking to Your Path, your work, art, trip, journey, life is your own masterpiece, project, destination and adventure.

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The rebels in the classroom (ahem, like myself) would, once admonished, give a side glance to the room to see who had their head up with their eyes off their paper, or squirmed in their seats or dozed off in the back. I was also gathering information on how confident everyone looked as they took the test or quiz. Scanning the room is nothing but a comparison, which is the thief of joy. Whether or not someone is succeeding on the test, or whether they do it quickly or confidently, has nothing to do with my work. My test. My art.

Here’s how to keep your eyes on your own paper:

Clean slate

As Clear wrote, “No matter what you spend your days doing, every morning you wake up and have a blank piece of paper to work with. You get to put your name at the top and fill it with your work.” The possibilities are endless. There is something magnificent about a clean slate. It’s like starting a new recipe and dicing the onions, sautéing them in the pan, moving forward with possibility. I can keep the onions raw, translucent or caramelized brown. It’s all up to me. I am the chef. I have the paint brush and I can make any stroke with any color I have. There is such power in possibility. And we get a new clean slate each morning and I have absolutely no idea what my neighbor is doing with their slate. It’s your clean slate. Use it for your art.

Don’t judge

As Clear wrote while he reflected on his own writing: “I thought this was a good article. Why don’t people seem to enjoy it? Or, I’ll feel like I wrote something average only to see it become the most popular post of the month. Regardless of the outcome, I’ve realized one thing: we are often terrible judges of our own work.” I can relate. I wrote a post on my father’s time in Korea a few weeks back. I thought it was a great post and yet it had barely 100 views. I wrote a post on Earnest Shackleton’s leadership style back in 2014 and it’s been viewed over 6,000 times. There is no telling who will like it or who won’t. We are terrible judges of our own work. I can remember leaving tests, finals or quizzes from elementary school through grad school and I was rarely good at determining how well I did on the test. Stay away from judging yourself – odds are you really don’t know anyway.

Ship it

In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, he says: “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.” I have to say that especially during test taking, I was without fail the first to leave the exam. If it was five students or two hundred, I was almost always the first to leave. I didn’t go back and double check or perhaps it’s my penchant for the $hitty first draft. I write, I create, I leave my art and ship. Put the pencil down and move on. Perfection is constricting. As Godin says, “Ship it.”

There is one you

Martha Graham was consoling Agnes de Mille about the randomness of success: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” There is only one of you. Don’t let your art be lost. Keep going. Produce no matter what product, what art, what music. You are here for your unique ability to produce your unique product.

There is joy in being present with the process. Don’t focus on the end product. Or the end product of your neighbor or the runner next to you or the hiker in the next tent. It’s the journey, not the destination. Make your own art, whatever that may be, and be there in the process with your eyes on your own paper.

Overcoming Either-Or Thinking

I’ve been reading How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith. It’s a thought-provoking book and there have been several “habits” that the authors point out that I completely identify with and many that I shared with other executive women I know. “Suzy, we totally fall into this trap!” Like the habit number one which is Reluctance to Claim Your Achievements. I run around thinking someone will notice all the self-initiatives I’ve taken on and the successful outcomes that have been achieved, while my male counterpart boasts about his achievements. This is trap number one of either-or. I think you are either humble or boastful. There is no in between. But rationally, in the light of day, I know there is an in between. There are those folks out there, both men and women, who point out their success with confidence and don’t come across as boastful. It’s because of my either-or thinking that I keep my mouth shut about my accomplishments. I don’t want to be a braggart, so I go the other direction and keep it small, if I mention it at all.

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In my career in Human Resources, I’ve seen a lot of either-or thinking. It’s black or it’s white. It’s right or it’s wrong. My immediate impulse on many different challenges has been either-or. One person breaks the rule? Either send an email to everyone admonishing the whole group or keep silent and hope it stops. The team doesn’t like my proposal? Either shut up and never speak up again, or keep speaking up until I am heard ad nauseum. The blowhard is going off on a crazy tangent again? Either roll your eyes and stay clear, or confront the guy and lose face in front of everyone. The pendulum swing is full of absolutes. There is no gray. No middle. No both. For me, it’s stress inducing and sleep-depriving.

Here are some ideas on how to stay clear of either-or thinking:

Continuum

Most things are on a continuum. I think of comparison reports I use with Everything DiSC Workplace Assessments. This report will show how two different co-workers compare on a particular behavior. Like Joe may be careful and John may be daring. If Joe and John are working on a project, they are likely to butt heads. It’s important to be clear that we are all on a continuum. It’s important to hear the other out. If John tends towards being daring, he may assume his idea is best. He’ll need to bite his tongue and hear Joe out. Joe might need to speak up and not be overtaken by John’s daring. Most of all, it’s important not to shut each other down with the either-or thinking. Instead, acknowledge that they are on opposite ends of the continuum, but both have valid points of view.

Viking or Victim

This is a concept from Brene Brown. “Either you are a Victim in life –a sucker or a loser who’s always being taken advantage of or can’t hold their own –or you’re a Viking –someone who sees the threat of being victimized as a constant, so you stay in control, you dominate, you exert your power over things, and you never show vulnerability.” So, either you are a door mat or you are stomping everyone else down. Neither sounds like fun to me but I frequently take either end of that spectrum. The secret as prescribed by Brene is to be vulnerable. It’s a scary word to use in the business world. It’s falling on the sword if you make a mistake and let folks involved know you failed but not let them walk across you for every transgression. There is a middle ground with vulnerability. Speak your truth but don’t overstep and take on every failing as your own. Be careful not to take up the sword against someone else’s expression of vulnerability as well. There is an equilibrium in between. Admit your failings while making sure you acknowledge someone else’s vulnerability.

The Story

Check in on the story you are telling yourself. I can get caught up in the story of being rejected. Pushed away. I start thinking that every little slight or oversight is due to my being inferior. I didn’t get invited to the party. I haven’t heard from a friend in a long time. My boyfriend hasn’t texted in two days. I can create a story about all of it, making me out as the victim. I become small. Ugly. Insignificant. It is all just fiction. Perhaps my name change prompted my removal from the guest list. Perhaps my friend lost my contact information. Perhaps there is no cell coverage in the mountains of southern Maine. I am constantly telling myself stories.  I need to make sure I am the fact checker on the story or find a friend or coach to tell my story to. Try starting off with “The story I’m making up is…” Sometimes I wonder what the movie would be if the thoughts that go through my head were made into a movie. I can imagine that the audience would think, well this is pointless and it repeats itself over and over and over again. What is the story you are telling yourself?

Yes, and.

These are the magic words of improv. Life is nothing but improv isn’t it? Either-or thinking would end any improv. Using the words “Yes, and” expands it. There is no end if you use “Yes, and–” Either-or is limiting. “Yes, and–” is limitless. Yes, my project was denied and I’m working on something even better. Yes, my husband left me and the next chapter of my life is going to be magical. Yes, I lost the client and the next client is going to be even more fascinating. Keep the momentum going instead of coming to an unexpected halt with either-or thinking. Yes, and.

Perhaps the whole either-or thinking is based on perfection. There is no gray. It’s all black or white. Right or wrong. The main thing is that it is all a thought process and you are able to break out of that thought process. The default of binary thinking is just that – a default. Start focusing on the gray, the middle, the story, the “Yes, and.” Break out of the either-or trap. What either-or thinking do you get trapped in?

Musings on Maine

The Maine of my childhood was a “Once a Summer Jaunt” to Ogunquit with my family. It is a beach community on the cold north Atlantic. I can remember my father toting a shovel and digging four-foot holes in the sand to bury me or my brothers up to our necks in the gravel-like sand. That’s about the extent of my memories. My parents met on a sailboat in Maine. The rest was unknown until recently.

I’ve been to Maine twice in the last month or so as my boyfriend, Roy, has been hiking the Appalachian Trail. At this point he is heading southbound from Mount Katahdin. I dropped him off in Millinocket in July and met up with him again in Rangeley. After two trips to Maine, I figured if you aren’t a Mainer, or even if you are, you might want to know some of the things I noticed.

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Things I noticed in Maine:

Porcupines

It’s true I never saw a live porcupine during my travels but I saw several roadkill. Porcupines have always seemed more like an imaginary creature, similar to a unicorn or a “pesky squirrel” in the movie Bambi. In researching porcupines, I now know that North America has the New World variety, which can live their entire lives in trees. Since they are nocturnal as well, it makes sense that I never saw a living one in my travels. They are apparently vegetarians and eat the bark of trees. Maine is loaded with trees and its nick name is the Pine Tree state. I never knew that Maine was a great habitat for porcupines but apparently it is.

Baby Moose Crossings

Roy and I stayed in Carrabassett Valley at the Sugarloaf Ski resort. They have a sign as you drive into the resort for baby moose crossings. I have never seen a sign for baby moose crossing. Where in the world are you going to see a baby moose crossing sign. Maybe Canada? Montana? To see a sign like that sparks anticipation and wonder. Maybe it’s my lucky day? Maybe I’ll see a baby moose?  68594829_2829580670404533_5219311946783784960_nThey wouldn’t put a sign up unless it was possible. I didn’t see a moose, let alone a baby moose but what fun to imagine I would. Roy ended up seeing an adult moose on the trail although it moved on quickly which is exciting. I guess I’ll live vicariously through him.

Snowmobile Country

Outside of going to school in Ithaca, New York, which is known for its “Lake Effect” snow, I have never lived in an area that has to make provisions for snowmobiles. In Millinocket and, later, Rangeley, all had signs for snowmobile crossings, snowmobile repair and snowmobile parking. It feels almost like the wild west with its alternative modes of transportation of horses with stables and posts for tying the reigns. I can’t imagine owning a snowmobile and using it as transportation. It’s really hard to imagine it in 85-degree heat and most buildings not having central air conditioning. I imagine how these remote forests turn into a wonderland of snow-covered paths and the snowmobile being an essential form of transportation. It’s a great alternative to snowshoes.

Swinging Mailboxes

As Roy and I drove through the backroads of Maine (and anything west of I-95 is a backroad), we started noticing the crazy-looking mailboxes along the side of the road. Many mailboxes were hung from a long metal arm with sometimes several feet of chain link. They were suspended far above the road. There were many mailboxes that were surrounded on all sides with reflectors. Of course, I had to look into the “swinging mailbox” thing and figure out what was up. Apparently, in Maine, you are responsible for your own mailbox and if a snow plow happens to hit your mailbox, you need to replace it. If there is no mailbox to deliver your mail to? You have to hike in or snowmobile (see above) to the post office because the post office won’t deliver your mail without a mailbox. Quite the catch 22. So, there are all kinds of mailboxes that are suspended 44 inches above the road to avoid menacing but crucial snow plows. I think this is fascinating how the local folks have adapted to their surroundings.

High Hit Area

When Roy and I first drove along I-95 up to Bangor and then on to the far northern reaches of Maine (Millinocket is north of Montreal), we started seeing signage for “Caution: High Hit Area” with a picture of a deer on it. The signs are red and orange and catch your attention. After reading up on it, these signs are displayed temporarily during the Spring and Summer months as deer head out of the forest looking for fresh green grass along the road side.  68394077_246821372867885_8152510138750599168_nThe sign would frequently say how long the hit area extended, sometimes up to 17 miles. So as I was driving, I was hyper-vigilant looking for deer and I would start to lose track at how long it had been since I saw the sign. Pretty soon, I was always hyper-vigilant, especially at dusk. In retrospect, I never saw a single deer or moose or elk while in Maine, but I have seen deer in my own neighborhood in North Carolina.

Whoopie Pies

This is probably a New England thing. This whole post is probably a New England thing. Whoopie pies are at almost every grocery store and restaurant. They are enormous. Roy and I ended up buying one on a lark to see what the Whoopie Pie thing was all about. The Whoopie Pie was the size of a Whopper. We ended up splitting it between the two of us and I’m pretty sure I wanted to unhinge my jaw while trying to take a bite. It was delicious. Moist chocolate cake with a peanut butter-flavored cream filling in between. Their origins are with the Pennsylvania Dutch, so I’m not sure why it’s so big in Maine, but if you want to try a Whoopie Pie, you can definitely find them in Maine.

As we drove around Maine, I kept thinking, I could totally live here with all this pristine wilderness and remote uninhabited lakes. This is off the grid. Most businesses are in old barns or farmhouses. There is nary a modern building in Western Maine. Finding a McDonalds or Walmart can be an hour’s drive away. It is remote with thousands of miles of forest, rugged mountains and barren lake banks. It’s mostly untouched by man. I have to believe that the winters are miserable and harsh for this place to be so untouched. Perhaps I will come back in the winter to find out.

My Father’s Pivot Point: Korea 1947

My late father went in the Army on February 20, 1946 at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and then onto basic training at Camp Crower in Missouri. World War II had ended with the Japanese surrendering on September 2, 1945 and the Korean War didn’t start until June 25, 1950. This means that when my father ended up in Korea in 1947, he was there during a tumultuous time. The Japanese were gone, and the United States military were there as military oversight. My father at the age of 22 was in a foreign land, that spoke a foreign language during uncertain times.

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In 1947, my father was about halfway through his bachelor’s degree. He had two semesters at Colby College and one summer semester at the University of Minnesota.

From my father’s personal history:

I volunteered for duty overseas. Signing up in the regular army to be sure I got out in 18 months, I awaited assignment to culture laden Europe where most GI’s went. What a shock when I was shipped to Fort Stoneman in California on the Sacramento River, near San Francisco. I was shipped out as a radio repairman to Korea – I didn’t even get stationed in Japan!

So, there was my father on his way across the Pacific on a life defining journey:

Authority

From my father’s personal history:

With hundreds of men confined to foc’siles in bunks stacked 5 high, the trip across the Pacific became a nightmare when a 3-day storm made most troops seasick. Not allowed on deck for air, the mess halls had no one to man them, latrines were stopped up by vomit and the stench become overwhelming as men threw up and relieved themselves in their bunks. I was OK till someone 4 bunks above vomited on me—then I heaved too. During all this, officers kicked us out of their way to get by and I learned to hate arbitrary authority—military law could put us behind bars if we hit back.

This scene is horrendous. The disarray. The lack of humanity. The impact on my father was a life led with levelheaded fairness. In the multitude of comments from his past students from his 30 plus years of teaching history was that he was fair. Grades were earned. Rules around discipline were clear on the first day of his class. He was never one to abuse authority and he used it judiciously.

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Respect

As my father wrote:

We rode a train down the Peninsula to Ch’ongju, a mountainous area between Seoul and Pusan. We broke up wooden seats and started fires in the passageway – to prevent frostbite from bitter winds whistling through broken out windows. Seeing young Korean boys with a single shirt, shorts and rubber shoes without socks staring at us from railroad stops along the way, left me incredulous. I, near a fire, with heavy army boots, two sets of socks, a hat and helmet liner, was damn near freezing to death, so how in hell could those kids survive?!? I hoped we’d never have to fight such people. Though we had better weapons it was clear their survivability and toughness were far superior to ours.

When my father ever spoke about his life challenges, he never brought this experience up. When he spoke of life not being fair, his experience in Korea did come up. He never forgot the cold and those kids. Even though his experience was one small step above those kids, his respect for them was immense.

Curiosity

My father wrote:

One day, befriending our houseboy with a pack of matches, he took me far back into the mountains to visit his grandfather’s village. Kids and most adults had never seen an American before. Sitting in his grandfather’s hut amidst male villagers, I saw women peeking from another room for their first wide-eyed stare at a real man from the West. Politely declining pipes of opium, I passed around chicklets and showed photos of my family in response – pointed to a worn newspaper blowup of N.Y.C. skyscrapers on their wall and telling them through my houseboy interpreter I had lived near there. They laughed, shaking their heads, insisting it was just artistic imagination and that there was no such city like that.

My father was not a news reporter, he wasn’t working on behalf of the army, he did this all on his own. He ventured out to find out what was out “there”. I find this to be amazing. For the price of a pack of matches, he sought out a new perspective. In the many condolences I received from his past students, the over arching theme is that he made history come alive. He marched around classrooms with a pointer as a rifle and made the students feel like they were there. This curiosity. This wanderlust. I don’t believe it started in Korea but it certainly opened the door.

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Shift       

My father always famously said that he went to Korea a liberal and came back a conservative. As he wrote:

My 7 months’ allowed me to contrast our America with poorer lands in a way unobtainable from books, converting me from a liberal critic of our way of life to a defender of American society thereafter. The poverty imposed upon Koreans by 50 years of Japanese conquest was grim. Men and women squatted and defecated anywhere outdoors even in the river they got their cooking and drinking water from. A pungent stench of human excrement overpowered us wherever we went, reminding GI’s of missing sanitation, a lack of paved roads, bridges, safe drinking water, electricity and unheated houses in sub-zero weather. I pondered how Koreans could be happy in a land stripped of forests for fuel, widespread malnutrition, open body sores, universal disease and general mistreatment by local police and authorities.

It also shifted his trajectory of his career and future studies. He sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge with the Army and decided to finish his interrupted Sophomore year at Berkeley. He studied Intro to Government, Foreign Policies and U. S. History (he proudly received two B’s and an A). This lit the fuse to his 34-year career teaching and demonstrating history.

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This piece was prompted by finding the pictures attached from my father’s photos.  I am fortunate that he left behind his legacy in written and photographic form. But isn’t that his way. The great historian leaving his thoughts and personal evidence for me to have a better understanding of this great pivot point of his life. I asked him in his last few months if he had any regrets. The only one was not getting a PhD. The rest is all a life full of adventure, stories told and sharing his experiences. His students and his children are the fortunate and enriched receivers. We got to live it with him.

You Can’t Push a Rope

This has been my mantra for the last few years. My son insists on texting instead of calling. “Whelp, you can’t push a rope.” My coworker rarely makes a deadline. “Yep, you can’t push a rope.” You want your friend to sober up. “Hmmm. You can’t push a rope.” Pushing is frustrating. It’s trying to force reality. It’s trying to change someone or a reality that is not within your control. I do it all the time. I tell someone how great I feel since becoming sober. Or how my asthma and inflammation has receded since going sugar-free. I send reminders about the deadline to my team only to have the same culprit miss the deadline AGAIN. All this pushing is exhausting. I cannot force my will on anyone. I am only responsible for myself.

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I read a post from Seth Godin this morning in which he wrote, “People don’t change (unless they want to). Humans are unique in their ability to willingly change. We can change our attitude, our appearance and our skillset. But only when we want to. The hard part, then, isn’t the changing it. It’s the wanting to.” And it’s not my personal wanting to change my child or coworker or ex that works. It’s their own personal decision. It’s their wanting. Not yours. Not mine. The only way to push is if they ask you to help them.

Here’s how to give up pushing the rope:

Relinquish control          

For the longest time, especially as a parent, I thought I had control. Like I was the puppet master. If I wanted my daughter to be a great volleyball player, or my son to attend my alma mater, I could make it happen. I could push and dictate and shove my wishes upon my children. I could impose my will. I can take the same stance with projects and deadlines I disagree with and lose sleep over not having the ability to reroute the course toward my way of thinking. I think that’s why I even started saying, “You can’t push a rope.” I was essentially acknowledging that I didn’t have control. I relinquish. I let go of the struggle of trying to rewrite the outcome. I think of the Carrie Underwood song, “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” Let what happens happen, let go of the rope and relinquish control.

Patience

I have always admired my father’s ability to be patient. I frankly try to channel his energy when I want something (out of my control) to change. I want an answer from the attorney, I want this fight behind me, I want the project to be done, I want everyone to turn in their work on time. I want. I want. I want. When I channel my father’s patience, I get calm. I slow down. I step out of the whirlwind of desire and wants. It’s uncomfortable but peaceful. Time will unfold and what is supposed to happen will happen. Perhaps someone else will pick up the rope when it’s time to pull instead.

Provide support

If I’ve learned anything from being sober, it’s to share my experience and let it lie. The teacher in me wanted to preach and dictate. “This is how you should do it.” I’ve learned that it’s better to start off by asking for permission: “Do you want some advice?” or “Do you want to know my experience?” If you just give out advice, neuroscience shows that it shuts your listener’s brain down. Think about that when you are trying to educate your child on the dangers of drugs or who they should be dating. By giving advice or dictating what they should or should not being doing, you are shutting down their brain. They won’t hear you. If your advice is asked for or permitted, start off with: “My experience with drugs, alcohol, dating, overdue projects, parenting, graduate school, cooking, marathons, dog ownership, divorce, home repairs, debt, finding a job, a difficult boss, waiting tables, owning a restaurant, riding a bike, driving a car, etc. is…” Provide support but ask for permission and tell your story. Try not and tell someone what will happen if they start drinking again or don’t pay off their credit cards or don’t take a job in plastics. We aren’t clairvoyant. Speak from your experience the last time you pushed a rope.

Actively listen

I have found in coaching that reflection on your own thoughts is one of the most powerful tools of coaching. Knowing that someone isn’t trying to sway, influence or manipulate you helps you feel safe and reflect on what you really want. This happens through active listening. If I’m trying to push a rope, I’m wrapped up in my own agenda. When I am actively listening, I am making a safe space for someone to reflect. I’m also not tied to the outcome or the agenda (see Relinquish Control). Perhaps your child, parent or coworker will ask you to pull the rope with them. It’s up to them. Listen to what they need and then decide what to do with the rope.

I think about the months and years that led up to my marriage falling apart. As I look back, I was pushing that rope so hard, I was tripping over it. I had no control over my husband and never did. What I realized in just a few weeks after the collapse was that I could control my own path, one step at a time. I let go of the rope and, after anguish, time and self-reflection, it’s never been better. Leave the rope behind.

The Story I’m Telling Myself

We are all storytellers, especially to ourselves. We fill our heads with distorted facts and assumptions that can create long-term impact to ourselves and our relationships with others. Brene Brown has been a pioneer in this. She talks about a situation with her husband as she swam in a lake in the hill country of Texas. She has told this story in her book, Daring Greatly and in her recent Netflix special. I was derailed recently by a decision a close relative made. I was talking to my coach friend, Sandy, about it and she said, “Did you see Brene on Netflix?” I said, “Yeah.” Sandy said, “What was your big takeaway?” I didn’t remember. Sandy said, “What is the story you are telling yourself?” The story I was telling myself was that this recent decision was made deliberately to alienate me from the relative. But once I held it up to the light, I realized that this simply wasn’t true. Once I spoke the story, it magically evaporated.

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I hear this a lot when I coach folks. “My son doesn’t pick up his room, making me do the work.” “My coworker isn’t timely with the report because they don’t respect my time.” “My spouse is laughing with that woman because he’s attracted to her and wants to have an affair.” The story we tell ourselves is almost always detrimental to our self-esteem. Our story telling is demeaning and makes moving forward difficult.

Here are some ideas on how to stop the damage of storytelling:

It’s an illusion

The first thing to realize is that it’s all just one big illusion. Odds are you aren’t telepathic. Most of us aren’t. It’s amazing how often we all attribute motives to folks outside ourselves. “They aren’t returning my calls because they dislike me.” “He didn’t compliment me on my new blouse because he hates it.” “She offered to drive because she doesn’t like the way I drive.” I do this constantly. I make up judgements from other people that have NO basis in fact. At. All. It’s just like a movie when the main character dies. It’s just a movie. No one really died. The same goes for my story in my head. It’s just made up scenery to make the plot seem more sensational. The story you are telling yourself is nothing but an illusion.

Bring it out into the light

As a child, did you think there were monsters under your bed or in your closet? I did. I used to see hundreds of monsters and ghosts in the shadows of my bedroom. Once I turned the light switch on? They were all gone. Shine a light on the shadow that is making the monster. Bring it out into the light. Say the story out loud to a trusted friend or coach. If there is no one available, speak it. Say as Brene does, “The story I’m making up is…” I like that she says “making up” instead of “telling” because it’s so much more obvious that it’s not true. It’s a figment of your imagination. Speak it into the light.

Stand in their shoes

When I am emotionally triggered, I have completely left my prefrontal cortex and have lost any ability to reason. When triggered, it is really hard for me to try and understand where someone else is coming from. I lack empathy. All I see is an offensive attack and I am devoid of understanding. When I can take some time to let the emotions rest and not be triggered, I think about all the possible reasons someone might be seeming to attack me. My son’s room isn’t clean? Homework has piled up and there’s a new love interest in his life. My spouse talking to another woman? She’s his closest friend at work and supported him on a difficult issue at the Project Planning meeting. Client isn’t returning my calls? They are on vacation or are under a tight deadline at work. When I do “Third Entity” (from CRR Global), I physically have the client stand in the virtual place of the person they have a conflict with. Standing in the other person’s place can help clear up assumptions. Try standing in their shoes.

Hold up a mirror

We all bring our own baggage to any situation. Our own biases, cultural and family norms. Toilet seat up or down. Bedroom doors open or closed. “God Bless” or “Bless you” or “Gesundheit.” A lot of our thinking is on auto pilot based on the last ten, twenty, thirty years of our life. You might think someone is rude if they don’t return a phone call in one hour, one day or one week. Personally, I’d rather someone text or email, rather than leave a voice mail. We all walk around with our own parameters. So what assumptions are you bringing to the situation? Those assumptions are working into your storytelling. It’s all made up.

It’s all about holding your thoughts under a microscope and picking it apart. If you’re like me, you’ve been holding on tightly to assumptions and norms for years that probably need to be let go. It’s so easy to hold on tightly to these assumptions and cause long term damage with the ruminations that take place. Perception and storytelling are not reality. Let it go.

Supporting an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker

My boyfriend, Roy, started thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) on March 19th, 2019. The 2192-mile trail meanders from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. If this is the first time you are reading about thru-hiking the AT then you, most likely, figure it might take a month or two to accomplish that task. Perhaps you could measure the time it takes to complete the trail in a matter of weeks. If that’s what you think, you’d be terribly surprised to know most people take anywhere from 4 to 7 months to complete the task. In addition, they don’t hike for a week and then take a week off. They don’t go from hotel to hotel or cabin to cabin each night or order take out to their camp site. Most hikers are like Roy, they hike every day for 8 to 10 hours for 7 to 10 days straight and then take a zero or nero day in a small random hiker town you have likely never heard of. They then hitch back to the trail and continue on their journey. It is a grind. Day in, day out. They don’t stop for rain, or snow, or black bears, or rattlesnakes. They just keep hiking. The history of the Trail demands it.

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I have been supporting Roy on this auspicious endeavor for the last four months. It is not what I expected. At all. There have been many surprises along the way.

Here is what I learned from supporting Roy on the trail:

Educate

Roy starting planning for his hike in the Spring of 2018. He started mowing his lawn with a 50 pound back pack on. He trained and ran in a triathlon. He researched stoves, shoes, tents, and trekking poles. He watched hundreds of YouTubes from other AT thru-hikers. He sent them to me. We spent weekends watching thru-hiker YouTube accounts from people named Darwin, Dixie, Big Foot and Handstand. I read three books on thru-hiking. I needed to know the lingo. The difference between a nero and a zero or the difference between stealth and shelter camping. We hiked a minuscule part of the AT near Franklin, NC and camped out overnight with no electricity, plumbing or mattress. That experience helped me understand in a very small way what Roy was going to be dealing with day in and day out for six to seven months. Educating myself was critical to be the best support I could be.

Supplies

The biggest surprise for me was the amount of supplies that I keep in boxes for when I rendezvous with Roy. I currently have four cardboard boxes in a closet in my home that I packed up in my trunk, starting every time I saw him south of Pennsylvania and onwards. There are slippers, flip flops, long pants, shirts, caps, jackets, razors, nail clippers, band aids, socks, duct tape, trekking poles, mail, prescriptions, trail runners, gloves, bandanas, zip lock bags, garbage bags, books, and various other sundry items. Some he uses, some he doesn’t. It all depends. I am the traveling store. He went through three different raincoats in the first two months on the trail. When you wear a jacket every day on the trail, they have different uses and must have a particular zipper or pull string or particular length; that’s the importance. Imagine wearing the same thing. I mean the VERY same pair of shorts, shirt, underwear and jacket for weeks on end. It better be right. And if it’s not right, you better find a better one. I had no idea how critical the supplies were to being on the trail.

 

Rendezvous

When Roy was south of the Mason-Dixon line, I would try to meet up with him every three or so weeks. GPS tracking is not great along the trail and only Google maps has been able to show me precisely where the trail crosses a particular road in Virginia so that I can park and wait for Roy to show up. It’s sort of like Apollo 11 with the lunar module and the main capsule trying to rendezvous. You know, a wing and a prayer but so far, we have done well; sometimes with no cell coverage or in the midst of pouring rain. Once we meet up, we inevitably need to stop and get Roy some kind of food. It might be a drive thru Taco Bell or some random diner, but most of the one to two days is watching Roy eat. And eat. And eat. The rest of our time together is Roy taking a shower, and then a bath, and then a shower. His stuff is usually exploded within the hotel room and all the dirt and rain from the trail is draped over furniture and shower stalls. Next up is heading to a coin operated laundry and drinking bottomless coffee. It helps if it’s free from the hotel lobby. The one thing Roy does NOT want to do is walk or hike…anywhere. This is understandable; any walking has a different meaning and would not be forwarding his progress on the AT. Eventually, after sleeping, watching TV, resupply shopping and eating, we head back to the trail and he soldiers on.

Emotional Support

Roy recently started heading southbound on the trail from Mount Katahdin in Maine. When we drove up from Pennsylvania, it became clear that Maine was a whole other matter. Millinocket Maine is very remote. So remote that they don’t even have a Walmart. So remote that many roads in the area are gravel. In the Southern Appalachians, I was used to Roy being able to call me or text me at least once a day. The greatest length of time that he wasn’t connected was about 48 hours. In Maine? It was over 4 days before I heard from Roy. This was an eternity. I needed to know he was OK as much as he needed to tell me how hard hiking in Maine is. There have been many times that all he wanted to do was hear my voice. I felt the same way. Someone out there cares where I am and how I’m doing. Just being reassured that he isn’t lost or injured is so gratifying. I need to hear from him as much as he needs to hear from me. We provide each other emotional support.

This has been a fascinating journey. I am traveling to towns that I would never have visited had it not been for this thru-hike. It’s opened my eyes to a micro culture that is AT thru-hikers where weather, shoes, food and cell coverage are the priority and nothing much else matters. It’s a small hyper focused world and is devoid of all the distractions of everyday life. Most of all I am surprised that I am envious of his adventure although I know I could not endure the challenge.