I love it when something moves me to tears with its simple beauty. It’s one of the things I love most about books and movies, art in general really– the ability of an artist to capture something so true and beautiful that it shoots straight through my heart. I once heard someone say that if a piece of art moves you to tears, you know there’s TRUTH in it. I get that.
A few years back, my friends and I watched a short black and white film I’d never heard of called A Christmas Memory. It stars Geraldine Page and is based on Truman Capote’s autobiographical novella, which I had also never heard of I’m ashamed to say.
It’s a gorgeous story, one of those I wish with all my heart that I had written. And by the end, I was awash in tears. There’s a line that I can quote by heart and that is, I think, maybe my favorite line in all of literature or film. (Now, that’s saying something.)
“My, how foolish I am! You know what I’ve always thought? I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when He came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are, just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”
― Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory
As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.
And thank You.
Social media is sort of killing me. I like seeing what everyone is up to, especially new babies and awesome trail runs, but the political and religious rhetoric is slowly killing my soul, and I’ve been visiting Facebook less and less. I’ve actually been visiting the computer less and less.
Which means I’ve been visiting this blog less and less. I think about it often, but I just won’t sit down to write. I write in my journal on the bedside table, but writing for public consumption? Not so much.
I started this blog about 13 years ago as a way to record my life with Harper Lee. I figured a handful of friends and family would read it. Then it grew, and five years ago, I found myself with a larger readership, a possible book deal based on the blog, and a sudden desire to become a professional writer who used the blog as a marketing tool.
And just like that, it became a chore.
I read other people’s blogs and saw that they had beautiful prose (in short bursts to accommodate a reader’s need for small bits of information that can be read quickly and without too much time invested) and quality photographs (lots of them, mostly artistic and in wild locales) and links to tons of affiliates and resources. There were also giveaways and free e-books and opportunities to connect with the author. Obviously, these were things I needed to include in my blog too. To make it more real. More professional.
What a pain in the butt.
That’s when I stopped writing regularly. Blogging became a full-time endeavor (particularly for someone whose standard mode of operation when it comes to technology is trial and error and lots of cussing).
Every time I sat down to write, I felt like it needed to be polished and edited and say something pithy and meme-worthy. And there had to be high-quality photos of every single thing mentioned or it wasn’t complete. A lot of drafts went unpublished. Or unwritten altogether.
And as far as photos? I LOVE Instagram– I love, love, love looking at other people’s photos, and I dream of having a beautiful, artistic and aesthetically pleasing collection of my own to share, but to be perfectly honest, when I’m out running on trails, I rarely have the time or inclination to stop and take a stunningly set-up photo of myself bounding gracefully down a rock-covered trail with the sun setting majestically behind me. It just doesn’t happen. While I am learning to use my phone a bit more, I am usually by myself or hanging out with my running buddies and forget about taking a picture until I’m back at the car covered in mud and sweat. Most of my pictures end up being blurry, unattractive selfies with my hair plastered to my head and my mascara running.
Besides that, I want to mention the books I’m reading or cool things I’ve seen and done, but I felt obligated to put an Amazon link to every book I’ve read despite the fact that the people reading this are probably pretty smart and can look up a title at Amazon themselves if they REALLY want to read the book.
In short, blogging had become a show– like much of social media, and, frankly, my dear, I just don’t give a damn about that.
I just want to write, edit for some typos, post a moderately decent photo to mark whatever event I want to remember through my post (if I have the forethought to actually take a picture), hit publish and let those who want to see what I’m up to. And look up their own book titles if they’re interested.
My posts from now on (because I would like to continue this thing) will probably look a lot like my life in general– meandering, sometimes unfocused, candid and unpredictable. That’s just my style.
Happy 11th Birthday, Isaac!
Harper Lee created this photo collage for her brother’s birthday. He turned 11 yesterday.
I loved seeing this because when she put it all together like this, I couldn’t help but think, “Huh. They really DO love each other.”
As an only child, I often find myself asking, “Is this normal?” when they fuss and fight and practically beat each other senseless over stupid things like whose turn it is to sit in the front seat.
And Rob’s no help because he’s an only child too. It’s all sort of foreign to us.
I have always hoped and prayed that they would, ultimately and deep down, really care about and depend on one another. There are days when I have my doubts, but there are also the days when I hear a random, spontaneous, “I love you, bud” before they drift off to sleep. That’s the stuff that makes my heart swell.
When I look at these photos, I can actually see the joy and love and kinship. And I breathe a sigh of relief. They will always have each other. Even when Rob and I are gone, they will have one another. Someone who shared the same childhood, home, and memories. I know that’s not always the case, but it’s what I want for them.
I guess slap fights and whining and threats to “sell you to an old man who will put you in cage with spiders” are all part of the sibling bond. At least, I hope so.
When I ran the Rabun, Georgia Half-Marathon last month, I received a sticker with the race logo on it and the phrase “Do epic sh*t” printed at the bottom. I laughed because that race seemed to fall under the category of epic, which has become synonymous with grand or monumental adventures. Most of the time, I hear this term used to describe crazy free climbing expeditions or wild rides in a kayak down raging rivers, but I think we’ve done some pretty epic… uh, stuff this summer that didn’t necessarily involve possible death… well, not all of it.
This summer, Isaac and I decided to see how many swimming holes we could find. We began with one down behind a neighbor’s property and then moved on to the Mitchell River, Fisher River, and Widow Creek Falls. We’ve also done some pretty “epic” tubing on Lake Norman with our friends the Whalens (*pictures to follow, I hope).
Isaac and Harper Lee both love the water. Isaac once told his teacher that being in the river was his “natural habitat.” Aside from swimming every morning at the pool for swim team practice, we have spent a lot of time wading through creeks, sliding down rocks and squishing toes in silky mud. And for Isaac, the colder the water, the better. Scout has even finally eased into the whole swimming thing, which she was not particularly excited about at first.
Isaac and Henry at the top of the Knob
In addition to swimming holes, Isaac and I (along with five other crazy boys) went to Cub Scout camp at Raven Knob. This is one of my favorite activities each summer. I love Boy Scout Camp!
The lake at Camp Raven Knob– yet another swimming hole
One of our favorite spots at Fisher River. Our friend Lanie came with us that day.
Chillin’ by the river
Harper Lee’s “war paint”
Sometimes a race through swimming holes is also a good thing. One of our favorite races is The Trout Tattoo. It’s through the Yadkin River. Several times. And this year, we had a slightly different course. There were seven spots with “fish” at each spot. We each had a map with an “x” marking the location of the fish. By the end of the race, we had to have all seven different colored fish, and how we got them and what course we followed (on or off the path) to get them was irrelevant. So some people may have run 2.5 miles and some may have run 4.5. There was a bit of strategy involved. I picked a route, and with the exception of a run-in with bees that thwarted my original plan, I pretty much followed it and did really well. I felt like I spent more time in the river than on land, but it worked. Nothing like muscling through river currents while the clock is running to get your heart going.
Harper Lee has been my partner in this race for three years, and it’s her favorite. Unfortunately, she had sprained her ankle badly in a pick-up soccer game at camp two days before so she had to sit this year out. She worked as a sherpa for the race, but I know she was bummed about not running it. However, both she and Isaac are plotting strategies for Derek’s upcoming “Ice Leech” race, which is the same course, only in the fall when the water is colder. And at night. Yeah. Night. This was not on my list, but who am I to shrink from a challenge when my kids are into it? Headlamps for everyone!
Some of our adventures moved uphill from the water. Way uphill. Yesterday, I ran the Looney Boone Raccoon. It was 10-14 miles, depending on who you ask and how adventurous you were feeling. We began on the Boone Fork Trail off the Parkway and went up to Calloway Peak and Attic Window, and some folks went out to McCrae Meadows.
The six photos above are courtesy of Derek Cernak, the original rabid squirrel
And then we dropped down into something called The Chute. I know this is an unflattering butt shot, and it truly does NOT capture the intensity of the climb, but I love it anyway. This “run” was really a rock-climbing, hyperventilating, pulling myself up and over rickety ladders trail adventure.
My hair looks like Doc’s hair in “Back to the Future” but that’s because there were 40 mph gusts on top, and I’m including this because this is what doing epic stuff makes me feel like. Wild, strong and free. I highly recommend it.
At the top of each crazy, “holy crap” climb yesterday, someone would shout “Woooo!” and raise their hands above their heads. That’s how I’ve felt most of the summer. My kids always say, “A day without blood and mud is wasted.” They are quoting me. And I must say that a lot because other people’s kids often quote me too.
This summer, we’ve had a sprained ankle, a possible broken hand, bee stings, bruises, abrasions, scabs on elbows and knees, a split lip, a broken nose, and a helluva case of poison ivy. We’ve had a good summer. I’d say it’s been epic.
Adventure: (noun) an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.
A few weeks ago, I signed up for the Rabun, Georgia Trail Half Marathon on a whim. Actually, I saw the race listing and then inexplicably went back to the site five more times before finally hitting “Register.” I literally took the last spot available. It sounded pretty tough– 6,000 ft. of elevation change, the second highest peak in Georgia, gnarly single track, remote location. And that’s why I chose it, either consciously or sub-consciously.
For well over a year, I’ve had a solo camping trip on my bucket list. I’ve camped for years, and I love it, but I’ve always been with Rob or a group of friends. And while I don’t feel like they’ve “taken care of me” on those trips, I had a desire to know that I could go it alone if I needed (or wanted) to.
My first plan had been to simply pack up and spend a night or two at Stone Mountain in a familiar area but still on my own. But then I saw this race, and it was like killing two birds with one stone– an overnight trip on my own and a tough trail race.
The race director’s instructions led me to believe that while the race would be in a remote area off forest roads, there would be other runners camping along the way, and I took some comfort in that. I would be on my own but not totally. And it would be great to hang out with other runners the night before. I envisioned s’mores and fun stories around the campfire.
Because I don’t entirely trust the reliability of the bus and because it sounded like the forest roads might require a vehicle with fairly high clearance, I opted to take the Jeep. I didn’t pack a tent. I figured I’d just put the seat down in the back, blow up my backpacking air mattress and throw out my sleeping bag. Being locked in the Jeep seemed a little safer than a tent anyway.
And then I took off to the wilds of north Georgia.
The venue was surprisingly close to the NC border, which I hadn’t expected, but the asphalt quickly turned to rutted-out dirt and gravel. I drove for miles on forest roads, exploring the area, checking out the parts of the course (along with turns onto marked trails), and scoping out the camping scene.
The camping scene, as it were, was not exactly what I had been hoping for. First, where were all the other runners? These people with whom I would hang out around the campfire? I saw no one.
But I had arrived early– to get the best spot– so I remained undaunted. I chose a spot and got out to look around. Empty beer bottles and cans littered the site. A make-shift toilet (a couple of two-by-fours and a plastic toilet seat) sat at the corner of the lot. And then there was the huge pile of bear scat. And claw marks on a tree. Yep. I was out.
I drove on further and found another spot that, while far off the beaten path with tree branches across my windshield, looked promising. I got out and assessed the situation. Despite having driven quite a bit further down the road, it was directly across the creek from the other spot. Crap.
I unloaded some stuff, sat down and tried to relax. It just wasn’t happening. At first, I told myself, “You’re just letting fear get the best of you. Relax.” But I couldn’t. It just didn’t feel right. I loaded back up.
I drove back up the mountain until I had a cell signal again (yeah, there was that too) and called Rob. “I don’t see anybody else,” I said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I may drive back to town. Or not.”
“Um, OK,” he said. “Well, just follow your gut feelings.”
I went back down a different forest road. I did see a couple of other people camping, but they were definitely not runners. And time was growing short. So I drove back toward town.
I stopped at a cafe that was nearly empty and asked for directions to a campground. After warning me about the local “bear problem,” she sent me on my way to a large RV camp I’d seen on the way in. It wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for, but it would do. “There’s another little one before you get there, but I can’t remember the name of it,” she said.
I drove away and saw the sign. The name was Beaver Valley Campground. I slowed down and, following my gut, turned in the long gravel drive. There were several very neat and well-cared for RVs around a pond. A man was working outside. I asked him if I could camp for the night. He told me to pull in wherever I would like. And just like that, I had found my spot.
Before long, I was introduced to other residents. John and Deb, along with Mattie, their sweet basset hound, were the first to greet me. They invited me to supper, and Deb drove to town to pick up pizzas. I sat by the pond and watched the frogs and called Rob to tell him I had found a place for the night. When Deb returned, she called me to supper. Marcy, another resident, brought cake for dessert, and eventually Nelson and his dog, Sissy, came to sit and visit for a while on the porch. We talked until well after dark, and by the time I was ready for bed, I’d had a really good supper, interesting conversation and a new book that Deb passed on to me. (This is something she likes to do– go to used book sales and buy multiple copies of books she’s enjoyed so that she can pass them on to people she meets. I think this is one of the nicest ideas I’ve heard in a long time.)
I slept very well in my Jeep, and when the alarm went off at 5:15, I rose in the dark to make coffee and get dressed for the race. As I sat in the growing light, listening again to the frogs and critters and sipping my coffee, I was reminded that there are some really good people in the world. That’s something that is often easy to forget. We hear so much about the crazy, evil people in the world that it’s really easy to slip into thinking everyone is like that, that no one can be trusted, and while I think it pays to be aware, it’s also important to know that there are some cool people out there who are good and generous and kind. People who will share their supper with a stranger and pass on good books just because. And I think there are more of those than we think. It also reminded me that I want to be one of those people myself. In a world that often makes me want to retreat, it’s good for me to remember the importance of an open and giving heart.
So before the sun had even gotten all the way up, I drove away and headed back up the mountain and back down the forest road to the race.
The race was pretty spectacular– a little bit of forest road but mostly crazy single track, a monstrous climb, a fire tower at the top of Georgia’s second highest peak, views of three states, beautiful waterfalls, and a descent that went STRAIGHT DOWN the mountain and shredded my quads (and toenails).
I won’t lie– I was worried about whether I could even do this race. I’ve very slowly been working my way back into some semblance of racing shape, but I didn’t know if I was ready. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good the whole way. I had to stop to rest a couple of times on the downhill, but overall, I felt strong. Out of 27 women, I was 10th and the 3rd Masters for women (2nd in the 40-44 age group), so I was pretty pleased– partly because most people who show up to races like this are no slouches.
At the end of the race, I met a guy and his wife who had camped near the start the night before. He said that he had been surprised by the fact that only one other person had camped, and then he said, “It was kind of creepy down here when the sun went down.” Shoot, it was creepy before the sun went down, I thought. I had made it to exactly where I needed to be.
All in all, it was a bucket list success. It was unusual, for sure, exciting, and potentially hazardous (in more ways than one). It was an adventure.
Thanks again, John and Deb, for the kindness. It won’t be forgotten.
First peak of the night.
Two weeks ago, I ran the all-night “Kiss the Rock” trail run at Stone Mtn. It was another one of those outlaw, “we might get kicked out before we get started” races, and it was awesome. Even though I had to run in someone else’s shoes.
To call it a “race” is somewhat misleading. While Crystal was the mastermind behind this particular event, it was of the “Derek School of Racing,” which means start times are fluid, rules are made as we go along, and the main competition is with oneself—if one so chooses. It’s a mish-mash of participants (all with his or her own reasons for running). It’s all night long. On trails. With headlamps. And there’s plenty of food back at the campsite. In fact, if you want to hang out at the campsite all night and set a PR in s’mores consumption, that’s OK too. (Can we make that an official category next time, Crystal?)
I have come to love these types of races. And it’s weird because they’re sort of everything I might have hated 10 years ago. Loosey goosey rules, inexact timing, unclear determination of a “winner” at times— it would have made me absolutely crazy. Ten years ago, I was lining up to kick ass and take names. Period.
What do you mean, “You can start whenever you want to?!?”
But things have changed—as it has in many areas of my life—and frankly, I’m a lot more chilled out about stuff than I ever used to be (at least, when it comes to running). Maybe chilled out to a fault. Life circumstances, injuries, age, weight gain, and new demands on my time have all contributed to an on-again, off-again motivation when it comes to training and racing. However, I feel a new surge of energy about those two areas of my life, and I credit much of that feeling to Derek’s particular brand of racing.
It pretty much captures all the things I love most about running—being in the woods, camaraderie, positive thinking and personal goals. Who couldn’t use more of those things in his or her life?
And besides, these kinds of races always provide the best stories. Like, for instance, when you’re the first one at the camp and you hang out, reading and goofing off, for at least two hours before the race, and then you fiddle-fart around a little bit more until it’s time to line up and you realize, “Hey, I can’t find my shoes.” Yeah, like that.
Most runners have pre-race jitters and worry about forgetting things, but I’ve always said, “As long as I have my shoes, there’s nothing to worry about.” So it’s pretty much my worst race nightmare–well, that and being in a port-a-potty when the gun goes off. Or having an attack of diarrhea in the middle of a race. OK—so I have several nightmare scenarios, but leaving my shoes at home was one of them. Especially for a 12-hour trail race at night.
Now if this had been a more “official” race, I think I would have completely flipped out. I don’t know why, but I would have. Instead, I panicked only briefly and then decided that the worst thing that could happen is that I’d have to run in my Chacos and just not make my goal of 20 miles. A bummer to be sure but not the end of the world.
But then Deanne offered me her extra shoes. A pair of Brooks Cascadia that were a size too big and (no offense, Deanne) old as crap. They fit. I had plenty of room in the toe box and they felt nice and broken in. The troubling part was that I didn’t have my orthotics. And 20 miles, even if I’d trained adequately, is a long way without orthotics. Still, it was better than Chacos. I decided to start and see how far I could get before my feet rebelled.
Despite heavy rains the week before, particularly on Friday evening, Saturday night was perfect. The weather was comfortable enough for a singlet and capris all night—no need for rain gear or even arm warmers. There was little wind, and the moon was full and bright.
At one point during the night, a group of us gathered on the open granite face of Stone Mountain and turned our headlamps off. With the full moon peeking out from fast moving clouds, the light made it seem as if we were standing on the face of the moon itself. The light, almost iridescent quality of the rock pocked with dark craters. We lay on top of the mountain, completely quiet, watching the stars. Finally, someone said, “Think of all the people who will never experience this.” Yes. Think of it.
Those few words sum up what I feel about trail running and doing all the “crazy” things I do, things that make other people shake their heads and laugh. “I could never do that,” they say. And most of them won’t. But what a shame. What a shame to be here on this planet and see so little of it.
That’s why I run. And hike and camp and ride bikes. It’s so I can experience this world. One of the things that bothers me about religious rhetoric that emphasizes the idea that we are not to “focus on the things of this world” is that the world includes so much that we should focus on. God’s creation is here for us to enjoy. But far too few do.
Yes, I went into the woods that night to meet some random goals—to run 20 miles, to summit several peaks, and to push myself—but I also go to be part of this world, the real one. The one made for me. That night, I heard whippoorwills by the dozens. They are my favorite bird. They remind me of Merdie and Pap. Do you know how long it’s been since I heard one at all? Let alone dozens?
By the time the sun had come up over the mountain, I had run 20 miles, summited nine peaks, made some new friends, spent quality time with old ones, heard whippoorwills (and one other scary thing that we never did identify), had an adrenaline rush freak-out with “weird scooter guy” (another post), saw huge snails in their shells all over the trail, sat under the starry night sky surrounded by the silhouette of wind-whipped pine trees, and found time to pray, to think, to be grateful. And I did it in shoes borrowed from a friend who didn’t want me to miss the chance to experience it all.
Michelle, me, Deanne (shoes not pictured)
I love listening to podcasts and recently came across one that I’m really enjoying. It’s called All Who Wander by David Longley.
(Podcasts are great for the work commute or a long easy run with the dog.)
Here’s how David describes his particular show:
The pod-cast for sojourners discontent with asphalt highways, steepled cages, tidy answers and ordinary lives. Join us as we walk away from the everyday. Explore, dream and discover and live.
…throw on your pack and join us as we trod the same path travelled by the likes of Muir, Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Moses, Jesu himself and countless others who discovered the woods to be their sanctuary and their Creator to be their Guide.
“But alone in distant woods and fields…I come to myself. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home.”-Henry David Thoreau
Today, David included another podcast I love, The Dirtbag Diaries. If you are a wanderer, hiker, climber, paddler, runner, cyclist or outdoor enthusiast of any kind who really loves the wild, this show is for you. The podcast David replayed was called Paul’s Boots. Fitz and Becca Cahall of The Dirtbag Diaries received an email from a M’Lynn in Australia about her husband who passed away before he was able to get back on the trail, specifically The Appalachian Trail. Her dream is to have her husband Paul’s boots travel the AT with volunteers who will wear or carry his boots and take photos along the way. The Dirtbag Diaries and REI quickly committed to helping her make this dream a reality. They’re getting the word out and so far several different sets of hikers have carried or worn the boots for part of the trail. They’re asking anyone who is planning to hike or who has ever considered hiking the AT to contact them and for everyone else to help spread the word.
After David played the original story, he added his own to the mix and talked about something that Crystal and I have talked about a lot– waiting too long. I’m getting older– not old, I’m not one of those people who gripe and lament how old they are in their mid-forties. That’s just sort of stupid. But I do realize that time will not always be on my side. I’ve watched my parents care for their elderly parents, and someday, our parents will need care. It’s a natural part of life. So are unforeseen health issues. And one year has a way of turning into five, and then ten, and then more. Crystal and I know that if we’re going to do the crazy things we want to do, well… there’s no time like the present. And I guess that’s how David felt too. His story is as touching in many ways as the first story about Paul. It’s something that many of us can relate to.
So, here’s what I’d like for you to do. Listen to David’s podcast about Paul’s Boots and then listen to what he has to say afterwards. Then head on over to The Dirtbag Diaries and find out what you can to do, whether it’s hiking a section of the AT or simply using social media to spread the word.
And then get out the door. Go. Now. Do the things you have always dreamed of. If not now, when?