Writing: Maiden Voyage: Hiking the Finger Lakes Trail, Part Three

Photo by Chelsea Kehrli

I awoke around 5:15 a.m. to a hard wind in the trees and the smell of rain. Since I was first up, I had to get the rest of the group moving. The weather report had called for rain by 9:00 a.m., and we didn’t want to end our trip hiking out in a storm. We prepared our packs with a rain fly just in case and left our raincoats out. All of us ate oatmeal and chugged some coffee. The night before we had gathered plenty of water to make it the final six miles out. We left the camp before the man and his son were awake so we didn’t get to say goodbye. I was able to pee again before we left and I felt I had turned the corner on a critical situation.

Photo by Monica Larkin

The initial part of the trail was a steep decline and then a reciprocating incline before it flattened out into something more gentle. It was a blessing because my legs were so tired and the rest of the group was definitely feeling the previous day’s trek. But with each incline my hamstrings and glutes revolted, and slowed me down, so I put myself at the back of the pack. I kept catching a lot of roots on that trail and stumbled a few times. I was worried about falling and paid closer attention to where I was stepping. When we emerged from the forest, it opened up to a dirt road that would serve as our last mile or two of the hike. I love a good home stretch and savored every step of this walk to the finish line. The pavement was like a re-entry to society. We were stepping back into life as we know it. Back to jobs and bills and soft beds. Part of me was ready for this, but part of me had a hunger for more.

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

We all hopped into Chelsea’s car that we’d left at the end of the trail. Sitting on something soft felt like a luxury that I had taken for granted in my life. It was a short drive to drop off Mo at her car where we made plans to meet up for breakfast on the way out of town. The drive to pick up Lisa’s car moved us through the valley of the two ascents we had climbed. Lisa pointed up to an open swath of land and told me that was where we’d eaten lunch the day before. 

I started to cry thinking about what this human body could do. I’m crying now because the hike was challenging, but I had no idea exactly how high I had climbed. That moment changed the perspective on what I had achieved personally. Then Lisa turned and pointed to the other side of the road and showed me the second hill we climbed, the one that almost killed me. Though I realized at the end of the hike how unprepared I was physically, mentally, and emotionally for this trip, I greatly appreciated what my body did and what it could do again.

After we picked up Lisa’s car, we ordered breakfast to go from Caruso’s in Naples. We all smelled terrible so we ate our breakfast on the ledge of the library windows next door. I had a cinnamon raisin bagel with maple walnut cream cheese and real thick cut bacon. I could’ve cried over how delicious this tasted and how much I needed that moment of joy in my life. Less than five minutes later, the thunder and lightning started. We made it back to our cars just before the deluge. It was a blinding rainstorm and we could barely see the road. In every sense of the word, I felt thankful for my life. Every decision we made on that trail got us out of there before the rain.

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

What I Learned

I learned hubris has no place on the trail. Before I left, I’d thought this hike would be no big deal. I was never more wrong in my whole life. I needed to be more mindful about how my body would handle this kind of exertion. It could have cost me my life.

I learned that sometimes it is okay to trust strangers. Despite the fact that I was the most inexperienced hiker on the trip, none of the women ever made me feel less than. They stopped to help me and taught me many lessons about hiking along the way. Even the strangers we met at the last camp were gracious, and gave us extra food and packed out our trash.

I learned that this body has a limit of about 9 miles with a 20+ pound pack (mine was 30-32 lbs if I’m honest). Not following the guidelines that Lisa gave me to only pack 20 lbs was a mistake that could have seriously injured me. Again, a point of hubris for me. I’m an avid disc golf player and my disc bag weighs at least 25 lbs. I had imagined that another 5 lbs wasn’t going to slow me down, but the difference was distance and elevation.

I learned I am one of those people that benefits from a higher carb to protein ratio for snacks and food if I am going to have enough energy. I’d packed mostly proteins and fats, which did not help when I had rhabdo on the second day. My body was carb and salt starved in the worst way. In all things, balance. I had not remembered that.

I learned that sober living is what I want to do. I’d chosen sober living after a series of drunken boyfriends in which I took on their environment of drinking. It stripped away everything about me I loved—my creativity, my drive, my energy, and writing. I’ve had one drink in the last two years and I regret nothing about staying sober. #LaCroix4ever

I learned I am stronger than I think I am on so many levels. 

I learned I can be my authentic self and people still like me. 

I learned that community and teamwork are everything.

I learned how isolated I’d become over the years, building up distrust for those around me because I was afraid of being hurt again. 

I learned there is a lot of healing still left to do. 

I learned I can call upon my ancestors for help and they’ll listen when I need it most.

This was a life changing journey that I am still feeling the effects of. My muscles were weak for over a week and I still have been tiring easily. I’m listening to my body for a change instead of the voice inside my head that tells me to push everything to the limit, even when the outcome will be bad. There were so many valuable lessons on this three-day trip. Still, so much to unpack mentally, but I’m here for it.

Thank you to Lisa, Chelsea, and Mo who supported me on this journey. My life was better with you in it. Thank you all for reading this incredibly long series of blogs. I hope you get out there and hike. The fresh air will do you good. Stay safe.

Writing: Taking Pause

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

I’ve been gone a month. A lot can happen with one doctor’s visit. It changes the landscape of an entire life. The end of August I got a new doctor, one that was local and in walking distance. During a basic exam she noted the large number of moles on my back and briefly scanned them, then asked if I had any more.

On the right side of my face between my ear and eye there has been a mole that I thought may have changed size. She immediately sat down and made me an appointment to see plastic surgery about this mole. I went and had a punch biopsy which returned positive for melanoma in situ. If you have to have cancer, this is the best one to have.

Yesterday, I had a wide excision of this mole that left a quarter size crater in the side of my face that they did not want to fully close in case they needed to remove more. Then we talked about skin grafting. Then I sat in my car alone and cried. The hope is the cancer is removed from that spot, but then there are the hundred other moles on my back that now need scrutiny.

I am not a sun worshiper. I do love the outdoors and have for many years sported a “farmer’s tan” from playing disc golf, hiking, walking and mowing the lawn. I never stay out in the sun for more than a few hours and wasn’t a big fan of hats or sunscreen. I wasn’t opposed to them, but I never thought they were necessary. Where I live, most of the population lacks sufficient vitamin D levels and I used the summer sun as a bolster to that. I never considered that I would get melanoma.

The last month has been full of not knowing. Questioning whether it was cancer or just a wayward mole. There was a lot of hoping for the best, but deep inside I knew what the answer would be. I’m a realist at heart. I know too much not to be. What I have learned is how surrounded by loving people I am. My friends have been uplifting even when I didn’t seem receptive to this. Knowing they are out there wishing the best has been helpful.

I’ve had to do a lot of pausing due to biopsy and surgery and in this I found the proper beginning to the novel I had finished in March. There has been a revitalization to my writing and maybe this comes with the fear that life is fleeting. Don’t waste time on thinking you’ll get to things later. Get to them now. Live robustly…but with sunscreen. #SPF100 for life

What This Pandemic Has Taught Me About Life and Writing

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

This new website was created to be less about personal life and more about a writer’s life. But yesterday I realized that these cannot be separated. Not if you are doing it right. Yesterday I was able to participate in a workshop put on by Shuffle Collective during their Weekend of Words. This has been a free event of poetry and writing. It is something to connect us in this time when we all feel physically and mentally disconnected from our surroundings. Allie Rigby spoke about writing from a sense of place, from the environment that you belong in, and it started me thinking (more than I had already been).

This pandemic has affected me in more positive ways than negative, and I consider myself lucky. It has taken out all the busyness of my life and pared it down to what matters the most. There has been time to start a new job, to complete projects, and to finish my novel. I have had the opportunity to get closer to my child in a meaningful, more adult way. This mother’s day I was treated to an insightful letter from my eighteen year old. I’m amazed at how far they have come in the world.

In this time, I have become closer with my two good girlfriends. This has always been a challenge for me. Women have continually stabbed me in the back my whole life. But these women have given me pause. They accept me with my array of faults and eccentric behaviors. They don’t mind that I’m a forgetful hummingbird most of the time. They lift me up when I can’t see myself in the mirror and let me know that the warped image I might see is not real.

For poetry month, I did something different. I jumped on an acquaintance’s prompt train because I was determined not to write a month of death poems for my mother. Not this year. Not ever again. He has always been a poet that I admired and one that I published when I was in that capacity years ago. Every night for a month, we wrote poems as a call and response. I had never done this before. I had always gotten a prompt and had to dig up, sometimes painfully, a poem that I only 40% liked.

This was different. Everyday, I collected random lines from the world. Things from nature or memories that floated into my head. The worries about pandemic and fragile loved ones. The grief of losing a way of life I didn’t realize I had established. At the end of the night, I would take his prompt and construct a poem from what I collected. It was an organic feeling. It was beautiful. What a gift to be able to see something new about yourself and your craft. I’m forever grateful to him for this. Along the way, we found a friendship too that is more deep and centered than I might have expected. 

I’m not sure I have ever felt more whole in my entire life. All the years of grief and death. All the losses and terrible endings. All that suffering feels washed away with spring rain. This pandemic will change us all. Some in good ways and others not so much, but I think perspective means everything. This is a time when nature and universe has given every living being the opportunity to look inside themselves and see what they are made of. You owe it to yourself to do this instead of grasping at what was or what should have been.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful women I know who are loving their kids, other people’s kids, fur babies, and lifting other mothers with their compassion. It’s a great day to be alive.