Day 16 on the JMT: Nowhere to Hide

Day 16: Piute Creek to Sallie Keys Lakes via MTR Resupply

(September 1, 2015)

I’m having some strange mountain-olfactory version of the desert mirage. Yesterday coming down Evolution Basin I could have sworn I smelled bbq; like hamburgers cooking on a Weber charcoal grill.  It made my stomach grumble and my mouth water- and I don’t even like hamburgers! And this morning, I awoke to the crisp forest air and the not-so-faint smell of fried bacon wafting into camp. I’m either having strong food cravings or I’ve developed a bear-like sense of smell and can detect food from miles away. I’m at least five miles from MTR, there’s no way I’m smelling their bacon.

I woke up missing Capone terribly. I haven’t let myself think about him much because I just get worried and flooded with guilt for leaving him at Doggy Camp (which is more like doggy Club Med, for what I paid to make sure he gets the best care!).  Every time thoughts of him swell to the surface, tears prick my eyes and the guilt tugs at my heart. So I’ve been shoving it back down, refusing to think about him. But this morning,  as I lay in my tent waiting for the sun to rise (so I can get up and rush to MTR and get a cabin!), missing my comfy bed, my soft sheets and down comforter and my huge pile of pillows, I miss waking up to my Capone sprawled across the bottom of the bed , snoring away at my feet. That guy has been with me through so much over the last ten years; he is my comfort and my rock.  Today I can’t push the feelings away,  I miss him terribly.

As someone who is more than a little relationship challenged (and not just romantic – but friendships too), he really is my best friend. He’s been with me through drunken nights of passing out and leaving him out in the rain all night, through sobering up and leaving our house and his dad, wagging deliriously from apartment to apartment after the divorce. He never judged, never complained, never left me. He just happily followed me wherever I’d go, with his trademark Capone ‘smile’ and wagging tail, into each new chapter of my life.

I snuggled deeper into my bag and the tears spilled over. I miss my best friend.   I hear a breeze ruffle through the Aspens outside and my rain-fly flutters. Here I am alone in the forest, curled up inside my  tent crying like a little baby.  I feel so alone.

Aspens on Piute Creek Camp
Aspens on Piute Creek Camp

The sadness turns to shame as I mentally taunt myself for being so pathetic that my dog is all I have waiting for me when I get home. (Oh – and my therapist, lol!.)  The familiar feeling of being a total fraud burns deep in my gut. Yeah, I’m some  inspiration, huh?

I tell myself: people don’t see the real me- they see what’s on the outside, the strong and determined,  “fuck the world, I’ll do what I want” me. But they don’t see the pathetic, sad, broken me; the me who no one wants to believe only has a dog and a therapist to go home to.

A therapist who would ask me why I’m being so hard on  myself right now.  Why am I? Why do feel pathetic? Why do I let this shame take over and not allow me to feel what I have every right to feel? I mean who wouldn’t struggle with relationships when their own parents abandoned them and made it crystal clear you weren’t wanted?

I reflect on this for a while.. My father enlisted in the Army and got sent to Korea when I was nine. He was supposed to get settled and send for us. But instead, he got a new family and never tried to see me,  ever again. He never called or wrote. He just disappeared from my life. In retrospect, this is probably the best thing that could have happened – he was an evil sociopath whose idea of  fun was chasing my brother and me around the house shooting us with a BB gun. Yea, that was fun family time at our house.  You don’t want to know what he did when he was angry…

Within a year of him leaving, my mother got herself a boyfriend who hates kids. She started a new life with him that didn’t include my brother and me. By the time I was thirteen she’d practically moved in with him- without us. She’d pop in our rented dilapidated farmhouse every few days to pick up fresh clothes.  It usually ended in her screaming and crying like a lunatic because her laundry wasn’t done, the house was a mess  or because the cupboards were bare and she ‘forgot’ to go to the grocery store on the way home (and we had the audacity to ask when we might expect milk and cereal and bread).

“You kids don’t appreciate nothin’. I’ve done everything for you and all I ask  is to come home to a clean house and clean clothes and you can’t even do that!?! And you wonder why I’m never home! I could have left like your father did you know. But I didn’t! I sacrificed everything for you – I have no life! And this is how you thank me???  “

She’d fall on the stairs screaming and crying, “You’re going to cause me to have a nervous breakdown. You don’t appreciate nothin! After all I’ve done for you…  and this is how you behave? You’re driving me to the madhouse!” Her performance would have put Joan Crawford to shame.

She’d grab her clothes and storm out of the house, not to be seen again for days.  Feeling guilty and vowing to myself that I’d be more grateful,  I’d retreat to my bedroom where I’d plan how to make my mother happier: I’ll not fight with Jackie (my brother). I’ll make sure her laundry is done and the house is clean. I know, I’ll surprise her and clean her room too! But I knew it wouldn’t matter. She always found something to scream about. Always. So I’d shut myself in my room, put my Blizzard of Oz album on the turntable,  turn the volume nob as far as it would go, blast “Crazy Train”, grab my bong and smoke the guilt and shame away.

Camp on Piute Creek
Camp on Piute Creek

I don’t want to think about this now. And I certainly don’t want to be holed up in my tent, all alone on the woods, crying and feeling all this.  But it just keeps coming. A floodgate has opened and I can’t hold it back. The grief pulses through me as a movie of my my life plays out in my exhausted brain.

I try to will the thoughts and feelings away. Try to turn off the movie, but it won’t stop.  It feels like an out of body experience as my mind’s eye sees a girl and a young woman struggle through life, grasping for happiness and love using all the broken tools she has. I feel so tremendously sad for her. My heart is heavy and the tears flow freely.  And then something shifts. The familiar feeling of shame is slowly melting away and a new, unfamiliar feeling is emerging: empathy.

I’ve charged through life, hell-bent on not letting my past mold me or hold me back.  Determined to be strong, independent and successful in life, I wouldn’t allow my childhood to dictate who I chose to be. But the fact is: it has. It has always been there, festering and peeking it’s ugly head out in the most cunning and deceitful ways.

The old saying is true: you can’t run from yourself – especially after 15 days alone in the wilderness.  Whatever is working you in your busy hustle-and-bustle life will rise to the surface and demand to be heard  in the silent solitude of Mother Earth. She beckons, “Come. Sit with me and tell me your troubles. Trust in me and I will heal you.”  But somehow I know: it isn’t Nature, but myself  that I’m learning to trust.  The trail is teaching me to be loving,  kind and nurturing to myself. And in the process, maybe I’m beginning to heal.

I think of all that I was deprived of. All the caring and nurturing and love that most people automatically get just by being born to parents who love them: I never got it.  My parents gifted me instead, with punches and kicks, screaming, name calling, neglect, abandonment– and worse. Much worse.

So here I sit, in the middle of a beautiful Aspen grove, next to a creek on the John Muir Trail crying my eyeballs out because I miss my dog  – and maybe because I feel sad for the girl who has had to claw her way through life to find peace and happiness. My whole life has been a futile search for the love and acceptance I never had.  Crippled by neglect and abuse, I went about it in the unhealthy and fucked up ways I knew…  And maybe that’s why I sit alone, crying in the woods and missing my dog…(and at this point, REALLY needing a session with my therapist.. what the hell???)

6pm at Sallie Keys Lakes

Well today didn’t go quite like I’d hoped. No clean clothes. No hot shower. No cold lemonade or fresh salad. No trail love.  I made the five miles to MTR in less than 2 hours, arriving before 10 am – yes I was on a mission to get there before their rooms were gone!

Me on Day 15- somewhere in John Muir Wilderness
Me on Day 15- somewhere in John Muir Wilderness

I rounded the sprawling ranch-like compound and let myself in through the wooden swinging gate, bellowing out “good morning” to hikers as they happily bounced off with newly replenished packs.

I pleaded with the universe:  Please have a room. Please please, please. Oh, and plenty of ibuprofen too (I’d I only packed a few in my resupply and I’m eating them like pez).

I wandered around searching for the office, which didn’t immediately stand out. I  don’t know if I was expecting a big neon Vacancy sign or what, but I finally found it in a tiny and dark cabin tucked between the work sheds.

TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS! Are you kidding me? I stood opposite the chipper young store-keeper,  hovering over a dusty glass display-case housing $5 ibuprofen tablets and other outrageously priced notions desperate through-hikers would need, stunned and shocked as the amount whirled in my brain doing a “should I or shouldn’t I?” dance.

But hot showers!?!

But two hundred twenty-five dollars.

But salad.

But 225 dollars

Bacon?

225 DOLLARS.

But a nice comfy bed and sheets and warmth…?

Two. Hundred. Twenty-Five. Fucking. Dollars. Trail Robbery!

Damn. Damn. Damn. Did I mention Bacon???

Over the last twelve hours as I’d excitedly hiked toward MTR I debated how much I was willing to spend for a night of comfort. I hadn’t known what to expect so I thought maybe I’d pay $125? Maybe even $150. Would I go so high as $175? Maybe.  But I couldn’t justify dishing out $225 for a log-cabin in the middle of nowhere, to a company that charged me $75 for a resupply bucket, wanted to charge $5 for a single Ibuprofen and then wouldn’t even let me use their toilets and treated me like a homeless vagrant. I just couldn’t. As hungry, tired and sore as I was, I still had a modicum of self-respect!  Besides, I came out here to live in my tent, in nature… I could do without comfort and good food for another day. Sigh…

Deflated, I moseyed back to the resupply shed to retrieve my bucket, full of disappointment and self-righteousness.  I scoured the hiker buckets brimming with mostly junk (who in their right mind brings full size bottles of olive oil and cans of soup on a backpacking trip???), contributed what I couldn’t fit in my bear can (a bag of trail mix, cardboard-flavored flax seed crackers and half a dozen packets of Justin’s peanut butter), organized, repacked and moved on. Bidding a mental middle finger to MTR on my way out.

The climb out of MTR was all I’d expected:  long, hot, steep, ugly and boring. I climbed the same tiresome, tedious switchback 30 times.  But I made good time and even ended up going further  than I expected, getting 10.5 miles in (not bad considering I spent a couple hours at MTR).

But now as I rest in my camp nestled in the conifers on the bank of Sallie Keys Lake, absorbing the views of the gorgeous mountain lake, I’m thinking I might take a zero tomorrow. I need to rest my muscles, try to let my cracked fingertips heal so I can at least button my shirt and strap on my pack without excruciating pain, and do laundry.  But I also just want to keep going… home to my dog.  I’ll decide in the morning. It’s been a very long day…

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15 comments on “Day 16 on the JMT: Nowhere to Hide”

  1. You’re right, life not only can life be hard, but also tortuous on kids! Hats off, Carolyn, that you’ve survived this and are the beautiful, radiant woman that you are! When I was 12 and in foster care in Tivoloi, NY, I became an MTV fanatic. Yeah, rock on girl with 80’s music!! It was therapy to me too! I just had to find Crazy Train on YouTube to see/hear it. Being an Ozzie fan, I don’t recall seeing that one on MTV.

    When I was 12, Ozzie quickly became one of my early puberty crushes. I especially thought he was hot in his Shot in the Dark video. But, alas, my MTV days were over when I was whisked away to Christian home and I felt compelled to tear up all of my cassette tapes including my one and only cherished Ozzie Osbourne tape. In case you’ve never seen it, after quite the search I’m amazed to find the ORIGINAL Shot in the Dark video on Vimeo here!!!! Whooop!: https://vimeo.com/132630023

    1. Gloria,
      Ozzy was such a huge part of my teen years.. A lot wrapped up in that music for me.. I love that you can related to and connect to my writing. We all have our stories and our paths.. it’s nice to know we aren’t alone in our journeys.. Thank you for reading and sharing yourself with me. <3 - C

  2. I have a feeling that you will have many stories to tell and that they will be as eloquently presented as the hard truths about your childhood. Carolyn, you are a survivor. Be proud of where you are and build…….continue building bits at a time. These bits will begin to replace the holes in your heart that you did not put there. You will be successful along the way. Life is a journey after all. You learn every day you live and by every step you take. Of course, it won’t come every day or with every step that you take but use those times to reflect on your many successes and take time to rest and learn. There is always something to learn and we all need restful moments to recharge.
    Thank you for having the courage to tell your story.
    I, too, have a best friend, Lola, my Boston Terrier. Having her has centered me like no person could. I also have few if any friends, acquaintances mostly so I can truly relate to your love for the faithfulness of your dog and the unconditional love of Capone. I saw a t-shirt once that said, “God gave us dogs because he wanted us to be happy.” If I ever find one again I ‘ll get two and send you one. Nothing wrong with having a love affair with a dog!!

    Hugs to you and Capone from Jane Ellen and Lola!

  3. Although I read this previously, it took until today for me to post a comment. That is because we have waaaay too much in common with respect to our childhoods. Some of the details are a little different, but the effects are the same. I struggled for years, and finally came out the other side, but reading your story brought back a flood of tears. Thank you for telling the whole truth. You are incredibly brave, and I think you will find that it is completely freeing to get it all out there, even if it doesn’t change the pain. You are an amazingly talented writer, and some of us just can’t wait for the next post. Once again, your honesty is what really makes this so poignant and immersive. Thank you!

  4. I’m laying here…… 600 miles from home, wondering how I ever got to where I am…… It’s difficult to try and begin to realize how you;re life has brought you to where you are today and WHY? . You no longer realize who you really are. You realize where you are, but why,…and what celestial reasoning brought you to this point in tine your existence?
    I believe all happens according to GOD’s will, so I;m nor questioning that,…;it’s trying to imagine or fathom the entire scope and meaning..

    I;m slowly coming to a reasoning of it all..but not yet fathomed WHY ?

  5. Wow Carolyn. Another poignant post. There’s so much I want to say about this, but first let me say thank you for sharing your pain and exposing your vulnerability. These are huge steps that you are taking as you heal all these old wounds. I agree these are not gifts they instead have been challenges, emotional challenges that have ground you down to your Bare Essence. Much in the same way as the trail does. By finally looking deeply at these things and feeling all the feelings that you have pushed down for so long, will you exercise these demons. You cannot run from that pain, feel it, go through it and then come out the other side.

    1. Sky,
      Since I started this blog, I’ve gone back and forth on how much of the ‘real story’ I wanted to share. It seems the more I write the braver I get. I’ve felt for some time that I have a story to tell- never imagined it would find its voice on the JMT – but such is life. I share it because I have learned, that while not everyone may relate to the details of my story, we all have our crosses to bear (or bare? lol) and that maybe by sharing mine, I can inspire and encourage others to find truth, peace and happiness.

      Thank you so very much for your comment. These last two posts were hard to put out into the universe, so I am very grateful for your encouragement and support. And thank you for continuing to follow my journey! I wish you all the best! – Carolyn

  6. They say time heals all wounds. Not sure that is true. At least though, we can learn how to live with the wounds and have a meaningful life. Sounds like you are getting there. Great writing btw.

    1. Eric, Yes, I realized a long time ago that some wounds never fully heal. The best we can hope for is that the scar and the strain they leave won’t be too overwhelming. At best , we learn to live with – and manage the pain. Awareness is the first step. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words and thoughts. All the best, Carolyn

  7. Carolyn,

    Once again a insightful yet personal touch….you really are a great writer…..I cant get enough. Keep it up and thanks.

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