My submission to The Moth Detroit StorySLAM topic: “Blood Sweat and Tears”
When you go through a difficult time in your life, your body naturally deals with it by going into shock. This is a beautiful response because it allows you to go on with your life and get through every day when you’re not quite ready to deal with the emotional and physical trauma of what’s happened to you. The downside, though, is that you don’t actually process those feelings. Sooner or later, you will have to deal with them.
Last year I was coming out of the hardest time of my life and it became very clear to me that the ancient protective shield of “shock” had happened to me. Basically I was pretty messed up and it was time to deal with it. I figured I could either spend a bunch of money on therapy or do something awesome- and that is how I found myself quitting my job, leaving New York City and backpacking across Northern Michigan by myself.
I had a slew of goals in mind for this trip: I wanted to “find myself;” I wanted to spend time alone in nature; I wanted to get to know my home state; I wanted to be a person who needed to use a compass and a sleeping pad and a poop shovel; I wanted to go days on end without looking in a mirror or wearing makeup or shaving my legs. And not too far down the list of things I really wanted for myself was to have a massive life-changing cry. Now I had cried plenty of times in the past year but I had this idea in my head that there was one cry out there that would change everything. I imagined cleansing myself of that venom of sadness from all the miseries of my past year, I imagined crying until I was utterly dehydrated and depleted of electrolytes and then, I imagined feeling fresh and healed and new again- everything would be fine. I didn’t know exactly what this magical sobbing experience would feel like but I figured it was like an earthquake or love or an orgasm- you know it when you feel it. So I waited.
There was one day on my hike when I just knew it was going to happen- everything was horrible! I was exhausted after a bad night’s sleep, the trail was really poorly marked so I kept getting lost and then it started raining. The long wild grasses became Velcro-sticky when they were wet and they gripped at my ankles as though they were intentionally, deliberately trying to keep me from moving forward. And at one point, I tripped, and on my way down I said “ehhhAAAA!” I was waiting for the tears to come (it was so exciting!) but they didn’t. So after laying there for a second, feeling like an idiot, I just stood back up and kept walking.
But it was alright with me that the big cry didn’t happen then because I realized that it would be much more symbolic if it happened on the very last night of my trip- a bow on the top of an amazing adventure. I just knew it would happen on the last night.
The last night came- I had walked for 6 weeks over 700 miles by myself. I was facing the end of what I considered to be one of the most significant accomplishments of my life, I was so proud and excited to be nearly done. I arrived in the small town of Copper Harbor for an early dinner before heading on to my final destination. Copper Harbor is a tiny remote town near the end of the Keweenaw Peninsula but there is a tip of land farther beyond it- my goal was to walk from that town to the literal end of the road.
First I treated myself to a massive feast with an ice cream sundae for dessert. I forced myself to eat every bite- I deserved it!- but I was extremely uncomfortable. Next, I went to a little bar where I planned to ask for directions for the last leg of my trip. The bartender was more than helpful, he explained exactly which trails to take that would lead me exactly where I needed to go and then they bought me a beer as a celebration of my last night. I was so full, I thought “I couldn’t possibly!” but I drank it anyway. Well I hadn’t had much beer lately because I’d been in the woods for so long so my tolerance was zero. I proceeded to get plastered on the free beers people offered me and I closed down the bar at 1:30 am. I stood in the road with my backpack and thinking: “Shit! I still have to hike 9 miles tonight!”
The moon was full, it was a beautiful night and I knew I could make it because it was my very last hike. At first the road was paved so I stared at the center-line like I was taking a sobriety test, “just stay on the line, right?” No. I weaved around that line like a slalom skier, going anywhere but straight. I probably walked 12 miles that night because I just couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. I fell over and over again and carried on walking with bloody legs. For weeks afterward I couldn’t shave over the scrapes so I had scabby fuzzy patches on my knees as souvenirs.
Finally, at 4:30 in the morning I reached a place where I couldn’t go any further. Tis must be the end. I laid out my tarp and my sleeping bag and just crashed. I woke up in the morning light to a horrible headache. I could smell myself. But when I opened my eyes, and saw where my walk had taken me the night before, it was an incredibly beautiful sight. I had walked to a small cliff-beach where the land just ended and gave way to water. In 270 degrees around me there was nothing as far as I could see but that freshwater ocean of Lake Superior.
I howled like a wolf, “AhooOO!” because I knew I might never be quite so alone for the rest of my life. I took one last skinny dip to wash the grime and the dried blood off of me. All throughout, I kept waiting for it- when would I realize the gravity of this moment, when would the weight of the last year really hit me and just give way to the tears?
I left that sacred place still waiting for that moment to come. I thought about how, one day, I would take my children and my grandchildren back to this place and tell them what I did here. And then I realized- with horror- that I had forgotten something. In general I am a very conscientious hiker so I do not litter but in my haste and my haze I had done something horrible. I left behind a crumple of toilet paper… and my poop shovel!
I didn’t know what to do, I had thought I would return in 20 years with my descendants but no, 20 minutes later, I was back to the beach, “hi again!” to pick up after myself.
There would be no crying that day and I think I am alright with that. I had thought that I needed some sappy sob but instead I learned not to take myself so seriously. Maybe there is no big cry that can fix me on its own and instead each tear and each challenge and each hilarious blunder are there own minor cures. Or maybe that cry exists but I just didn’t give myself the space for it, constantly trying to curate and plan and schedule it the way I did. Or maybe it exists but just not for me. Because as tough as my last year was, my life is just not that bad.