When the adventure stinks…

Our big adventure of the summer had been planned to the nth degree.  We had been collecting supplies for months, planning routes, reserving spots on boats, trying to prepare our bodies physically, and weighing out not only every option based on what the weather would hold, but literally weighing every single item that we purchased as we would each carry them on our very backs.

Yes, this family was going backpacking.

hikers

I retire this spring.  For 14 years, I have been homeschool mom, and today, actually, is my last first day of school with my baby — a SENIOR!!! With grandbaby number two getting ready to meet us in a couple months and a serious shift in this girl’s role underway, I have a pretty dogged determination to live even louder than I have until this point.  I refuse to let physical struggles impede my forward progress so I will keep challenging myself.  Hence, jumping off cliffs into rivers, and planning backpacking trips in some of the most remote wilderness we can find.  It feels like some sort of intentional, healthy rebellion against settling for status quo.

So, off we headed by boat many hours to a location closer to Canada than the U.S.  This island is situated in the middle of Lake Superior which is daunting in and of itself.  There are no residences there — only a small number of park rangers scattered here and there and a lodge at the starting point.  The only long-term residents are over a thousand moose, wolves, snowshoe hares, foxes, and crazy squirrels.  The last three are the type that steal and eat hikers’ food and SHOES while they sleep!  There is no phone service and it is hours from anywhere.

isle1

We arrived packed to the max — all of us carrying packs that felt too heavy.

We hiked our first leg and just about at exhaustion point number one, we realized we had a major mountain in front of us.  The unusual heat (pushing 80 degrees) had us already well past glistening and the mountain kicked our hineys.  I’m not ashamed to say, I overheated and just about passed out near the top.  As we cooled off, had a snack and a drink and recovered, we met many other hikers at the crossroad on top of the mountain.  All were impressed with the climb we had just made and no one was jealous of our route.  They called it a killer, if I remember correctly (and I do).  To condense the next few moments, after talking to the many hikers headed the same way as we were and realizing how crowded our upcoming campsite would be on the other side of the mountain, we made a unanimous, but sudden decision to change course and press on to a different campground.  It would be more miles, but we were told it was downhill and definitely do-able.

Let’s just say that when folks heard later what we ended up hiking in one day, they were beyond incredulous and impressed.  After many more hours of mountainous terrain, running out of water, dampened spirits, and aching bodies, and breathtaking views,

isle2

we finally made it to a camp just before dark.  We then had to bathe in the frigid lake, boil lots of water with small, personal stoves fueled only by kindling, make dinner (we ate around 10:15 pm) set up our sleeping hammocks and crawl into *bed*.

We had hiked 11.5 miles in 80 degree weather with heavy packs up and down mountains on our first day out.

We awoke within a couple hours to rain.  Set up tarps and went back to sleep.  I awoke the next morning to the expected leg pain from our previous day, but also a new pain.  Girls, you’ll know what it is.  Boys, just know I had an infection that girls get.  I hadn’t had one of these in almost ten years, but I have had enough to know that it needed treatment immediately.  We were 8 miles from help.  We had just begun our adventure.  My heart was broken.  It was pouring rain.  We were just getting water boiling for the day when I broke the news to my family that I had to leave.  Not a shining moment.  I packed my gear and cried — a lot.  My husband and I began the trek that would take us across the obstacle course of a trail in the rain to get help.  I already had a fever and a lot of pain, but we set off at as quick of a pace as I could muster, leaving our kids behind and very unsure if there would even be help available.  We tried desperately to flag down boats in the lake as we hiked and stumbled through the mud — anyone that could even call a ranger for us.  No one could see us in the dense foliage.  We had made it about 4 miles when I told my sweet man that I couldn’t make it much farther.  He said, “Sweetheart, you don’t have a choice.  I can’t carry you.”  We continued.

All of a sudden, out of the blue he exclaimed, “Your phone is ringing!!!” As it had been 4 days since we had any kind of cell service I just stared at him like he was a crazy man.  He was whipping his backpack off and realizing HIS phone was indeed ringing.  In the middle of some of the most remote land there is, he was getting a business call!!  He didn’t answer, (good move, sweet man), but he did use that cell service to call our daughter who was able to get us the park service number who quickly dispatched a water taxi to a nearby dock whose driver was an EMT!!!!

isle4

Within a half hour, I was stinking up a paramedic’s cabin, apologizing for the stench of me, and tearfully grateful. They gave me the first few doses that they happened to have of the antibiotic I’m not allergic to, we got some food, spent the night in a lodge with this view,

isle7

and the next morning we begged the purser of the only boat leaving the island that week for a ride.  He kindly acquiesced and I found myself on a six hour boat ride headed back to my daughter and granddaughter who waved from shore and happily picked me up at the port.  My sweet man water taxied his way back to our kids and surprised them the next morning (they had no idea he could get back without hiking the 8 miles back and that we had found water taxis!) and they finished the trip with moose stories lots of hiking and missing momma.

I came home saddened, not gonna lie.  I was BEYOND happy to be with my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter who waited on me hand and foot, but I was missing our trip and it kinda broke my heart.  Why did I get grounded?  Why, of all times in my life, did this happen then?  Of course, as I reflected, I realized that because of our round-a-bout journey, I got to see epicness I wouldn’t have seen had we stuck to the original plan.  Also, due to our decision to skip the first campground, I ended up avoiding a mountain climb nowhere near a water taxi when I needed it so desperately.

I learned a lot about myself and my strength when push came to shove.  Having had a really rough year physically this last year, I felt very much like the weakest link going into this trip.  Now, hearing my family surprised and impressed by both my strength and my attitude, and seeing what I am capable of even in the worst possible conditions, I realize that we are more than we give ourselves credit for!  When we need to put one foot in front of the other and make it happen, we DO!  We CAN!!

There are definitely moments in life where we feel like the path in front of us is impossible — unthinkable.  But it is our path, like it or not.  Set before us are rocks and roots and mud pits and rain and fevers and too many miles and pain.  Sometimes, all we have is one step and then the next even when our entire self is protesting, our muscles agonizing from what we’ve already been through.  There are moments we are just positive that we can’t.  And then we do.  Sometimes, God just throws a couple little miracles we didn’t even see coming in there just because He can.  Sometimes, we have to just press on even when those aren’t obvious to us, and maybe we’re too jaded to believe they are even possible.

Friends, nothing our family has done has been easy.  We make big moves and big choices and take risky adventures and often we have big pain in amongst it all.  I know we also have a gajillion blessings that not everyone has — I don’t take those lightly, I promise.  I know from Whose hand they come.  But, often, it takes the crazy jumping off to get to the deliriously amazing, refreshing swim at the bottom.  Life can’t be about playing it safe.  Well, I guess it sure can, but there are moments to be brave.  There are moments to press on when you are sure you’re done in.  Wherever this finds you, weary, scared, or having parked your butt on a rock, quitting the whole thing, stand up and put one foot in front of the other.  Jump, if you need to!  There may be a boat around that next corner or a moment of miracle in the middle of impossible nowhere!

Even in the most remote wilderness in the world (metaphorical or not) you are never alone.

the trail

the trail

moose print!

moose print!

isle6

Je ne parle pas Français

It means, “I don’t speak French.”

Maybe it should read, “I won’t.”

Poll time:

Most romantic city in the world.  Name it.

Please tell me you didn’t say it.

NOOOOOO.  You did NOT say Paris, right?  I just watched a show where a couple won a trip to “The Most Romantic City.”  They hadn’t traveled much, and they were to celebrate their 20th anniversary in Paris.

I wanted to apologize to them for the “amazing” trip they won.

I know, I know.  I’m in the minority and sounding much like a negative dream-wrecker right now.  But, I just don’t get it.

And…wait for it…I am admitting I’ve never been there.  Though my husband has been to Europe more times than I can count and always starts in France, I have chosen not to join him.  My main reason is that I still have a 14 year old at home that I am responsible for until she is grown.  But truthfully, I just have zero interest because I’ve heard the stories.

Not only has my husband been there a lot, but my son has been on his own business trips there.  In fact, he has spent 30 days of 2013 in France.

Also, my daughter, who was enamored with the idea of all thing Paris joined her Daddy on a trip there when she was 16.  And it wasn’t even the Icelandic volcano that trapped them there that disenchanted her.

I’m sorry.  But I feel compelled to tell you that they really dislike France.  Especially and specifically Paris.  There are some nice things to see on the western and southern sides, but for the most part, it’s a no.

Do you want a list?

Filthy.  I’m taking poop-on-the-sheets-filthy.  If you do find a clean bed, it looks like it was made for one of the seven dwarves. And we aren’t even tall people.

Rude.  Yes, what you have heard is true the majority of the time.

Stinky.  Smells like urine as you stroll the streets.

Insane.  The traffic there has caused more stress than explainable for my guys who have literally driven this entire country.

Overrated.  Why do we care about the Eiffel Tower anyway?  Why?  It’s a big metal structure!!  So what?  No one feels romantic about the St. Louis Arch!  It’s pretty neat!  I’ve been there.  It has pods where Eiffel only has stairs!

History.  Yes, there’s a lot of history.  My first thought, the Guillotine.  Now there’s some romance!!  Wow.

Architecture.  Sure.  Along with the rest of Europe.

Food.  Okay.  You got me there.  These people make food the right way.  Time and butter.  I understand this, and if I’m ever there, I, like Julia, would love some French cooking classes.

Buuuut…they also eat pigeons.  Pigeons, people.  They don’t even do that in New York. Image

Can someone please tell me why this place is so iconic?  Let’s not even try to get to ROMANTIC.

Paris is on my list down around, oh, say, Hong Kong or New Delhi for places I hope my man never takes me.

It makes me wonder how many things we are told are good and told enough times until pretty soon we believe they are.  The proverbial frog in the pot not knowing he’s getting boiled!

Do you know that folks in France are taxed 60% of their income?  They work for the first eight months of every year to pay taxes and what they earn in the last four is what they actually bring home.

In addition, they are taxed based on the size of the engine in their car.  That’s why no one drives a pickup.  (Didn’t you wonder?)

And did you know that their gasoline is the equivalent of us paying $8.00 per gallon?

Let’s not even talk sales’ tax.

I bet you didn’t know that they don’t (for the most part) choose their own house plans.  Most of them are pretty much the same.  The most you’ll see different outside of a house is the color of the potted plants.

French people cannot defend themselves against bad guys.  True story.  If you’re French and you have armed robbers come into YOUR house and attack YOUR family, YOU will get sued if you hurt the attackers and have to pay them restitution.  After you get out of jail.

There is one electric company.  No competition.  You pay what you’re told to pay if you want electricity.  Same for other services.

There’s so much more, I just don’t feel like typing it all.

BUT, French students all go to university (college) for free.  And everyone goes.

And their health care (such as it is–though you might die waiting in line to receive care) is free.

So French people will tell you that the lack of freedom is worth the cost.

But they don’t know freedom like we do.  To them, Americans are a bunch of hairy, wild cowboys living in the Wild West.  My son has literally stopped groups of people in their tracks in the street as if he were a celebrity or freak of nature due to his long hair, beard, and cowboy boots.  Their eyes bug out of their heads when they hear that we own guns.  Plural.  Knives alone would get them arrested.

This is their version of normal.

And I’m scared of what normal could become for us.  We’ve always been known for bucking the establishment!  That’s how we started!  Once upon a time we dumped the system off the boat and into a harbor and made one giant cuppa tea!

Then, being different and standing on our own ideals was rewarded.  Now, everywhere I look I see the Joneses.

We have to have.

I should have.

If only I had.

Status.

Entitlement.

A huge case of the gimmes.  

The dress.  The ring.  The house.  The car.

The TYPICAL.

Yuck.  Throw me in the car and take me on a roadtrip anyday.  Heck, if I can drive there, it’s well worth my trip.

Sell my big ol’ house and put me in a little cottage by a big lake with my family, and I’ll be the happiest girl you ever did see.

Don’t tell me what school, what health choices, what items I may own, what standard I must live up to.

I follow ONE.  One standard.  And all it boils down to is my natural response to the greatest of loves.  It keeps me toeing a line.  The only one that counts.

And for our next anniversary, my man knows I’ll be happier with some fudge and a carriage ride rather than the Arc de Triomphe EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Image