Thursday, December 19, 2013

Life After the Camino: Lows, Highs, and Changes

Our trip report didn't happen last Monday.  We couldn't hike anything because I had a nasty, nasty cold.  I recovered, but now my kids have taken ill.  Arg.  We hope to be free of all bad bacteria and ornery viruses by this weekend so we can get back up a mountain!  There's a ton of fresh snow out there and it will be soooo beautiful on the trails!

Since I don't have any pretty pictures to share, I'll take this time to describe some of my personal, long-term, post-Camino changes.  The following might seem silly to someone who's thru-hiked the likes of the Appalachian Trail -- I hiked for six weeks, not six months, and I had a bed and a hot shower every night -- but, even though the Camino is relatively easy by traditional American thru-hiking standards, I'm experiencing an after-effect that radically influences the way I think and live.

Life, Eight Months Post-Camino

First, the lowsI long to get back on the trail.  I live in the mountains and there are trails all around me, so I am usually able to hike once or twice a week.  I'm lucky, and I know it, so part of me feels guilty for expressing this, BUT -- day hiking is wonderful, but it's not the kind of experience I crave.  I long to get out there and not come back for weeks/months.  I long for the simplicity of day-after-day hiking, and I long to see new terrain.  If my health and finances allow, I will likely become a full-time thru-hiker after the girls leave for college.

My tolerance for petty crapola has fallen to zero.  I no longer have time for posers, narcissists, manipulators, egomaniacs, or gossip hens.  Life's too damn short.

We still have too much stuff we don't need.  I gave away a lot of my possessions after returning from the Camino.  We still have too much stuff.  If it were solely up to me, I'd give away most of the house.  Heck, I might even give away the house itself and move into a small apartment...we're outside as much as possible, so how much indoor living space does a body really need?  I'm not the only one living here, though.  Everyone else seems to be rather fond of having multiple rooms and a basement.

Next, the highsProfound joy in the simple things.  There's a wonderful sense of satisfaction in shoveling your driveway, taking care of your roof, and holding your pet.  The day-to-day tasks now have deeper meaning.  I am grateful for the roof over our head, we are appreciative of our reliable car, and we celebrate our relative good fortune.  There are so many people who do not have what they need.  We realize we are lucky and we do what we can to help those who could use assistance.

Recognizing the beauty all around us.   We live in an insanely gorgeous area.  Breathtaking mountain vistas are only a few minutes from our front door.  It's therefore easy to appreciate the astounding beauty of Mother Nature up here in New Hampshire.  Since the Camino, however, I now see Nature's beauty everywhere.  I notice the grass pushing through the cracks in the Boston sidewalks.  The pigeons in Central Square look adorable.  And so on.  I'm truly noticing what I used to subconsciously dismiss.

Keeping the body healthy.  I've gained back a mere three pounds of the weight I lost on the Camino, which is pretty good considering I'm no longer hiking 10-18 miles a day.  My body still feels fit, and, overall, I continue to eat fresh, nutritious foods.

Now, the Changes.   Simplify, simplify, simplify.  If I don't need it, I won't have it.  Nothing new is purchased unless it's absolutely necessary.  I try to only spend time on activities I truly enjoy, and I've cut or limited contact with people who, for whatever reasons, caused great stress and discord in my life.

Growth.  My primary and most important job for the last eleven years has been the care and education of my children.  My role is shifting a bit...the girls and I are at the point where we would all benefit from the help of other educators.  My kids would probably enjoy some more independence and, frankly, I need more time to myself.  We are a close family and the girls are a joy to be around, but homeschooling is a huge, all-encompassing, sometimes overwhelming job.  Six days a week, almost all my waking hours are dedicated to the girls' education and extra-curricular activities/playdates (UP was written between the hours of 10pm and 2am during six consecutive weeks). 

I love my children, but I'd like to have more time to myself.  We are therefore moving in the direction of online charter schools.  With the charter schools, the girls would "school at home" instead of homeschooling...there'd be all the flexibility of homeschooling, but the job of choosing materials and assessing progress would no longer fall solely on my shoulders.  The girls are well prepared academically for such a shift, as each has tested at or above grade level for the standard subjects, so there's no anxiety about the potential change.  Who knows, they might eventually attend the local public high school (it's got a great reputation).  Would this shift be happening if we hadn't walked the Camino?  Probably not, as, like most mothers, I tend to put the rest of my family's needs before my own.  Walking the Camino gave me a real sense of what was working and what wasn't within my own life.  None of these changes in educational methods/styles will affect our hiking, by the way.  The girls still very much want to get out there on a regular basis, and I still very much want to take them.  I don't see that aspect of our lives ever changing.

If it doesn't feel right, then I don't do it.  I'm not talking about sloth.  What I mean is, if someone asks me to do something, and I'm already being pulled in five different directions, then I say "no."  If an outspoken person wants everyone else to agree with her, and I don't, then I won't nod my head along with everyone else (I'll stand up and state my opposing case).  I don't schmooze, and I don't support people who are only out for fame and self-aggrandizement. 

I also won't publish another book that concerns my family.  At least, not within the next decade.  I'm proud of UP, and the girls and I are happy to have it out there.  It got stellar reviews from every professional book critic who read it, and I'm thrilled so many people find it inspirational and enjoyable.  I love all the people at Random House.  No regrets whatsoever with that experience.  However, future books concerning details of our family's in, details that don't pertain to hiking...will have to wait until my daughters are adults.  I'd want their mature (adult) and informed consent before I moved forward with any such publications.  I've written two full-length manuscripts regarding specific aspects of our past, and it felt wonderful to create those documents...but, truth-be-told, I won't mind if the girls never approve those two publications.  My enjoyment with writing comes from the act of writing itself.  Appreciation is nice, and everyone likes to get paid, but I don't have a drive for fame or fortune.  (No one should have a drive for fame or fortune....only unhappy and insecure people actively seek the fame-fortune package...such unfortunate folks don't realize peace and true success do not come from such shallow pursuits.)  That's not to say I'm no longer publishing...I am, but not in ways you might expect.  I'll leave those details for another day.

The above has gone on long enough, so I'll end things here.  I'll list and describe more examples of post-Camino changes on another blog post.

As soon as we're free of sneezes and mucus, we'll get back on the trails.  Hopefully next week...



Jaim said...

When will you come to Montana? I've got two girls who would be thrilled to have hiking partners. Hope everyone feels better soon.

Cumulus said...

Have you tried something in between a day hike and a through hike? I'll go backpacking several times a year for a weekend, or a long weekend, or once a whole week. Disappear into the woods Friday morning and reappear Monday afternoon. For someone like me, and I'd be willing to bet you, it's very good for one's mental health. With or without the girls, as seems best; if you're doing the JMT next year they're certainly ready for short backpack, although you probably want to wait until spring now.

Arkie_in_CT said...

Hi Trish. I like your progress report. I've found, in my own life, that even day hiking and the occasional weekend backpack have effected many of the attitudinal changes you note after your Camino hike. It's a cleansing, simplifying pursuit, renewing and reinvigorating the heart and soul. Nature washes and refreshes us with the salve of her beauty.

I like what Cumulus said, by the way. I'd bet you and the girls would enjoy a nice L.T. backpack through Vermont or Maine A.T. section or something like that.

Thanks for reporting many. Many happy returns for the holidays and for a 2014 filled with discovery and wonderment.

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Jaim, we might be in Montana in 2015. We would love to meet you and your girls and share some trails! WIll keep you posted.

Cumulus, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the girls' weekly calendar is usually filled with playdates, extracurricular classes, etc. Therefore, unless it's a "big trip" (the Camino, highpointing excursions, etc.), our opportunities for backpacking are limited. We have one hiking day a week, and they love to get out there, but they also want to keep up with all their other interests. My opportunities to backpack without them are few and far between, as I am usually with one or both of the girls, on my own, six days a week. By the way, we hope to see you again sometime. It's been too long. :)

Arkie, you describe the effects of habitual hiking perfectly. Nature does indeed wash and refresh the soul. Thanks for putting it so eloquently. We wish you a wonderful holiday too. :)

Cumulus said...

"By the way, we hope to see you again sometime. It's been too long."

That it has. We should arrange something. Hiking in the Whites in the winter is something of a logistical challenge for me, but I've done it, and will have to do it some more if I'm ever going to finish that winter list. There might also be somewhere in southern N.H. or in Mass. which is doable as a day trip for both of us. Let me know if you have any free weekend days in the next few months, and hopfully they'll be free for me as well.

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Will do - have a wonderful holiday!

Jennifer Hofmann said...

Just wanted to thank you for this post. You and I walked around the same time and I followed your blog after I got back. :) Many of the changes you've made are similar to my own, looking back.

I am *not* a hiker, so I've been astonished to discover that I also miss the long distance walking (with a bed at night). :) I've decided to do a 5-day walk that strings together several towns in my area and ends up at a monastery with a guest house... Perhaps as the anniversary celebration of my Camino. I may invite a few select friends as companions and/or dinner buddies. Just wanted to share the idea in case it sparks ideas for you.

Thanks for continuing to write. I really enjoy your perspectives.

Warmly, Jen in Oregon

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Jennifer, that's a wonderful idea! I'm glad you've found a way to keep the Camino going, in your own way and in your own state. The addition of local friends is such a warm and joyous touch.

Happy Anniversary, and Ultreia!