70/7000 September 11, 2001

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It was a week and a half after I returned from my 70/7000 trip and I will always remember how sunny that morning was. I walked into the office of my elementary school and saw my colleagues silently huddled around a TV.  The images of the burning World Trade Towers were surreal but our feelings of fear and shock were overwhelmingly real.

I had promised my second grade class we would go to the village park to eat our lunch. My principal told me to keep the day as normal as possible and to go ahead with the plan. I watched these kids, many who were sons and daughters of  The Army soldiers of nearby Fort Drum, laughing and enjoying a glorious fall day. I knew that they would learn the terrible news from their parents and their world, our world, would never be the same again.

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I had started reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen to my class everyday since the first day of school.  It is a story of a boy named Brian who became lost in the Canadian wilderness. It was a book about struggle, resilience, and perseverance and lent itself to wonderful insights and great lessons to discuss and learn.

“He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work. It wasn’t just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that–it didn’t work.”

Brian had “hope in his knowledge. Hope in the fact that he could learn and survive and take care of himself. Tough hope, he thought that night. I am full of though hope.”

“Patience, he thought. So much of this was patience – waiting, and thinking and doing things right. So much of all this, so much of all living was patience and thinking.”

You are your most valuable asset. Don’t forget that. You are the best thing you have.”

My students sat on the rug and as I read, the circle seemed to get tighter everyday as we all sat closer and closer to each other.  Brian had learned about courage and hope. It saved him and he survived. It saved us, too.

70/7000 Back Home, Reading My Journal

Labor Day Weekend 2001

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Strange to be home. The rooms are spread out with many steps between things but  I will get used to it again.

I called my son and daughter, relatives, and friends.  Unpacked, did some laundry,  picked up my mail and went through it.   Then I went off to school to set up my classroom.  I had a lot to do but  I took a deep breath and tired not to get discouraged.  This was part of the the plan, to really concentrate my effort in a short amount of time.  It was a small price to pay for having an almost  infinite vacation.

My journey had become a personal odyssey, a search for answers, a time to be alone and think. I sat down with my journal, eighty pages of pouring out my heart under the stars and unraveling mistakes and regrets in the shadows of beautiful mountains. I flipped through the pages, reading what I had written and realized what  whiner I am.  My thoughts had been filled with so many worries and complaints.  It was at this moment, staring down at my pen and pencil scribbles, that I learned the lesson I had traveled so far to discover. It was a subtle truth but a very powerful one. It is simply to enjoy each day, each moment and not worry about all the bad things that may or may not happen. Through my whole trip I worried that my van might break down, that something was wrong with the tires, or I had ruined the brakes when I had gone down the steep mountain. It was foolish because nothing happened. My vacation would have been much more enjoyable if I hadn’t brought my anxiety with me.

I found out that  I will be an inclusion teacher this year, something I have never done before. I’m also the new president of my local Toastmasters’ International. Again, something I have never done before. I’m not going to worry about any of it!

70/7000 Putting on Some Miles and My Last Night

Days 63-68  August 27-September 1, 2001

Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ontario. Putting on the miles to get home before school started, I didn’t set up camp each night but slept in the van.  I used a chair by a campfire in the evenings and made coffee each morning on my vintage Bernzomatic stove. Down to the basics, my journey is ending.

On Day 66 ( Thursday, August 30) I realized I was 90 miles from home. I felt this wasn’t right. I told everyone I was leaving on the Saturday after school let out and returning on the  Saturday before school started again. I really wanted to go home but my poetic soul and my  stubborn  inflexibility would not allow it. I set up camp, tent and all.

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And only on Saturday, September 1, 2001, did I allow myself to go home.

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70/7000 Reflections in My Cabana

Days 61 and 62  August 25&26, 2001

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Put on some miles today, stopped at a campground, and put up my “cabana” (an open sided tent). I love my cabana.  In storms I cover it with a very large sheet of blue plastic and it becomes a waterproof shelter, dark and cozy like a cave.  I lit a candle,  made coffee on my gas stove, and sat in its opening just beyond the raindrops with a book. It’s a rainy day today but a good day. “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”

The journal and the journey are not done yet. I’m taking a step back on this page and recording some thoughts about just how incredible this odessey has been. This trip has been an outstanding feat and I do have a lot of courage. Maybe there is nothing to be afraid of.  Can I take this courage and apply it to my life back home? Can I take my faith and have it be an all encompassing power that will come to my assistance 24-7? I hope so because I believe that when I’m in this state of balance, I’m filled with joy and light. I  feel it when I’m teaching my students or when I make a connection with people. I want to expand this  feeling to my dream of being a writer.  I know I will have to be even stronger because I will be criticized. I read somewhere that if we listen to our intuition and our hearts  they will reveal to us what needs to done next.  I’m ready to take the risks. I am ready to take more steps and, as I do, my  faith in the process can only become more intense. The words and the wisdom will come.

I took this journey not knowing if it would turn out okay. (Or maybe  in my heart, I did). Something tells me that the journey ahead will be okay, too. I have known adversity and I understand its function because it propels me forward. “Be not afraid”, I now whisper to myself.  The promise has been made. Even in the “shadow of the valley of death”, I will be protected and even when I fall I will get up, bounce up. And as I do, I will learn the lessons. Everything is going to be okay.  Be a survivor, I will tell myself,  and, for heaven’s sake, don’t be afraid to thrive.

Copyright 2018@The Autonomous Traveler

 

 

 

 

 

70/7000 Flying Insects, Thin Tent Walls, A Flood, and A Bag of Jewels

Day 61  August 25, 2001

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I stayed in a campsite in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Two unsettling things happened there.  First, the whole campground was filled with all types of flying insects.  I asked  if this was the norm and the people in charge just shrugged their shoulders.  Forest fires were popping up all over The West and I wondered if insects, like other animals, migrated to escape the danger. I never considered that before but it seemed to make sense.

My second situation involved the married couple with their two small kids who had the site next to me. Sometimes campgrounds are like mini suburban housing projects, one dwelling almost on top of the other.  This family’s tent was about a foot and a half from my tent.  I guess their kids were sound sleepers and wouldn’t hear any love making sounds.  What this couple didn’t realize was that I, inches away, wasn’t a sound sleeper and that I had very good hearing.

The next morning I went into Grand Forks where in 1997 The Red River had flooded the city. It was interesting to actually be at a place that had gotten so much coverage in the news.

I stopped at a craft shop on the main street and immediately rummaged through their clearance table at the front of the store. Nestled in a basket was a collection of shiny plastic jewels in all sorts of colors. There must of been close to a hundred of them. I asked the saleslady how much she wanted for all of them.  I guess she just wanted to rid of them because she let me buy them for almost nothing. I walked out of the shop triumphant as I listened to the jewels jumbling around in the bag.  I knew my  second grade students would love them as rewards. These magical pieces of plastic were far better than stickers.  I was so excited about the smiles and motivation I knew this treasure would bring to my classroom.

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70/7000 A Bar in a Church and a Grizzly Bear

Days 57-60  August 21-24, 2001

Heading home but still taking in the sights.

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I took this picture of  The Mint Bar built inside a church in Sundance, Montana.  Ironic? Amazing?  Amusing?  “The Wild West” is quite the place!

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I stopped at the Cabela’s Store in Billings, stood under a stuffed grizzly bear, and learned that adult bears average 8 feet tall and weigh 900 pounds. I think what upset me the most were the very long , sharp nails on the paws. So glad I never met one of these creatures.  I now have a very healthy fear of them.

70/7000 An Anguished Transition- Heading Home

Days 55 and 56   August 19 & 20, 2001

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Stopping to camp in High River, Alberta for few days and realizing I’m getting anxious about going home.  I had learned so much about myself on this trip.  Would it stick after I got back to the real world? When I get back to my teaching job? When I’m throw into the world of workplace politics?

I need a good self help book but I left my collection at home. I always enjoy reading books by authors who have things  figured out or biographies of  people who have overcome obstacles.   I saw a book in Jasper about a woman who hiked The Rockies all by herself but I knew I shouldn’t buy it because I’m getting close to running out of money.

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I heard someone say that we all  have the answers to life, we just have to be reminded. (I’m making myself a list on a fresh, clean page.)

What is a person who can successfully take on life?

  • An optimist
  • A risk taker
  • A person with a stubbornness of conviction
  • Someone with  intelligence, a degree of wisdom and understanding
  • Someone not afraid to be different, not a crowd follower or people pleaser
  • Someone passionate, who has enough drive to put dreams into actions, who keeps climbing and plugging away
  • A person confident but not to the point of arrogance
  • A person who stands up for herself as she voices her feelings, opinions and boundaries; strong but never to the point ruthlessness

ANXIETY! I have fallen short on each one of these points many times during my life. Am I really going to be better?   The reality of day-to-day  life will be a challenge.  All of this isn’t even a matter of courage, we are all afraid. Do I have enough faith to believe everything will be okay? I know I have gained much on this trip but will it be enough?

I closed the journal, thought of my mom, and wrote her a letter.

Dear Mom,

You always ask me to write you letters, well, here I  go. I want to make sure that you know I admire you. You are strong and have always managed to overcome the challenges life has given you. I’m really proud of the joy and adventure you now have going on senior citizen bus trips with your friends. You did this change on your own and took this risk to have more fun in your life. I know the other ladies are really enjoying your company.  I’m very proud of you.

Love always, your daughter

I will send out the letter when I cross the border into my home country once again.

Here at sunset in The Canadian Rockies, I am feeling nostalgic, sentimental, and weepy but also grateful.

Mom Blog

( My mom in later life. She lived to be 96)

70/7000 The Columbia Icefields and The Continental Divide

Days 51, 52, 53  August 15, 16 & 17, 2001

The first thing I did when I woke up in my van in the parking lot  in Jasper, Alberta, was to walk over to the gas station restroom.  Thankfully no one had locked it.  I then drove  to a quick stop and got a large cup of coffee and a muffin. More moments of gratitude when I got a tent site at the campgrounds, took a shower, and set  up my bed back in the tent.IMG_2353-001

The next day, I realized why I needed reservations in Jasper.  Not far away were The Columbian Icefields.  They are a big tourist attraction, 2.3 square miles, 3.7 miles long and 1,200 feet deep.  Formed between 238,000 and 126,000 BC. during the Great Glaciation, they lay astride of the Continental Divide where mountain waters flowed to The Pacific on one side and The Atlantic on the other.

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Tourists from all over the world were brought to the site in snowcoaches from The Icefields Visitors Center.

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This whole trip is based on the principle of serendipity.  I had no idea this attraction existed.  What a wonderful discovery.

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70/7000 Slept in a Parking Lot in Jasper, Alberta

Day 50 August 14, 2001

I’m a worrier. It’s bad because it’s stressful but also good because I tend to have all my ducks in a row. Before the trip I had anxiety about the ultimate travel nightmare, not finding a place to stay. I saw it as the worst thing that could happen to me and since I was an excellent catastrophizer, I was sure it  would happen. So even though I was newly single with my kids on their own, I bought a soccer mom’s minivan. I took out the back seats and hit the road, confident that I would always have a bed wherever I went.

I took one last picture of beautiful Lake Louise and headed north for my last few days before I would start the long trek home.

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I planned on camping in Jasper, Alberta, and my neurotic preparedness paid off.  The campground was filled and so were all the hotels and motels. I parked in the public lot in the center of town and realized other people in campers and vans were settling in for the night. They were being discrete, moving around inside their vehicles with flashlights and speaking in low voices.  I followed their lead and inconspicuously moved some of my stuff  to the front seats  so I had a clear space for bedding in the back of the van.

Before I turned in for the night, I met a couple with a nice RV  who were also parking lot dwellers.  They were astonished to hear about my solo cross country trip and invited me to stay with them in Salt Lake City for The 2002  Summer Olympics. Wow! I took their information.

Another great thing happened. I looked across the parking lot and saw a double rainbow.  I was at peace. “It takes both showers and sunshine to make a rainbow.”

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I went across the street and acting like I owned the place,  I went into the restroom at a gas station, brushed my teeth, and did what I needed to do. I sauntered out, went into my van, locked the doors, and sleeping in my clothes had a remarkably good night’s sleep.

70/7000 Camping as a Metaphor for Life?

Day 48 & 49   August 13 & 14, 2001

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I stayed two more nights at  Lake Louise in my hard sided van camper.  Some seasoned hikers told me to buy a set of bells at the camp store because the grizzlies were afraid of them and would move on.  A bought a bell bracelet and shook those jingle bells so hard I thought my hand would fall off my wrist.

Thinking about my experiences on this trip, I came to realize that camping is a lot like life.  People come to the campgrounds to pursue happiness. Everyone arrives on their own path and each of their personal stories is unique.   They bring enough with them to meet their needs and the extent of their needs shows itself in their choice of shelter, from small tents to huge RVs with expensive cars in tow.  But there are trade offs for each approach. The big rigs may have TV, a microwave and ice that doesn’t melt but the people within miss a lot of the woodland sounds, the constant changes of the sky, and the golden light that fills up a tent at dawn. But no path or pace is wrong because there is freedom for each camper to choose the way he or she finds joy and that is to be respected.

There is an awareness of others in the campground community but there is also  a code of privacy just like in real life. Social norms exist like they did for the cavemen long ago, no staring, respect for another’s space, and no loud voices. The friendly people will reach out and others will stay to themselves. It’s easy to know the difference.  But the universal human capacity to care is always present.   I  have seen campers come to the aid of others just like in real life when people help each help other during a natural disaster or times of hardship.

Our  human paths cross.  With some people, you may choose to cross their path multiple times. Others  may cross your path and move on.  There are paths of people you may choose to avoid.  But I wish life was more like a campground where we let life happen without judgement and respect another’s path in peace.

Camping like life is a matter of attitude. If you stay positive, the trip will be wonderful as your mind focuses on the good things and not the bad.  Yes, things will go wrong. The air conditioner in the RV might break down.  Or the bedding  in your tent may get wet in a rainstorm.  Or your perfect golden marshmallow may fall into the campfire. But you might as well do camping and life as much as you can with a smile.

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Copyright 2018@ The Autonomous Traveler