I received a message today from a dead man; a message he sent to me 15 years ago. Fifteen years ago I was attempting what everyone thought was a) insane and b) impossible. I was trying to walk from Georgia to Canada using primarily the Appalachian Trail. I was also trying to do it while respecting my tradition in adhering to the Sacred Jewish Calendar. That Calender had long frustrated my aspirations for arctic exploration due to a) lack of kosher food and b) an uncertainty of when sunset would fall (sunset is when the day begins, thus when the Sabbath begins). And while Mordecai Richler’s book Solomon Gursky was Here was tantalizing in the character of a Jew surviving the Franklin Expedition on smuggled kosher food, I found it more metaphor than feasible.
You see, much like the character in Richler’s book, I had determined that God should either kill me or 'cure' me/acknowledge me (I had some orientation issues, I was young…what can I say?). So I needed to hike over 2,150 miles while keeping (thus NOT hiking) every Sabbath AND Passover, the 15th and 21st of Nisan, plus Shavout/Pentecost and finishing BEFORE Yom Kipper (after which the snow at those altitudes would be impassable). It meant that I needed to hike 1/5 more a day than anyone had ever planned. It meant I needed to start in the snow, before trails had been cleared much less maintained. I mailed my food in boxes to drop locations and trained, and trained. I hiked mostly at night deeming it was both too annoying and dangerous to hike the San Gabriel Mountains during the day. I did the Los Angeles Marathon and got on a bus the next day for Georgia.
It turned out that hiking over 20 miles a day with a 75 pound pack up mountain tops is actually a LOT harder than running 26 miles carrying nothing but chapstick. But I was determined and for the most point I was alone. And I mean not seeing another human being for over a week alone (I bet you didn’t think that was still possible in the US?). My body was a wreck: I had taken my 2,500 calories a day but with the exertion I was doing for12 hours a day I was literally starving to death (I met a hiker nicknamed “Veins” because the previous year he had done just that – hiked until all you could see was his veins and hospitalized for starvation: though the chain smoking of pot might have had an influence too) . I had to hike down to a town to keep Passover. I was falling behind my schedule and started hiking at night, once I hiked entirely through the night, often without a light but the just the moon while on precipices, going up cliffs, on razor ridges for hours. I hiked to get away from weirdos, wackos and in one case to put as much distance between me and an entire troupe of male juvenile delinquents being taken on a “wilderness hike.” The Leader confided that he had filled their packs with five pound cans of fruit cocktail, beans and crap to ‘take the edge off.” Too bad he didn’t confiscate all the knives and the matches. All of my toenails fell off from the blood pooled under them. I once sent my pack ahead and simply RAN 55 miles with a fanny pack. But God would neither kill me nor give me enlightenment.
What was waiting for me at one food drop was a small package. It was from a friend, Henry, somewhat older than me and married but we shared a similar sense of humor. In the package was a toy truck and attached on a string was the phrase: “Keep Trucking!” Henry was dying from a brain tumor from which he had already had four operations to “remove it all.” I think it was in parts now where they don’t operate. Before my trip I had visited him in hospital where he recounted in animated detail how they cut the top of skin from his skull and pulled down the front of his face before drilling into his skull (like I said, we had a similar sense of humor). The toy truck that Henry sent me wasn’t an off-road truck, or an 18 wheeler. It was a bulldozer. Which for most people I guess would be a bit depressing (not exactly the fastest vehicle). I was touched that he had taken the time, in his circumstances, of which dying of a brain tumor was literally only a very small part, to send it. I kept it with me, even though I would ruthlessly leave packaging, fuel and eventually all shelter (tent, tarp, wraps) behind in my attempts to lose the weight I was carrying.
What none of the books at the time bothered to mention was a condition called “pregnant woman syndrome” which means that if you carry enough weight enough hours of the day for long enough (like months), your feet expand a bit to compensate, just like they do during pregnancy. This is what happened to me and I was, in my nice expensive hiking books ripping my feet to shreds against the insides of the waterproofed and tanned leather. . People told me that they had never seen feet so bad. Two toes became infected. I made one hiker physically sick. Literally, hike two hours, take a break, wring blood out of sock, change sock, get up, and keep going. It couldn’t last. I’m sorry Henry. I borrowed some sneakers my size and continued on for another 150 miles. I stopped after a total of 1,052-1,053 “trail marked” miles and probably about 1400+ hiked miles.
Years later, when I came out, not just as a lesbian but as a lesbian who already HAD a female partner (in many religions being lesbian is just a ‘trial from God’’ while a lesbian with a partner=fallen one). And Linda and I were getting shouts and vandalism in our neighborhood. I was being harassed, then attacked at work before finally being ‘let go.’ The truck was there then, the bulldozer. Seriously, I had kept it. People told me I was going to die if I stayed and I think they meant it. Well, I didn’t obviously. I started my own business, and I kept going jogging even thought it meant that we had to memorize the license plate of every car passing us in case they came back and threw things or attacked. My business did quite well financially, but I was a emotional serious mess by the time I moved to Canada.
The number one reason I didn’t want people to know exactly where I lived is because I was so messed up mentally (mostly about four predatory males who immediately tried to latch onto me and would talk to me like I was a piece of their property; “You didn’t tell you me you had a tennis outfit, I guess I’ll have see more of that later.” – that kind of crap). And I was so mentally beaten down that for long periods I just simply couldn’t leave the house or more than two or maybe three blocks at most. I went to a guy who helped me and the epee helped me and I got better. I got better. It is not that I am indestructible, it is that I always move in one direction, even if that is one step a month, or crawling, or dragging myself. So things were good, I had applications for the government and university jobs, I went to competitions, I was happy and confident and then I started falling down (literally – and passing out).
Some know what a kicker going from able bodied to definitely NOT can be. And what it means to go from independent to incredibly dependent. And what it means to have this vast horizon of a future in front of you turned to a limited labyrinth in which there seem to be no “good” choices. So today, almost by accident I came across the bulldozer. Do I know what Henry meant when he sent it to me? No, not for sure. But I know that Henry cared enough about me to send me not what I wanted for my life but what I needed. Henry, after several brain operations knew a lot about bulldozers. See, other vehicles, they see a roadblock or a hindrance or have a hard time and it is “Golly, I guess that just isn’t going to happen, better turn back.”
A Bulldozer doesn’t go quickly but it keeps going, it finds a way. I don’t know if Henry knew about my orientation or if he just was just lying in bed thinking about me out there trying something everyone thought was crazy (at best: the amount of times even while hiking that I heard: “You are suicidal! You are going to die!” or “..raped and die!” was beyond counting – yada yada). I suppose if this were one of the movies with moving music I would send this off to some young 20ish with a “keep trucking” message. Except this is MY movie, no violins, and no circle of meaning crap. MY movie: try to remember that! If Henry could lie there KNOWING what exactly was ahead for him (in detail) and encourage me to keep getting on, then damn it, I am going to keep getting on.
I found out today that my latest wheelchair boxing music movie where I am unabashedly displaying a higher level of boxing as well as going at it tooth and nail with my coach Ian does NOT please the devos, or most guys in general (I don’t think a lot of women like it either). The video of me in a corset and angel wings feeling squirrels however is currently in the top 30 favorite videos in Canada. It is the most accepted, most highly reviewed and most linked video I have ever had (eight 5 star and one four star rating: and it is only three weeks old). So let me pass on the message: The girl in the wheelchair and corset and the squirrels and the girl getting hit by a guy in the face and laughing are not two sides of a coin; they are the same side. Life and living, in however large doses I can manage or small increments I might be limited to is what I do, and what I plan and what I keep planning on doing. I’m kinda sad that a video which because I don’t look ‘weak’ or there aren’t two girls boxing (like my previous boxing video which had my opponent in hot pink gloves no less), is something that no one wants to see. Well, I still do. And I feel that every person (especially) who has or uses the phrase “Go down fighting” or “Keep on fighting” and doesn’t like the video – then give yourself a big slap. Because how should I respect those who have no respect for me?
People fight in their own ways, some literal, some figurative. Bulldozers don’t take the paved path. They sometimes have to approach things different ways, sometimes go around, sometimes break a ideas of the ‘way things are done’, but they keep going (I speak not of how you treat people or their emotions but how you find the ways to survive).
Last week I wrote a blog about a common condition in Chronic and Neurological Conditions: Fear. This blog is about the opposite, an emotion in which a clear breath is a victory, not because it was earned or deserved but because you fought or stayed or endured long enough to enjoy it. Where each action is a victory for the same reason. I don’t know why you sent it Henry, but this is what I got: that now I sit where you sat and I see the world as you saw it and you are right, for some of us, this is just the way it is. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have the same capacity or range of feelings. And that it is a choice, to face the fear, to live with it and yet continue to chase those elusive moments, times and experiences which are, as long as I live, my right. I guess the word that comes closest to what I seek, and find, and have filmed about me is: Exaltation
10 hours ago