The Three Stages of Backpacking Emotion (when the sh*t hits the fan)

Thoughts and Such, Travel

Today my man hunk turns another year older and I’m feeling all mushy…I won’t put you

Happy birthday you man hunk!

Happy birthday you man hunk!

through that, promise.  Anyway, as I enter another year with this stud  I am reminded of a conversation I had on the CCT trail during “Day Motherfucking Two” (the link will take you to the clusterfuck that was day two on the Creekside to Coast Trail).  I had just lost my mind and had slightly embarrassed myself with an adult-sized tantrum when it dawned on me.  I had gone through very distinct phases of emotion that seem to happen in order every time things get a little hairy on the trail.  So, when I was calm I shared my new found knowledge with Zack and Danger and it has been dubbed, The Three Stages of Backpacking Emotion (when shit hits the fan).


When I realized my watch was off by more than 5 miles and we still had a grueling 4+ miles to go, I descended into the first stage: denial.  If you recall from my last post, I without meaning to, started yelling at Zack; “NO!  THAT CAN’T BE!  THIS WATCH DOES NOT HAVE A 5-MILE MARGIN OF ERROR!  I JUST CAN’T BELIEVE IT!”  He was consistent with his message to me; we’ve only gone 5 miles and it took 6 hours.  “How can this be?” I thought.  “There is no way we’ve only gone five miles…I mean….huh??”  In my mind, this man was lying to me and it was a joke that would be over around the next curve.  I waited for him to say, “Ha ha!  Just kidding, we were only one mile off!”  We got to the next curve and no such dream came true, which leads me into the second emotion of backpacking: sadness.

After losing my denial I went into this stage of feeling completely defeated and really fucking sad.  I started to cry and threw my backpack down and decided to succumb to the heat and dirt that was creeping up my nose from the road.  I’ve noticed this during other trips when things have become super frustrating.  Once in Yosemite I had the hardest time making it up a mountain due to the altitude and my generalized exhaustion (we had hiked the Grand Canyon a couple days before).  I sat down on the rocks, delaying an entire line of people and just cried.  “WAAAHHHH WHY IS THIS SO HARD?”  The point is, once the denial of why you’re in a shit-show ends, you just have to cry it out like a wet, gross baby who’s just lost his ice cream on the hot pavement.  And like any child who’s just experienced frustration, the sadness turns to blind and irrational anger, step three.

On Day Motherfucking Two, after I’d cried and apologized to Zack and Danger, the adrenaline set in and a hell-fire rage bubbled up.  There would be no beer.  No.  Motherfucking.  Beer.  Click.  Boom.  I threw on my pack and went into an anger fueled march.  “LET’S JUST GET THERE, DAMNIT!”  We’ve all been there and I think this is the best stage of the three simply because you’re so angry you forget your pain and exhaustion.  I was able to make the last four miles in record time because I was practically running with my 38-pound pack through the woods of Big Basin State Park.

Zack and Claire on CCTSo, fellow nature lover, when you’re lost and/or WAY FARTHER away from the destination than you thought, just allow yourself to experience the three stages of backpacking emotion and then enjoy the surprises at the end like that awesome waterfall, vista point or for me, unexpected open store with cold beer.  Happy birthday, Zack!  Thanks for just letting me act like an asylum patient on the CCT.


What We Learned from Luke, a Perspective by Claire Sturm

Thoughts and Such

My boyfriend, Zachary has a very large family consisting of five siblings and countless cousins, aunts and uncles. His father, Todd married young and helped produce two strong boys; time he considers to be extraordinarily precious. He once told me a story about how Zachary and brother, Sean were caught walking over an at-best flimsy ice covered pond in the sticks of Kentucky. I could see the fatherly frustration return to his eyes as he described being stuck on the bank, unable to retrieve them. The frustration quickly dissipated as the terror he felt all those years ago returned to him causing a single tear to fall from his eye. He pressed his lips together, inhaled deeply through his nose and exclaimed, as if he suddenly felt silly, “You little fuckers.” We all laughed. Many years later when Zachary and Sean were adults, Todd, following a reversed vasectomy, had three more children; Savannah, Luke and Gus. When I first heard of this I was filled with a mixture of humor and that all too familiar, oh-shit feeling as I realized how fruitful the man I had come to love actually was. Let’s just say, I knew I had to be careful NOT to reproduce.

Zachary and I decided to leave Kentucky and head for the West Coast, my second home. I’d spent half of my life living in the Bay Area region of California and felt as if home held dual meaning. Todd was living with his new wife, Heather and three young children in the Woodside mountains and my mom, just an hour’s drive away in San Jose; the move seemed destined. Zachary and I spent the first two months living with Todd, Heather and three kids. Loud doesn’t begin to describe the kids who were living in a secluded mountain paradise. Gus, the youngest and just four years old at the time was always buck-naked and giggling. Luke, a boy of seven was a ball of energy like I’d never encountered. He’d be in the middle of telling you a story about Star Wars as a visible wave of energy quickly crept up his limbs and exploded before your eyes resulting in a chest pound and monkey-like grunts. Savannah, the one and only girl in a sea of testosterone was nine and sassy. She’d pick up a valley girl head bob within a year; an almost uncomfortable looking neck movement to signify she thought she was the queen of the universe. These kids are amazing. I spent a lot of time babysitting and answering thousands of questions about when Zack and I would be married, why wasn’t I pregnant yet and if I could name our baby Princess Lea.

One particular night stands out in my memory and Luke took center stage. Luke is different from his siblings, at least in my eyes. As the middle child he wont receive the babying that Gus will and the new privileges granted to older sister, Savannah. Don’t get me wrong here; Luke is not at all left out or ignored by any means and he demands attention with his typical seven-year-old antics like interrupting every adult conversation and pouting loudly when video game time is over. His noticeable difference from his siblings comes in his somewhat surprising moments of wisdom and compassion. This night I referred to earlier was one where I sat on the couch with the three kids watching a claymation film called, Mary and Max. In retrospect, the film may have been a little inappropriate due to an intense near suicide scene I forgot about until it was already playing before their eyes. Whoops. The film, though dark at times, is extraordinary. It is about a young girl called, Mary who is living in Australia with her parents. Her mother is a wobbly and brazen drunk and her father is a depressed taxidermist, both of poor means. Mary decides to seek out a random pen pal in the United States utilizing an old copy of the White Pages and chooses Max, an obese over eaters anonymous member with Aspergers Syndrome, Aspie for short. The story is allegedly based on true events and is told remarkably well in this film. I mean c’mon the whole thing was done with clay; how could it be anything other than awesome?

As the film played the more typical and predictable child-like behaviors began to emerge. Gus began to ask questions about every single detail of the film like, “Where is she going?” “Why can’t that mom stand up?” “Is she sad? Why is she sad?” He could barely sit still and moved at least nine times in the first 10 minutes, switching between my lap and the cushion next to me. He kicked his legs up and down, stretched out his toes and sighed like he was sitting through a tax seminar. Savannah, the typical tween she was commented with judgment about everything. “That girl has a big forehead.” “Eww, that guy looks weird.” She was most critical of Max, the obese New Yorker Mary wrote to. Max was a very round looking character with a strange little bulbous head which he covered with a red beanie. He breathed heavily when he walked and was victim to paralyzing anxiety attacks. “He looks so weird!” Savannah exclaimed. I have to admit he wasn’t easy on the eyes. Luke sat to my left at the end of the sofa. The way he was sitting caught my attention first. He was at the edge of the seat with his feet planted firmly on the floor, spine straight as an arrow, eyes glued to the screen. His only utterance by this point had been a giggle or two and I was relieved he was so engaged because answering the inquiries of the other two kids was enough work. During the film there is a scene where Max is standing on a chair rocking back and forth while in the throws of a panic attack. Savannah just couldn’t cut the guy a break when she said with her pre-teen superiority, “Max is so ugly! Look at him! He looks so weird!” For a moment I thought to try and school the girl with some adult-like wisdom; tired arguments reminding her to be nice and less judgmental. Savannah, remember is a kind, compassionate and loving little girl and her moody tween criticisms were so typical they almost made me laugh. I’d been a little moody nine year old once before too. But before I could finish my nostalgic line of thinking, Luke turned his once staunchly fixed head towards Savannah and stared right into her eyes. Her head and body began to retreat a bit as she was obviously startled by his very direct and serious staring. She laughed a little nervously and said, “What?” “Be nice Savannah, “ said Luke, still staring and still serious. “Max is going through a hard time!” I felt my jaw begin to drop as I watched him avert his gaze and fix it once again on the screen. Savannah looked at her feet for a second as if in thought, her criticisms silenced for good. (The rest of the film anyway.) Luke was touched by the story of Mary and Max in a way I hadn’t at all anticipated from a seven year old. I too felt a little guilty for giggling silently with Savannah about Max’s weird head. Luke’s words had so much meaning, so much understanding, so much compassion and I was taken aback by the depth of his understanding. This little boy looked at Max’s pain, suffering and difficulties with empathy and seriousness. This was not a comment made out of annoyance towards a sister who wouldn’t shut up; it was a comment made out of sincere love. The world could learn a thing or two from Luke. Be nice; we’re going through hard times.