Saturday, June 9, 2012

Adventure and Escapist Family Tendencies

While I still struggle with worries, they're now outpaced by my admiration for my son and all the other dreamers and doers who take to the Appalachian Trail, or any other long distance trail for that matter.  I'm sure other parents and spouses of long distance hikers, those I've met online thanks to my son's journey: Patti, mother of Rayo, Karen mother of Strange Habit from Virginia,  Selena, mother of Fillipe from Florida, come to savor this same sensation.  A feeling of overflowing pride, a brimming up and spilling over of hope and faith, and a new found understanding, nowhere near complete, but more so than six months ago of what out family members are made of.
As I watch Loner's videos, I see a man, who while sensitive enough to be on the verge of tears because fellow hikers are forced off the trail by injuries, can also be a man who finds a kind yet confident way to get a rattlesnake off the trail, grins with excitement instead of running when he sees a bear, and can slog hundreds of miles in shoes that are held together by threads.
I knew Jeff had a great love of the outdoors and an ability to live in uncomfortable conditions, but not like this, not day after day, not while in pain or battling exhaustion still miles from town, a hot meal,  shower and rest. With every video and email I'm learning more and more about my son, seeing him in a way most parents of adult children get to do, as well as tagging along in a vicarious way on what may be one of the greatest adventures of his life.
After my son Jeff,  but up his recent videos of his AT trip while he was about the 720 mile mark along the trail, I started thinking about all the unusual passions and interests he's pursued over the years and how they've become, in some odd quirky and totally unexpected perfectly timed, synchronistic way, a part of his AT journey.
Over the course of the past tow months, Jeff's had the opportunity to indulge himself in some of his passions which don't really relate to hiking to the Appalachian Trail - skateboarding, old cars and indie film making. He's had a chance to skate board. He's never been one to follow the crowd,  always drawn to activities, hobbies, jobs which were challenging and fulfilling in a meaningful way.  While he's a quiet guy, he also has a bit of an adrenaline-seeker streak, which I thought he was feeding enough when he went back to skateboarding in a big way while in his thirties.  He spent the last two or three years traveling throughout the southeast testing his skills at skateparks all over the country then writing about it in a mag he started and filming his team's trips as an indie film maker. But I guess that wasn't enough.

So my daughter, Beth and I shouldn't have been all that surprised when Jeff, who had decided to take on the name, Loner, informed us he was embarking on the five month NOBO hike up the Appalachian Trail.
I should have seen it coming. He's always been interested in the outdoors first as a cub scout and then when we would go arrowhead hunting and hiking in the Piedmont, the foothills of the Blue Ridge,when he was in his pre-teens. 
And his adventurous side kicked in when he first took up skateboarding, going from ramps he built in the backyard to skating half pipes and jumping over cars in competitions, then moving onto racing a stock car he built on a dirt track near here.
While, I've never had an adventure such as the one upon which my son has embarked on the AT Trail, I too have an adventurous spirit.
In the past, I flew hot-air balloons and was a photo journalist for national hot-air ballooning and hang gliding magazines, covered the goth, heavy metal, grunge and industrial metal music scene for Edge Magazine and free-lanced for music mags during the 90's.
After I worked as a photojounralist for The Greenville News, I totally switched career paths and traveled up and down the East Coast in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) as a spinner, weaver and merchant with my cottage industry, Black Swan Thieves Market, spent 42 weekends a year in a canvas pavilion, and went to week long wars in the current Middle Ages where I was transported  back to 14th century Europe.

So, there's a history of some of our family dropping out of the confines of mainstream society and finding a way to make it while also doing something escapist. I went back about 600 years, a bit of risk in the context of what I view as a 21st century judgmental compartmentalized society.
But it wasn't far enough  I was still in a system: a man-made system with man-made rules. At first I thought I was becoming more of myself, and in some ways I did because the SCA fosters creativity, working as it does with an apprenticeship approach.. The longest I did it for was almost a week and I needed a car load of material things unable to give up creature comforts like a cot, hot meals which didn't include Ramen Noodles and Pop Tarts, and pretty costumes to wear to events in the Middle Ages.
My son is much more of a minimalist.  He only needs on 15 lb. backpack and two walking sticks. And as much as the SCA provided in arousing my aesthetic and history loving self, it was still a system, granted lived out in nature, but not a part of it.  Not like the way the AT thur-hikers experience the natural world. 
   Jeff, through a series of events, learned about systems and how they can suck the soul out of your being. And for his own peace of mind, he chose to go back in time further than 600 years.  Way before civilization  encroached right up to the edge of the mountainous wooded trail which runs from Alabama up to Canada, a great swath of diversity in flora, fauna and wildlife.
Jeff went back to a time when you lived by your wits paying attention to each passing moment, learning with your lizard brain how to note the sounds, smells, tastes and sensations which will enhance the enjoyment of the mountains, or may even save your life or at least during adverse weather conditions, extensive trudging over rough terrain and in dealing with the ways of the forest.  On the AT, people cannot be conqueror, but participant. That seems to me to be a learning that alters one's soul.. Little can be taken for granted again when water, food, and warmth are rated as fortunate gifts offered in miniscule amounts. 
Jeff  tends to go after his dreams and making them happen: building his own skateboard ramps and race car, learning the trade of an indie film maker, publishing magazines, starting his own skateboard company, and finding a niche as avid arrowhead hunter.
If you met him at any one of the hostel, diners or all you can eat buffets along the trail, you'll never guess he's done all these things. You'll meet a quiet, unassuming guy, with an easy laugh and a ready hand to help. He's trustworthy and genuine with a tender streak his family and friends know well and appreciate all the time. But beneath that exterior he quietly and with dedication and he goes what he's after, rarely inclined to give up, ready to meet the next challenge and figure out a way around it. He's that kind of guy and as his mom, with each day, I discover more and more reasons of why I feel overwhelmed with pride more often than worries.

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