Flipping the Switch

Way back when I started writing here for Soaring Spirits, I had posited a statement that when “my switch flips from suffering to determination, it is simply not possible to feel more powerful”.  At the time, that was related precisely to losing Megan, and wading through the grief until I finally got up off of the couch, wiped the snot off of my face, and got to work.

I felt as if I could power through anything.  A workout.  A stressful day at work.  Chores at the home or a general busy day.  I quit feeling sorry for myself, effectively pulling my widow card as an excuse to be lazy, and breezed through anything with ruthless efficiency.

For the past year or so though, I felt as if I aged 10.  I’m sore, tired, slow, and gaining weight.  I’ve let the doldrums of everyday life evolve into a bad thing, and my determination, initiative, and drive has slowly waned.  

I was “suffering” from complacency, not loss or grief.  

The switch had flipped.

Over the weekend, I decided to take a backpacking trip yet again.  This was a new place for me, in southeast Ohio, deep in the hills and hollows of the Wayne National Forest.  I didn’t go to prove myself in anything.  I wasn’t trying to make this an epic journey of discovery or a spiritual awakening.  I simply wanted to go camping, and check out another option in my home state.

I arrived on Saturday morning, surrounded by fog at an old country cemetery on a dirt road.  I called Sarah, knowing it was the last service i would have, to let her know I arrived safely, and I was stepping off.  I had my satellite “anti-trigger communicator” at the ready, so I could keep her informed of my location and the fact that I was doing fine.

I’ve been filming and producing videos of my travels and insights for a while now, and this trip would be no different.  My cameras were ready and every so often, I would stop to give an overview of where I was and what I was learning.  I came across the gaping maw of a large cave, covered in icicles and eerily dripping in the humidity.  I filmed there.  Not long after, I arrived at a natural bridge, the largest in Ohio at 51 feet long.  Again, I scrambled down under it with my camera in hand to take pictures and video, in brief awe of the sandstone formation that had been here in these Ohio woods for thousands of years.  

A mile or two down the trail, i decided to stop at a well-used campsite, have lunch, and send an “OK” message to Sarah.  I filmed a bit more.  Cooking lunch, and overview of the campsite and creek nearby, and how far of a hike it had been (just over 3.5 miles at that point).  

And there, eating chicken and noodles in the fading fog, surrounded by white pine and sycamore trees, is where the wheels began falling off, although i wouldn’t realize it until a few days later how much this trip would give me fresh perspective and flip the switch to determination.  

I decided that I would hike a bit further, so that on Sunday, I could be closer to the car for my hike out.  It would get me home earlier and make it an easier day in general.  As I began hiking again, I realized that my OK message to Sarah had not been sent.  It would be at least an hour before it successfully transmitted to her.  I was still filming every so often as I crossed creeks, pushed through brush, or came across old ruins of the oil and coal industry in the area.  

Every so often, I would check my map, and I came to the conslusion that if I took and old forest road, I could come to an intersection with the trail and eliminate a few extra miles of hiking.  A shortcut of sorts.  I resolved that I would find a nice campsite in that particular area, and I would have only a mile’s walk or so the next morning.  

3 miles later, I arrived at the junction.  I hiked uphill from there for what seemed like an eternity.  When I finally arrived at a campsite, it was on a ridge, with no nearby water, and as I came to realize, was only 1000 feet from the car.  

My laziness and lack of strength got the best of me.  I wouldn’t be staying the night, having to gather firewood from the damp forest, retrieve water from a creek a mile away, or even set up my hammock.  I passed right on by the site, arrived at the car, and came home.  

There was no valid reason to do so.  I wasn’t in danger of hypothermia or dehydration.  There was no risk of injury.  I was simply lazy, and frustrated that my messages saying i was OK hadn’t went through.

After a three hour drive to ponder my trip, I became unbelievably frustrated.  I took dozens of trips when I still had Megan, and only once came home early...this has happened twice in 4 months now.  I barely remembered the beautiful fog, the cave, or the natural bridge, because I was staring at them through a screen in the effort to film it all.  I missed how many countless beautiful sights because I decided to shortcut the trail.  I hiked 8.7 miles, with 1000 vertical feet of climbing, and a 50 pound pack, for nothing.

This quickly turned into frustration with myself in general.  I was fat, lazy, useless, weak, and old.  I lashed out at every little thing as if it was a threat to my current status quo of sitting on the couch.  I was grumpy, temperamental, and pessimistic with Sarah for the remainder of what she thought she would have as a weekend to herself as well.  I questioned my very desires to be in nature anymore, and if it was just another hobby that I would lose interest in as I got older.

It wasn’t an “escape” as it had been with Megan.  The woods were an instrumental part of recharging and for even a few days, not being part of the day-to-day of illness and hospital stays.  This trip, and the 3 or 4 before it since December, were a waste of time.

Finally, yesterday, this came to a head.  I’d been self-deprecating and frankly, an asshole since Saturday night.  Sarah and I talked yesterday about it all, and I came to the realization that I was turning backpacking into a job or a requirement.  I’m not lazy, old, or weak...I hiked almost 9 miles for crying out loud.  I don’t need to film every little thing for the sharing to others.  This is MY escape and passion.  I shouldn’t be doing it for anyone else but myself.  Like I did when Megan was alive.  

After that chat yesterday, where I apologized profusely for my attitude and actions, i had one of the most productive days at work I’ve had in a year.  I came home and got more things done.  I didn’t once feel useless or not worthy of Sarah and Shelby’s time.  The switch had been flipped.

Overwhelmingly, I realized that I had to get to one of my lowest points...having a great hike, and then giving up on it at the last minute in order to begin climbing out of my funk.  I had to see the silver lining in that even though I didn’t stay out as intended, I proved that I can still hike up and down hills and hollows for miles and miles with a heavy pack.  I can analyze an issue and confidently make a decision based on prior knowledge.  It really made no sense to stay out, so instead of beating myself up and crying about a decision I made as if it was wrong, I needed to take it for what is was...a confident decision...and quit second guessing myself.  It always works out in the end.

Just as when Megan died, I had to quit feeling sorry for myself, dust myself off, and purchase some plane tickets to get to Camp Widow...where I met someone who would change my life.  


Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Kim Kinney
    commented 2017-03-21 19:13:41 -0700
    Oh, Mike, I feel ya! My beloved was a Recon Marine and and incredible outdoorsman. I ventured out for a day snow shoe trek this winter with all the things I knew he would tell me to carry in my pack. I missed a turn and found myself exhausted, injured and with darkness and a winter storm looming. Then I full-on panicked, cussed at my dead guy for leaving me, cussed at myself for being old, fat and stupid. I started thinking about what it was going to be like to freeze to death while I welcomed the idea of being free of my grief. When I stopped crying and realized I needed to get a grip and get myself out of the situation I let all the years with him guide me and remind me I was capable and perhaps dumb enough to get lost but not so dumb I would die. I got to a snow shelter, got a fire going and calmly called the sheriff to tell them where I was in case I couldn’t get myself out in the morning. The whole thing spooked me and told me I better get off the couch and strengthen myself against fatigue and injury. In July I plan to attempt a run up a training hill at Camp Pendleton to honor my guy. I’ll keep hitting the trails but perhaps stick to familiar ones until I find my new self, the version of me that no longer has a shining knight by my side.